Maine

Anthony and I were still in Ogunquit when we decided to book another trip to Maine just eleven days later — one last hurrah before summer ended. Of course, this was an excuse to return to Ogunquit and stay in the same B&B, but we also decided to finally visit the stunning Acadia National Park and foodie city Portland. While these two destinations are roughly three hours apart, visiting both on the same trip felt like a perfect balance. Here are my recommendations:

Stay

Because our trip was so last-minute, we only had a few options when it came to places to stay. Since we had just two days for Acadia National Park, we decided to stay in Bar Harbor, where the park’s main entrance is. If you have more time, I’d suggest staying in one of the charming villages in the southern part of Mount Desert Island. I would not recommend our B&B in Bar Harbor; nothing was terrible about it, but the dainty, dated inn did not meet my usual standard. However, I would highly recommend the chic Airbnb I found for our one night in Portland. This historic three-story home was built by a famous architect, and, more importantly, it’s just a few blocks from Tandem Coffee Roasters. Our room was spacious and stylish, and check-in was completely contact-free, which I haven’t encountered since our Airbnb in Berlin four years ago. Our Airbnb was in the West End, but if we return to Portland I might want to stay in Old Port, since most of the best restaurants seem to be there.

Do

Acadia National Park was obviously the highlight of the trip. The park covers almost the entire Mount Desert Island, the largest island off the coast of Maine. It’s been a while since I’d been to a national park, and I had forgotten how magnificent they are. We only had two days, and while you could easily spend a week or more there, you can also get quite a bit done in just two days. A friend generously let us borrow her park pass, so we didn’t have to pay for the $30 entrance fee. The first thing we did was drive up to Cadillac Mountain. I’m still amused that you can just drive to the top. What a view! Even though there were a lot of people, there’s so much space to freely wander and enjoy unobstructed views of the island. We even saw one guy sitting by himself, reading a book, and ignoring all the tourists gawking around him — goals!

After taking in enough views, we continued our drive. We learned quickly that any time you see a parking spot, take it. There are enough sites everywhere that any place you park will have something interesting to see. Keep stopping as often as you can because there are so many hidden treasures. Meanwhile, parking during peak tourist season is scarce, so take what you can get. We found a spot near Jordan Pond, a hypnotically clear lake with steep inclines on both sides. We didn’t have time to do any of the nearby hikes but did take a lifetime’s supply of photos.

Our only hike in Acadia was Beehive Trail, a short but infamously steep hike. I’ve hiked Breakneck Ridge a few times without any struggle, so I was feeling pretty cocky — until about halfway up Beehive. While most of the steep parts had ladder rungs that made climbing up pretty simple (especially since I’m flexible and, despite my short height, can crawl up like a gecko), one section had no rungs, so I was literally gripping nooks and crannies in the rocks to keep from falling from the completely vertical cliff. Something I always forget until it’s too late is that I have slight acrophobia. It’s the reason I can’t rock climb, even just two feet off the ground, and the reason I will never be able to do a handstand despite being able to do nearly everything else in yoga. For almost a full minute, I was frozen in my tracks, scared stiff. Fortunately, Anthony came up and climbed right behind me, making sure I wouldn’t fall backward as I continued up. When we got to a flatter section, fellow hikers who had been watching congratulated and informed us that we had taken the harder route. Apparently we could have avoided that terrifying part if we had just taken a more roundabout path. Darnit! That’s what I get for being cocky and rushing up without scanning all options first. Regardless, it was a (mostly) fun climb and the view was as gorgeous as expected.

In Portland, we didn’t do much besides eat, but one activity that we really loved was watching the sunrise from Portland Head Light. About a 20-minute drive from our Airbnb, this iconic lighthouse has lots of parking and a perfect view of the sunrise. We were amused by the row of professional photographers who got there before us.

Eat

Honestly, we had a pretty mediocre food experience in Bar Harbor, mainly because we had so little time. I was given many recommendations from friends but couldn’t try any of them because some restaurants were closed the day we were there, or I hadn’t booked necessary reservations. However, this was all off-set by the incredible food we ate nonstop in Portland. I would return to Portland just to eat. In fact, I would return to Portland just to eat at one specific restaurant: Eventide Oyster Company. This was the one place that everyone kept recommending, and I see why! On our first night in Portland, we went to Eventide around 5pm to put our name on the waitlist. What a joke. We were quoted a 7-hour wait time. Seven hours?! I’m from NYC and have never been quoted that long. So, the next morning, we went an hour and a half before they even opened at noon. I know it sounds ridiculous, but it was worth it! We made friends in line (with some folks from New York and New Jersey, unsurprisingly) and played card games on a nearby bench. We were seated as soon as they opened! This is how to do it. Forget dinnertime (unless you put your name down around 4pm and don’t mind waiting for their call much later that night). We had some of the best oysters I’ve ever had. Until now, I’ve only respected oysters from Galway. But this meal changed my life. In fact, as soon as we finished our first dozen oysters, I immediately ordered another half-dozen of my favorite, Johns River. Everything we ate at Eventide was phenomenal, from the fried oyster roll to the bloody mary cava cocktail to the oatmeal cookie pie. I still dream about this meal every few days, and if we ever return to Portland, I will be eating here every single lunch.

The second best place we tried, and another spot I would be eating at nonstop if we return to Portland, is Tandem Coffee Roasters. This former gas station and laundromat makes some of the best pastries I’ve had in a while, from a breakfast sandwich with chorizo and smoked paprika mayo on a homemade buttermilk biscuit, to a brown butter cinnamon bun with orange glaze. We ate our pastries on the bench outside for breakfast one morning, watching the line for Tandem grow and grow down the block.

Per everyone’s recommendation, we went to Holy Donut for potato donuts. This place, as all good spots in Portland, also had a long line going down the block, but we were able to avoid it by pre-ordering our donuts online. They have some interesting flavors, such as toasted coconut and sweet potato ginger.

Ogunquit

Maine has always seemed somewhat exotic to me, probably because I’m from Hawaii, the farthest state from Maine as possible. I’ve always had a desire to visit, fantasizing about steaming lobster in a quaint cabin we rented on the coast. Anthony and I even made friends with a couple from Maine on our Morocco trip back in 2017, and though they invited us to their riverside cabin in Edgecomb, we never made it up there. Maine always seemed just a little too far — if I was going to spend eight hours traveling, I might as well go to Europe, right? It wasn’t until COVID, when I was desperate for another road trip, that a friend informed me that a delightful beach town called Ogunquit is only five hours away from New York City. FIVE HOURS?! Our previous trip to the Finger Lakes took that long! I dove into research and could sense almost immediately that I would love it here. In fact, less than two weeks after our first trip to Ogunquit, we returned because we had so fallen hard for it. Here are some of my recommendations:

Stay

I honestly don’t know if we would have loved Ogunquit as much if we hadn’t stayed at 2 Village Square Inn. This impressive, three-story bed & breakfast overlooking the rest of town is easily the best b&b I’ve been to in the U.S. The owner, Bruce, was the epitome of a host, making each guest feel like part of a family. There are 17 charming guest rooms, and I was impressed by the detailed description of each room on the website. Both of the rooms on our two separate trips had direct views of the water, and I loved waking up to the sunrise — the first light to hit (continental) America! The rest of the b&b is just as lovely, from the heated saltwater pool and jacuzzi, to the porch with rocking chairs. Each morning, we found a different spot on the three-acre property and were given a laminated menu and dry-erase marker to make our breakfast selection. The food was as wonderful as I expected: French toast with berries on one day, scrambled eggs and hash browns with peppers another day. Bruce checked on each guest to ask if they wanted a refill on anything. Freshly-baked blueberry scones and cookies were individually wrapped and available throughout the day, as was local coffee in the lobby. I could go on and on about how exceptional 2 Village Square Inn is, but just take my word for it: Book this place and book early because it sells out quickly and is full of return guests who also know what a dream this place is. 

Do

The first thing you should do in Ogunquit is walk along Marginal Way. This 1-¼ mile winding cliff walk connected our b&b to Perkins Cove and is the most scenic way to get across town. There are 39 socially distanced benches scattered along the walk, and we appreciated the unending opportunities to climb down rocks to get closer to the sea.

Anyone visiting Maine for the first time should take a lobstering boat ride, so that’s exactly what we did. We sailed with a lobsterman and an extremely knowledgeable tour guide (as well as a few families with young children), stopping by various traps to haul in freshly caught lobsters. Lobsters are fascinating! We learned that “lobsters never die.” Basically, lobsters don’t age, they do not grow weaker, and they do not become infertile. In fact, they become more fertile in their old age. Lobsters can regenerate lost limbs and regularly outgrow their shells. Once their waistline feels a little snug, a lobster will shed its shell, pump itself full of water to grow, then harden its outside into a new shell. (This is where soft-shell lobsters come from; they’re lobsters caught during this molting period.) Lobsters that have just molted are at a vulnerable stage for about three months until their new shell grows. Since lobsters don’t have bones, they can shed and grow indefinitely. Maine has strict laws about what type of lobsters can be harvested; they must be a certain size, and cannot be pregnant. When our lobsterman hauled in a pregnant one, he threw it back out into the sea. Female lobsters carry thousands of eggs, so pregnant lobsters are much more valuable in the wild than on a dinner plate. To book a trip, just call FinestKind as soon as possible. They have multiple trips throughout the day, and other trips besides lobstering ones, but they were selling out quickly when we were there.

I wasn’t too eager about checking out the beaches in Maine (I’m from Hawaii, after all!), but when we first went to Footbridge Beach around dusk, I was in awe. After crossing a little wooden bridge over idyllic marshland that gave me flashbacks of Normandy, we arrived at the most expansive beach I’ve ever seen. With soft sand that reminded me of Lanikai, this wide, flat beach with a low shore is the perfect place for young children learning how to swim. It’s also much less crowded than other beaches in Ogunquit, and it was so tranquil walking along the water. We visited a second time in the late morning, and it was decidedly less romantic and filled with more families, but it’s so spacious that even then it was hard not to appreciate the beach. It’s best to either walk or catch the trolley to Footbridge Beach, as the nearby parking lot charges $25 for the whole day. If you get there early and leave before 8am, or come late, I think they stop charging for parking.

Eat

Obviously, we had to eat lobster at every meal. It was my first time in Maine! Our favorite lobster happened to be the first place we tried, and it also happened to be the cheapest. We ate at The Lobster Shack twice during their lunch special: $20 for two one-pound lobsters, corn on the cob, and coleslaw. Yes, you read that right: $20 for two really good lobsters. I have yet to see a better deal anywhere else. The casual restaurant is housed in a former shack that once stored traps, rope, buoys, and other fishing equipment for lobstermen.

Our b&b gave us a $100 gift certificate (see, aren’t they perfect?) to Ogunquit Lobster Pound, so we had two dinners there. On our first night, we went on a Saturday around 7pm. Big mistake. The restaurant comprises both an indoor space that resembles a gigantic log cabin and a vast outdoor area that reminded me of camp. But the size of the space didn’t matter; it seemed like all of Ogunquit was here for dinner. We ended up waiting an hour and a half to be seated. For the second dinner, we learned our lesson and arrived earlier (and on a Sunday) and were seated immediately. To order, we walked up to the tank and chose which lobster we wanted, then they cooked it and brought it out to our table. It was a fun experience and a great way to enjoy lobster. Random tip: Their free bread is phenomenal!

Another lobster spot we tried was Barnacle Billy’s, which seems to be on everyone’s must-trys. I preferred The Lobster Shack for its lunch deal, but this restaurant was more atmospheric because you can eat right on the water.

If, for some reason, you’re sick of lobster, Brix+Brine is a chic raw bar. Don’t forget that Maine is also amazing at oysters!

Quick Day Trips

About a half-hour drive north is Kennebunkport, the fancier version of Ogunquit. It’s where the Bush compound is, if you’re into that. We had some extra time so we drove up to have lunch at the famous Clam Shack. There was a long line, but the lobster rolls were worth it! Cheap parking is available in the lot behind The Clam Shack. Also check out Rococo for ice cream flavors like chai cardamom, goat cheese, and guava and Maria cookies.

A 15-minute drive south is Cape Neddick, a gorgeous little peninsula that houses the iconic Nubble Lighthouse. If we had more time in southern Maine, I probably would have wanted to spend a night on Cape Neddick!