Glorious coastlines (Northern TOur IDEAS)
NEW ENGLAND COAST TO THE NORTH: MASSACHUSETTS, NEW HAMPSHIRE & MAINE
See also: New England Coast (Southern Tour Ideas)
For variety, you can’t beat the northern New England coast drive with seaside villages and shoreline stretching from Massachusetts, through New Hampshire and on up into Maine. Stop at beaches and fishing harbors, wander through artists’ colonies and world-class museums, and marvel at the solitude and natural beauty of one of America’s most popular national parks.
Below are some choice stops along New England’s northern coast (see map at bottom) to help plan your trip:
- Marblehead, Massachusetts: Charming coastal village
Settled by English fishermen in 1629. Stroll through narrow 18th century streets to the yacht-filled harbor. The Georgian-style Jeremiah Lee Mansion, built in 1768, is a window into the lifestyle of well-off colonists.
- Salem, Massachusetts: Salem Witch Museum / Peabody Essex Museum / House of the Seven Gables
Learn about Salem’s infamous 1692 witch trials at the Salem Witch Museum; admire the splendid old sea captains’ homes on Chestnut Street and the Oriental treasures at the Peabody Essex Museum. Don’t miss the Maritime National Historic Site, and the House of the Seven Gables, the inspiration for author Nathaniel Hawthorne’s famous novel.
- Cape Ann, Massachusetts: Full of surprises
This rocky cape, with its sheltered coves, has both charm and history. Manchester-by-the-Sea has a fine beach; Hammond Castle Museum records the achievements of a great American inventor.
- Gloucester, Massachusetts: Home of A Perfect Storm
The locally based book and movie of The Perfect Storm put Gloucester in the spotlight, but the town also boasts the Cape Ann Historical Museum with its paintings by Fitz Hugh Lane. Trivia fact: Clarence Birdseye, who developed frozen food, started his company here at America’s oldest working fishing port.
- Rockport, Massachusetts: Artists’ colony
In this pretty artists’ colony, the most painted and most photographed building is a 150-year-old red fishing shack on Bradley Wharf, nicknamed Motif No.1.
- Essex, Massachusetts: Shipbuilding Museum
The sea has retreated leaving bird-filled salt marshes, but the Shipbuilding Museum recalls the days when 4,000 boats were launched here. Antiques shops abound, as they do in Ipswich, Rowley and Newbury, classic New England towns to the north.
- Newburyport, Massachusetts: Fine old houses, shops and restaurants
Visit Newburyport and see the gracious former sea captain’s houses which line Main Street, experience eclectic dining in unique restaurants or on waterfront decks and shop in one-of-a-kind boutiques. Situated on the Merrimac River, there are excellent river cruises and whale watching. Nearby Plum Island offers miles of sandy beach and the Parker River National Wildlife refuge where you can see a continually changing migration of birds.
- Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Strawbery Banke Museum
New Hampshire’s coastline boasts the popular seaside resort of Hampton Beach, plus Portsmouth. This bustling city, with its heritage as a seaport, has one of the region’s most interesting museums. Strawbery Banke is a collection of more than 40 preserved buildings, many with period furnishings, dating from 1695 to 1955.
- Side Trip: Isles of Shoals, New Hampshire
From Portsmouth, take one of the regular summer cruises to see the harbor, lighthouses and the tiny islands.
- Kittery and York, Maine: Outlet shopping, historic villages
Just over the Maine border, Kittery attracts bargain-hunters thanks to more than 120 outlet shops clustered along U.S. 1. But, take time to visit old Kittery down on the water, and the Yorks, a nearby series of historic communities.
- Ogunquit, Maine: Perkins Cove
A string of family-friendly sandy beaches (York Beach, Ogunquit and Wells Beach) are popular in high summer. Ogunquit has soft sand backed by grassy dunes. With lobster boats and colorful buoys, Perkins Cove has reminders of the past, with lively seafood restaurants for today’s visitors.
- The Kennebunks, Maine: The retreat of presidents
Three communities in one. Kennebunk’s historic district boasts fine old houses, while Kennebunk Beach is a summer playground. Kennebunkport has long been the family summer home of Presidents George H. W. and George W. Bush. Further north, Old Orchard Beach has all the fun of the fair, plus a pier and seven miles of silver sand.
- Portland, Maine: Lively coastal city
With glorious views over Casco Bay and its islands, the largest city in Maine is ‘hot,’ thanks to small shops, galleries, restaurants and museums. As well as the busy Old Port, visit the boyhood home of the 19th century poet, Longfellow, and the top class art and children’s museums.
- Freeport, Maine: Bargain shopper’s heaven and L.L. Bean
In this bargain shopper’s heaven, some 200 upscale designer outlets, inns and restaurants are set in old houses. Most famous is the L.L. Bean store, open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, since 1951.
- Brunswick, Maine: Bowdoin College
The town is dominated by Bowdoin College, where the Arctic Museum honors explorer Robert Peary. Brunswick signals a change in the coastline. From here, drive down any of the long rocky peninsulas, covered in pines, and you are truly ‘away from it all.’
- Bath, Maine: Maine Maritime Museum
From the bridge over the Kennebec River, you can see the busy US Navy shipyard. Nearby, the excellent Maine Maritime Museum traces the 400 year-old tradition of shipbuilding, from sail to steam.
- Wiscasset, Maine: Quintessential Maine
Historic towns punctuate Route 1. Wiscasset, with its steep hill, has little shops and restaurants. After Newcastle and Damariscotta, you reach Thomaston, the former site of the state prison that inspired the film, The Shawshank Redemption.
- Boothbay Harbor, Maine: Coastal resort town
At the end of a long peninsula is Boothbay Harbor, a vacation town for well over a century. As well as all sorts of watersports, enjoy whale-watching cruises and deep-sea fishing.
- Side trip: Monhegan Island, Maine: Island getaway
Ferries run from Port Clyde to this square mile of rock, with no roads, a handful of places to stay and a small resident population of artists and lobstermen. Visit studios, walk and relax.
- Rockland, Maine: Lobster Capital of the World
The ‘Lobster Capital of the World’ is also ‘the Schooner Capital of Maine.’ But don’t miss the Farnsworth Art Museum with its famed collection of paintings by three generations of the Wyeth family. Out at the Owl’s Head Transportation Museum, many of the classic planes and cars are still in working order. Ferries cross to the islands of Matinicus and Vinalhaven.
- Rockport, Maine: Picture postcard charm
Known for its crafts shops and galleries, tiny Rockport has all the charm of a picture postcard, complete with lobster pots and boats.
- Camden, Maine: Elegant coastal resort town
Looking over the blue sweep of Penobscot Bay and with Mount Battie rising behind, Camden is a lovely town year-round. Yachts anchor here before sailing off through the islands. Stylish B&Bs abound, as do restaurants and art galleries.
- Belfast, Maine: Belfast
Londonderry or Belfast? When the Scots-Irish arrived in 1765, a flip of a coin decided the name of this shipbuilding town; today, sea captains’ mansions line the main street. The Penobscot Narrows Bridge and Observatory, near Bucksport on Route 1, offers a panoramic 360-degree view from a bridge tower forty-two stories high – one of only three such bridge observatories in the world.
- Blue Hill and Castine, Maine: Artists’ colony
The Blue Hill area has long been an artists’ colony, with the photogenic and historic harbor of Castine a magnet for visitors looking for uncomplicated peace and quiet.
- Side trip: Deer Isle, Stonington, Isle au Haut, Maine
Although known as an enclave of artists, photographers and musicians (drawn by the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts), Deer Isle is also a fishing community. Stonington harbor is popular with yachtsmen and windjammers. Ferries run to Isle au Haut, with fine hiking in the national park.
- Ellsworth, Maine: Gateway to Acadia
In Ellsworth, the 1850 home of Cordelia Stanwood is now a museum and bird sanctuary dedicated to the pioneering ornithologist.
- Acadia National Park, Maine: Bar Harbor and natural beauty
One of the world’s great beauty spots, Acadia, on Mt. Desert Island, is America’s second most popular national park. Drive the 27-mile Loop Road, then hike/bike or cross-country ski over 50 miles of panoramic car-free ‘carriage roads.’ A vacation destination for well over a century, Bar Harbor offers an engaging mix of old houses, B&Bs and art galleries.
See also: New England Coast (Southern Tour)