If you could go back 100 years and tell the people in Rockland Maine that this city would someday be a tourist attraction, they likely would’ve thrown you overboard… in winter… naked. The iterations of this coastal city are one reason it is so fascinating.
Some Mid Coast Maine towns are known for lobster, others for agriculture, and others for shipbuilding. Rockland did it all and then some. Its tough reputation comes from an endless effort to keep this city afloat on one of the best deep harbors on the New England seaboard.
That same tenacity now makes it one of the top spots along the Maine coast and earned its place as the home of the Maine Lobster Festival.
Also, Rockland Maine is halfway between Freeport and Bar Harbor, making it a great stop for a meal or a meandering long day through the downtown shops. The Maine ferry ports are right in the center of town, opening up the islands for exploration too.
About Rockland Maine
The area we now know as Rockland was part of Thomaston when it was first settled. The “shore village” began the dangerous industrial task of turning limestone into quicklime, and lime kilns lined the harbor, spitting out smoke nonstop.
Then, the rock industry hit granite, a building material much in demand. The only challenge was that they didn’t have ships to transport it. Rockland Maine then became a huge shipbuilding center, creating clippers, schooners, and windjammers.
When granite demands gave way to concrete roads and railroads replaced boat transportation, Rockland turned to its deep harbor for fish. The city’s evolution was now a fish canning business to provide military rations of herring and other fish. That kept the money coming in but caused a bigger problem.
“Camden by Sea, Rockland by Smell”
Today, Rockland and Camden Maine go hand in hand across tourism magazines and websites, which wasn’t always the case. Camden was the elite Mid Coast Maine location. Rockland… well… stunk and had a reputation as a city where you could go to find trouble.
“What was once a joke… Yachties wouldn’t be found dead in Rockland Harbor. They wouldn’t ‘sully’ their glistening hulls with the waters of this perceived industrial hellhole.”Peter Ralston, co-founder of the Island Institute
The late 20th century brought a new harbormaster who cleaned up the city’s sights and smells. Maine lobster — once used to feed prisoners and the poor — became an acquired taste thanks to the canning span of Rockland’s industrial timeline.
Now, this charming city is reinvigorated for yet another iteration of tourism. The timing couldn’t be better with more than 20 million people (and counting) coming to Maine each year.
WATCH: “Rockland: A Maritime Heritage” documentary
Outdoor Things to Do in Rockland Maine
Rockland is a four-season destination with plenty of outdoor activities for everyone. You’ll also find amazing uncrowded beaches here.
Visit the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse
Walk along the iconic Rockland Breakwater, a mile-long 700,000-ton granite path completed in 1889, to reach the historic Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse.
The breakwater was built of the very granite that fueled Rockland for years, with the only goal being to protect the important harbor from the worst of the North Atlantic storms.
The lighthouse is still open for tours and hosts regular events. Marie Reed Park surrounds the entrance to the breakwater, with grassy hills and a small beach.
Take a Ride on the Water
Boat cruises range from two hours aboard a ketch with A Morning in Maine or opt for several days on a schooner to see the Maine coastline from the sea aboard the Schooner American Eagle. Also, you can have a paddleboard or kayak delivered to you through Ducktrap Kayak & SUP.
Walk the Rockland Harbor Trail
Take the 5-mile walk around the harbor between the lighthouse and Snow Marine Park. Along the way, stop at the El Faro memorial. It honors the 33 merchant mariners — four of whom were from Maine — who died en route to Puerto Rico when overtaken by Hurricane Joaquin.
Additionally, the Rockland Harbor Trail passes Sandy Beach where you can soak in the views of the busy harbor.
Ferry Your Way to the Islands
The Maine Ferry runs regular routes from Rockland to North Haven, Vinalhaven, and the distant island of Matinicus. Even just taking the ferry ride out and back is a great way to get a boat tour of the water at a discounted price compared to charter tours.
Plan Your Trip Around a Local Festival
- The Maine Lobster Festival is a five-day event with plenty of lobster but also crate racing contests, performances, arts and crafts, and kids’ activities.
- Sing a different tune at the annual North Atlantic Blues Festival, which runs for two days.
- The Maine Home & Boat Show will surely give you boat fever. Live music, food, and activities for children are included in the event.
- During the holidays, the Rockland Festival of Lights is held on Thanksgiving weekend. Pair that with a trip to Camden for Christmas by the Sea.
Indoor Things to Do in Rockland Maine
The stunning outside views throughout Rockland make it hard to stay inside. However, you’ll be rewarded with some of the best museums in Maine.
The Farnsworth is the crowned jewel of the art community in the Mid Coast. It is renowned for its extensive collection of American art, particularly works from Maine artists, such as Andrew Wyeth and Fitz Henry Lane.
The museum showcases a range of mediums, including paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts.
Why do some lighthouses have red lights and others white lights? What do the markings on a lighthouse mean? What message do the flickering lights send? Answers to those questions and many more are waiting at the Maine Lighthouse Museum.
The museum also details the risky work of the United States Life-Saving Service before the U.S. Coast Guard was formed with workers who lived by the motto, “You have to go out, but you don’t have to come back.”
This unique museum focuses on the history of sailing ships, steam-powered vessels, and the maritime heritage of the region. It houses an extensive collection of maritime artifacts, models, and tools. Visitors can see antique engines, wooden boats, and some of the most famous ships that set sail here.
The attached MidCoast Sailing Center can teach you a thing or two about sailing with hands-on experiences for kids and adults.
Learn about the lives of puffins and the efforts to protect these rare birds. Check for local events during your trip. This is a great stop for anyone going on a puffin tour during the trip, with Matinicus Excursions leaving out of the Rockland dock.
Less than 4 miles from Rockland Maine in Owl’s Head, this museum shows how transportation was powered through the decades in the state. It features an impressive collection of antique automobiles, aircraft, motorcycles, and engines.
The museum hosts special events and showcases vehicles from different eras, with a unique exhibit on transportation ideas that didn’t quite work out and another on how the roads of Maine were paved to make it the Vacationland that we love today.
We hold no liability whatsoever if you purchase a vehicle during the Transportation Museum Auto Auction, okay??
Additional Attractions Near Rockland Maine
Owl’s Head is worth exploring if you want to get away from crowded beaches and see yet another historic lighthouse.
The lighthouse itself isn’t open, but you can walk the stairs and the surrounding grounds. The park has a short trail with scenic views in wooded areas and several beaches.
Pet lovers should know that there’s an incredible story here of Spot the Lighthouse dog that has been turned into several children’s books. Be prepared as you walk this area — Spot’s headstone is at the base of the stairs leading up to the lighthouse.
Even locals are surprised that vacationers haven’t found this beachfront spot in Owl’s Head. It’s also referred to as Lucia’s Beach, the previous name before it became a state park. The crescent-shaped sand beach is surrounded by walls of woods and rocky ridges.
If you want a good chance of having 34 acres and a 2,100-foot granite shoreline with stunning bay views to yourself, check out Ash Point Reserve. This free land trust has a trail that circles the preserve, which has water on three sides.
Restaurants in Rockland Maine
Rockland really rocks the food scene, and not just when it comes to lobster (though it does that very well). Whether you’re grabbing food on the go or dining by candlelight glow, it’s all ready for you in Rockland.
TRAVEL TIP: Use the Instagram or Facebook pages for restaurants as much as possible. You’ll find daily specials and changes in service hours, which won’t always appear on a website.
Casual & Family Eateries
Home Kitchen Cafe
Home Kitchen Cafe made the list of top 5 breakfast and brunch restaurants in DownEast magazine’s 2022 Best of Maine. That’s a decade-long run! Everything is made from scratch, and one look at the menu tells you that’s not an easy feat.
When you want to get your claws into Maine lobster, Claws is one of the options in the state. Lobsters come right from the bay, while scallops are brought in from Vinalhaven and clams come fresh from St. George.
The Landings offers a more secluded waterfront dining location with a robust menu of seasonal favorites, like fiddlehead salads in late spring and early summer.
The Rockland Cafe is your go-to spot for all the meals of the day, including a massive prime rib dinner that might make you forget about lobsters for a minute.
When Primo Restaurant says it is a farm-to-table establishment, that means the farm is out back. Daily specials are posted based on what’s available and cooked by an award-winning chef. If you’re looking for a quick drink and can be swayed by oysters, join them on the 0km bar and bungalow.
Dine in the historic train station with prices that won’t knock your budget off track at Trackside Station. Live music at night is a great excuse to dance or sing along. Trivia nights might be the best time to meet a new Maine friend.
Archer’s on the Pier
Archer’s on the Pier is seaside fine dining that’s popular with the local crowd. The creative drink menu includes the French Martini Birthday Special, Pumpkin Cheesecake Martini, and the Fluffernutter Martini.
Coffee & Dessert Shops
Maine is a smorgasbord of ice cream windows, but in Rockland, it’s all about the chocolate. Bixby Chocolates are made locally and now include a bean-to-bar chocolate treat. Chocolate lobsters, spice rubs, bonbons, and so much more fill out a growing menu of sweet surprises.
Rock City Coffee
Rock City Coffee is known statewide for its unique artisan coffee creations or just a tasty cup of black coffee. With a roaster and cafe location in Rockland Maine, you can make a coffee run through 5 p.m. daily.
Dorman’s Dairy Dream
If you didn’t get ice cream out of a shack window, did you even go to Maine? Dorman’s Dairy Dream is 2 miles from Rockport, serving heaping scoops of sweet treats. We love that this guy is first in line every season.
Wineries & Breweries
In Good Company
When the wine list is more important than the food menu, visit In Good Company. The acclaimed wine list, comfortable ambiance with a historic twist (it’s set in a local bank), and the tapas on top make a great night of wine tasting.
Bonus points if you can visit during one of its famous Food Journeys, which involves creating dishes from around the globe.
Oyster River Winegrowers
Head about 15 minutes inland to experience the Bohemian vibe of the Oyster River Winegrowers. While there’s a storefront in Camden, the farm offers a chance to sip as close to the vine as possible. Wines and ciders are on the menu here, all grown in the attached organic garden and orchard.
Rock Harbor Brewing Co.
Beer lovers shouldn’t miss Rock Harbor Brewing Co., but music lovers can’t stop flocking to this popular entertainment location. Brewery tours are available too.
Liberator Brewing Company
Liberator Brewing Company is an aviation-themed location where you can bring your own food while you enjoy the booze. Ask the owner how he came up with the name. It’s an emotional tribute to a great man.
Rockland Maine Hotels & Other Lodging
Rockland offers a variety of accommodations — from luxury suites with waterfront views to charming bed and breakfast inns to budget accommodations. For your research purposes, the line between Rockland and Rockport is just east of the Harbor Plaza shopping mall.
This popular hotel sits at the center of it all in Rockland Maine. Each room has a harbor view, and a free hot breakfast is included with each reservation. Main Street’s downtown district starts at the property’s edge, and the ferry is just across the street.
The Trade Winds Inn sits at the other end of Main Street, right across from the lighthouse museum. It’s a more budget-friendly option with a sun deck overlooking the bay. An indoor pool, sauna, and on-site restaurants round out the amenities, with ocean-view rooms available.
You won’t forget the address of your hotel when you stay at the 250 Main Hotel. The hotel blends industrial vibes with inviting decor. It’s no wonder the 26 rooms here book fast.
The Old Granite Inn feels new while still clutching its history dating back to 1840. The building is made from locally quarried granite. Eight rooms are available with a fresh-cooked breakfast each morning.
The Berry Manor Inn is known for its romantic and luxurious accommodations. It has been ranked as one of the most romantic inns in America. Don’t miss a chance to taste the homemade pies, which are so legendary that even Bobby Flay came to throw down with the bakers.
TIP: If you need pet-friendly accommodations, check out the sister property Rockland Talbot House.
Playing off the importance of the lime industry in Rockland Maine, the LimeRock Inn touts being the first bed & breakfast in the city. Guests also get a three-course breakfast and afternoon tea on the wraparound porch.
Get great views of Camden Hills State Park and Penobscot Bay while staying in a NetZero home near the shore of Chickawaukie Pond. The inside is amazing, but it’s hard to stay inside with a fire pit where you can enjoy the night skies.
FAQs About Rockland Maine
Which is better: Rockland or Rockport?
It’s easy to mix up these two similar names, especially since they are neighboring towns. Ideally, a trip can include Rockland, Rockport, and Camden.
Each one brings its own flavor to the region. Rockland has twice as many people as Rockport, but they are still charming small towns.
Is Rockland Maine the Lobster Capital of the World?
This designation might be the only beef America has with Canada. Rockland Maine does proclaim itself the Lobster Capital of the World and is home to the annual Maine Lobster Festival in late summer.
Shediac New Brunswick is six hours by car from Rockland but also calls itself the Lobster Capital of the World. It holds an annual lobster festival too, with attendance numbers similar to the Rockland event.
What is the closest major airport to Rockland Maine?
The Portland International Jetport is 81 miles from Rockland, but there’s a much closer airport.
Knox County Regional Airport has Cape Air service to Boston with eight flights a day in the summer. That’s just 3 miles from Rockland in Owl’s Head.
Is Rockland Maine dog-friendly?
Maine is a dog-friendly state, but dogs are treated as part of the family in Rockland Maine. Most hotels welcome dogs, the breakwater and lighthouse allow dogs, the ferry is dog-friendly, and two state parks nearby welcome leashed pets.
Even the restaurants with outdoor decks welcome pets, and some offer dog treats and water bowls.
Rockland Maine Is Worthy of Your Next Getaway
Rockland Maine is worth visiting for many reasons. It’s home to the 102-year-old Lobster Lady — featured in a new book after her story went viral. Great beaches rival those in the more crowded Southern Maine Coast.
Plus, the lighthouse is open to tours, which isn’t possible at all Maine lighthouses. You’ll also be surrounded by several towns that each bring their own charm, as well as have easy access to North Haven and Vinalhaven islands.
Every community in Maine is worth visiting, but Rockland blends history, culture, charm, and grit with smaller crowds in all seasons and more of a sense of being home than a tourist destination.