Road Tripping Up the Maine Midcoast

Words by Katherine Oakes Englishman
Photos by Katherine Oakes Englishman

Amidst a weeks-long spell of damp rain and persistent, heavy fog that hovered over coastal Maine, the sun emerged in all of its golden glory. On that day, we set out on a road trip for the day to finally explore the nooks and crannies of the Maine Midcoast.

I’ll admit, this idea wasn’t totally premeditated and the final details were worked out the night before, in keeping with my tradition of being a semi-procrastinator. Yet, I’d argue these aren’t traits of laziness — well, maybe a little — they are hallmarks of being a true adventurer. How can you seize the day if you already know which day will be the best? Exploration is required to have an element of surprise. Otherwise, it’s just like every other day of the week. So, yes, permission granted to use the excuse of carpe diem next time you put something off in favor of a good time.



We fueled up the car and ourselves, but saved room for our first stop northeast of Portland, that was obviously a coffee shop in Brunswick. Bags were packed, snacks overflowed from them (sustenance!), and a variety of things we deemed as essentials, filled the car. With the windows rolled down and the volume turned up, the soundtrack was only allowed to be bands from Maine: The Ghost of Paul Revere and The Mallet Brothers Band played folksy, slightly twangy sounds all the way up Route 1 North. It was a proper road trip.


Dog Bar Jim, Brunswick


A few blocks from downtown Brunswick, Dog Bar Jim is a high-end coffee drinker’s coffee shop in the body of an eclectic and down-to-earth neighborhood café. The atmosphere is cozy, the coffee is perfect, and the owner knows regular’s orders by heart, calling after patrons to, “have a good one, bub” — classic Maine slang — as they walk out, coffee in hand.


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Popham Beach State Park, Phippsburg


Just an hour northeast of Portland, a long stretch of pristine, unspoiled coastline spills out in front of you as you drive out to the point of a hidden peninsula. Popham Beach State Park is quiet in early May, but undoubtedly fills up during the high season. It’s breathtaking, and reminded me of the beaches of the Pacific Northwest with its craggy rocks, towering pines, and sparkling waves that draws in surfers and paddlers. We were lucky to be there and soak up the sun, crowd-free.


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Red’s and Downtown Wiscasset

 


Road tripping up Maine’s Route 1 North, the Atlantic Highway, will have you en route to some of the Midcoast’s most beautiful and well-known stopover points. For many, Red’s Eats in Wiscasset is a must-see seafood shack that is quintessentially Maine, and conveniently located no less than two feet off of Route 1. Some of our local friends surmise that Red’s *isn’t* the best, it’s just situated on some prime real estate. Conspiracy theories aside, we made a stop in Wiscasset, popped into some of the town’s main attractions, and got a bite. Truth be told, I don’t eat seafood and haven’t since I was a little girl, so I can’t speak for the lobster but I can speak for the Moxie and french fries (they’re good).


Rockland

 


The reputation of one of the Maine Midcoast’s most popular city precedes it. Rockland is a coastal city with a cool, creative community full of warm and friendly locals. I’ve read and heard about it countless times since moving to Maine and was excited to see what it was all about. After pulling into town, we walked into Curator Maine, a boutique vintage shop, and walked out with the number of a couple who had just purchased one of the most well-known Schooners in town, a couple of new, old duds, and a tour guide, local artist Annie Bailey.

She walked my husband Brian and I out of the shop, and down Main Street to the Lighthouse Museum, excitedly pointing out people, places, and things along the way. Inside, she showed us her installation: a moving panorama of Abby Burgess who, at 16 had single-handedly kept one of the most important lighthouses running and cared for her sick family, while her father traveled to Rockland for medicine. We stayed and talked for a while, taking it all in, and parted ways.



A short drive out of the city center will take you to the picturesque Breakwater Lighthouse. It’s a tourist trap, for sure, but in the best way. The long, stoney causeway meanders from the shoreline to the lighthouse, and takes about 20 minutes to walk all the way out, as you’re surrounded by water on both sides. While it’s far from being a secret spot, these are the locales that begin to give you a greater sense of place. Even on a whirlwind road trip up the Maine Midcoast, the area’s unique identity starts to come together and take shape right in front of your eyes. Sites, smells, and sounds transform an unknown into a defining characteristic; then, before you know it, sun-bleached memories of that day we happily drove up the Atlantic Highway.


 

Flight Deck Brewing, Brunswick

 


In case you didn’t already know this, Maine is the craft beer capital of the continent — yep, I said it. This state is known across the country for its top-notch brews. My theory is that with water, air, and ingredients so fresh, of course you’d have the tastiest drinks, right? So, we bookended our day with a trip back to Brunswick at Flight Deck Brewing, a converted flight hanger turned brewery. The place had a chill, friendly vibe that was just right for our last stop on the Maine Midcoast road trip. As the light from a golden sunset and more people began to pour in, we savored some more of the local flavors and simply drank it all in.

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