Help us plan our Maine/Atlantic Canada road trip!
April 11, 2010 7:44 PM   Subscribe

Help us plan our Maine/Atlantic Canada road trip!

(tl;dr version at end :)

This July we plan to explore Coastal Maine and Atlantic Canada for about 3 weeks. We will have our own car. Potential stops include Portsmouth NH; Portland, Camden, Bar Harbor ME; Saint John, Fredericton, Moncton NB; Charlottetown PEI, Halifax, Cheticamp, Sydney NS. Currently, our 2 night stops are Bar Harbor, Moncton, Sydney, and Charlottetown; our only 3 night stop is Halifax. Other towns are 1 night. Besides commentary and suggestions, please offer up stops we may have missed, stops on our list that are overrated (I've been wondering about Saint John), and your favorite don't miss things. I have favorited just about every related thread on AskMe already, but some suggestions are years old, and other areas are barely touched upon. Here's some helpful details.

Things we would enjoy, in no particular order:
- good food, could be gourmet, brewpub, bakery, farmers market, diner or roadside stand, as long as it's interesting; any meal, anything from snack to 5 course dinner to local delicacy; we are particularly fond of creative and tasty breakfasts (we're fans of Penny Cluse, Up For Breakfast and Bintliff's, if that helps)
- used bookstores, the bigger the better
- funky, artsy towns with interesting shopping (if there's lots of cool handcrafted jewelry, even better!)
- minor league baseball
- scenic drives and vistas (I love taking pictures!)
- state fairs and other quirky local events
- craft fairs
- live Irish/folk music in a convivial atmosphere (we're fans of Great Big Sea, Indigo Girls, Stan Rogers and Christine Lavin, to give you some clue)
- museums, especially ones with a military/historical bent
- uniquely Canadian things

Things we don't gravitate towards:
- nightlife/nightclubs
- camping/hiking
- bed and breakfasts (we're on the heftier side, and have points to use)
- sunbathing, though visiting beaches as scenic spots is lovely
- amusement parks

Some potential things on our to-do list include the puffin cruise out of Cutler, ME; a Portland Seadogs game; the Hopewell cape in NB; driving the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton; Great Maine Lumberjack Show in Trenton, ME; a Highland Festival (probably Fredericton's); Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax; and various farmers
markets. We also continue to debate the ferry/no ferry question (Digby/Saint John and Caribou/Wood Islands; we're aware the Cat Ferry has stopped) - thoughts on time savings vs. cost?

The tl;dr version: we're non-hiking but still outdoorsy artsy foodie geeky types who are going to research our Coastal Maine/Atlantic Canada road trip obsessively, but are looking for the insider knowledge of locals/previous vacationers that the guidebooks and web sites can't give us.

Thanks, all!
posted by booksherpa to Travel & Transportation around Maine (19 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I asked a slightly related question about a cool place to stay in Halifax. I stayed in a caboose and it was worth going out of my way for. I'll think a little more about my other recent Maine/NS trips but really, go for the caboose if you can.
posted by jessamyn at 8:01 PM on April 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

The drive up the coast of Maine from NH to Bar Harbor is really scenic, cute towns with little shops basically one after another. I would plan to spend some time stopping periodically to check things out at many of these places. There is some very pretty natural scenery too. When we took this trip, we stopped at Red's Eats in Wiscasset, ME for lobster rolls on the advice of another Mefite and it was SO WORTH IT! It is right on the highway, like a shack on the west side of the street, you could blink and miss it. But don't-the food is fantastic.
posted by supercapitalist at 8:20 PM on April 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you can time a visit to Two Lights state park on Cape Elizabeth to coincide with the incoming tide, you'll see some amazing surf.
posted by usonian at 8:25 PM on April 11, 2010

What a great trip! You note you don't like sunbathing, but if you like swimming, the waters off PEI are remarkably warm. Plus you'll drive by a lot of lakes, so bring a swimsuit and a towel. (I ended up swimming in skivvies-and-shorts in a bunch of Atlantic Canada lakes, and then buying an overpriced swimsuit in Charlottetown, because I didn't think it would be a swimming vacation when I packed.)

The other thing I found, on a similar trip we took about 5 years ago, but which included Quebec as well, is that we did not find the same widespread movement toward locally sourced, excellently prepared food in Maritime Canada as we did in Maine and in Quebec. That may have changed over the last few years, but in general, the restaurants in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia were rather uninspiring.

Portland, ME has a fantastic restaurant scene -- really, unparalleled in the US for a place its size. If you enjoy good food, you should spend more than 1 night there.
posted by palliser at 8:26 PM on April 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

You like used book stores? The bigger the better? Really? You're in for a treat!

Big Chicken Barn. It's seriously awesome.
posted by Mayor Curley at 8:38 PM on April 11, 2010

In Portsmouth, I like eating at the 24h diner, The Friendly Toast, and at the nice upscale restaurant The Green Monkey. But there is a lot of very good food in Portsmouth, and it's hard to go wrong there.

If you are driving up Rte 1 and not 95 in Maine, my favourite ice cream there is Big Daddy's (at the northish part of Wells), though the Scoop Deck (southish part of Wells -- it's right after a trailer park, with a sign afterwards saying you just missed it) is also nice. In Ogunquit, there is a walk (all flat) that is great for photography, the Marginal Way.
posted by jeather at 8:51 PM on April 11, 2010

There's a treat for you in Halifax—JWD is an enormous and excellent used bookstore. The proprieter has a Flickr account with a set of bookstore pictures to get you pumped up. Also there is a nice coffee place down the street from the bookstore that often has tasty snacks, and is in a good spot for taking a break from walking around downtown.
posted by bewilderbeast at 9:12 PM on April 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

Also, of course you want to go to the Easternmost point in the US. I know this is not a location you planned to stay at but the Quoddy Head Station was cheap and lovely. My mom and sister and I each got a room and were really impressed both by how nice the place was, but also how nice it was to have a little kitchen to make food, decent wifi and a lighthouse to go peek at. Totally understand if you don't want to rejigger your plans, but I loved it.
posted by jessamyn at 9:22 PM on April 11, 2010

In Moncton I recommend eating at Cafe Calactus. They have delicious vegetarian food and I eat there every time I go home. There are two farmers markets, the Moncton market downtown and the Dieppe market. I prefer to shop at the Dieppe one but I'm not entirely sure why. If you're there on a Saturday, you can market shop.

Parlee Beach in Shediac is one of the nicest beaches and only 30 minutes outside Moncton. The Pointe-du-Chene wharf is also fun. You can go jump off it and go swimming and it's a great place to watch the sunset. There is a restaurant there, Captain Dan's, which is always really busy. They have lots of fried seafood stuff, I think, but I haven't been there in years.

The Hopewell rocks are worth a visit too. There are some neat things in Hillsborough, which is on the way. You may want to check out the Fundy Studio Tour and visit some of the artists on there while you're driving by.

Bouctouche is also a nice place to visit. The dunes are nice to visit and the Oliver Savonnerie where they make beautiful soap. I assume the factory and shop are still in Sainte-Anne-de-Kent but they don't give much information on the website. There is an address and an email address though.

My favourite restaurant in Halifax is The Wooden Monkey. They specialise in local food. Talay Thai has the best Thai food I've ever had. Dio Mio makes really good gelato. The market in the Keith's Brewery on Saturday is really big and lovely. For breakfast, Cora's is quite fun. They are in both Moncton and Halifax. Their breakfasts have lots of fruit, crepes and waffles. Jane's on the Common also has good brunch. Just Us! coffee shops have really good hot chocolate (I don't drink coffee, so can't speak to that). Seconding JW Doull bookstore. The Masstown Market is kind of fun quick stop while you're driving from Moncton to Halifax.

Let me know if you have any more questions. I love talking to people about the Maritimes!
posted by carolr at 11:29 PM on April 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Consider taking the ferry from North Sydney, NS, to Newfoundland, which offers whale watching, spectacular scenery, friendly people and a lot more.

Here's the official tourism site.
posted by quidividi at 5:46 AM on April 12, 2010

Since you asked about Saint John...
Saint John was great for their great big Market, but I don't think I'd go back again, and would probably skip it when compared to some of the other places on your list. Unless you are really interested in the Reversing Falls, which does make for a great picture at night. I didn't find the food to be good in Saint John (but perhaps went to the wrong places).

Agree that Portland has a good restaurant scene... you must try Duckfat for lunch at the very least, and if you're a fan of beer, you can do a little brewpub tour around town. I also enjoyed the West Quoddy lighthouse, mentioned above as the Easternmost point in the US.
posted by smalls at 7:32 AM on April 12, 2010

posted by kch at 8:16 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was in Bath, Maine last weekend and think the shops on Main Street are well worth an afternoon of browsing - there is a wonderful kitchen store; antique, home furnishing and craft stores; and a couple of used book stores. Add to that the well-done Maine Maritime Museum just down the street focused on the history of local shipbuilding, and you've got a full day in the Midcoast. (Bath is the "City of Ships" and home to a huge shipyard). Solo Bistro is supposed to be very good if you're stick around for dinner. And the two nearby state parks - Reid and Popham - have some of the most gorgeous, uncrowded beaches.

In Portland, the Old Port is central and has lots of good craft shopping - Abacus, Edgecomb Pottery and Maine Potters Market come to mind. And I see that there is now a in Portland, but I don't know anything about it. There are too many excellent restaurants to list. Check this link out. Standard Baking adjoins the parking lot of the Hilton Garden. That's a fairly new, well-located hotel. You can use your points and get yummy pastries all at once.

And, the Yarmouth Clam Festival is in July and could satisfy your cravings for good food (at the locally-operated booths, not the carnival rides) and crafts, including lots of jewelry.

I find Bar Harbor touristy and overrated, especially if you don't care to hike, but YMMV.
posted by Sukey Says at 11:27 AM on April 12, 2010

In Halifax there are a lot of things to do right downtown. First, go to the Farmers' Market in the Keith's brewery. It's only open Saturday morning and you have to get there early, like 6:30 am early. Then take the ferry to Dartmouth and enjoy the view for only $2 each way. If you have a car, drive out to Hydrostone market for some cute stores including a great bakery, a good looking sushi place, and a great yarn place.

If you don't feel like driving or it's not Saturday, after you go to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, try the Old Triangle Irish Pub - it's run by Evan and Dougherty, a Celtic duo and they always have live music and some great English style pub food.

The thing about Halifax is that the line between nightclubs and Irish drinking establishments is a fine one. Most, if not all, of the dirtiest, skankiest bars in Halifax will play Great Big Sea (Old Black Rum, The Night that Paddy Murphy Died) , Stan Rogers (Barrett's Privateers) and Spirit of the West (Home for a Rest) every Friday and Saturday night. I'm sure there is some sort of bylaw. Everyone knows the words (especially the "Goddamn them all..." bit) and can get up some sort of jig.

The Lower Deck is the worst/best of all. It has coverbands (I think the best is Signal Hill) that plays a mixture of traditional songs a la Lukey's Boat, and 'modern' stuff like Sweet Caroline. There are only bench seats that you are expected to share with strangers and, last I was there, they only served rum and Keiths. When I younger I thought it was the lamest bar ever. But now that I've moved away and only experience Maritime culture at Christmas visits, I love it. So cheesy. So fun. A lot of drunks though.

One of the best meals I've had in Nova Scotia was in Lunenburg. Lunenburg is a charming town with another great Maritime museum (focused on tall ships I think) and it's a nice drive from Halifax if you want a day trip. The restaurant we went to is called Fleur de Sel and had amazing gourmet seafood.

For a fancy dinner out, which I have not been to but I've heard great things about from my parents, there is the Press Gang. The Economy Shoe Shop (not a shoe shop) is probably the most popular restaurant in Halifax for people watching. To counter that, there are three donair shops right by the big cathedral that are the most popular post-bar food in Halifax, and delicious even if you haven't been drinking all night. Note that the donair served in Halifax is a distinct sub-species with a sweet sauce, onions and tomatoes only.

I have many more thoughts on Halifax and the surrounding regions but you're only spending three days there. If you do get a chance, go to Louisbourg to visit the reconstructed French fort. Wear red and be prepared to be challenged as an English spy.
posted by hydrobatidae at 12:25 PM on April 12, 2010

Yay Portland, Maine - my favorite place in the whole world (because I live here). I agree with the recommendations so far for Maine, but I thought I'd go right down your list and make some personal recomendations - primarily for Portland then toss in some thoughts on Portsmouth, NH.

Good Food You are in for such a treat in this city. Bon Appetit magazine named Portland as the foodiest small town in America for 2009 - here's the write up. The New York Times thinks we're pretty fantastic too. Here's the Portland Food Map with a great overview. You only have one day in the city, so here's what I'd do:

Breakfast: The Porthole or Hot Suppa (best Eggs Benedict in the world). Do not get suckered into the tourist trap that is Becky's. If you want a greasy spoon you will do far better at Marcy's though head's up they only take cash and it's tiny. If you want fantastic chocolate croissants, I'd send you to Standard Baking. Try Coffee by Design while you're in town, though we have four local roasters.

Lunch For a very pretty drive I'd send you to the Lobster Shack out by Two Lights State Park. While you're in Cape Elizabeth you should definitely go see Portland Head Light for some great views (you could also hop on a ferry out to Peaks Island, but I don't think you'll have enough time!). If either of you are beer geeks, make time to visit Novare Res (full disclosure, I adore this place and am there at least twice a week). They've recently expanded their food menu though it's still mostly anti pasti and sandwiches.

Dinner Wooee I don't even know where to start, I have so many favorites. I love Fore Street for a date night. I'd similarly point you to the Farmer's Table or Hugo's for some great upscale dining that captures the "foodie Portland." However, I would also whole heartedly recommend The Green Elephant (I've eaten every dish on their menu) and Bobono Pizza for less fancypants but wicked tasty meals. I think Gilbert's Chowder House has the best fried seafood in town.

Used bookstores: Cunninghams is charming and all used, but Longfellow is closer to the rest of the shopping and has a mix of new and used titles.

Funky, artsy towns with interesting shopping Hello, Old Port shopping and the fantastic Buy Local movement in Portland. You could spend all day just on this.

Minor league baseball You'll love the Sea Dogs, VERY fun time and an excellent plan.

Quirky local events / live music If you time it right, you should try our First Friday Art Walks, first Friday of every month. There is a free outdoor concert series: "Alive at 5" each summer on Thursday evenings in Monument Square. Here's the event calendar for the city. Similarly, if you're going to subject yourselves to Freeport in the summer (eeeh) you could make time for the L.L.Bean Free Concert Series. They haven't annouced the 2010 acts but both Great Big Sea and Natalie MacMaster have participated in the past.

Museums Portland Harbor Museum, Maine Historical Society (including Longfellow-Watsworth house), and the Portland Museum of Art (always free admission on Friday evenings)

Portsmouth, NH I have to make a plug for The Friendly Toast, the fantastic Strawberry Banke museum, and the Antiquarian Bookstore.

Okay - I think that's enough for now! Please don't hesitate to MeMail me with questions if you have them. Enjoy your trip! It sounds fantastic.
posted by nelleish at 1:20 PM on April 12, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you all for the really helpful and detailed answers! I'm glad some folks have recommended stuff that wasn't on my list, or somewhat counter to it - rethinking some of my plans is, in part, why I asked the question. In particular, we're now contemplating (short) hikes at Cabot Trail (Thanks Dasein!) and maybe staying in some unusual and out of the way places (Thanks, Jessamyn!). Keep the tips coming!

I should clarify one thing - the plan to only stay one night in Portland may change depending on how the rest of the trip expands. We LOVE Portland, have been there twice before, and may return in early September. That's the only destination on our trip that we've both been to, so we're not emphasizing it as much this time around. I do love all the Portland links, though, and will be taking advantage of them - if not this trip, then another one. I'll confess that our breakfast will probably be Bintliff's; that's our favorite.

Sukey, was it just the town of Bar Harbor that you found touristy, or the whole Acadia park and nearby scenery as well? I suspect our emphasis will be more on the park and less on the downtown. Mr. booksherpa doesn't do seafood, sadly, except some fish and chips, so it's not like we'll be conducting lobster roll tastings. :) We've confirmed a lack of large cruise ships in port there during our projected time frame.

I've researched a lot already, and y'all are mostly giving me stuff I haven't seen, so that's great! Keep it coming! One specific question I forgot - We're leaning towards Bold Coast Charter for the puffin trip, since they're one of the few that let you go ON the island, but that's based on very few reviews. Has anyone else done a puffin cruise?
posted by booksherpa at 2:10 PM on April 12, 2010

Charlottetown is beautiful. I drove to the ferry terminal from Halifax through Truro, and went all over the island for a couple of days. I had a rental car, but I parked it and took the bus downtown, which was both easy and cheap. There are lots of places to shop for little things, but the Green Gables emphasis in every store WILL give you rabies. Do you know the little black fly song? You're safe in the city, but you will sing it if you leave your vehicle and walk around anywhere else on the island. I opened the door for my passenger, and by the time she got in, there were 200 biting, swarming, buzzing horrors inside. The only way to handle them was to turn the A/C to Typhoon and blow them all into the back seat.

If you've got three nights in Halifax, do take the time to drive out to Lunenburg to see the Bluenose II. She is at home at the museum pier all this year, so you won't miss out. If you can find parking, there are many gorgeous little streets full of microbrewed beer and fishing sweaters and wonderful things to look at.

There are nice little towns along the coast between there and Halifax, too. I recommend taking the curvy coastal road there -- you can always come back on the freeway afterwards if you are tired. Oak Island, the legendary treasure pit, is off the little road, if you can find it. It's private, so you can't go on it, but you can see it from the end of the access road. Yes, I am nerd enough to have driven up a little gravel road so I could look at the edge of an ordinary island full of ordinary trees just because some pirates with shovels might have been there once. I had to. The ten-year-old me would have been heartbroken to miss it.

Peggy's Cove might be the big Maritime cliche, but it is beautiful and rocky and windy and fine, and the drive there is a nice evening's amusement. Plus, you can stop at the Sou'wester and eat blueberry grunt. Or the gingerbread. Or, lobsters are legally dessert, too.

The Fairview Lawn Cemetery has monuments to those lost on the Titanic, and to the dead of the Great Explosion, if that is interesting to you. The Old Burying Ground downtown on Barrington has splendid old skull-covered gravestones, some of which complain about diphtheria and other things.

The Waverley Inn is a gorgeous little hotel on Barrington, within easy walking distance of the museum, the Citadel, the waterfront, the beer, good Japanese food, Dalhousie University, the old graveyard, shopping, and late night takeout. They have free wifi, free breakfast, wonderful beds, free parking, and coffee and snacks. I stayed there three nights, and the staff was friendly and helpful. I usually stay in the kind of motel where the bathroom door hits the corner of the bed and the sink has cigarette burns, and I am so, so glad I chose the elegant and quaint option for my trip east. They carry your bags up the stairs! They make fresh tea when you come in! They have L-shaped pillows that cuddle you!

Everybody says go see the Citadel. I didn't. I am not sad. Neither did I visit Keith's. I am sad I missed the Maritime Museum, and I am sad I didn't drive the Trail, stopping halfway to visit puffins, but that's okay. I will go back.
posted by Sallyfur at 9:13 AM on April 13, 2010

Oh yeah, breakfast. In Charlottetown, in the shoppy walky part of downtown, there is a little storefront kind of brunchy joint called Cora's. They make delicious thin flat omelets, crepes, French toast, and waffles, and they serve a huge and beautiful fruit plate that is actually made of real genuine interesting fresh fruit, and not anemic lumpenfruit from a big can or wads of the melon of the day.

I was gobsmacked to discover they were a chain restaurant.
posted by Sallyfur at 9:18 AM on April 13, 2010

Sure it's open until noon but the great sausages and bread are gone long before that.

(The best sausages ever by the way - although I haven't been in ages so maybe they've moved on)
posted by hydrobatidae at 12:27 PM on April 14, 2010

« Older I want a bicycle   |   Music Plagiarism Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.