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Ultimate Guide to Touring the Maine Coast: Hidden Gems & Must-See Spots

The Maine coastline has a soul-stirring quality that transcends its physical beauty. We are drawn to it for an experience you can’t get anywhere else. Its versatility creates an ongoing lure up and down the shoreline, allowing you to discover something new, something wild, and something that feels oddly like home.

You can marvel at lighthouses battered but rarely beaten by the sea’s wrath. Yet through every glacier-carved inlet and rocky cliff, we find solace and escape from an all too chaotic life. When you’re paying close enough attention, the coastline tells a story of its own with every mile you conquer.

As it turns out, much of what is regurgitated by the internet doesn’t truly capture what the Maine coast really is. Before we tour the Maine coast, let’s learn where it starts, ends, and what’s in between.

Three boats in the cove at Kennebunkport Maine

The Maine Coast By The Numbers

Despite ongoing reports that the Maine coastline is longer than California, let’s clear that up.

The coast is the general outline of the state. That measures 228 miles. California’s coast is 369% longer at 840 miles.

Now, when you look at the shoreline – the massive grooves or tiny inlets that seep into the communities – Maine has 5,408 miles, according to the Maine Coastal Program, approved by NOAA. That includes all tidal waters from Kittery to Eastport.

Just 2% of Maine’s coastline is beach. That’s 70 miles, and half of it sits between Kittery and Portland. However, the average person’s definition of “beach” is a little more liberal.

The Maine Coast Sections

For tourism purposes, the coast is broken down into four sections.

  • Southern Maine Coast: Kittery to Old Orchard Beach
  • Portland & Casco Bay: Scarborough to Brunswick and Harpswell
  • Midcoast Maine: Bath to Winterport
  • Downeast: Bucksport to Danforth, including Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island

Geology tells a slightly different story.

The first stretch is Kittery to Cape Elizabeth, defined by rocky headlands flanking sandy beaches with salt marshes.

Second, Cape Elizabeth to St. George, showcasing long peninsulas and slender estuaries.

Third, St. George to Machias Bay stands out for its larger islands off the coast.

Finally, Machias Bay to Eastport has the hallmark cliffed and rugged landscape that earned it the nickname “The Bold Coast.”

How Maine’s Coast Formed

A retreating glacier created the coast during the Ice Age, one that was 1.5 miles thick. The force weighed down the land, but as the ice melted, the land resurfaced faster than the sea level could rise.

Northern Maine’s bedrock is older, harder, and erosion-resistant. The unique coastline that unfolds looking to Southern Maine shows where more sedimentary rocks, prone to erosion, were carved away by relentless natural forces.

At the same time in Maine’s Ice Age recovery, rivers carved a path while winds wore down more erosive materials, and softer land stayed below water or was “drowned” by rising sea levels – including a drowned ancient forest on our tour of the Maine coast.

You can experiment at home with your kids to resemble this process. Take some playdough and put it in a bucket, careful that it doesn’t stick to the bottom (because the earth’s crust is flexible). Then, weigh it down with a bag of ice poured over it. As the ice melts, it will leave grooves in the dough, while the “landmass” dough slowly rises against the reduced pressure of the ice turned into water.

Amtrak Downeaster-Train
Amtrak Downeaster | photo via southofthesahara

Maine Coast Tour Transportation

Visiting the Maine coastline can be done by land or water, with several sectional options and a handful that stretch the whole way. Here’s a quick overview.


This is the most flexible option, allowing you to stop at your own pace and explore hidden gems off the beaten path. Route 1 is the scenic route, also known as the Maine Lobster Trail, and accommodates cars and cyclists.

You’ll get stopped in more traffic and potentially stops in the litany of small towns along the way, but isn’t that the whole reason to tour the Manie coast? Keep in mind that even from Route 1, there are scenic routes, like Route 9, that take you through the Kennebunks and Biddeford (and closer to the coast) before rejoining Route 1.

I-95 is another option to make better time if you’re heading to Midcoast or Downeast. That’s a turnpike/toll road from Kittery to August. In any event you’ll need to exit the interstate in Bangor to get to the Downeast coast.


Amtrak’s Downeaster train travels along the southern Maine coast, offering scenic views and convenient stops in Saco, Wells, Portland, Freeport, and Brunswick. This is a relaxing and eco-friendly way to travel, but it’s limited to those coastal towns in Maine, with other stops in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

Some other train tours along the way include:


Many port cities offer boat tours for a particular activity, like lighthouses, sunsets, or whale watching. You can also charter a boat and set your own agenda. If you’re bringing your boat, be sure you’re registered in Maine and know the rules.

Plenty of ferry options depart from various coastal cities, opening up the islands to explore.


If you’re cycling across part of Maine, check out the official list of tours and trails best suited for your trip. Be sure to stay off sidewalks and pedal with the flow of traffic.

Isles of Shoals-Kittery
Isles of Shoals | photo via jaaaabeeee

Maine Coast Tour: The Islands

Maine has thousands of islands offshore, some within sight of the coastline and many that are no larger than the average Walmart. However, the accessible islands are a mix of preserved land, remote coastal communities, and historic treatures away from the crowds.

Southern Maine

One of the first islands to consider is the Isle of Shoals, but the departure point is in New Hampshire. The state line splits Isle of Shoals and Smuttynose Island from Star Island.

Portland & Casco Bay

Remember how we discussed the erosive nature of the Southern Maine Coast? That means there aren’t many islands until you get closer to Casco Bay.

I’ve long said that one of the most affordable boat tours in Maine comes from the ferry. Casco Bay Lines departs from Portland’s Old Port. From here, you can tour the Maine coastal islands of Peaks Island, Little & Great Diamond Islands, Long Island, Chebeague Island, and Cliff Island. A separate boat takes people to Cushing’s Island.

TRAVEL TIP: If you take the Portland Ferry to Chebeague, you’ll go through Great Diamond Island and Long Island, with an option for Cliff Island. In addition, the Chebeague Island ferry takes you back to Cousins Island, where you can drive back to the mainland.

Midcoast Maine

Here, the peninsulas jut out in long, ragged formulas, but you’ll be surprised how easy it is to drive to the most distant locations. One of the most popular routes is the Monhegan Boat Line, which provides service from Port Clyde to Monhegan Island.

Five Islands Boat Tours can take you from Popham Beach to Seguin Island (and its lighthouse). Plus, no Maine coast tour is complete without visiting the “prettiest harbor in Maine” at Five Islands.

From Rockland, you can ferry to Vinalhaven, North Haven, or the remote Matinicus. From Lincolnville, you’ll be able to get to Islesboro.


If you look closely at a map, you’ll see Deer Isle is accessible by car, even though it seems offshore at a wide view. This is a great island experience for those who get seasick. Farther Downeast, look at Great Wass Preserve off of the coast of Jonesport. No boat is needed!

Another Maine ferry dock is in Bass Harbor of Mount Desert Island, with trips to Frenchboro and Swan’s Island. Downeast Windjammers can take guests to Winter Harbor and Cranberry Cove.

Laudholm Beach-Wells
Laudholm Beach – Wells | photo via caroline_mur_22

Maine Coast Tour: Southern Maine Beaches

Let’s hop in the car now and take a tour of the southern Maine coast.


The “Gateway to Maine” starts at the state line and is known for its extensive outlet shopping. Look closer at the coastline, and you’ll see Fort Foster with the beach access and the ongoing restriction of the Wood Island Station, which dates back more than 115 years. Fort McClary makes a great stop if you just want to soak in the views at the mouth of the Piscataqua River.

The Yorks

Your tour of the Maine coastline wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Yorks, a cluster of historic and picturesque towns nestled on the southern coast – York Village, York Beach, and York Harbor. Cape Neddick is a village that gets a lot of attention for the Nubble Lighthouse.

The lack of islands makes for great surfing at York Beach. Stretch your legs on the York Harbor Fisherman’s Trail. Plus, don’t miss the Old York Historical Society in York Village.


Ogunquit offers a quintessential Maine experience with an artistic flair. Explore downtown and Perkins Cove, where you can also walk between the two on the Marginal Way cliff walk. Enjoy nearly four miles of sandy beach or explore the booming food scene and nightlife of this inclusive and diverse community.


Next up is Wells, with beaches, marshes, preserves, and a national wildlife refuge. The harbor here is a great stop for a fishing charter. If you’re getting hungry, the Maine Diner, made famous on “Diner’s Drive-Ins and Dives,” is a perfect comfort food stop.

The Kennebunks

Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, and Arundel make up the Kennebunks. Kennebunk offers the historic downtown district, with restaurants and the Brick Store Museum. On the way to the Lower Village, you’ll pass stunning historical sea captain’s homes. Be sure to pause for the Wedding Cake House.

You’ll eventually reach the Lower Village, where you can explore more shopping and dining, head to Dock Square and into Kennebunkport, or go to one of three Kennebunk beaches. Kennebunkport has more history and elegant resort homes and resorts, with Cape Porpoise offering a more laid-back fishing village nearby.

Saco & Biddeford

Saco and Biddeford are separated only by the Saco River, while each spirited city brings its own personality to the Maine coast. Biddeford is making a name for itself as the “youngest city in Maine,” noted for the number of people under the age of 30. Instead of being an up-and-coming place, Biddeford has already arrived. Both cities celebrate the mill industries that breathed life into the economy in bygone eras.

Both also bring waterfront spots like Ferry Beach State Park and Prout’s Neck. Summer days in Saco are perfect for a visit to Funtown Splashtown Waterpark.

TRAVEL TIP: While most of the waterfalls are inland Maine, Cascade Falls in Saco is a perfect spot for a picnic, right off Route 1 and a hike of less than half a mile.

Old Orchard Beach

This is the Jersey Shore or Atlantic City of Maine, with a storied history as a beach destination and amusement hub. Palace Playland started operating in 1909 and has been going ever since, adapting to new technologies but keeping old favorites going.

What’s especially notable when you learn the history here is that all or part of the community burned down no less than 10 times between 1875 and 1969. The community refused to give up. Even the pier built in 1898 still stands after being shortened and rebuilt after hurricanes and fires over the years.

MAINE COASTLINE NOTE: The stretch of beach here is seven miles long, the longest real “beach” by geological definition in Maine.

Casco Bay-Portland
Casco Bay | photo via maine.sail

Maine Coast Tour: Portland & Casco Bay

Cape Elizabeth

Another hallmark of the Maine coast tour awaits in Cape Elizabeth, where the Portland Head Light is located at Fort Williams Park. Be sure to explore all the military landmarks and the mysterious Goddard Mansion remains.

Crescent Beach State Park, Two Lights State Park and Kettle Cove State Park are also tucked into one of the heads of Cape Elizabeth’s coastline.

South Portland/Portland

While South Portland is more residential, you can consider a stop at the waterfront, where you can explore Bug Light Park, the breakwater walkable Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse, and Willard Beach.

One of two bridges takes you into Portland, the largest city in Maine. You can visit Old Port with its picturesque waterfront lined with cobblestone streets, art galleries, boutiques, and harbor views. Munjoy Hill includes the East End Promenade on the water. Downtown is great for foodies, nightlife enthusiasts, and history buffs.

Portland has an epic food scene, and not just for lobster and chowder. Come hungry.


From Portland, you’ll need to leave I-95 and hit Route 1 or I-295 to stay on this Maine coast tour. While these are two relatively small residential towns, there are a few options to consider.

  • Presumpscot Falls Park: Offers a waterfall and river trails.
  • Mackworth Island State Park: Small island with a trail on the perimeter and a forest in the middle.
  • Cousins Island/Littlejohn Island: Tired of traffic? Take a detour and end up at Littlejohn Beach, where another round-the-rim hike (1.3 miles) awaits.


The home of L.L. Bean puts Freeport on the map with the flagship store and another outlet mall. But there’s more to Freeport than just shopping. The Desert of Maine prides itself on being a rather odd and eccentric attraction, but definitely worth a stop. This is also a great place to set up camp for the night.

Closer to the coast, visit Wolfe’s Neck State Park or Wolfe’s Neck Farm—more hikes to consider fall under the Freeport Conservation Trust.

TRAVEL TIP: Any Land Trust in Maine is going to be much less crowded than a town beach or state park.

Image of Rocky cliffs and houses on islands of Harpswell Maine coast during dusk

Maine Coast Tour: Midcoast Maine

We’re now on the Mid-Coast, where the peninsulas and islands form sloppy yet beautiful shorelines, open more water than you’ve been able to access before.


Brunswick and Topsham offer a delightful blend of historic charm, scenic beauty, and Androscoggin River views.

Brunswick makes charming seem like an unsuitable word with its idyllic Colonial and Victorian architecture. Bowdoin College has long been an education for the affluent and churned out such poets as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It was also in Brunswick Harriett Beecher Stowe was inspired to write Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Topsham is more low-key, with historic homes and that welcoming Maine street you’d expect in a Hallmark movie. This popular retirement community also has a self-guided driving history tour you can download from the town’s website.


I always liken Harpswell to the fringe of a paintbrush that is running out of color. Several slim peninsulas extend into the numerous bays and coves. Three major outdoor Harpswell spots include the Giant’s Stairs, Devils Back, and Cliff Walk, each bringing its own blend of coastal magic. Check the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust for more hiking options.

While roads connect to the peninsulas here, you can explore some of the outer islands by tour boat. One of the most popular (but rarely crowded) is Eagle Island State Historic Site.

TRAVEL NOTE: While this might look like a big detour from Route 1, it’s only 52 miles to see most of the peninsulas and attractions before arriving in Bath.


Shipbuilding, maritime, and lighthouse history makes Bath worth the stop, and that’s before you see the authentic downtown that oozes nostalgia down to the street lanterns. Maine’s Maritime Museum and a replica of the first ship ever built in this region showcase the history while Bath Iron Works – going strong since 1884 – now produces ships for a global defense company.


As noted above, Maine’s first ship was built in this region. It was for the Popham Colony settlers to get back home. This European settlement in 1607 lasted just more than a year before the harsh weather, inability to get along with the Indigenous people, and death of their leader forced them to abandon the region.

Heading to the southernmost end of Pippburg, you find the surreal Popham Beach and state historic site, along with a slew of trails that lead to mountains offering scenic views and more rugged coastline experiences.


Just across the Kennebec River on an island is Georgetown, home to Five Islands mentioned earlier and noted for its coastal beauty. Reid State Park is a must-see destination but takes a beating from storms. Check park conditions before you make the trek. This is an epic surfing spot.


As Maine’s (self-proclaimed) “prettiest village,” Wiscasset boasts landmarks like the iconic Red’s Eats, renowned for its succulent lobster rolls and a series of Federal-era homes sure to impress. The Sheepscot River meanders through the town, offering waterfront views and excellent clamming. In fact, it was once known as the Worm Capital of the World. History buffs revel in sites like Castle Tucker and the Nickels-Sortwell House, reflecting Wiscasset’s colonial past.

TRAVEL TIP: Be glad the town is so pretty because the summer traffic is ugly.

Boothbay Harbor, Maine
Boothbay Harbor, Maine | photo via @michaelsmithphotoart

Boothbay/Boothbay Harbor

Head south on the Peninsula from Wiscasset, and you’ll find another peninsula full of fun.

Boothbay Harbor is a bustling harbor town known for its picturesque waterfront, bustling lobster docks, and an array of shops and restaurants. Explore dozens of art galleries or hop aboard the mailbox run by Balmy Day Cruises to explore Squirrel Island.

Boothbay boasts a quieter atmosphere with quaint shops, art galleries, and scenic hiking trails. A must-see here is Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens.

If you need to calm down after that Wiscasset traffic, explore one of the many coastal sights of the Boothbay Region Land Trust.


Renowned for its delicious Damariscotta River oysters, it’s a culinary delight for seafood enthusiasts. Visitors can stroll along the charming Main Street, dotted with local shops, art galleries, and cozy cafes.

Nature lovers can take an easy stop off Route 1 to visit the Whaleback Shell Midden Historic Site, where ancient walls of oyster shells and other shellfish were trashed and stacked by natives more than 2,000 years ago.


The peninsula south of Damariscotta is home to Bristol and is filled with villages like New Harbor, where a working waterfront and Pemaquid Point lighthouse beckon. Another bonus is also the white sand expanse at Pemaquid Beach.

History buffs need to see the Pemaquid State Historic Site, which dates back to 1628 and is recognized as one of the first settlements in New England. Be sure to climb to the top of Fort William Henry.

When Rachel Carson wrote The Edge of the Sea, she was inspired by the tidepools that are now located at Rachel Carson Salt Pond Preserve. It’s a tidepooling gold mine and not as crowded as the more touristy Maine towns.

As a special surprise in New Harbor, I’ll let those of you looking for a rocky water vista without crowds in on a secret. La Verna Preserve offers coastal views that rival any other part of the Maine shoreline, with a short hike and plenty of solitude. Just keep it between us, okay?

Thomaston/South Thomaston/St. George

Back on Route 1, Thomaston includes one of the most unique roadside attractions in the state. The Maine State Prison Showroom is a plethora of unique handmade items created by prisoners. It sounds a little odd, but wait until you see the great crafting skills. The Knox Museum is a wonderful side trip to learn about the American Revolution and leader Henry Knox.

Visit South Thomaston to visit the Owls Head Transporation Museum, Owls Head State Park and the Owls Head Lighthouse. While the lighthouse isn’t open for tour, a long flight of steps leads up to amazing views atop the cliff. The story about Spot the Lighthouse Dog ties back to this very spot.

Keep going south to reach St. George and the village of Port Clyde, where the Monhegan Boat Line departs. This community was devastated by a fire in 2023, and your visit would mean a lot to this community as it rebuilds. The Marshall Point Lighthouse (think Forrest Gump running) is also at the edge of the land here. Explore more shorelines and beaches at Clark Island Preserve.


Just seven miles separate these two coastal communities, with both having a slew of shops, restaurants, and waterfront to explore.

The annual Maine Lobster Festival is also in Rockland every summer. Ferries depart for Vinalhaven from Rockland. This is also where you’ll find the Maine Lighthouse Museum and the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse, which sits at the end of a one-mile stretch of walkable rocks.

Rockport’s Aldemere Ocean Path includes a look at the farm, where the rare black and white striped cattle known as “Belties” are raised. (They look like Oreos.)


It’s nearly impossible not to fall in love with Camden. As Megunticook Falls pour over the rocks and into the bay, you walk above the enchanting row of shops and restaurants above. Boat watching takes the place of people watching in this intimate harbor filled with schooners and specialized boats. Climb Mount Battie at Camden Hills State Park for a short mountain with big views.


You’ll need to pronounce Passagassawaukeag River at the entrance to Belfast to be allowed in – KIDDING! When you love unique roadside attractions with quirk and comedy, Belfast delivers.

The Hawthorne Hike here takes you through town, making it an exercise for body, mind, and soul. It’s worth mentioning that the shape of the hike is that of an elephant, and for good reason. Ask about Hawthorne and Hawthorne II while you’re there to hear about the pachyderm parody drawing attention to Belfast for decades.

Stop by Perry’s Nut House. You’ll regret it if you don’t.

Ellsworth | photo via dlsanborn33

Maine Coast Tour: Downeast

Now we head north, or as Mainers called it, Downeast. Bucksport is the unofficial start of Downeast, while some would argue it’s closer to Ellsworth.


Bucksport charms visitors with its quaint coastal charm and a little bit of spooky history. Stroll along the picturesque waterfront, where lobster boats dock, and seabirds soar. Explore historic Fort Knox and the Penobscot Narrows Bridge Observatory for sweeping views. Downtown, browse art galleries and craft shops or dine on fresh seafood.

Those who love a good “is it true?” haunted story should stop by the headstone of Colonel Buck. Legend has it the footprint imprinted on the tomb is that of the devil.

Castine/Deer Isle

Another peninsula drops down from Bucksport, with a couple of communities to consider on your tour of the Maine coast.

Castine is known for being “Under the Elms and By the Sea,” savoring the idyllic Maine experience of a bygone era with a walkable historic district. Future marine experts are trained at the Maine Maritime Academy. The Wilson Museum gathers things like a 460-million-year-old (now extinct) trilobite and artifacts from Castine’s early days.

Take a drive across two islands to reach Stonington on Deer Isle, which is about as far from Maine tourist crowds as you can get. Sand Beach is one of the best sandy spots Downeast.


As the Gateway to Mount Desert Island, Ellsworth is growing as fast as it can to keep up with the crowds. Eventually, a major visitor’s center for Acadia National Park will be perched here. The western edge of the Schoodic Scenic Byway starts here, too.

Bar Harbor

The anchor town for Acadia National Park is also a cruise port, so expect crowds during weekends and summers. Excellent dining and lodging options line the city and coastline, with the main entrance to Acadia National Park and its famed Park Loop Road riding right out of town.

You can also take a ferry to the Schoodic Peninsula, known as the “Quiet Side of Acadia.” Winter Harbor is another town to explore while you’re on that side of the park. Across Mount Desert Island, there’s also Southwest Harbor near the popular Seawall campground and seaside drive. Northeast Harbor is home to the lifestyle of the rich and famous, like Martha Stewart.

Bass Harbor has the best sunsets on the island. You can also reach Swans Island and Frenchboro from the dock there.

TRAVEL NOTE: Once you’re past Ellsworth back on Route 1, you’ll go through a series of small towns like Gouldsboro and Millbridge. Much of the peninsula and islands beyond the towns are part of the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge Complex. For more outdoor activities, consider a walk, ski, or bike adventure on the Down East Sunrise Trail.


Now we’re getting down into Downeast and entering prime wild blueberry territory, where hikes in land trusts lead to bountiful bunches of the famed Maine sweet treat. Enjoy the view at Bad Little Falls in the heart of Machias.

Burnham Tavern Museum tells the rebellious history of the Patriots housed in the oldest building Downeast. Fort O’Brien State Historic Site in Machiasport shows where the Americans faced off against the British (and how many times it was destroyed).

A signature activity in Machiasport is visiting Jasper Beach, where the perfectly smooth rocks sizzle as the tide ebbs and flows between them. This is the only “singing” beach of its kind on the continent.


When you want the boldest of the bold coast, it’s hard to compete with Cutler. Another great reason to stop here is for a less-than-crowded puffin boat tour when the season is right. The trip takes you to the largest Maine puffin colony on Machias Seal Island.

Cutler Coast Public Reserved Land is the coolest and possibly most dangerous thing to consider on the tour of the Maine coast. Is this the absolute best campsite in all of Maine? Possibly. Trails vary from craggy coastline walks to clifftop views, watching whales in the distance. The protected land is also primitive, so experienced hikers only.

TOO MUCH? The land trust does have more properties on the coast that aren’t as rugged. If you’re just here for the views, visit Boot Head Preserve in nearby Lubec instead.


Our tour of the Maine coast finally reaches the Canadian border. Lubec’s downtown is on a small peninsula at the border, but the wider footprint also covers the easternmost lighthouse of West Quoddy. A state park encourages more hiking on the coast.

At low tide, Mowry Beach Preserve sometimes unveils what’s left of an ancient drowned forest. You can also enjoy a sandy beach walk.

Lubec has a series of shops and restaurants, plus charter boats that can take you to see Old Sow, the largest tidal whirlpool on this side of the Earth. Across the border is Roosevelt Campobelloe International Park, which is well worth exploring on the Canadian coastline. You brought a passport, right?


You have to take a long route to get to Eastport from Lubec since so much water sits between them and any land that could connect the two. Eastport is the easternmost city in the United States, hinging on the fact that Lubec is a town. It’s a typical fishing town with that authentic Maine experience.

If you want to see the strong tidal influence in this region, head to Reversing Falls Park and watch the tide rise and fall, where it looks like the falls are going the wrong way during the retreat.

Lubec | photo via devi_productions

Are We There Yet?

That completes our extensive tour of the Maine coastline, from Kittery to Eastport. Some would argue that Calais is the true end of Downeast, but we’re going by the Maine experts on the shoreline for our trip.

Our goal here was to give you options, from the major tourist towns to where there will be more wildlife than people. Every town mentioned here is worth a stop; there are no filler towns or backup plans here. You could truly spend a whole summer on this spectacular state’s outline and still probably have more things to see “next time.”

I guess that’s why so many Maine visitors are return guests. Now, who’s car we gonna take?

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