This is my eighth summer visiting Maine. No, I don’t have a summerhouse here, but all my kids go to camp in Maine, so once a year we pack up, load it all into the truck, and head up north. Over the years we’ve stayed in lots of different places and tried lots of things. And I have to be honest: If it weren’t for camp we would probably be spending our summer vacations in many other (warmer!) places. But here are my favorite things about Maine.
1. The scent of pine and brine. It’s a unique combination of pinewoods and ocean and marsh air. And since it’s usually chilly, damp, and foggy, it’s kind of like being sprayed in the face with an aromatherapy atomizer…that’s a good thing.
2. Lobster, of course. You really haven’t tasted lobster until you’ve tasted it in Maine, in one—any one, really—of those on-the-water lobster houses, where it doesn’t matter how much of a mess you make because the seagulls will clean it up afterwards. Fresh lobster is silky, salty, and tender. However, the most I can take is three lobster meals in a row and then I have to switch to something else for a few days.
3. The Clam Shack. You have to get to the Clam Shack in Kennebunkport early, or at least on your last day. They fight for the top lobster roll spot with Red’s Eats in Wiscasset, but I vote for the Clam Shack—even though the Bush’s are fans as well. It’s just lobster and butter in a toasted bun, eaten on the street. Yum.
4. It’s the only place I’ve seen where WASPs and hippies truly, happily cohabit. Seriously, it’s hard to tell who dominates here. Maybe WASPs were here first, and it’s still a Republican state, but hippies are just part of the fabric, and you can’t go a mile without seeing an organic farm stand or some other sign of hippie life, such as an old station wagon with peace stickers all over it.
5. There are more cars with bikes and boats attached than tractor-trailer trucks. They don’t call it the Vacationland State for nothing—there are active folks all over the place having outdoor adventures. I’d be doing that, too, if it wasn’t so dang cold all the time.
6. Fore Street Restaurant in Portland. We have reservations tomorrow night! After a few meals of lobster and french fries, you want nothing more than some wood-fire-cooked meats and plates of delicious in-season organic vegetables cooked to perfection. Along with a good salad! I can’t wait.
7. Freeport—home of L.L. Bean and outlets galore. I am not an outlet shopper in general, but you know it’s bad when even I buy cheap shirts at the Abercrombie and Fitch outlet, which my 12-year-old MADE me go into. L.L. Bean has turned into a huge conglomeration of stores for whatever outdoor sport you are into. Worth a visit for sure. By the way, you can buy an umbrella stroller at the Rite Aid by the parking lot. This was the second year in a row we forgot ours.
8. Needlepointing. I have been working on the same needlepoint piece for eight years, partly because I need the right weather to enjoy it properly. It should either be snowing with a fire in the fireplace, or it should be classic Maine weather—damp, cool, foggy, rainy, and not really worth venturing out into.
9. The Inn at Hidden Pond. We have stayed in so many places over the years—horrible bed and breakfasts, even worse motels, charming and upscale little inns in big mansions, and even (gasp!) campgrounds. We’ve stayed at nice places like the White Barn and the Inn at Sunrise Point. But finally, there is a place that is fairly perfect. Hidden Pond has individual two-bedroom houses with kitchens, and it has the four essential ingredients of a great hotel: 1. Great beds. 2. Really good coffee and plenty of it. 3. Windows that open. And finally, 4. An outdoor shower. We’ll definitely come back here. Even the kids love it.
10. Antiques. I don’t know how so many great antiques show up in Maine, but they sure do. It’s a veritable treasure trove of unique, fabulous, and fun shopping. But here is a lesson I have learned twice on this trip…if you see it and you love it, buy it because it WON’T be there next year when you go back to find it. This year I bought a 19th-century Burmese painted wooden deer head to go with my weird wooden animal head collection. I can’t wait to get home and see how it looks with all the others. Last year in the same town (Wiscasset), I bought a snarling, sniveling painted boar’s head from the 1800s.
Ahhh, I just love Maine.