By Katie McElveen
Weaving the natural splendor of windswept beaches, dramatic rock formations and rugged dunes with fascinating colonial and maritime history, quintessential New England towns and, of course, lobster, it’s no wonder that southern Maine has been popular with visitors for centuries.
Drawn by the bounty of the sea, fishermen and shipbuilders arrived here in the 17th century. Before long, they were joined by artists, who set up an art colony in Ogunquit in the 1890’s, and vacationers, many of whom built mansions and family compounds along the shoreline.
Today’s visitors are also lured by the ocean. Beach lovers spend their days on Ogunquit Beach, a 3 ½-mile-long stretch of white sand and blue water; others take it in from the Marginal Way, a bayberry-scented pathway lined with sea roses and wooden benches that begins in the town of Perkins Cove and weaves along the coast for more than a mile. There’s as much to do on the water as there is on the beach, including deep sea fishing, kayaking on the ocean and within tidal creeks, tours aboard historic schooners, and, during the summer months, whale watching for the hundreds of humpbacks who feed in the plankton-rich waters of the Gulf of Maine.
Summer in Maine also means lobster. As the water warms, lobsters shed their shells. These soft-shelled lobsters—which locals call “shedders”—produce the sweetest, most succulent meat of the year. Enjoy them at one of the many lobster shacks that pop up in towns, along the road and on docks throughout the state. Although creative dishes abound, including lobster tacos and lobster fajitas; traditionalists stick with either a lobster roll on a toasted bun or steamed lobster served with corn on the cob, fried clams, steamers and cole slaw. If you can get your hands on a slice of blueberry pie, all the better.
Southern Maine’s coastal villages offer a surprising variety of experiences. York is one of New England’s oldest towns; here you can wander through 17th century buildings including a museum housed in one of the oldest jails in the country and visit Nubble Lighthouse, said to be the most photographed in the country. Many visitors come to Kennebunkport to snap a photo of the sprawling Bush family estate on Walker’s Point (you can see it clearly from Ocean Avenue), but there are other sites as well, including the stone 1887 St. Ann’s Church (the gardens are gorgeous during the summer) and the quaint trolley museum, as well as shops, restaurants, cafes and galleries. In Ogunquit, which translates to “beautiful place by the sea” in Abenaki, the language of the region’s earliest inhabitants, be sure to take in a show at the Ogunquit Playhouse, which opened in its current location in 1937. Ogunquit Playhouse was the first, and remains the only, summer theatre from the era built exclusively as a seasonal theatre. And much like Kennebunkport and York, shopping and dining venues abound in Ogunquit.
Sporty types can take to the area’s many hills and rivers, which offer shady diversion less than an hour from the coast. Towering 700 feet above the landscape and crisscrossed with trails open to hikers, bikers, dog walkers and equestrians, Mt. Agamenticus is surrounded by more than 10,000 acres of parkland and offers stunning views of the White Mountains and the ocean. And whether you choose to explore the Salmon Falls River by canoe, kayak or riverside path, expect to see bald eagles, osprey, otters and beavers as you wander. Crowds may thin after Labor Day, but many families have made it a tradition to vacation in Southern Maine when the beaches are empty, the trees ablaze with fiery foliage and streets alive with festivals. Don’t worry—there’s still plenty of lobster. As with fun in Maine, it’s in abundance all year long.
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Fun facts about Maine