From Massachusetts to Mount Desert Island, This Land Belongs to You & Me
June 8, 2014 12:35 PM   Subscribe

Thoughts on our New England itinerary? Drive Pittsburgh to Boston then up to Salem, Gloucester, Rockport, Portsmouth (I saw the great thread on the kid trips centered around Portsmouth), Portland, Acadia National Park and back bypassing Boston on the return.

Any thoughts on this itinerary for August? We like to pack in the activities and keep busy. The kids (tolerant and enthusiastic travelers almost 9 and 12) much prefer destinations and outdoor activities than walking down cute streets and imagining the history. We have seen good museums and are more interested in what makes the location a unique part of the US. They recently loved Williamsburg so I'm not sure we will do more all-day live history parks. We liked quickly touring Vegas but were glad to see it before the Utah parks as it would have been a let-down for us all after the natural beauty. We loved Toronto and New York City as a family but the subtlety of Charleston fell a little flat for the children.

What should we see? What is worth adding on to all this driving to go off the route (there is so much we are leaving for future trips)? Where should we stay on the way to Boston and on the way back to break up the drive, Litchfield, New Haven, Danbury, Hartford, Waterbury or just skip them and carry on the drive? Is Salem/Gloucester/Rockport worth going off the direct route? Is Acadia worth the drive (we loved the Utah National Parks so much)? Any suggestions on how long to stay and where? We usually stay outside the city (Boston) on the way in and out to keep expensive downtown hotels plus valet to as few nights as possible. Acadia tips, places to stay?

I will post back with our final itinerary and results. Thank you.
posted by RoadScholar to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
We did a similar trip in 2011. We spent a night in Portland (which was enough) and then drove up to Acadia. Acadia is so worth the drive (and it's a really nice drive!), and Bar Harbor is really cute. We stayed at the Wonder View Inn, which was unremarkable but cheaper than most of its competitors (this was a few years ago, but we paid like $110 a night in July). If you're super outdoorsy, I don't know how hardcore Acadia is - it was very busy, and the hikes that we did were more "pleasant stroll" than extreme hike. But it was beautiful.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 1:18 PM on June 8, 2014

In Salem, see the House of the Seven Gables. There is a secret staircase and other stuff to interest kids.
posted by ubiquity at 1:24 PM on June 8, 2014

If you get very far up into Maine, I know you said you weren't particularly intent on museums, but the Cole Land Transportation Museum in Bangor is very local with things like a preserved railway station from the early 20th century and a 1933 heavy-duty snow plow that got four gallons of gas to the mile in fuel "efficiency" and which basically looks like a train locomotive built to travel by road.

A quick stop that might be entertaining to kids that age is the world's largest globe at the Delorme company headquarters in Yarmouth.
posted by XMLicious at 1:47 PM on June 8, 2014

If you go to Salem, check out Salem Willows.
posted by Ruki at 2:25 PM on June 8, 2014

Acadia is well worth the trip. Accommodation is going to be hard to get; August is prime season. Is camping an option? My wife and I camped at Acadia's Seawall campground in early September. Eastport will probably be cheaper than Bar Harbor.

I wasn't as taken with Gloucester and Rockport, but I was there on a cycle holiday and the roads just aren't great for that (too much traffic, and not enough ocean views). The town centers are cute, though, and I've heard that the whale watching tours can be good.

If you like the outdoors, and can make it up into New Hampshire's White Mountains on your way back, the Kankamagus Highway and Franconia Notch State Park are worth visits. NH state parks are expensive, since they're minimally subsidized by the state, but the Flume at Franconia Notch is pretty impressive.
posted by brianogilvie at 2:55 PM on June 8, 2014

Disclaimer: I have not tried this.

Lexington and Concord are both suburbs of Boston. Concord is served by commuter rail to North Station. May make parking/driving in Boston more reasonable. Plus Minutemen.

South of Boston is Plymouth, but admittedly you've done the live-village thing.

On the way back, if you take 95 through Connecticut, you may want to stop at Mystic, and visit Seaport and/or Aquarium.

(Obligatory RI: Newport. Mansions. Also some beaches.)
posted by Huffy Puffy at 2:56 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oops, I meant to write Southwest Harbor, not Eastport; that's on Passamaquoddy Bay, at the easternmost part of Maine. (That's worth a visit, too, but it's a long drive.)
posted by brianogilvie at 2:57 PM on June 8, 2014

There are a couple of beautiful beaches in Maine - one is Popham Beach. I've been to about 50 New England beaches and this is my favorite. If you like the beach but not mob scenes, this is the place. It is huge and the landscape and the tide make it really fun. As the tide goes out there are big pools to swim to and a huge rock mill to climb (pic from said hill). The beach gets immense and it's fun to follow it to the left.
If you do hit the beach I would stop at North Creek farm. You can wander though country gardens while your (amazing) sandwiches are made and then eat outside with the cutest chickens keeping you company.

Farther up Route 1 there is the Coastal Maine Botanical gardens. IT's not stuffy and has stuff for the kids. Its a beautiful way to spend a couple hours. They have a cafe - it's ok. I wouldn't mention it unless I thought it was pretty spectacular.

On the way there, there is a place called "monkey see, monkey do". It's a huge ropes course. Everytime we drive by it has been raining so we haven't done it but it looks pretty exciting. My kids have been dying to do it.

I second Mystic Conn (unless you have a good aquarium). You could do both Mystic Seaport and the aquarium in one day if you were ambitious. They are both open 9-5. Four hours each one and an hour for lunch in between! But do the Aquarium first.
There are a few cool things for kids at the Aquarium, other than just being an awesome aquarium. Feed the birds -> There are hundreds of parakeets and some cockatoos that you go in and feed. They fly down and sit on you etc. The kids seems to love it. (I mention going first thing in the morning so you can go to this first thing so they are good and hungry). You can feed the stingrays. The Beluga whales. They never fail to be curious and always off a good photo op.

I KNOW you said no living history museums but I have to mention Sturbridge village. It's just so New England-y. And it's never too crowded and there's hiking trails and you can pack a lunch and relax up on a hill away from the village. AND the place is amazing. It seemed more authentic than Williamsburg for me. If you are going to be up at the beginning of August they have their reenactments.

Do you have drive-in theaters? We have a few New England.

If it's on your path, I suggest Purgatory Chasm. Kids love it. It's a very rocky hike that just about anyone could do. I am linking to some random guys log here- really just so you can see the sliding rock that we missed about the first 10 times. Some guys blog with pics
It's also nice since it has HUGE trees with lots of nice shade for a picnic and a little nature center.

I like Rockport and Gloucester and Newburyport but my kids don't want to walk through cute shops etc, so we haven't done them for years. There are nice beaches but nothing that I think compare to Popham (or Reid state park).

I would think you'd want to do some type of little boat trip but I've never had a stand out one, so I won't weigh in on that.

When in Bar Harbor you should go to Ben and Bill's. They have lobster ice cream/ You have to try it because, well, it's lobster ice cream.
posted by beccaj at 3:58 PM on June 8, 2014

I do have to add one thing. Book now. We have very few days to spend on the shore in nice weather. It books up fast! I mean fast- like the places I wanted to go are all booked. You'll have more luck when it's not the weekend so at least have your weekend days pinned down.
posted by beccaj at 4:19 PM on June 8, 2014

The Yorks and Ogunquit (Maine) are favorites of mine: pretty quick to get to from I-95 en route to Portland, nice beaches, family-friendly vibe, great lighthouses (I've photographed Nubble Light in York, there are others). A friend of mine took her 4-year-old son to York on a busy Sunday last summer and despite the crowds they both loved it.

I can't recommend the Ogunquit Museum of American Art enough; I think it's small enough so that you can cover it in a brief amount of time to avoid critical boredom mass with the kids. It's worth it just to park at the museum and take in the cliffside setting.

The crowds will be crazy in August so try to set out early in the morning. Early Sunday morning is one of the few decent times to be in a car at that time of year. Also, if you want to stay there, definitely book now.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 8:11 PM on June 8, 2014

Skip Salem and the stupid House Of Seven Gables unless you were a lit major or are raising one. (I was one.) Most of their stuff is super kitschy. There is one good museum in Salem, though: the Peabody Essex Museum.

Instead, follow Huffy Puffy's excellent advice and do everything in it.

Maybe swing southwest of Boston a ways and go to Battleship Cove if your kids like climbing on warships. I have taken a bunch of kids and they all loved it. Near-by New Bedford has a whaling museum with a full whale skeleton suspended overhead, and a scaled down whaling ship that you can climb all over.

Try to catch a Cape Cod League ball game if they aren't done by then (playoffs finish in mid-month). I am still trying to do this after twenty years in New England! :7)
posted by wenestvedt at 10:31 AM on June 9, 2014

Be careful about depending on the commuter rail around Boston though - most of the lines don't really run on the weekends anymore (for example, the Fitchburg line doesn't go all the way out to Concord on weekends)
posted by jcrbuzz at 6:09 PM on June 9, 2014

Posting final trip plans:

2 nights in Mystic to see Seaport and Aquarium (OK, OK, we'll go there!)
2 nights in Boston
Drive along coast stopping along the way at Salem, Rockport, etc
2 nights in Portsmouth - really touring Ogunquit and York
Drive along coast to Acadia
3 nights in Bar Harbor
Drive back highway route through quick stop at Freeport
1 night in Portland
Drive home stopping somewhere in PA to break up final trip

Thanks for the tips, I've included many of them in my plans. I will post back with more details after the trip.
posted by RoadScholar at 2:20 PM on August 10, 2014

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