Impromptu late August Maine or ?? vacay?
August 5, 2022 12:22 PM   Subscribe

I've just been scheduled for a work trip to Boston (MIT) August 23-24. I've got some vacation time for the month and want to tack on a few days of travel afterward. It occurs to me that I've never been to Maine and this is a good opportunity for some relaxation and light tourism. Advice? Questions and other details below the fold!

Last year I spent five days in a cute 1920s resort cottage steps away from a lake in Northern Michigan and took relaxed day trips within a drive of an hour or two, and it was perfect. Hoping to replicate the experience on the east coast!

My work trip is pretty fixed - probably flying into Boston either Monday evening or early Tuesday, with time allocated for meetings and other work on Tuesday and Wednesday. Could leave Boston late Wednesday or Thursday morning. I'd be flying back from BOS - return date is flexible at this point but probably the following Sunday or Monday.

>I've explored Boston and Newport on previous trips. I'm open to other suggestions in the region if they are compatible with the points below. I've been told Portland is lovely. Along the ocean would be ideal but I'm open to someplace on an interior lake if it isn't too far.
>I'm being as cautious as I can be about Covid - have not had it and don't want to (vaxxed, boosted, masking), so my preference is to have a car and stay somewhat away from the crowds where I can get a cottage or similar and be able to relax on my own.
>My ideal vacation: Staying in a cottage on the waterfront in a quiet location but within an hour or two of a/some historic area/downtown/village(s) for walking around looking at or learning about historic things. I don't need to actually have access to the water, I prefer lounging on a shaded deck or porch watching the water in the mornings/evenings to sitting on a hot beach at midday.
>I recognize that finding lodging for the end of August this late is going to probably cost me a bit of change and my options will be limited.
>I love great food but know that my options will also be limited because Covid.

Any suggestions for places that might meet these criteria? I am searching VRBO and AirBnB, but personal recommendations for places you've stayed are welcome. Conversely, tell me if there is someplace that is unsafe (for a single middle-aged white woman) or to avoid for other reasons.

Anything I should be aware of as a non-local? E.G. "at all costs avoid driving up the coast at X time" or other logistical issues.

Thank you!

[I've checked out previous Asks in this category]
posted by Preserver to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The good news is that "a quiet location but within an hour or two of a/some historic area/downtown/village(s) for walking around looking at or learning about historic things" describes the vast majority of the state! (OK, maybe not the extreme north and west, but that's probably not going to be on your list regardless.)

Unfortunately you are looking at a still-very-popular time of year, so the selection of lodging will not be great.

I wouldn't worry much about your food options being all that limited, especially if you stay near the coast; Maine tends to have a lot of (seasonal) outdoor dining even in pre-COVID times.

Don't drive from Maine to Massachusetts on a Sunday if you can help it. Also Route One (the main coastal route) can be a real pain in the ass to drive on weekends in general.

South of Portland (York to Old Orchard) is more "beachy"; north of Portland is the midcoast which has more of that classic rocky Maine shore feel; north of that is downeast, which is even more so.

Since you don't want to stay right on the ocean, maybe check out interior Lincoln county? Or often in midcoast and downeast Maine the town is sort of in the armpit of a fjord then you can drive south down a peninsula from there.

I think at this late date you'll be fairly limited in what's available, so just let that AirBnB/VRBO map be your guide and have a lovely time. (Places I've personally stayed are booked up.) Someplace that looks charming and has decent reviews is unlikely to be in some secretly awful and dangerous place.
posted by mskyle at 12:55 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]

Avoid driving up the coast at pretty much any time. Ha. Thursday morning should be fine, relatively speaking. The key is to avoid Friday afternoons going up and Sunday afternoons coming back. There's Amtrak service to Maine, though, if that would be easier - you could rent a car closer to your destination.

A lot of the Maine coast is pretty touristy. I don't know *everywhere* on the Maine coast, but I've been a lot of places - Kittery, York, Oguinquit, Kennebunkport - and isolated cottages on the waterfront are going to be hard to come by. Maybe further north of Portland, but then you're getting into pretty significant travel time, especially if you hit any traffic.

Might I suggest the Hampton/Rye, NH area? NH isn't really known for its beaches, but a) they're actually pretty nice, and b) it doesn't sound like the actual beach is important to you. I know there are cottages (like a couple hundred square feet) for rent around Jenness Beach. You'd be really close to Portsmouth, which is a town people seem to like, and a quick drive (maybe 15 minutes) into Maine to hit some of the stuff around Kittery to say you've been there. Newburyport/Plum Island in Massachusetts is pretty nice, too, and still only maybe a half hour drive, max, to get into Maine.

There are inland lakes up here, but really, they're not the same. Do the ocean. If nothing else, it's around 10 degrees cooler.

Most of the fun towns to explore are on or near the coast. Exeter is slightly inland and is probably the best shopping town in NH. Great bookstore. If you go really far inland, Concord, NH has some cool stuff too, but I wouldn't make a special trip for it.

None of the coastal areas are particularly unsafe. Inland gets dicey, though. Stay away from the Merrimack Valley, especially in Massachusetts. Lawrence, Mass. is one of the worst places I've ever been. Detroit-esque. But there's no reason to go anywhere near there unless you're driving up I-93 to Lake Winnipesaukee or something.

I-95 is a toll road in New Hampshire and Maine, so bring money for tolls.

If you can dogleg your trip to fly out of either Portland or Manchester, NH, either of those will be much more pleasant than flying out of Logan. Manchester is one of the best small airports in the country, IMO. If your hotel is north of the 128 (which is what people in Massachusetts call I-95), it's probably quicker to fly into MHT too.
posted by kevinbelt at 12:58 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]

Yes, it will be non-trivial tofind a nice vacation cottage at the end of August, a very busy time. Some ocean-adjacent motels are pretty nifty, so don't overlook that option.

Don't drive? hmmm. The train is really pleasant, but a lot of tourist stuff is really car-centric. Friday evening is heavy traffic.

Consider Peaks Island, Portland, part of the city, a 20 min ferry ride. Has bike and kayak (I think) rentals. Portland is full of brew pubs, award-winning restaurants, historic stuff, great fir walking around. East End Beach in Portland has swimming. The ferry ride is really pleasant, take it even if you stay elsewhere. No idea what's what for accommodation these days.

Happy to answer specific questions.
posted by theora55 at 1:02 PM on August 5 [3 favorites]

Seconding all of the above; you need to go pretty far north or inland to get the sort of rural retreat feeling, and at this point, you're going by what has lodging available.

If you can find something, Kennebunk or Kennebunkport might be good--I stayed at a cottage by Gooch Beach overlooking a pond, and it was lovely (it's booked, I just checked); the Rachel Carson nature preserve nearby in Wells is also nice. You're equidistant from Kittery/Portsmouth and Portland there for shopping/dining/what not; downtown Kennebunk and Kennebunkport also have some things going on.
posted by damayanti at 1:20 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]

The drive is a little longer, but if you can't find anything in the more popular areas (Kennebunk, Pine Point, Old Orchard Beach are all places I've been and they are lovely), look in "down east". Deer Isle is lovely, and because it is an island that's not an immediate cinch to get to, often not too crowded. Try looking in or near Stonington.
posted by pazazygeek at 1:26 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]

A good answer for cabin on a lake driving distance from Boston is Lake Winnipesaukee NH.
posted by bdc34 at 1:59 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]

There is a ferry from Rockport, Maine to Vinalhaven Island, a little more than an hour ferry ride. Getting a reservation for transporting a car is probably impossible at this point, but you can always cross as a pedestrian with a bicycle (I bet you can rent one). Schools seem to start earlier and earlier in August these days, so perhaps you'll get lucky for a shortish stay.

The island is charming in a real way, as opposed to an artificially charming touristy destination. Robert Indiana, the artist, certainly thought so; he bought the defunct Oddfellow's Hall and used it as a home and studio for decades. There are numerous homes for rent, and there is at least one hotel, but I don't know what might be available. There are several restaurants and a take-out window. If you like to cook there is a local lobsterman's coop that sells fresh lobster every day - lobstering is a leading occupation.

Attractions include a lovely nature preserve I walked in every day of every trip - it's along the rocky beaches and cliffs only steps from the downtown, and includes lovely fields and paths with lots of lovely flowers, birds, and insects (including mosquitos. Bring repellent.) I like to cook so we harvested fresh mussels at low tide once. There's a charming Carnegie library, several restaurants and a take-out window. If you have a bike or car (no idea if uber has made it to Vinalhaven) you can swim in the crisp water of a disused quarry outside town, where spring water soooo deep can alternate with lizarding on the granite shelves of the walls. Vinalhaven's chief industry used to be quarrying for its beautiful granite (Washington Monument, D.C. Post office). So probably good, plain food, lots of walking, reading, time to relax. We've missed a couple of summers there, but this is prompting me to plan on it again for next summer.
posted by citygirl at 2:30 PM on August 5 [4 favorites]

It strikes me that Boston to Burlington VT is only 3 1/2 hours. You might find something near the lake in the Mallets Bay area or in South Hero. It has a great bike path too.

Mt. Desert Island and Bar Harbor are great too but a lot more chill after Labor Day.
posted by credulous at 2:43 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]

You can’t do better than Vinalhaven as mentioned above. It seems that as of this moment your dates are available here
posted by InkaLomax at 3:27 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I've got you! I travel a ton, our vacation criteria are similar, and I have lived along the coast of Maine for ages. Here's what I'd do:

- Have a marvelous dinner in Boston
- Make a plan for your dinner on Thursday evening (reservations or groceries)
- Pack
- Sleep well

- Zip over to BOS bright and early to rent a car
- Meander two hours north to Portland, Maine, possibly taking a short detour to take in the marvelous Peabody Essex Museum on your way
- Wander around Portland's Old Port and grab lunch as you go. You really can't go wrong wherever you land, but Eventide, DuckFat, and the food trucks on the Eastern Prom are all favorite haunts.
- Continue northward for another two hours to your lodging. Pop into the LL Bean flagship store on your way to either the Craignair Inn (rustic, oceanfront, rural), The Whitehall (just outside of the charming village of Camden, a few blocks from the water) or an AirBnB (I don't know this one personally, but the area is lovely).
- Eat at the Criagnair if you're staying there, at The Waterfront if you're at the Whitehall, or pick up groceries at the Wiscasset Hanniford on your way to your AirBnB.

Friday - Sunday
You could easily (and happily) spend your time poking around the immediate vicinity of your lodging, but here are a few ideas for excursions within a 30 min drive of wherever you stay;
- Camden: walk around town, spend two hours sailing on a traditional wooden schooner (it sounds hokey but it's pure magic, walk or drive up Mount Battie, hike a few of the Camden Hills, grab breakfast at Boynton McKay and eat it in the Harbor Park and Amphitheater. You must find a way to eat at Long Grain, either by calling for reservations now, or by trying your luck for takeout while you're in town.
- Rockland: visit the Farnsworth Museum, CMCA, and a slew of galleries and independent boutiques. You MUST eat at Primo (head upstairs for a low-key version of the fancy pants menu downstairs), and don't miss the sinny buns at Home Kitchen Cafe. Consider walking the Breakwater if the weather is nice.
- Monhegan Island: Get up astonishingly early and take the first boat from Port Clyde to Monhegan Island. Spend the day hiking the beautiful trails, investigating the multitudes of artist's studios, and dining at General Stores, fish shacks, and the island's lone brewery. Come home on the last ferry and you'll be absolutely delighted by your day.

- Book an evening flight out of BOS
- Drive four hours south, drop off the rental car and hop on a plane.

Maine is so beautiful in August. You'll be very happy to have visited. Please don't hesitate to Memail me with any questions.
posted by kayzie at 3:57 PM on August 5 [13 favorites]

The best restaurant on Vinalhaven is not on Vinalhaven; it’s on North Haven. So if the magical quarry-swimming on Vinalhaven is not your thing, you might instead skip Vinalhaven and arrange a ride out to North Haven on a repurposed lobster boat to have a fine dinner at Nebo Lodge:

(you can also get there from Vinalhaven by arranging a ride on a skiff across the Fox Island Thoroughfare…call the Nebo Lodge to make arrangements)

Nebo Lodge also has rooms, but they are almost certainly booked.
posted by baseballpajamas at 5:03 PM on August 5 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Mainer here. I always advise folks to try to drive past the towns kevinbelt mentioned. IMO they're quite busy/touristy and somewhat lacking what makes the Maine coast special. Portland is a great little city. And anything north of Portland along the coast should check the boxes you've listed here. Even in the "busy" places (e.g. Mt Desert Island, which is amazing), it's easy to get away from the crowds.
posted by Text TK at 4:40 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]

If your hotel is north of the 128 (which is what people in Massachusetts call I-95)

Route 128 and I-95 are concurrent in some areas but they are not synonymous and calling the section of I-95 which runs from from Canton to Peabody '128' isn't some weird affectation we massholes have, it actually is Massachusetts State Route 128. The section from Canton to Braintree is however anachronistically referred to as Route 128 even though it's no longer part of Route 128, nor is it I-95 for that matter because it's I-93.

That said, Route 128 goes to Cape Ann which may not be Maine but is also lovely in a quaint historical villages adjacent to the ocean sort of way.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 6:32 PM on August 7

it actually is Massachusetts State Route 128

Well yeah, but typically when interstate highways run concurrently with state or even US routes, the interstate takes precedence. Massachusetts is the only place I've ever been where that's not the case, so it kind of is some weird affectation.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:18 PM on August 7

Response by poster: Belated thanks to you all for the great advice - everything was helpful in my trip planning although I've marked a few as best answer. @Kayzie, I am ready to hire you as my travel agent!

After an astonishing amount of research, lists of pros and cons, and frankly a lot more dithering than is reasonable, I settled on three nights at the Craignair Inn to scratch that "relaxing waterfront vacation" itch. Decided along the way that I wanted to spend an extra day/night so I booked a very highly recommended AirBnB in a historic building in the Arts district of Portland for the last two nights.

Definitely looking forward to this getaway before a busy fall.
posted by Preserver at 3:00 PM on August 14

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