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Best of the Maine Coast in Two Weeks

A plateau of smooth mossy stones offers a dramatic view of Maine greenery and the ocean dotted with small islands.
View from Cadillac mountain in Acadia National Park. Photo © Natalia Bratslavsky/123rf.

This itinerary covers all of the state’s coastal regions in 14 days. Be forewarned: You’ll be doing a fair bit of driving on Route 1, the major thoroughfare that strings these sights together. It’s primarily a two-lane road, where speeds through towns are often 25 mph or below—not ideal for a speed trip along the coast. Although this itinerary is planned as 14 days, you’ll be rewarded if you spend longer in any of the locations, but especially on Mount Desert Island.

If you’re arriving by airplane, your best bet is to arrive at Portland International Jetport and depart from Bangor International. If you can’t swing that, use Portland only (which may require a 15th night in Portland). Book your first 2 nights’ lodging in Greater Portland, nights 3 and 4 on the Pemaquid Peninsula, nights 5 and 6 in Rockland or vicinity, nights 7 and 8 on the Blue Hill Peninsula or Deer Isle, nights nine, 10, and 11 on Mount Desert Island, night 12 in Lubec, and night 13 in either Lubec or Eastport.

Day 1

Ease into your Maine immersion in Ogunquit with a refreshing walk along the Marginal Way or sunbathing on Ogunquit Beach, one of Maine’s prettiest, and proof that there’s plenty of sand along Maine’s fabled rockbound coast. Spend the afternoon in Kennebunkport, shopping in the boutiques and galleries that crowd Dock Square, enjoying a leisurely drive along the waterfront, or seeing the Southern Coast by boat.

Day 2

Rise early and greet the day at Portland Head Light, a Cape Elizabeth landmark and Maine’s oldest lighthouse (1791). Wander through three centuries of art and architecture at the Portland Museum of Art. If you want to tour Winslow Homer’s studio, reserve through the museum well in advance. End the day with a sunset cruise on Casco Bay.

Day 3

Make an early-morning pilgrimage to always-open gigantic sports retailer and outfitter L.L.Bean, hub of the hubbub in Freeport. You might linger and spend a few hours shopping at outlets or taking a Walk-on Adventure class before continuing to the Maine Maritime Museum, 10 acres of indoor and outdoor exhibits celebrating the state’s nautical heritage, in Bath. Be sure to make advance reservations for the museum’s B.I.W. trolley tour. Consider a stop in Wiscasset before ending the day on the Pemaquid Peninsula.

Day 4

Take a day trip to Monhegan Island from New Harbor. This car-free, carefree gem, about a dozen miles off the coast, is laced with hiking trails and has earned a place in art history books as the Artists’ Island. Before or afterward, mosey down to Pemaquid Point Lighthouse. Alternatively, poke around the peninsula, visiting Fort William Henry, rolling up your sleeves at an authentic lobster shack in Round Pond, and browsing Damariscotta’s Main Street shops.

Days 5 and 6

Soak up the best of Penobscot Bay. Tour The Farnsworth Art Museum and Maine Lighthouse Museum. Perhaps walk out the nearly mile-long breakwater to Rockland Breakwater Light. You might nose over to Owls Head to view the lighthouse and see the Owls Head Transportation Museum, browse galleries in Rockland and Port Clyde, hop a ferry to Vinalhaven Island, sail aboard a windjammer, or tour Camden’s harbor on a sea kayak.

Days 7 and 8

Drive or hike to the top of Mount Battie, in Camden Hills State Park, for panoramic vistas over Penobscot Bay, and then head to the Blue Hill Peninsula. If you’re a history buff, head for Castine; if you’re an arts fan, explore the dozens of studios and galleries peppering the peninsula and adjoining Deer Isle; if you’re a hiker, plentiful preserves salt the region. You can even take a day boat to a remote section of Acadia National Park on Isle au Haut.

Days 9-11

Few places in Maine rival Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park for scenery and outdoor activities. After stopping at the park’s visitor center, drive the Park Loop, a perfect introduction to Acadia that covers many of the highlights. Be sure to welcome at least one day by watching the sunrise from the summit of Cadillac Mountain. After that, follow your passions: Go hiking, bicycling, or sea kayaking; take a carriage ride; attend a ranger session; board an excursion boat or a whale-watching expedition; visit Asticou Azalea and Thuya Gardens. Consider packing a picnic, hopping the passenger ferry to Winter Harbor, and spending the better part of one day in the Schoodic section of Acadia National Park.

Day 12

Down East Maine beckons. En route to Lubec, loop through Cherryfield to ogle the architecture and browse the general store or down to Cutler to hike the spectacular trails of the Cutler Coast Public Preserve. Be sure to visit Maine’s candy-striped lighthouse at West Quoddy Head State Park, where you can tour the museum and walk the trail edging the seaside cliffs.

Day 13

If you’ve brought your passport or passport card, spend the morning at Roosevelt Campobello International Park. Otherwise poke around Lubec before edging around Cobscook Bay to Eastport, home to some of the highest tides on the East Coast. (Note: If you prefer, you can spend a second night in Lubec and day-trip to Eastport via a passenger ferry.) Browse downtown shops and soak up small-town Down East life.

Day 14

After catching the sunrise, drive to Bangor (allow at least three hours) for your flight home. If you have a late flight out of Portland, connect to I-95 in Bangor (allow an additional 2.5 hours). If you’ve added a final night in Portland, return via Route 1 and break in Belfast for lunch before continuing on to Portland.


Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Coastal Maine.

Budget Tips for Visiting Maine

Yellow leaves are shedding from a large tree with a classic white farmhouse in the background.
Waldoboro, Maine in November. Photo © Connie, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

At first glance, Maine might seem pricey, but take another look. It is possible to keep a vacation within a reasonable budget; here are a few tips for doing so.

For starters, avoid the big-name towns and seek out accommodations in smaller, nearby ones instead. For example, instead of Damariscotta, consider Waldoboro; instead of Camden, try Belfast or Searsport; in place of Bar Harbor, check Trenton or Southwest Harbor. Or simply explore the Down East Coast, where rates are generally far lower than in other coastal regions.

[pullquote align=”right”]Small, family-owned motels tend to have the lowest rates. Better yet, book a cabin or cottage for a week, rather than a room by the night.[/pullquote]Small, family-owned motels tend to have the lowest rates. Better yet, book a cabin or cottage for a week, rather than a room by the night. Not only can you find reasonable weekly rentals—especially if you plan well in advance—but you’ll also have cooking facilities, allowing you to avoid eating all meals out.

Speaking of food, buy or bring a small cooler so you can stock up at supermarkets and farmers markets for picnic meals. Most Hannaford and Shaw’s supermarkets have large selections of prepared foods and big salad bars and bakeries, and many local groceries have pizza and sandwich counters.

Do check local papers and bulletin boards for Public Supper notices. Most are very inexpensive, raise money for a good cause, and provide an opportunity not only for a good meal, but also to meet locals and glean a few insider tips.

Of course, sometimes you want to have a nice meal in a nice place. Consider going out for lunch, which is usually far less expensive than dinner, or take advantage of early-bird specials or of the Friday-night all-you-can-eat fish fries offered at quite a few home-cooking restaurants.

Take advantage of Maine’s vast outdoor-recreation opportunities; many are free. Even Acadia, with its miles and miles of trails and carriage roads, and its Island Explorer bus service, is a bargain; buy a park pass and it’s all yours to use and explore.

Take advantage of free events: concerts, lectures, farmers markets, art shows and openings, and family events. Most are usually listed in local papers.

Avoid parking hassles and fees and save gas by using local transportation services when available, such as the trolley network on the Southern Coast and the Island Explorer bus system on Mount Desert Island.

Finally, before making reservations for anything, check to see if there’s a special Internet rate or ask about any discounts that might apply to you: AAA, senior, military, government, family rate, and so forth. If you don’t ask, you won’t get.


Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Coastal Maine.

Discover Coastal Maine

Yachts and boats move through the waters of Southwest Harbor while fog creeps along the coastline.
Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island. Photo © Natalia Bratslavsky/123rf.

From the glacier-scoured beaches of the Southern Coast to the craggy cliffs Down East, Maine’s coastline follows a zigzagging route that would measure about 5,500 miles if you stretched it taut. But taut it isn’t. Eons ago, glaciers came crushing down from the north, inch by massive inch, and squeezed Maine’s coastline into a wrinkled landscape with countless bony fingers reaching seaward.

[pullquote align=”right”]Thanks to its geography, most Maine coast vistas are intimate, full of spruce-clad islands and gray granite and sometimes-forbidding headlands.[/pullquote]Thanks to its geography, most Maine coast vistas are intimate, full of spruce-clad islands and gray granite and sometimes-forbidding headlands. Now add 64 lighthouses, 90 percent of the nation’s lobsters, and the eastern seaboard’s highest peak. Each peninsula has its own character, as does each island offshore and each harbor village.

When it comes to character, no individuals are more rugged than the umpteenth-generation fishermen who make their living from these bone-chilling waters. Even the summer folk tend to be different here—many return year after year, generation after generation, to the same place and the same neighbors and the same pursuits. Then there’s Maine’s coastal symphony: waves lapping and crashing, birds crying or singing, foghorns calling and bell buoys ringing, and in the quiet of a preserve, streams gurgling and leaves rustling.

Shore breezes mingle the aromas of pine, balsam, or rugosa rose with the briny scent of the sea. Sometimes you can almost taste the salt in the air.

Lobster, of course, is king, and Maine’s seafood is ultrafresh, but don’t overlook luscious wild blueberries, sweet Maine maple syrup, delicious farmstead cheeses, and homemade pies sold at roadside stands. Access to this bounty is one reason why talented chefs are drawn to the state.

Even if you don’t dine at one of the hot restaurants with nationally known chefs, you can visit cheesemakers, fish smokers, artisan bakers, microbrewers, and organic farmers. But balance that with classic Maine fare: a bean-hole or chowder suppah, where you can share a table with locals and, if you’re lucky, hear a genuine Maine accent (here’s a hint: “Ayuh” isn’t so much a word as a sharp two-part intake of breath).

Yes, there’s a reason why more than eight million people visit Maine every year, why longtime summer folk finally just pick up stakes and settle here. Maine boldly promotes itself as “The Way Life Should Be”—spend a little time in this extraordinarily special place and you’ll see why.


Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Coastal Maine.

Coastal Maine’s Off-Season Escapes

At the water's edge, charming houses are built on pilings.
Houses on pilings in Kennebunkport. Photo © edella/123rf.

Although it’s true that some coastal communities all but roll up the sidewalks after Columbus Day, not all do. Visiting in the off-season, from mid- October through late May, has its merits. Sure, the water’s too cold for a swim, except for the annual polar bear dips on New Year’s Day, and many outdoor attractions and small museums are shuttered, but there are pluses. Rates are low, crowds are few, and traffic is nonexistent. Winter recreation is a draw, and in bigger cities and college towns, cultural offerings actually increase in winter.

Sun, snow, rain, fog, sea smoke, and ice are all possibilities, which means being prepared for all. In late fall, it’s best to avoid the woods unless dressed in hunter orange; in early spring, warm and waterproof boots are a must for slush and mud. In winter, you might walk, snowshoe, or cross-country ski across a beach; glide across a frozen pond; or perhaps even don alpine skis or snowboard or toboggan for a downhill schuss.

The following are good bets for an off-season escape. If you want to avoid the hassles of winter transportation, Portland, Freeport, and Brunswick are all on the Amtrak Downeaster train line, and if you stay downtown in any of them, you won’t need a vehicle.

Ogunquit and Kennebunkport

Neither of these two Southern Coast beach towns truly slumbers until after Christmas (and Kennebunkport’s Christmas Prelude alone is worth a visit), but even then, a handful of restaurants and inns remain open. Winter is best for immersing in the quietude of the season, gazing spellbound at furious ocean waters, or simply hunkering down fireside with a good book and a glass of wine.

Portland

Prefer more action? Maine’s cultural hub keeps up the pace in winter with a full slate of theatrical and musical performances. Restaurants remain open, and it’s far easier to get a reservation at the top tables. On a brilliant day, bundle up and ride an island-bound ferry. On a stormy one, watch surf crash against the craggy shoreline under Portland Head Light. Take advantage of the city’s urban trail network and outlying parks.

Freeport

This is the perfect spot to shop till you drop. L.L.Bean never closes its doors, and the more than 100 shops and outlets in its shadow keep business hours in winter. Post-Christmas, the sales are abundant and you won’t be fighting for a dressing room. Need a breather from shopping? Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park is open and offers winter programs.

Brunswick and Bath

Thanks to Bowdoin College, Brunswick’s cultural offerings are plentiful in winter. In addition, you can skate on the town mall, forage for treats at the farmers market, and enjoy ocean views. Nearby Bath’s downtown is filled with independent shops as well as a Reny’s, Maine’s favorite discount brand-name store, and the Maine Maritime Museum is open.

Rockland and Camden

Museums, including The Farnsworth Art Museum and Owls Head Transportation, and downtown shops keep Rockland lively year-round, and the January Pies on Parade event draws throngs. Just up the road in Camden, you can ski, snowboard, and toboggan at the Camden Snow Bowl; winter hike or cross-country ski at Camden Hills State Park; and savor harbor views. Both towns offer active cultural programs and live entertainment.

Mount Desert Island

The island, home to Acadia National Park, is mighty quiet in winter, but remains open for snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, winter hiking, and even, for the hardy, camping. The College of the Atlantic offers lectures and live entertainment, and a handful of restaurants and accommodations open year-round.


Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Coastal Maine.

Three New Ways to Experience Toronto

Behind Carolyn are arches spanning a rectangular fountain with a row of spouts. A large ornamental building with a clocktower stands in the distance.
Author Carolyn Heller poses at Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square.
Photo courtesy of LiveToronto Private Walking Tours

This summer, I attended the TBEX conference in Toronto, a gathering of more than 1,200 travel bloggers from around the world. Besides talking about travel, blogging, and business with hundreds of fellow writers, I had the chance to sample three new Toronto experiences. The next time you’re in the area, check them out!

LiveToronto Walking Tours

Dustin Fuhs has a unique approach to help visitors explore Toronto. As the founder of LiveToronto Walking Tours, he’ll take you on a private, one-hour tour of downtown Toronto. Even better, he’ll also photograph you in front of iconic city sights, essentially creating digital postcards—with you in them. He’ll customize your walk to your particular interests, but he normally visits popular locations like Toronto City Hall, Eaton Centre, Roy Thompson Hall, the CN Tower, and the Lake Ontario waterfront.

Fuhs is a walking encyclopedia of Toronto lore—you’d want him on your team if you were playing Toronto Trivial Pursuit—and he knows the best angles for snapping photos, too. LiveToronto tours run daily, cost $40 per person, and can be booked online.

A Riverside Stroll through Aboriginal Toronto

Thousands of years before European settlers began exploring what is now present-day Ontario, the region—like most of North America—was home to aboriginal peoples. You can learn more about Ontario’s aboriginal heritage with a stroll on the Shared Path, a walking trail that runs along Toronto’s Humber River. The Shared Path is the newest of the Toronto Parks, Forestry & Recreation department’s free, self-guided Discovery Walks that help you learn more about the region’s history—on foot.

The Shared Path runs through Etienne Brule Park, named for the French explorer who is considered the first white man to travel the territory of the Wendat (or Huron) people in the early 1600s. The park that bears Étienne Brûlé’s name sits on the site of Teiaiagon, a former Wendat village. The Wendat adopted Brûlé into their community, and he in turn adopted many Wendat customs, including their dress and their sexual practices. He learned the Wendat language, too, and became an interpreter between the Wendat and the French.

The tree-lined riverfront path, which connects to a traditional aboriginal portage route, includes several informational plaques that explain the region’s aboriginal history. The Shared Path and Etienne Brule Park are on the west side of Toronto, a short walk from the Old Mill Station on the Bloor-Danforth subway line.

Canada’s First Urban National Park

I’ve always thought of national parks as vast outdoor wilderness spaces, far from metropolitan centers. Ontario’s spectacular national parks, including Bruce Peninsula National Park, Georgian Bay Islands National Park, and Point Pelee National Park, are no exceptions. But Canada’s newest national park, on the eastern border of metropolitan Toronto, will be the country’s first urban national park.

An 18-square-mile (47-square-kilometer) parcel of land stretching from the community of Markham in the north to Lake Ontario in the south, Rouge Park has been a recreational area for the greater Toronto region for many years. However, as development increasingly encroached on the park lands, many Torontonians began lobbying to provide greater protection for this natural area. In 2011, Rouge Park was approved to become part of Canada’s national park system.

While Parks Canada staff members say that various administrative details remain to be sorted out before Rouge obtains its official national park status, the park is open to the public in the meantime, and admission is free. Hiking trails crisscross Rouge Park’s forested areas, and park employees lead periodic guided walks. You can look out over the Little Rouge Creek Valley from the Glen Eagles Vista Trail (a great place to take in the fall colors), or go for a swim in Lake Ontario from sandy Rouge Beach. Campers can pitch a tent or park their RV in the Glen Rouge Campground, the only camping spot in metro Toronto.

Several sections of the park are accessible by public transit from downtown Toronto. Check the park website for transit details and driving directions.

Coastal California’s Best Dog Beaches and Pet-Friendly Places

A golden lab with a stick in her mouth runs back to shore as a low wave crashes around her.
A Labrador fetches a stick at Carmel Beach. Photo © Renae Frankz/123rf.

Dog owners will have a lot more fun on the California coast with their furry friends along for the ride. Luckily, there are lots of options for people who want to bring their pets.


Pet-Friendly Accommodations

Kimpton Hotels, a luxury boutique hotel chain with 15 properties along the California coast, goes out of its way to welcome pets. It offers pet beds, food bowls, water bowls, and information about all the pet-friendly attractions and businesses in the area. Some of Kimpton’s properties include San Diego’s Hotel Palomar, Santa Barbara’s Canary Hotel and San Francisco’s The Argonaut and Hotel Triton.

In Del Mar, north of San Diego, Les Artistes has some pet-friendly rooms. Up the coast, the Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach has a whole floor of them.

In San Francisco’s Pacific Heights neighborhood, the Laurel Inn’s rooms are all pet friendly, with a two-pet limit. Wine Country is surprisingly pro-pet with Napa’s Napa Inn, Saint Helena’s El Bonita Motel, and Guerneville’s Sonoma Orchid Inn all catering to canines.

On the North Coast, Fort Bragg’s Beachcomber Motel offers pet-friendly hot tub suites. In nearby Anderson Valley, both the Anderson Valley Inn and the Boonville Hotel reserve a couple of rooms for families with dogs.


Best Dog Beaches in California

A few California beaches permit and even encourage dog visitation. One of the best is Carmel Beach located in Carmel-by-the-Sea. On any given day, more dogs roam this beach than people — and they can roam leash-free.

The north end of San Diego’s Ocean Beach calls itself “The Original Dog Beach.” It’s also leash-free. Del Mar City Beach has a dog section that extends from 29th Street to Solano Beach. Known as “Surf City USA,” Orange County’s Huntington Beach might as well be called “Dog City USA.” The north end between Seapoint Avenue and 21st Street allows pets.

Santa Barbara’s Arroyo Burro Beach permits pets to be off leash past the slough, while Montara State Beach in the Bay Area’s Coastside invites dogs as long as they’re leashed.


Best Dog-Friendly Parks

The second largest park in San Francisco, McLaren Park has dog play areas. The Coastside Trail is a paved dog-friendly path that connects various Half Moon Bay beaches and the adjacent shoreline. One of the Monterey Peninsula’s best places to hike with your dog is Carmel Valley’s Garland Ranch Regional Park. The park has off-leash areas and water fountains designed to hydrate both you and your pet.

The California State Parks on the coast generally allow leashed dogs dogs in the day use areas but not on the trails. Contact the specific state park that you will be visiting to confirm where your pet is permitted.


Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Coastal California.

Housing in Italy: Renting vs. Buying

Houses cluster on a narrow peninsula that rises up on steep rocky cliffs above the ocean.
Aerial view of Vernazza, Cinque Terre. Photo © Tim Wege/123rf.

Renting or buying a house is the essence of living abroad; it’s what separates you from the tourist. The experience of owning a home in the Italian countryside has become almost legendary, as have the headaches that go along with it. While renting an apartment is less of a responsibility, it also presents its pitfalls.

[pullquote align=”right”]Trends in Italian real estate prices have more or less mirrored those in the United States: skyrocketing in Italy in the 1990s, but crashing closer to Earth in recent years with the global crisis.[/pullquote]The same can be said about owning or renting property anywhere, but Italian real estate poses unique benefits and challenges. Italy has a historical claim to some of the most admired architecture in the world. This may be the reason you decided to live here. You wanted to carry your groceries from the open-air market past Baroque palaces and medieval frescoes, and step into your Liberty-style apartment building with a wrought-iron elevator shaft and bicycles parked in the courtyard. Or you wanted to hide away in a tile-roofed villa with terra-cotta floors surrounded by vineyards, where you can lean out your window to smell basil in the garden and hear the chatter of grandmothers.

These simple pleasures of domestic living in Italy make all the complications worthwhile. By complications, I don’t mean the handheld shower heads and the three-kilowatt electrical outlets. These are local idiosyncrasies that most people would say lend a characteristic touch to European living. If you were addicted to the consumer comforts of North America, such as crushed-ice dispensers and garbage disposals, you probably wouldn’t have chosen to live in Italy in the first place.

Complications, rather, are the difficulties and bureaucratic underpinnings of buying and keeping up real estate here, the archaic methods of paying the bills, and the often frustrating attitude of repair people. The good news is that these drawbacks are slowly improving.

Renting vs. Buying

Whether you should rent or buy in Italy depends, naturally, on your future plans, and especially on the housing market. Trends in Italian real estate prices have more or less mirrored those in the United States: skyrocketing in Italy in the 1990s, but crashing closer to Earth in recent years with the global crisis. It is a good time to buy.

As a rule, Italians will always buy before they rent, no matter what. The nation has one of the highest homeownership rates in Europe. Italians are relatively new to investing in securities, anyway, and the near collapse of financial markets provided them with a frightful reminder of the inherent risks there.

Add in a national obsession with conservative investing and scraping savings, and you will understand why young Italians live with their families until they are well into their 30s, even 40s. At that point they are either married or simply tired of mom and dad’s nagging and have enough money to buy some privacy. It may sound funny to an North American who moved out at age 18, but skipping the rental stage is a wise financial move for those with enough patience and humility to live at home as a grown adult.

Obviously, buying is almost always the smarter choice for foreigners as well, but there are a number of risks in Italy that can really burn you: buying in the wrong area, ignoring serious structural damage or shortcomings, or, worst of all, overlooking a legal morass. The advice that most property experts give is to rent first in an area where you think you might like to buy. If you feel the pressure to buy right off the bat, you should first get to know the neighborhood and the houses themselves by talking to the locals.


Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Living Abroad in Italy.

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