Damariscotta Maine captures the essence of small-town Maine with its natural beauty, quaint art galleries, family-operated restaurants, and friendly residents.
This Lincoln County town has been a favorite among travelers for decades because of its charm and, of course, fresh Pemaquid oysters. Nestled in Mid Coast Maine, Damariscotta makes for a wonderful day trip or a relaxing vacation.
About Damariscotta Maine
Damariscotta is located just an hour from Portland, less than an hour from Augusta, and only 12 miles from the Atlantic coast.
However, there’s no need to travel to the coastline when you can easily visit the Damariscotta River, Damariscotta Lake, and many other waterways in and near Damariscotta. And, there are plenty of water activities to enjoy and trails to hike right in town.
Also, Damariscotta is a mecca for fresh Pemaquid oysters and mussels. In fact, the town is said to source 80% of the fresh, farmed oysters in Maine. It’s home to a protected horseshoe crab mating area as well.
The town name “Damariscotta” is derived (although greatly changed) from an Algonquian word “Madamescontee,” which means “place of an abundance of alewives.” These small salty fish have spawned in Damariscotta Lake for thousands of years.
The waters of Damariscotta have always been filled with marine life — horseshoe crabs, river herring, oysters, mussels, and other fish species. The indigenous Abenaki peoples created middens — stacks of oyster shells — in Damariscotta dating back thousands of years.
European settlers eventually discovered and established themselves in the area in the early 1700s. It wasn’t until 1848, though, that the town was officially incorporated.
In the 1800s, like many towns in Maine, Damariscotta became a hub for shipbuilding and shipyards, as well as brickyards. Many of the bricks made in town were transported to Boston Massachusetts to build the famous Back Bay brownstones and buildings.
Outdoor Things to Do in Damariscotta Maine
If you love outdoor activities, you’ll love Damariscotta Maine. The town has wonderful trails, accessible bodies of water, and exciting, family-friendly seasonal activities. Enjoy these options on your next visit.
If you’ve never seen middens before, check out Whaleback Shell Midden. A midden is a giant heap of oyster shells, some of which remain from when the Abenaki lived in the area.
Whaleback Shell Midden is so named for the shape of the midden — it looks like a whale. The full midden has been removed, but there is still plenty remaining to check out.
Once you’ve seen the giant midden, set out on a short hike on the nearby scenic walking trail. It is family-friendly and can accommodate strollers, wheelchairs, and bicycles.
There’s no better way to explore Maine than on the water. If you don’t have a kayak or canoe of your own, you can rent one at Midcoast Kayak. Rentals of kayaks, canoes, and paddle boards are available and include a life vest and paddle. Lessons are also available for an additional fee.
If you’re looking for someone to guide you and point out the best sights, try the Oyster Ecology Tour. This tour takes place on the Damariscotta River, and you will learn all about the history of oysters and the area. At the end, there’s an oyster-shucking and tasting opportunity.
Other great tours to try include the Muscongus Bay Wildlife Tour, Explorer Tour, and Sunset Tour.
Damariscotta River Cruises is perfect for those who want a relaxing experience without all the work of paddling themselves. The river cruises have various themes — Oyster Farms & Seal Watching, Oyster & Wine Tasting, Happy House & Sunset, and Oyster Farms & Fall Foliage.
Each cruise includes a narrated tour that explains the history of oysters. Plus, the cruises include a raw oyster bar and alcoholic beverages for an additional cost.
If you’re visiting Damariscotta in October, plan to attend the Damariscotta Pumpkinfest & Regatta. It is a celebration of giant pumpkins and their many uses.
This annual festival includes a contest for the heaviest pumpkin, carved and decorated pumpkins, a parade, a pumpkin derby, and a regatta to conclude the festivities.
You might be thinking of a regatta having boats, but this regatta is particularly unique because the boats are hollowed-out pumpkins. There are motorized and non-motorized races.
Other activities include face painters, street performers, and food stands. This is a must-attend event if you’re in the area in October!
On Fridays from spring to fall, the Damariscotta Farmers’ Market is popular with locals and visitors. It features the freshest local produce, meats, flowers, cheeses, crafts, beer, and other miscellaneous items.
The market has become a big community event each week where locals gather to socialize, feast, and shop. Since it is located at Round Top Farm, you can hike the trails behind the farm and see an apple orchard, eat at the picnic area, or view the Damariscotta River.
Indoor Things to Do in Damariscotta Maine
While there are so many fun activities to do outside, there are just as many fun indoor activities to check out in Damariscotta. From cozy shops to art galleries and museums, there’s plenty to explore around town. Add some of these indoor stops on your next trip.
The Lincoln Theater has been a local landmark in Damariscotta since 1875. It is the place to go for classic movies, independent films, live theater shows, concerts, and special events.
Check the calendar for upcoming shows and events. The theater is a wonderful activity on rainy weather days or when you need a break from the beautiful outdoors.
Spend some time at Skidompha Secondhand Book Shop perusing the thousands of books and getting great deals. The bookshop has been in business since 1968 and has grown over the decades. There are over 15,000 books and CDs, records, DVDs, audiobooks, puzzles, and VHS tapes for purchase.
The bookshop has fiction, non-fiction, paperback, and hardcover for both adults and children. Also, it is great for antiquers who are looking for rare books and first editions.
Have a lot of books already? The shop accepts book donations.
ABOCA Beads is a unique and fun place to shop for local, handmade jewelry. You can buy something pre-made or make your own in the shop. Jewelry materials include gems, glass, ceramic, pearls, bone, wood, and more.
Stop by ABOCA to make your one-of-a-kind souvenir or try your hand at one of the jewelry-making classes. The beads are sourced from all over the world — from Africa to Asia to Europe.
The Frances Perkins Center is dedicated to preserving the original homestead of Frances Perkins and honoring her life.
Frances Perkins was heavily involved in the U.S. government as the Secretary of Labor in the 1930s and 1940s. You will get to learn about her legacy and explore the well-preserved house.
The Kefauver Studio & Gallery has a wonderful collection of fine art by Will Kefauver. You will find landscapes, wildlife, and portraits.
Check out the Maine collection, which has artwork of Maine lighthouses, beaches, boats, shorelines, and islands. The studio and gallery even has special exhibits by local artists and holds beginner and intermediate classes for teenagers and adults.
Whether you’re an artist looking to display your work or you’re an art lover, check out River Arts. The over 300 members have artwork on exhibit, and it holds art shows throughout the year. Also, the gallery holds classes throughout the year on topics like photography and various painting techniques.
River Arts releases a schedule of themes that it will be exhibiting for the year too. Past themes have included Dark & Light, Storm, Passages, and Abstract. Artists are welcome to enter each themed show, and art enthusiasts are welcome to view the artwork during the gallery’s open hours.
Kathleen Horst is a local artist known for her beautiful watercolor paintings and prints. Her focus is on the Maine coast, lighthouses, villages, and wildlife. Her watercolor style includes both traditional and impressionist styles.
You can see Horst’s artwork at the gallery and purchase prints. The gallery is open from May to November or by appointment during the off-season.
Popular Damariscotta Maine Restaurants
Damariscotta may be a small village, but it’s full of restaurants that rival big-city experiences. There are plenty of date night spots, family-friendly establishments, and unique dining options available for you to nosh on the freshest dishes.
If you’re looking for fresh ingredients, amazing views, and a nice spot to bring family or a date, make a reservation at River House. Its menu changes by season but typically includes Damariscotta River oysters, salads, mussels, and lobster appetizers.
The entrees typically have chicken, fish, and vegetarian options. Every dish has an amazing presentation that rivals the finest city restaurants. A full bar with cocktails, wine, beer, cider, and non-alcoholic choices is also available to complement meals.
Ann’s Book Bistro is the perfect place to meet with a friend or date or to dine solo and enjoy the relaxing atmosphere. This cozy bistro has an eclectic menu that changes seasonally.
From salads to charcuterie to a fennel-roasted tomato soup, the appetizers could be meals. Some entrees include New York strip with cremini mushroom demi-glace, coconut curry shrimp, and paella for two.
Smaller portion entrees — like a vegan wrap, salmon burger, or bistro beef burger — are also on the menu. And, among the side dish options are garlic broccoli rabe, braised cabbage, cinnamon caramelized heirloom carrots, and roasted rosemary potatoes.
Damariscotta River Grill has a menu filled with Maine’s most delicious seafood dishes. The town is known for its Pemaquid oysters, and the restaurant serves them directly from the river.
After starting with Pemaquid oysters, try the potato pancakes or fish tacos. Then, have the baked haddock or broiled seafood plate, and finish with a blueberry cobbler or creme brulee.
This grill is a great spot to bring a group or for special occasions, but try to make reservations for busy evenings.
Do you have a hankering for prime rib? Check out King Eider’s Pub & Restaurant on Thursday nights for its famous prime rib special.
Before indulging in the hearty meat, you have to try oysters from the Damariscotta River. Oysters can be ordered individually or by half a dozen. You can also pair the oysters with an alcoholic beverage of your choice.
Even if you aren’t a big prime rib fan, there’s plenty on the pub’s menu to indulge in. Steak and ale pie, chicken pot pie, fish ‘n chips, and burgers are all popular choices with locals. And, a children’s menu is available for smaller appetites.
If you haven’t had a true homemade submarine lately, check out Metcalf’s Submarine Sandwiches. Its quality sandwiches offer more flavor and more filling than chain sub-shops. Every sandwich is packed with fresh, thick deli meats, sauces, and crisp vegetables.
To complement your submarine, try a homemade soup or chili and a fresh homemade cookie.
It’s hard to find an authentic soda fountain shop nowadays! Take a step back in time and enjoy a sweet treat at Waltz Soda Fountain.
The shop makes ice cream sodas right in front of you and according to your preferences. It may be small, but you can get your sodas to go or grab one of the few tables or stools at the fountain.
If you’re looking for a little something to eat with your ice cream soda, there’s a breakfast and lunch menu with favorites like waffles, muffins, and BLT and PB&J sandwiches.
Inns, Rentals, & Hotels in Damariscotta Maine
Oak Gables Bed & Breakfast will have you feeling like you’re staying at a relative’s house. The beautiful home is located on 9 acres of fields and orchards.
Guests are treated to calming river views and hundred-year-old oaks lining the property. There is a seasonal pool and a boathouse on the river to enjoy during warm months.
Amenities include free Wi-Fi, cable TV, a communal ping-pong table, and a delicious breakfast each morning for those staying in the Main House. The Main House rooms have shared bathrooms, while the Guest Wing offers a more private experience and larger accommodations.
If you want to stay in downtown Damariscotta, check out Comfort Found Literary Lodging. It is a third-floor apartment that a local couple rents out part-time. The apartment has stunning Damariscotta River views and is accessible to local attractions.
The apartment has two bedrooms, each with a queen-sized bed, one bathroom, a writing desk, and high-speed internet. This is the perfect place to rest after a busy day exploring the Damariscotta area.
Alewives & Ales Bed & Breakfast is in the perfect location for checking out downtown Damariscotta. The inn is within walking distance of shops, restaurants, galleries, and the river
This small B&B has three rooms to choose from, each with a private bathroom. There is a community dining room and a library with comfortable chairs.
Bring your RV, trailer, or tent, and set up camp at Lake Pemaquid Campground. It has over 200 sites and cabin rentals for those who don’t own an RV or tent.
This campground has plenty to keep you and your family busy — boating and water activities on the lake, a swimming pool, a playground, a game room, a basketball court, tennis and volleyball courts, a skate park, mini golf, horseshoe pits, and more.
Some other fun entertainment options include family dances each Saturday night, karaoke, bingo, and movies.
Discover All That Damariscotta Maine Has to Offer
If you’re looking for the quintessential Maine trip, you’ll love Damariscotta Maine. The town is wonderful for families but also ideal for solo travelers, couples, and small groups.
There’s truly something for everyone. Whether you enjoy water activities, hiking, art galleries, or simply disconnecting from the stresses of modern life, you’ll love this town. No matter the time of year you visit, try a famous Pemaquid oyster!