9 Things To Do on a Trip to Maine

April 8, 2024

The largest state in New England, and the first place in the U.S. to greet sunrise each morning, there’s much to see and do in Maine. With a nickname like “Vacationland,” you can rest assured that there’s something for every type of vacationer, too, from city-dwellers and tree-huggers, to foodies, museum connoisseurs, and history buffs. Here are nine things to do on a trip to Maine.

The Nubble Lighthouse stands on an island in the distance as the ocean crashes over beachside rocks.

1. Visit York

Home to a staggering 3,478 miles of tide coastline (including all the inlets and bays), Maine has more shoreline than California. Which means more cute coastal towns than you can count. In addition to well-trod keystones like Kennebunkport and Ogunquit, the comparatively quiet town of York is a charming port that’s well worth an extended stint. Located conveniently close to the New Hampshire border, it’s a quintessentially small beach town that feels far more “local” and in-the-know than the more touristy spots. Rest assured, though, the beachfront is no less magical. York Beach is divided into two main sections, Long Sands and Short Sands, and both are lined with adorable vintage businesses, like ice cream shops, arcades, and taverns. Surf shops are available for rentals and/or lessons, while the Old York Historical Society offers a wealth of exhibits and old-timey settlements scattered across a collection of vintage buildings. To eat, snag some seasonal seafood at Stone’s Throw, or grab a beer and a bite at the impossibly cozy Ship’s Cellar Pub inside the historic York Harbor Inn.

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Lebanon KOA Holiday on Salmon Falls River

Close-up of a live Canadian lobster.

2. Eat Lobster

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Or, around here, that means eat all the lobster. Lobster is to Maine as pizza is to New York and hot dogs are to Chicago. It’s a rite of passage; a local specialty that comes in all forms, at all price points, and in all different kinds of environments, from food trucks to fine dining. To maximize your lobster experience, check out the Maine Lobster Festival, held every August in Rockland, and boasting some 20,000 pounds of local shellfish, along with cooking competitions, live entertainment, vendors, a parade, beer tastings, and lots more. Of course, lobster can be found on just about every menu, in just about every iteration, all over the state. Some highlights include the brown butter lobster rolls at Eventide Oyster Co. in Portland, twin lobster platters at the timber-clad Lobster in the Rough in York, buttery lobster bisque at the Thirsty Whale Tavern in Bar Harbor, or any number of can’t-go-wrong lobster shacks, like Chauncey Creek Lobster Pier and Cape Pier Chowder House. When all else fails, enjoy an al fresco lunch harbor-side at Frisbee’s Wharf at Pepperell Cove in Kittery Point, where lobster rolls and bisque are accompanied by the “Lazy Man Lobster Cup,” a straight-up serving of fresh lobster meat enrobed in warm butter.

A field of sand is surrounded by pine trees in Maine.

3. Marvel at the Desert of Maine

Maine may be known for a lot of things, but desert terrain isn’t one of them. Though, against all odds, it totally should be. Welcome to the Desert of Maine, a quirky tourist attraction in Freeport that includes 20 acres of glacial sand in the middle of an otherwise fertile forest. Among the more whimsical stopovers in the state, particularly perfect for families and kids, the attraction features a mini golf course, a larger-than-life playground, a fossil-digging site, and Gemstone Village, where visitors can mine for their own gems. Beyond the inexplicable sand, there’s also a hiking trail that weaves through the woods, past the confines of the dunes. Coming in 2025, the Desert of Maine is restoring its Tuttle Barn and turning it into a performing arts venue.

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Freeport / Durham KOA Holiday

Sunset at Bass Harbor Lighthouse in Acadia National Park.

4. Go Lighthouse-Spotting

Lighthouses in Maine are the architectural equivalent of lobster rolls — an omnipresent feature found along the entirety of the craggy coastline. Altogether, Maine has 65 lighthouses along its shores, 57 of which are active. Although most can’t be toured on a regular basis, Open Lighthouse Day occurs every September, when travelers can set foot inside a majority of the nautical buildings. Towards the southern end of the state, the Nubble Light dates back to 1879 and ranks on the National Register of Historic Places. Although its island locale prevents visitors from directly accessing it, the lighthouse makes a beautiful view from the nearby shoreline, where visitors can picnic and fish. Further along the coastline, other lighthouses include Doubling Point Light in Arrowsic, Bass Harbor Head Light in Bass Harbor, Burnt Island Light in Southport, the Nash Island Light in Addison, Goose Rocks Light in North Haven, and the Cape Elizabeth Light, which actually features two lights, in Cape Elizabeth.

The Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park, Maine

5. Hike in Acadia National Park

With more than 4 million annual visitors, Acadia National Park is the most visited tourist attraction in Maine — and among the top 10 most visited national parks in the entire country. And for good reason. Located off the coast of Bar Harbor, this island wonderland is a treasure trove of mountains, lakes, beaches, and wildlife. The summit of Cadillac Mountain, which has a paved road for cars, is the first place to see sunrise every morning in the U.S., while nearby Jordan Pond offers a pristine place to hike amongst the sounds of loons and amber-hued foliage. Whales, seals, and otters can be spotted splashing around off the coast, visible from various beaches, or even better, from a kayak. Be sure to stop for lunch at the Jordan Pond House Restaurant, a timeworn property that’s known for its blueberry dishes and popovers.

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Bar Harbor / Oceanside KOA Holiday

A view of Portland, Maine from the water.

6. Explore Portland

Maine’s largest city, Portland is the best of both worlds. It’s got the requisite features of a cultured big city, like buzzy restaurants and artsy museums, but it still feels quaint and perfectly preserved as a maritime city, clad in cobblestones, bricks, and wooden piers. The Old Port is among the must-visit areas — a veritable warehouse district along the marina, where restaurants, shops, and fishing wharves abound. Of the city’s esteemed restaurants, staples include Fore Street, Central Provisions, fine dining newcomer Twelve, and the aforementioned Eventide Oyster Co., while Two Fat Cats Bakery is famed for its whoopie pies. To drink, Allagash Brewing Company is a nationally famed icon known for its bracing Belgian-style brews and lofty taproom, Jewel Box is a colorful cocktail bar, and Tandem Coffee Roasters serves caffeine with a side of scratch-made biscuits, pastries, and seasonal pies. The Portland Museum of Art features big-name artists, like Andy Warhol and Claude Monet, and the Victoria Mansion — a National Historic Landmark — is a marvel of ornate architecture. Outdoors, you’ll find plenty to fawn over too, like the Portland Head Light and its adjacent Fort Williams Park, a former army fort-turned-oasis with an arboretum, hiking trails, and picnic groves overlooking the bay.

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Freeport / Durham KOA Holiday
Naples KOA Holiday

A view of the brick building that houses the Maine Maritime Museum.

7. Discover Maritime History

Considering its staggering coastline, it’s no wonder that maritime history is a main attraction in Maine. The state is filled with destinations celebrating and commemorating that lore, but nowhere is it displayed with such meticulous grandeur as at the Maine Maritime Museum. Dating to 1962 and located in the town of Bath, along the Kennebec River, the 20-acre museum property boasts both outdoor and indoor exhibits, including an outdoor shipyard, a working boat shop, a Victorian ship-builder’s home, historical films, and exhibits laden with machinery, art, and artifacts. An essential experience is Into the Lantern: A Lighthouse Experience, an immersive and hands-on foray into the world of lighthouse-keeping, which lends the sensation of standing atop one of Maine’s storied lights.

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Freeport / Durham KOA Holiday
Augusta / Gardiner KOA Journey

A humpback Whale's fluke breaches the placid ocean surface on a tranquil summer morning in the Gulf of Maine.

8. Book a Whale Watching Tour

Not all of Maine’s attractions are on land. Off the state’s expansive shores, there’s a whole world worth discovering at sea. In addition to other popular seafaring activities, like kayaking and surfing, whale-watching is a star attraction in this oceanic state. Mid-April through October is prime season for the activity, when travelers are most likely to see migrating whales — like humpbacks, finbacks, and minkes — traversing the waters. Early morning and sunset tours are most popular, and most assured of sightings, and boasts embark from harbor towns like Casco Bay, Kennebunkport, and Bar Harbor.

Bench to enjoy the view on the Marginal Way path along the Maine Coast in Ogunquit

9. Meander Along Marginal Way

For a walking trail with serious wow factor, look no further than the modestly dubbed Marginal Way. Weaving its way through the idyllic oceanfront town of Ogunquit, the paved path links Ogunquit Beach with Perkins Cove, passing through fields of wildflowers and alongside cliffs en route. The whole path is just 1.25-miles long, mostly flat, and lined with 39 benches, making it easy and accessible for all, and among the most scenic vantage points in the entire state, overlooking a bay brimming with lobster boats and cascading waves.

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Lebanon KOA Holiday on Salmon Falls River

KOA Campgrounds in Maine

Born and raised in New Hampshire, Matt Kirouac grew up with a love for camping and the outdoors. Though he’s lived in Chicago since 2006, he’s always on the lookout for new adventures. He writes about travel and food for outlets like TripExpert, Money Inc, Upventur, DiningOut, Food Fanatics magazine, Plate Magazine and Zagat, and he currently serves as Chicago editor for What Should We Do?! He’s the author of The Hunt Guides: Chicago (2016) and Unique Eats & Eateries of Chicago (2017).

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