Tourists are warned the rocky coastline of Acadia National Park is slippery when wet, but not everyone heeds.

Sweltering temperatures and high humidity propelled us out of Florida, but the beckoning promise of 60-degree days, delectable lobster (for me because my husband Russ is allergic to shellfish), and new adventures that could be crammed into four days after a non-stop flight to a destination neither of us had ever explored, affirmed our brief jaunt to Maine, an experience so exhilarating we are already planning a longer return.

The working docks in Belfast, ME crowded with lobster and fishing vessels.

In four days, we sampled some of coastal Maine’s signature delights: back roads fronted by historic houses, working fishing docks, waterside restaurants boasting the freshest of seafood, and a focus on arts, books, and the preservation of natural environments and historical architecture.

Our three-hour (delayed start at an indecent time of morning on the almost always late-Allegiant Airlines) flight deposited us in Bangor, ME. The first thing we noticed was the Bangor International Airport’s lobby was crowded with fresh-faced camouflaged-clothed soldiers. Wherever they were headed, I prayed for their safety. We picked up our Alamo rental and headed to the Residence Inn Bangor, about 20 minutes away.

We chose this property for its high Trip Advisor ratings, centralized location to places we planned to visit, and that one of the city’s highest-rated restaurants, Timber Kitchen & Bar, was onsite. This is by far the nicest Residence Inn at which we’ve ever stayed, from the décor, friendly staff, but above all, the complimentary breakfast with drinkable coffee! The breakfast buffet included all the elements you’d expect; a variety of breads, fresh fruits in a bowl, dry cereals, a pot of hot oatmeal, waffle maker, and scrambled eggs made from powder which I will never eat. What stood out for me, besides the coffee strong enough to taste like brewed coffee (a sharp contrast to every other Residence Inn at which we have stayed), were the jars filled with a variety of nuts, shredded coconut, and dried fruits.

A sailboat coming into port.

Able to check in early, we dropped off our bags and drove to the nearby city center for lunch. Russ had researched several places. The Sea Dog Brewing Pub scored high with indoor and porch dining overlooking the Penobscot River. We had left Florida during a six-week spell of sticky, high-90s temperatures. Sitting on a porch with enough wind chill to wear a light jacket and gaze at sparkling river views would be the ultimate relaxing way to begin our mini vacation.

Then the rental car doors wouldn’t lock. The remote soundlessly failed no matter how much we begged. Unwilling to leave it open, we unhappily rode back to the airport-based rental counter, thinking they’d just replace the remote’s battery. Instead, we were immediately upgraded to a larger, heavier, gas guzzler… but at least the battery worked!

Returned to Sea Dog Brewing Pub. By now overtired and hungry. I ordered a cashew quinoa salad and Russ chose the fried chicken sandwich with a side Caesar salad, as well as a beer the company brews: Deep Stowage.  My salad of multiple shredded styles of cabbage, edamame peas, sweet peppers, cukes, onions was topped by at least a cup of crunchy whole cashews. The salad was at least three times larger than I could have ever imagined, especially for the price. I regretted not being able to take the rest to enjoy another day and that even though I didn’t eat it all, I was still too full to enjoy more than appetizers later that evening at Timber Kitchen & Bar.

Russ’ fried chicken was a perfectly seasoned plump, juicy breast. His side Caesar was as large as most full-sized Caesars at other restaurants. His beer hit the spot as accompaniment.

When asked, our server suggested several restaurants favored by locals in Bar Harbor: Stewman’s Lobster Pound, Side Street Café, and Galyn’s.

Upside down umbrella fronts a street of colorful umbrellas in Bangor, ME. That’s Russ checking it all out.

The crisp air, blue sky, and full tummies encouraged us to explore Bangor. Spotted a sign posted on the side of a building for the Zillman Art Museum, a part of the University of Maine. Unless we were meant to Harry Potter-disappear into the bricks, we saw no entrance, even around the building’s corner. Asked two locals, one exiting the public library catty corner from the building, and neither knew. Walked down the side street, drawn by a neon yellow upside-down umbrella statue that served as seating at the corner of Cross & Main. Nearing, we realized there was an alleyway festively decorated with multi-colored upside-down umbrellas hanging from strung wire.

We 180-ed and finally saw a signboard earmarking the entrance for the museum’s two floors of exhibition space. Free admission.  The first-floor greeter wasn’t surprised to learn even locals aren’t aware of its’ presence, even though the modern and contemporary art museum was founded in 1946. One room in the first floor’s collection was chosen by 2024 Young Curators: Teddy Dickson-Smith and Cody Fortier, two high school students selected for an in-depth, hands-on experience to learn how to curate a museum collection. They utilized two-dimensional works from the museum’s permanent collection to complete their theme’s vision: Human, Nature.

Rocky terrain such as this with dots of the state’s famous rose quartz inspired many of Vaino Kola’s paintings.

The second floor’s exhibition riveted our attention. Spread throughout multiple rooms, we gazed at each, admiring the minutia detailed in landscapes painted with oil on canvas by Finnish-born artist, Vaino Kola. He lived in Deer Isle, ME after 26 years as a professor at Wheaton College (MA) for 26 years. Inspired by Maine locations, the intricate landscapes were of lush forests, rock-strewn areas that seem to have just tumbled off higher ground or been crushed into pebbles over time, and winter scenes that spoke of eerie quiet. The paintings appeared textured but were not 3D. We felt as if we could step into the canvas. His exhibit runs through August 24.

Although not hungry, I couldn’t pass up my first opportunity for Maine lobster bisque that evening at Timber Kitchen & Bar. The large cup of broth was a bit too thick for my preference, but rich in lobster flavor and contained miniscule shreds of lobster. The next day I saw a photo advertising the bisque on the restaurant’s website menu. Heaping teaspoons of shredded lobster meat were piled in the soup’s center. I also had a half-order of Brussel sprouts roasted with maple syrup and dotted with a scattering of pomegranate seeds. The menu described the side dish as also having chopped pistachios, but mine were missing in action. As I love pistachios and expected them, I asked the server why there weren’t any. She shrugged and said they probably didn’t include them with a half-order (which was as large as a full order elsewhere). The sprouts were tasty and I wouldn’t have thought anymore about it, but the server’s attitude was lazy and indifferent.

Timber Kitchen & Bar has wooden ceiling beams and a burning fire for a cozy atmosphere.

Russ drooled at the prospect of their advertised 24-oz prime rib, something he enjoys but rarely finds on menus.  Even with me having a small piece and the removal of fat and gristle, he still couldn’t finish it all. The dinner came with a heaping mound of mashed potatoes and several large stalks of asparagus. We had a wonderful bottle of Ridge Three Valley from Sonoma County (CA) 2021. It’s referred to as the Standard Bearer of Ridge—the winemaker’s wine. Blackberry and dill notes, with a touch of smokiness.

Even though neither of us needed any more food, we simply couldn’t pass up sampling the Mini Wild Maine Blueberry Pie sided by a scoop of house made vanilla ice cream and the Créme Brûlée Trio, consisting of caramelized vanilla, espresso and maple crème brûlée. Neither of us had ever had Maine blueberries. They are packed with a flavor and texture unlike the large, plump blueberries we get in Florida (even those imported from Peru). Brûlée is one of Russ’ favorite desserts, so of course we had to try those.

A seatmate on our Allegiant flight was a Florida snowbird from Belfast, ME. She said the city is too cute and quaint to pass up and would be on our way to Camden, a city Russ had targeted on our agenda. We found Belfast and nearly didn’t want to go elsewhere.

Belfast was settled by Scottish-Irish families in the late 1700s.

Belfast is the county seat of Waldo County. The city of about 7,000 people is located at the mouth of the Passagassawakeag River estuary on Belfast Bay and Penobscot Bay. The city was settled by Scottish-Irish families from Londonderry, NH. The name was allegedly chosen by a coin-toss. Although inhabitants had abandoned the city for fear of a British attack during the American Revolution, historical records point out they returned in the 1780s to rebuild and flourish.

One of the many grand preserved buildings in Belfast.

Preserved buildings from the 1700s through 1800s line the sidewalk edges, leading down a slight hill to the working docks. Restaurants and cafes boasting fresh lobster dinners and lobster rolls frame the docks. In the short few days of our trip, I puzzled several times that a lobster roll (6” max) would cost more than full dinners, whether you were cracking the shell yourself or the lobster tails and claws were picked for you.

The First Christian Church built in Belfast in 1796 is this United Church of Christ.

We quickly browsed Colburn Shoe Store, the oldest shoe store in America, established in 1832 and paused before a well-preserved white United Church of Christ, the first Christian Church built in Belfast in 1796. Boutique shops of clothes, books and souvenirs line the sidewalks. Posters and a visitor information center bragged of local tourist attractions, such as The Back & Forth’, a traditional wooden lobster boat and that hosted searches for sunken treasure in the Belfast Bay.

One shop owner recommended we make it to Rockland, a more metro area renowned for art. He encouraged us not to miss walking the nearly mile-long bridge out to the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse there, but alas, we didn’t have time for that. We drove through the downtown area, but it wasn’t as appealing as Belfast and what we expected to see in Camden (from Russ’ research).

Rockport Village harbor was abuzz of activity.

Leaving Rockland, we saw a sign for Rockport Village, and impulsively detoured. What is a vacation for except to explore, be flexible to unexpected sites, and learn what we didn’t know we didn’t know?

Rockport Village is a picturesque postcard built around a working harbor. Boats lazed in the water. Reminded us of Sausalito, CA. We parked in a lot near the water (and restrooms) and walked towards a train engine car parked beside some crumbling building shells. An informational placard answered our questions.

Remnants of the Rockport Railroad and one of the kilns.

The train engine had been part of the Rockport Railroad. The ruins were the remains of kilns. The railroad had been a narrow gauge line laid out in 1886 by Rockport lime manufacturers, Carleton, Norwood Company and Shepherd Company. A huge limestone plant had once sat on the harbor and the ovens were fed from above by the railroad. The train ran three miles from Simonton’s Corner to the kilns for 14 years, after which it was sold to the Rockland-Rockport Lime Company. The railroad consisted of two Vulcan locomotives and 35 five-ton cars built by Knowlton Brothers in Camden.  (Russ is a train fan as you may know from our other travel blogs.)

In the few cities we visited, one thing was abundantly clear: Maine caters to multiple independent bookstores, coffee shops, and cat and (mostly) dog boutiques. I smiled at the signage for the Claws & Paws Country Spa.

Camden, ME is walkable and full of bookstores, coffee shops, and pet stores.

Driving through Camden, we added numerous art galleries as a focus of shop owners. Camden hugs the Penobscot Bay. The High Street Historic District features 19th-century homes and the Camden Public Library, with its landscaped amphitheater. The restored Camden Opera House stages music, film and dance.

We parked on a side street. A sign said two-hour limit, which would have taken us to just past 5 pm, which is apparently when they stop ticketing. I asked a man coming out of his house if we were OK parked there and he smiled and said, “This is Maine. We don’t follow the rules that closely.” He then said, “Have you seen what a ticket would run?”, hinting it was a jokingly small number… certainly not enough to be concerned about if we did have an aggressive ticketer. As it happened, we unexpectedly returned before the two hours were up.

The waterfront in Camden was surrounded by restaurants and artsy shops.

After wandering the waterfront and menu-gazing in search of which restaurant would get my full lobster dinner order, we learned most places wouldn’t open until 5. The one we finally chose based upon recommendations by locals reported they wouldn’t have any fresh lobster until the next day. So back we drove to Belfast, where we were certain the lobster was fresh caught and Russ would have no problem finding a meal he’d enjoy.

We chose Nautilus Seafood & Grill located right on the harbor. The rough-hewn casual atmosphere has a courtyard, but the wind was nippy and blowing, so we chose indoors. Most of the seafood restaurants indicated lobster dishes or rolls were by market price. Nautilus, obviously a local favorite judging by the welcoming friendliness to customers, stated each menu item’s price.

A ready-to-crack-open Maine lobster dinner at Nautilus Seafood & Grill in Belfast, ME.

Russ had a haddock fried fish & chips dinner. My lobster dinner came with requisite bib, lobster cracker, and two sides. I chose garlic mashed potatoes and stir-fried veggies. Wine by the glass offered some credible choices at reasonable prices.

Finally, I was eating my first full lobster meal on this trip! It exceeded expectations.

The next day was our only other full day to explore before leaving Maine. We drove the scenic one-and-a-half-hour route to Bar Harbor. My meticulous planning husband Russ had researched parking areas, knowing season had just begun and parking might be an issue. Many sites only allow for two to four-hour parking. This lot was a several blocks walk from the main thoroughfare but had available all-day parking at a reasonable price. Although Bar Harbor is the belle of Maine’s tourism, it seemed we were there the week before things got hectic.

Bar Harbor is the belle of Maine’s tourism.

We were able to easily walk without bumping into people and to window shop. Just as we had come across the country’s oldest shoe store in Belfast, Bar Harbor boasts of having the oldest bookstore in the state, Sherman’s Maine Coast Bookstore.

As the server at Sea Dog in Bangor had recommended Stewman’s Lobster Pound, Side Street Café, and Galyn’s, we made a point of checking those menus out as well as other restaurants while we waited for our 1

Stewman’s Lobster Pound’s 2nd floor outside dining is the Eagles’ Nest, popular on a sunny day.

pm two-and-a-half-hour guided bus tour of Acadia National Park. The company began its first tour in 1955 and typically includes stops at Cadillac Mountain, Thunder Hole, and Sieur De Monts Spring, all highlights of Mount Desert Island, the largest island off the coast of Maine. The three-and-a-half-hour tour on a 27-mile loop is on a luxury coach, with an additional stop at the Jordan Pond House.  The oversized van we were in had no bathroom, but there were restrooms at each 15-minute stop.

The beauty of Bar Harbor’s coastline from Acadia National Park.

We chose a tour instead of driving ourselves because in season it may be difficult to obtain one of the time-specified driving passes. Considered one of the 10 most visited national parks in America, Cadillac Mountain views were impressive in all directions. Thunder Hole at low tide did not “thunder” but was still interesting. Hiking on the 158 miles of hiking trails is a popular activity for those with the time. Although we didn’t have time to visit the west side of Mount Desert Island, it does offer more secluded recreational opportunities and coastal views.

A view of Bar Harbor from Acadia National Park.

All tours depart across the street from Testa’s Restaurant at 53 Main Street.  Our driver is a snowbird from Central Florida who had visited Bar Harbor on vacation and now lives there summers. He regaled us with facts about the forest, local celebrities, tales of the homes, and humorous anecdotes about each of the three places at which we paused for photo ops.

No wonder Bar Harbor attracts people who just sit and ponder the views.

Post tour, we were hungry. After re-examining menus and opting against waterside al fresco dining due to the brisk breeze, we chose the elegantly classy Galyn’s, in business since 1986. Sat by a window with a view of boats idling in the water across the street. (Side note: we spoke with other tourists who said the best lobster roll in Bar Harbor for quality and price was Side Street Café.)

I chose lobster bisque and Russ had New England clam chowder. (We don’t understand why he can eat this mollusk without reaction, but he can and tries it whenever possible.) My bisque was light, creamy and full flavored. He finished his without pausing to comment. If I wasn’t still in my must-have-Maine-lobster mindset, I would have taxed my brain deciding which of many appealing dishes for which to opt, but my choices on this menu narrowed to a lobster roll, lobster enchiladas, lobster fettucine, a whole lobster to once again messily crack, or to have lobster meat picked from tail and claws picked for me, alongside my choice of side dishes.

My Lazy Lobster dinner at Galyn’s meant all enjoyment, no labor.

I chose the latter, called the Lazy Lobster dinner, with steamed broccoli and a rice medley of red, brown and black varieties. The rice had a nutty chewiness to it. Russ chose a sirloin steak, roasted petite red potatoes, and a Caesar salad. Now that he has discovered Maine’s wild blueberries, small and packed with such a powerful punch, we finished the meal with a (mostly) blueberry-apple crisp, sided by a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Just look at these stellar views from Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park!

Alas, our flight out the next day was late morning. If we’d known we’d sit at the airport for a four-hour delay, I am sure I could have squeezed in one more Maine Lobster dinner.

Happy travels, no matter how long (or short) the journey!

Karen Kuzsel is a writer-editor based in the Orlando area who specializes in the hospitality, entertainment, meetings & events industries.  She is an active member of International Live Events Association and Meeting Professionals International and is now serving on the 2023-2024 MPI Community Council for Small Business Owners. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists. Karen writes about food & wine, spas, destinations, venues, meetings & events in her blog, Hotel Happenings & Program Promotions. A career journalist, she has owned magazines, written for newspapers, trade publications, radio and TV. As her alter-ego, Natasha, The Psychic Lady, she is a featured entertainer for corporate and social events.;;; She is also active with Experience Kissimmee CVB and Wedding Venue Map.

Food photos for this series by Karen Kuzsel. All other Photos by Russ Wagner, a retired government planner/builder who has a passion for historic architecture, wine, trains, travel and taking photographs.