Looking for recommendations for our first trip to New England
August 19, 2013 9:51 PM   Subscribe

Spending the first week in October exploring Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. We will be flying in and out of Portland, and plan to spend the first few days in Maine. Looking for recommendations for the best places to explore, eat, drink, and be merry. Details inside.

It will be the first time in New England for both of us, and we want to do it right. We like good food of every variety, regional beers, and local favorites. We love nature, especially birding, and are very excited to see the sunrise over the Atlantic. Hoping to hit a bit of early fall color. We love live music, museums, regional art and/or craft galleries, architecture, and historical landmarks. We have one week, and have already planned to set aside at least a day for Acadia National Park and we will also be visiting Ben and Jerry's. Everything else is still negotiable. What shouldn't we miss?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
When I was in the other Portland, I had a very early morning breakfast at Becky's on Hobson's Wharf. It was awesome, and a great mix of locals, fishermen who work at the warehouse next door, and tourists.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 10:24 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

While you are in Portland, you can ride the ferry boats around Casco bay. You can step off on an Island, Great Diamond for example, wander around a bit, and then catch a later boat back to the city. If you study the schedule a bit, you can figure out the "layover time".
If you want to eat the best good old fashioned breaded and fried sea food, in the best possible venue, go to the Lobster Shack in Cape Elizabeth, its located at Two Lights State Park. Even if you dont eat there its a great stretch of rocky coast for exploring and watching surf. If you are going for lunch get there early, if the weather is fine, the line will get pretty long by noon.

I have eaten breakfast at Becky's many times too.
posted by Abinadab at 11:41 PM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you pass through Brandon, VT, go to Sheri's Diner for breakfast!
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 12:30 AM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Portland, ME - Fore Street.

Vermont ... I recommend crossing the state via I-89 from the Lebanon, NH, side on the east all the way to Burlington on the west. Consider...
White River Junction area -- King Arthur Flour mill and store; Dartmouth College; the Vermont Institute of Natural Science; Quechee Gorge; Woodstock; Tip Top Cafe; Woodstock Farmers Market.
Montpelier area -- State Capitol; Red Hen Baking Company.
Waterbury/Stowe area -- Ben & Jerry's Factory; dinner at Hen of the Wood (the reason I've made 11 trips to Vermont in the past 4 years).
posted by tmharris65 at 2:28 AM on August 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

Duck Fat in Portland is pretty darn good.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 4:03 AM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

If beer is of interest, perhaps set aside some time in NH for a Growler Tour. There's a lot of beer being brewed in seacoast NH, and the tour is a good way to get a taste of it.
posted by schoolgirl report at 4:53 AM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

While you're in Arcadia, I would recommend trying the Beehive hiking trail - it's fairly challenging (basically a ladder on a cliff face) but short enough to be achievable by an amateur. The views are worth it, especially since you have to earn them. I would also highly recommend getting the popovers at the Jordan Pond house in the park. Route 1A on the coast of Maine is a beautiful drive with plenty of antique shops and local culture to stop at.

I recently took a road trip up Vermont's route 100 - it's a beautiful road that winds through little villages and passes lots of covered bridges. If you go that way, I particularly enjoyed Sandy's Bookstore and Bakery.

Unfortunately, I can no longer highly recommend the Ben and Jerry's factory tour. I loved it as a kid, but since their purchase by Unilever it has seriously changed. The last time I went, the had us watch this insulting movie about how bad Ben and Jerry were at accounting. You still get the ice cream, but it's just sad.
posted by fermezporte at 4:53 AM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

You guys have to spend more than a day at Acadia. Skip B&J and stay longer here. It's an absolutely amazing place! Echoing fermezporte (although I advise against the Beehive if you have a fear of heights - seriously vertiginous), but also noting that the sunrise/sunset atop Cadillac is gorgeous (you can drive up or hike up), you can bike on the carriage roads, and when the tide is coming in, you want to at least visit Thunder Hole.

Burlington, VT has a cute walkable downtown, lakeside trails, and a boat load of delicious restaurants. The Farm House Tap & Grill is worth going to for the wide selection of microbrews, but they don't take reservations, so go a bit on the early side. They have a swanky speakeasy downstairs you can hang out in while you wait, and another little restaurant next door. I'm sure the native Vermonters will fill in the blanks.

You're in for a treat.
posted by canine epigram at 5:05 AM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Less than hour west of Portland is Sebago Lake State Park, a beautiful spot that is everything Maine is supposed to be. It's great to be able to spend the morning at the ocean and lunchtime swimming in a freshwater lake.
posted by maxim0512 at 5:22 AM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Search previous threads for previous Portland food recommendations - there are lots!

Specific to October though, you'll be just in time for the Fryeburg Fair. Pretty much the epitome of a New England fall fair and lots of fun.
posted by mikepop at 5:48 AM on August 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Don't miss the Lost River Gorge, I went this spring for the first time in 30 years and it was awesome.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 5:52 AM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

The person who asked this question put together a Google Map of the responses. They were asking about places between Burlington and Middlebury, but some answers skewed towards I-89.
posted by hoyland at 5:53 AM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you go to Freeport, check out the Maine Beer Company's Tasting Room and then go directly to Buck's Naked BBQ, which is a stone's throw up the road. (Buck's also has a location in the Old Port district in Portland.)

20 minutes south of Portland is Two Lights State Park which is an amazing, rocky stretch of coast. If you can time your visit with the incoming tide you will see some spectacular surf. (Here is an extreme example.) You can also drive a little further out and see Portland Head Light.

Just a few miles down the coast is a beautiful wide, flat sandy beach at Pine Point, which will be empty of pretty much everyone except locals by that time of year. If you drive all the way out to the end of the point you will find the Rising Tide Restaurant, which is a hidden little shack of a place. Their web site says they're open in October, but it's probably a good idea to call ahead. If you only get one lobster roll while in Maine, this wouldn't be a bad place to get it. A generous portion of plain lobster meat, a bit of lettuce, and a roll - you build it yourself. Very decently priced. They'll offer you mayo or drawn butter on the side... go for the butter. There's also The Clambake if you're in more of a "hedonistic piles of fried seafood" mood. The Nestling Duck gift shop next door has nicely curated selection of Maine/New Englandy food, clothing and souvenirs. And especially good fudge.

And a few miles further down the coast is Old Orchard Beach, which will admittedly feel a little bit forlorn by that time of year. The amusement park is closed by then and the arcade's last hurrah of the season is Columbus day weekend, but there are some nice year-round shops on the main strip now. If any of the souvenir shops are still open that weekend, you should be able to get rock-bottom prices on t-shirts and hoodies.
posted by usonian at 7:03 AM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Agree that Duck Fat is a great spot for dinner in Portland, if you stay in Portland, but Acadia is a bit of a drive up the coast so it might be worth it to plan 2 days there to give yourselves enough travel time. I grew up in Raymond (Sebago Lake is shaped like a mitten, Raymond is the town between the fingers and the thumb), and if you head out there for time at Sebago Lake State Park (which I guess I must take for granted, but it is a very nice, Maine-y spot) grab lunch at The Good Life Market on the corner of Rt 302 and Rt 85 - excellent sandwiches and salady things and the owners Walt and Linda couldn't be nicer. Also a great selection of Maine beers.

The drive from Maine to Vermont is a little weird (there's no east-west highway that goes that way) but you could actually take Rt 302/112 all the way across NH and head through North Conway and Franconia Notch in NH - it's a lovely scenic drive through a state park that should be just a touch before peak leaf season (which will mean you might get stuck behind other slow drivers who are there for leaf peeping) but there's lots of adorable towns with antique stores and diners to stop at. You can take state roads most of the way to Burlington, spend an afternoon walking around on Church St, and then take 89 south to White River Junction and stay at an adorable B&B or Inn in Queechee, WRJ or Woodstock. You'll want to book that nowish, since they fill up fast in October - we honeymooned in Woodstock Oct 11- 14 three years ago and there were so many people around that we had a hard time making dinner reservations! But if you spend time in that area (and you should, it's gorgeous and very New Englandy) and want a fancy meal, the Simon Pearce restaurant is delicious. If you do stay in that area, I can heartily recommend the Village Inn - breakfast was outstanding, and they have two dachsunds that come out to play during cocktail hour, and a little bar that they open in the evenings. We loved it.
posted by hungrybruno at 7:14 AM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow, you all are great. Thanks so much! Super busy day today, so I won't be able to check in again and begin digesting this all until tonight, but we appreciate your input so very much.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:52 AM on August 20, 2013

OK, looks like probobly you are only going to cross New Hampshire. But, Manchester, NH, which doesnt get much press, though its quite a nice little city, these days, has a handsome fine art museum, the Currier, and a seriously amazing LEGO model at the SEE science museum. kid oriented certainly, but dont let that stop you, if you are at all impressed by model cityscapes.
posted by Abinadab at 10:26 AM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I ... hm. Maine, NH, and VT in one week, getting back and forth to Portland, is going to be very tight. I mean, you can drive from Portland to Burlington in about 4-5 hours, but if you want to do Acadia too that's going to be a ton of driving to see all three states. Just be aware, trying to do all three is a pretty aggressive schedule.

Portland is such a foodie haven right now, it's hard to say what's best. It just depends on what you like. There is a website called Portland Food Map that is a big list of every place to eat -- big or small -- in Portland, and they link to every review of every kind they can find. The monthly stats page can be useful for seeing what's hot right now.

Portland has a hopping craft scene, and I'd recommend you check out The Merchant Company, which offers stalls to a lot of local craftspeople, as well as the Flea For All.

On your way home from Acadia, if you want to route inland, check out The Center for Maine Craft in West Gardiner.

You can track Maine fall foliage online here. The first week of October should be right at Peak for a lot of western Maine, and a little past peak for northern Maine.

List of Museums in Maine: I live here, and find this super useful for identifying small museums that I might not otherwise be aware of. Plan your route first, then (particularly for the drive up the coast to Acadia) use this to plan stops.

Here's a suggested 8 day itinerary:

Day 1: Arrive. Depending on arrival time explore some of the Portland Old Port and/or eat in Portland. If time: Victoria Mansion, Wadsworth-Longfellow House.

Day 2: Explore more of Portland and environs. Be sure to take the mail boat cruise to the islands. Visit Freeport if you like to shop. Be sure to visit Portland Head Light. (I'm also going to give Wolfe's Neck Farm in Freeport a plug here because the views are spectacular and I love them so.)

Day 3: Drive from Portland to Portsmouth NH. Plan a half-day for Strawbery Banke Museum. Explore downtown Portsmouth. Stay overnight in Portsmouth.

Day 4:Drive from Portsmouth to Burlingon (3.5 hours). Make it a leisurly drive by stopping at NH/VT suggestions. Check out the Zimmerman House (by Wright). Stay overnight in Burlington. (I'm sorry, I don't have other suggestions for you here, but I think there are others above.)

Day 5: Leave Burlington and drive slowly East back into Maine. Pick up Route 302 as soon as you can (probably around Littleton, NH). This will take you through the spectacular Crawford Notch, past Mount Washington, through the White Mountain National Forest, and into North Conway. Plan to spend the afternoon/evening at the Fryeburg Fair. After the fair, drive the 1 hour 15 min back to Portland and spend the night in Portland.

Day 6: Plan to take the full day to drive up the coast (staying on Route 1 as much as you can) from Portland to Mount Desert Island, ME (Acadia). Plan to stop in Freeport (if you like shopping), Wiscasset (Reds Eats!!), Camden/Rockport (Farnsworth Museum of art and a really amazingly beautiful community) (there is also a massive, juried craft fair in Camden October 5 - 6), and possibly the Knox House in Thomaston. You might be able to catch Pumpkinfest in Damariscotta. Arrive MDI evening of Day 6 and stay in a B*B on MDI or surrounding towns. Explore MDI if you have time. (It's cute, walkable, small.)

Day 7: Acadia!
(Note: Acadia's Octoberfest is October 12th) (Master listing of Maine Fairs and Festivals - searchable by date - on line here.)

Day 8: Drive 4.5 hours (Google says 3, allow for traffic) to Portland. Fly home.

As I said above, this is an aggressive schedule and would really just give you a taste of the three states. The "tourist highlights" if you will. There is a huge swath of central and northern Maine that this itenerary won't hit, along with the bulk of the coastal communities tucked in nooks and crannies along the coast where fishing families have lived for generations. (Port Clyde is probably the best of these from a visitors standpoint.)

I really love both Eastport/Camppbello, Vinalhaven, the Norlands Museum but there just isn't ever time to see everything.

Have fun, and look me up when you're in Portland!
posted by anastasiav at 11:07 AM on August 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

Duckfat in Portland is awesome, but be aware that it's small. I think of it more as a lunch place than a fine dining experience. Also, if I had to choose between their panini and the fries, fries every time. Or share a panini and large fries with curry sauce.

For live music, check out Brian Boru. They have Irish session every Sunday afternoon as well.

Breakfast/brunch/lunch: Bintliff's is awesome. On weekends there is always a wait. Parking can be rare in that neighborhood, so take a cab if you're not close. Also in the same neighborhood, for fine dining, Back Bay Grill. Again, take a cab. Not a huge crime area, but you might see some interesting people. Food at both places is totally worth going off the beaten path. Back Bay Grill is closed on Mondays.

Check out the Eastern Prom in Portland, with views of Casco Bay. For nature and birds, you can try to get onto Mackworth Island, 5-10 minutes North of Portland in nearby Falmouth. Their parking lot is small, and the person at the gatehouse will let you know if there is space available. The hike around the island takes maybe an hour if you are a slow walker. But plenty of birds, as well as seabirds. You can also walk along the Back Cove in Portland.

Beer in Portland: Gritty McDuff's and Sebago Brewing.

Definitely take Route 1 up to Ellsworth before heading to Mt. Desert Island/Acadia. All the stuff that anastasiav recommends, yes! The Farnsworth Museum, Wolfe's Neck, all great stuff!

A really nice breakfast place in Bar Harbor is Cafe This Way. Think they close around Columbus Day so check ahead.

Beer on the way to Bar Harbor: Atlantic Brewing. They offer tours and tastings, and BBQ. Again, open till Columbus Day. But if not, stop at Lompoc Cafe in Bar Harbor to taste the blueberry ale.

Other places of note: Schoodic Point, which is up Route 1 from Ellsworth, about an hour. Just outside of Ellsworth, also on Route 1, is Tidal Falls, a little park that offers a great view of the reversing falls on the Taunton River. So if you were going to take the half day trip to Schoodic, stop there on the way. If not, it's still a neat little drive out from Ellsworth to see it, and just around the corner on Route 1 is a bridge over the Taunton with a parking lot and overlook.

There is also a bird sanctuary in Ellsworth, Birdsacre. IIRC, you have to pass by it on the way to MDI. Might be worth a look!

Also, don't be afraid to drive down one of Maine's many peninsulas to have a look. The views are often spectacular, and there might be a lobster shack at the end, or there might not. I'm pretty fond of the whole Blue Hill peninsula and Deer Island/Stonington. Just the drive there from Ellsworth is spectacular and in the Fall, the blueberry fields are rust colored, views of the ocean, just awesome. No matter where you end up on the coast, it's usually fantastic.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 11:41 AM on August 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

anastasiav nailed it if you really want to try to go all the way to Burlington, which is cool, but a long ways from Portland. Alternatively, you can skip the VT leg and spend more time in the North Conway area and more time in Acadia.

Portland has TONS of breweries. You could spend a day visiting all the solid breweries and brew pubs in town. If you're willing to spend a little money, you could try the Brew Bus tours. The Casco Fiasco looks like the best of the bunch to me. If you want to do the self-guided version, I would make sure to hit Alagash and Bunker Brewing.

Oh, and I wouldn't bother with the B&J's stop, honestly. It's fine, but it's a glorified scoop shop. If you end up going to that area, though, definitely check out Smuggler's Notch. Very cool area with fun hiking.
posted by that's candlepin at 12:04 PM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Wow, MeFites are the bomb! I'm bookmarking everything here.

From my own travels, I'd recommend J's Oyster in Portland and Vermont Apple Pies Breakfast Restaurant near Proctorsville. (At some point in time, you DO need pie for breakfast.)
posted by lillygog at 12:35 PM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

As a Vermonter I subscribe to the RSS feed for all tags of "Vermont" and there have been a great many people asking similar questions. So my first advice is to go through these previous questions. Not to be snarky, but because it is unlikely you will get all of the great advice that is combined in them in this one question.

Vermont in the Autumn is amazing, and you will love your trip.

And if you are anywhere near South Royalton, Vermont, drop me a MeMail and perhaps we can get a small group of MeFites together for a meet up at The Worthy Burger.
posted by terrapin at 7:25 AM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Okay - you people seriously rock. We've been trying to work our way through all of your advice and links, as well as everything in all of the other threads, and we are so excited. We've decided to skip the Ben & Jerry's tour, and we've found so many cool places we want to visit. Thank you all so much!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:43 PM on August 21, 2013

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