Rockland is great, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. There’s a lot of pretty things to see, especially if you’re willing to leave Rt. 1 and explore the area. Rockport has a pond so perfect you’ll forget you’re not 10 years old anymore. Camden has weird little streets that lead to huge old schooners, but also forested mountains to hike with ocean views. There are a ton of options for amazing food, including some of the best thai and sushi in New England.
Pick a couple of these things and make a day of it, or if you have a weekend try to fit them all in. And, as always, if you have local tips that we missed, add them in the comments.
This is Camden Harbor. I’m lumping a few midcoast towns together, because that’s how they work best. Start at Rockland Main Street and jump to Rockport, Camden, Thomaston and St. George from there to make the most of your visit.
Go outside (Free-$3)
Beech Hill is an easy incline through blueberry fields up to Beech Nut, a sod-roofed stone hut and panoramic views of the sea and the nearby islands. Sailors still use Beech Nut as an unofficial navigation point. It’s on Beech Hill Road, Rockport. Very muddy in spring/fall. Free. For something more strenuous, head to Camden Hills State Park. I like to bring a kite to the top of the Megunticook Trail to Ocean Lookout. It’s difficult and has rock stairs, but it’s only a mile and you arrive to the top of a windy bald mountain with crazy views of the ocean. Maiden Cliff is another great choice, about 2 miles, and is pretty strenuous, but also gorgeous — lakeside, not oceanside. $3 park fee.
Rocky Pond is a quiet slice of heaven. There is a tiny little cabin on one side of the pond where local kids will tell you a serial killer lives (followed by screaming and frantically swimming to shallower waters). There is, in fact, a big rock in the pond. This is my favorite because it’s small (therefore warm) and clean. To get there, take Route 17 out of town to Rockport. It will be on the left side of the road. You can’t see the pond much from the road, so you have to keep an eye either on your GPS or on the side of the road to look for deep, muddy grooves from other swimmers’ SUVs. You’ll pass Lake Chickawaukie on the way, which is half in Rockland, but it’s bigger (colder) and usually has more small children there. Free.
To St. George. It’s a thin peninsula, so you’ll catch peeks of the coast on both sides. Go through Thomaston, then take Route 131 all the way out. When you get into the tiny fishing town you’ll think you’re there, but if you take a left onto Port Clyde Road, it will take you to one of the coolest lighthouses in Maine, Marshall Point Lighthouse. In and around town you’ll find a fisherman’s co-op to pick up something fresh for dinner, a kayak rental shop and a couple of Linda Bean’s shops (the restaurant and the general store). Fill your tank with gas before you leave Rockland. You can’t get lost on the peninsula, so dot get nervous when you see signs telling you you’re in Martinsville, Port Clyde, Tenants Harbor — they’re all villages of St. George.
Tourists stare at their feet when they walk the Rockland Breakwater, but look to your right (toward the tiny city) and you have a good chance of seeing a harbor seal poke its head up. You can fish off the breakwater or collect sea urchin shells. Bring a sweater; it gets windy out there. Take Samoset Road (behind Shaw’s Supermarket) to the parking lot. On some summer weekends you can go into the lighthouse, bring a couple bucks to donate to the upkeep. Do not bring any trash (or bring your own trashbag) — there is nowhere to throw it out. Free. If you want something closer to downtown, Harbor Park (Main Street) has a public wharf where you can hang your feet into the ocean (tide-dependent). From there, you’ll find a wood boardwalk for a short walk along the ocean to the small sandy beach on the south side of town. In Camden, the waterfront is walkable and has a green park that leads up to the Camden Amphitheater (Atlantic Avenue and Main Street) — more green space where you can sometimes find people doing yoga or teens smoking cigarettes. All free.
On the water
It’s the cheapest way to see the lighthouses and islands by sea. You can hop off at Vinalhaven or North Haven and explore those islands for a while, then hop back on toward Rockland. $17.50. The Islesboro Ferry, which leaves from Lincolnville, is only $10, but there is far less to see along the way. Bring a bike and you can see the whole island in a couple hours.
In Rockland you can ketch a day-sail (see what I did there?) for $35+. The Bufflehead (holds 6) and Morning in Maine (holds 21) are both great options with affable captains. Camden has several day sailing schooners too, like the Olad and Appledore (both around $40).
Indoor stuff (Free-$13)
The Farnsworth is right on Main Street and rotates its exhibits frequently. Of course you’ll see a Wyeth … or 30 (they have a whole building for that), but the museum also tries to keep a modern photographer in rotation, as well as some other cool kids like Alex Katz or the occasional Warhol. Their special shows are fun and range from rug making (cooler than it sounds, it featured a beautiful experiment by Dahlov Ipcar) to a whole show about the Wizard of Oz. Admission is $12 or less. My other favorite art place in town is Asymmetrick Arts on Main Street and Eric Hopkins’ gallery (open by chance) on Winter Street.
The Strand is a Maine gem. A 1920s vibe. The theater has a mix of arty foreign films, new popular stuff and The Met-type events. Movies are usually $8.50 or less.
What to eat
BEST DAMN BRUNCH
Home Kitchen Cafe on Main Street. Be prepared to wait if you’re there on a weekend. Worth it. I’d get anything on the “home specialties” part of the menu. A meal will run you about $11 plus coffee and tip. You can walk that off after by crossing the street and heading down to the Apprenticeshop’s dock, open free to the public. If Home Kitchen is too busy, try Cafe Miranda, which has this killer dish called “Thai.” It’s coconut curry, rice noodles, poached eggs with sprouts, cilantro, lime and other delicious things. $10. Brunch is 10:30-2 on Sundays. Cafe Miranda is tucked into Oak Street (right off Main).
Rock City is a great spot to grab a sandwich, sit, eavesdrop. I like their Mexicali Burrito when I’m aiming for something healthy and their pulled pork sandwiches when I’m not. If a burger is more your style, L&H on Main Street lets you customize your burger. It also has an amazing veggie burger (I swear that isn’t an oxymoron at L&H). Locals will tell you to try the hotdogs at Wasses. I say, “eh.” All are on Main Street.
SNACKS AND WINE
In Good Company is upscale without being totally snobby (depending on the night). If you’re anything like me, you’ll want to ask to be seated in the back room at the community table (for less-fancy people). You can get roasted garlic with crusty bread, and olive oil sampler (do it!) and an amazing half glass of wine all for about $16 before tax and tip.
If sushi is your thing, you have to go to Suzuki’s while you’re in town. Order anything. It’s all great and a lot of it is local fish. It’s a bit pricy, but it’s also worth it. Dinner only, (419 Main St.). Might want to make a reservation if you’re going on a summer weekend.
DO LOBSTER RIGHT
Go to Jess’s Market (118 South Main St.) to get the best, fresh seafood in town. Then go find a pot. Fill it with seawater. Put it on one of the park’s grills (bring charcoal … and corn … and butter … and steamers) at Owls Head Lighthouse on Lighthouse Road in Owls Head. Boil. Crack. Eat. Is it high maintenance? Yes. But if you’re not from Maine and you want to look at a lighthouse, watch the old wooden sailboats go by and eat your lobster, you can’t do it any better. Also, it’s going to cost a lot less than a lobster dinner in a restaurant.
YOU GOT MONEY TO BURN
Primo. Just. Just go to Primo.
You’ll have to go to Thomaston (just over the city line) to Dorman’s roadside stand for the best ice cream of your life. While you’re over there, might want to go down Buttermilk Lane to the farmstand in the Keag (pronounced “gig”). But if you’re just bumming around downtown Rockland, try Lulu’s, on Oak Street.
Worth the trip
If I were to take you to Rockland, I’d probably actually take you to Camden for a dinner treat. Start at 40 Paper in the old mill (40 Washington St.) for a couple great cocktails (gin gin mule) and then head over to Long Grain (31 Elm St. — put your name on the list here before drinks if it’s summer), which will serve you the best Thai food you’ve had anywhere, ever — in or out of Maine. I recommend getting the ginger mushroom chicken (a generous portion of different mushrooms) with that gingery beer from Japan. …. Yeah, that’s a lot of ginger. If you can’t do ginger, try the spicy night market noodle soup. Each dish is about $12.