There’s a reason Maine’s state slogan is “the way life should be.” With some of the world’s most breathtaking coastal scenery, charming lighthouses, bushes of blueberries, lobster shacks, and unique wildlife, spending any amount of time in New England’s northernmost state can feel like living in a postcard.
Yet while Acadia National Park—one of the country’s most-visited national parks—may be the first place in this state that comes to mind for many travelers, the Pine Tree State is home to many other hidden treasures. From visiting puffins on Seal Island to cruising in a windjammer along the coast of Rockland, this state is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, ocean lovers and passionate foodies alike. Ready to plan a trip? Strap on a pair of LL Bean boots and make sure these 20 things are on your list.
Visit a Lighthouse
For many, Maine’s lighthouses are the dominant image associated with the state. These picturesque fortresses have been around for centuries and are still active today. Many of them offer public tours, and several offer access to the keeper’s quarters. With 65 lighthouses sprawled across the state, you’ll have your pick of ones to see, but a few that should be on your list are Portland Head Light in Portland, the Cape Elizabeth Lighthouse in Cape Elizabeth, and the Owl’s Head Lighthouse on Penobscot Bay. If you’re feeling ambitious, don’t miss the annual Maine Open Lighthouse Day every September, a veritable “lighthouse crawl,” during which visitors can visit over 20 of the state’s most historic lighthouses.
Spot a Moose in its Natural Habitat
No visit to Maine is complete without a moose sighting. Around 75,000 moose are estimated to live in Maine, the largest concentration in the U.S. outside of Alaska. You can spot moose throughout the state, but you’ll have the highest chance further inland from the coast, particularly in Aroostook County along the Canadian border, the Kennebec Valley, and in the Maine Highlands, north of Bangor. The best times to spot them are in mid-May through July, when they move towards wetlands for food, and again in the fall during their breeding season. Adult-size moose can be up to 10 feet tall and over 1,500 pounds, so if you spot one on the side of the road, it’s wise to stay in your vehicle.
Visit Some of America's Most Beautiful Coastal Towns
Take a drive up the Maine coast, and you’ll have your pick of the quaint and cozy waterfront towns that make any trip to this state so unique. The glamorous Kennebunkport may be best known as the summer residence of former President George H.W. Bush, but it remains an upscale getaway filled with luxury lodging and acclaimed dining. Rockland, one of the most picturesque towns in the state, is an art lover’s dream, filled with independent galleries and antique shops set right on the harbor. The serene Ogunquit boasts long stretches of sandy beaches, the unmissable Marginal Way cliff walk, and a thriving performing arts scene anchored by the Ogunquit Playhouse. And last but not least, Bar Harbor, best known as the gateway to Acadia National Park, is an active traveler’s paradise, home to scenic walking trails and challenging hikes.
Eat at Award-Winning Restaurants in Portland
If you’re looking for a city break in between your outdoor activities, you’ll find plenty of things to do in Maine’s urban hub, Portland. Along with boutique shopping in the Old Port neighborhood, gallery crawls in the Arts District, and an excellent craft brewery scene, the state’s most populous city is also its biggest foodie hub and has attracted top culinary talent for years. Chef-guided standouts include Duckfat, Eventide Oyster Co., Hugo’s, and Fore Street, which has been a James Beard Award semi-finalist every year since 2011. For dessert, don’t miss unique donuts made from Aroostook County potatoes at The Holy Donut.
Get Up Close and Personal with Atlantic Puffins
If you’ve never gotten a glimpse of North America’s most adorable bird, the Atlantic puffin, you’re in luck: Maine is one of the only places in the world you can find them. Pear-shaped with bright and colorful markings around their beaks and eyes, these birds almost went extinct in the early 20th century due to hunters vying for their eggs but were lured back to coastal Maine by a team of zoologists who recolonized the birds from Newfoundland, Canada. Today, colonies of puffins thrive on Maine’s Seal Island, Eastern Egg Rock, and Matinicus Rock, as well as in eastern Canada, Iceland, and Greenland. Even if you aren’t an avid birdwatcher, a puffin cruise during the summertime is one of the most authentic Maine experiences you can have, and June and July, in particular, are the best times to spot these creatures. If you find yourself falling head over heels in love with puffins during your trip, the Project Puffin Visitor Center in Rockland is a great place to visit and learn more.
Visit a Few of New England's Most Beautiful Beaches
It’s not all rocky coasts: southern Maine is home to some of New England’s most spectacular white-sand beaches, perfect for a serene stroll among crashing waves or an afternoon building sandcastles and collecting seashells. For pet owners, Gooch’s Beach, Middle Beach, and Mother’s Beach in Kennebunk are particularly scenic and very dog-friendly. The rolling dunes on Ogunquit Beach make it one of the most picturesque beaches in the state. Popham Beach offers perfect views of rocky coast and lighthouses, as well as a walkable land bridge to coastal scenery on Fox Island. And while it may have a reputation for summer crowds, Old Orchard Beach is a local’s favorite—you’re bound to hear plenty of French spoken on its boardwalk as it beckons northern travelers from Quebec as well.
Go Whale Watching
Maine is known for its abundance of marine life, so it’s no surprise that it’s one of the best destinations for whale watching in New England. Humpback whales, minke whales, pilot whales, and finback whales can all be seen from just a few miles off the state’s coast. Whale sightings are so frequent during the months of mid-April through late October that several whale-watching cruises offer a money-back guarantee if you don’t see at least one. Book a boat tour in Bar Harbor, Boothbay Harbor, or Kennebunkport and make sure to pack binoculars: chances are high you’ll be seeing more ocean creatures along the way.
Visit Stephen King's Home in Bangor
One of Maine's most famous sons, many of superstar author Stephen King's horror classics, including "Carrie," "Pet Sematary," and "IT," have been set in his home state of Maine. Passionate fans have been making the pilgrimage to King's hometown of Bangor for years, allowing several King-focused tour companies, such as SK Tours of Maine, to thrive. One unmissable landmark for any fan is King's 19th-century Victorian mansion, which can be found on 47 West Broadway, a historic street in downtown Bangor. Bats, spiderwebs, and three-headed reptiles decorate the iron gates that guard the house, forbidding visitors to get too close. To no one's surprise, the spooky mansion is one of America's most photographed celebrity homes. In 2019, King, who spends the majority of his time in Florida, announced plans to turn the mansion into a writers' retreat.
Snap a Photo with a Giant Boot at LL Bean
Since 1917, LL Bean’s flagship store in Freeport, Maine, has been a fixture of New England culture, and not just for its great deals. Unlike the many other LL Bean franchise stores across the state, the original is the only one that is open for customers 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Spending time here is more than a shopping excursion, it’s a full experience. Inside, you can find a cafe and coffee shop, a 3,500-gallon fish tank, and an assortment of taxidermied animals, as well as a hunting and fishing store, a bike, boat, and ski store, and an LL Bean home decor section. The store even hosts an annual concert series every summer, as well as outdoor movie nights, food trucks, yoga classes, and a weekly summer camp for children. Whatever you do, no trip to Freeport is complete without snapping a photo with the store’s iconic 16-foot-tall giant boot, which proudly stands outside the main entrance.
Eat the World's Best Lobster
No one who comes to Maine leaves without eating lobster. With lobster boats parked across every inch of the coast and the famous crustacean featured as the crown jewel of every menu in the state, it’s not hard to have lobster as a meal several times a day (unless you’re allergic to seafood). Lobster is simply a way of life in Maine, and the state’s thousands of independent lobstermen make sure you can find it fresh all year round. You’ll have your pick of lobster shacks to frequent, but some of the most beloved spots to throw on a bib are Bite Into Maine in Cape Elizabeth, Red’s Eats in Wiscasset, McLoon’s Lobster Shack in South Thomaston, and Young’s Lobster Pound in Belfast.
Visit Acadia National Park
Travelers are most likely already familiar with Acadia National Park, New England’s only national park, and one of the most-visited in the National Park system. But it’s difficult to say you’ve had an authentic Acadia experience unless you’ve spent significant time exploring all of this park’s offerings. From hiking Cadillac Mountain, the highest mountain north of Rio de Janeiro, to driving the scenic 27-mile Park Loop Road, to strolling around Jordan Pond, to cruising around Frenchman Bay, Acadia is home to some of the best outdoor fun on the east coast. Visitors who successfully hike Cadillac Mountain’s 1,532-foot summit visitors can be the first to watch the sun rise each day in the United States.
Sail on a Windjammer in Rockland
The Maine coast is considered one of the most beautiful cruising areas in the world, and there’s no better way to take in its sights than aboard a windjammer, the historic merchant ship whose tradition has its roots in Maine. These wooden, masted ships are far different from your everyday cruise; while they feature auxiliary engines for maneuvering, their primary mode of force is simply wind and sails. Experiencing Maine’s maritime beauty in a windjammer is one of the most authentically Maine things you can do, and you may even come out of the experience learning how to hoist, lower and furl the ship’s sails. Book a sail out of Rockland with the Maine Windjammer Association, home to the largest fleet of windjammers in the United States.
Pick Wild Blueberries
Maine is one of the largest producers of wild blueberries in the world and produces almost 10 percent of all of the blueberries in North America. There's no better souvenir to bring home from your trip than a basket of the state's official fruit, and there's no shortage of blueberry farms that will allow you to pick your own. If you're looking to stock up on filling for fresh blueberry pie, cobbler, or muffins, Berry Best Farm in Lebanon, Ives Berry Farm in Saco, and Crabtree's Blueberries in Sebago are among the many places that offer pick-your-own packages.
Take in Views at the Penobscot Narrows Bridge & Observatory
Beautiful views are everywhere in Maine, but few are as unique as the one from the Penobscot Narrows Bridge Observatory, the world’s tallest bridge observatory. Standing 420 feet above the Penobscot River, visitors can get a 360-degree view of over forty miles of islands, mountains, and Maine countryside from a vantage point taller than the Statue of Liberty. At the foot of the tower, don’t miss a tour of the historic Fort Knox, which is included with your admission ticket to the observatory ($7 for Mainers, $9 for out-of-state visitors).
Visit Lenny the Chocolate Moose
A giant edible moose lives at Len Libby Candies, a family-owned chocolate and ice cream shop in Scarborough, and you need to see it to believe it. Inspired by a taxidermied moose on display in the lobby of LL Bean in Freeport, sculptor Zdeno Mayercak decided to create his own version of the beast in 1997 using 1,700 pounds of milk chocolate poured over steel wrapped in mesh. The final product, which stands 8 feet tall, has become one of Maine’s most beloved roadside attractions, with visitors stopping in to snap a photo while picking up artisanal sweets. Two 80-pound chocolate cubs and a 380-pound chocolate mother bear have since joined Lenny at the shop.
Home to over 3,500 miles of coastline stuffed with an abundance of fish, Maine is unsurprisingly a popular destination for travelers hoping for a big catch. Depending on where you fish in this state, you’ll find plenty of brook trout, largemouth and smallmouth bass, wild brown trout, and even rare arctic char. Maine is also one of the few places in the world where you can catch salmon in landlocked rivers. Some of the most popular fishing spots include the Kennebec River, the Belgrade Lakes, Moosehead Lake, and the Rangeley lakes region. If you’re planning to fish in freshwater, make sure to bring your fishing license with you.
Climb Mount Katahdin, Maine’s Highest Mountain
One would be hard-pressed to find many adventurous New Englanders who don’t have Mount Katahdin on their bucket list. The cornerstone of Baxter State Park and the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, this 5,269-foot tall rock formation was named “Katahdin,” meaning “greatest mountain,” by the indigenous Penobscot people who first settled in Maine centuries ago and has gained legendary status as one of the most challenging climbs in the United States. Shaped by glaciers, Katahdin has five separate peaks—Howe, Hamlin, Pamola, South, and Baxter, its highest point—as well as nine different trails, with the steep Knife’s Edge trail being the most arduous. If you’re planning on strapping on your mountaineer boots and giving it a shot, you’ll have to make a reservation for your hike two weeks in advance, as spots can fill quickly during peak summer months.
Go Whitewater Rafting
With only a bit of rubber and a lot of courage standing between you and a roaring river, whitewater rafting is nature’s ultimate theme park ride. If you’re seeking a thrill, there’s no better place to go rafting in the Northeast than in Maine, where plentiful dams maintain the ideal level of water needed for the perfect ride. Advanced rafters can choose from a large selection of rivers in the state, but the three tried-and-true favorites remain the Dead River, the Penobscot River, and the Kennebec River. Find your comfort level and book a day out in the water with veteran outfitters Northern Outdoors, who offer rafting trips for beginners as well as for more advanced daredevils.
Chow Down at America’s Most Unique Food Festivals
Aside from blueberries and lobster, Maine is also a leading producer of apples, potatoes, and maple syrup, and the state highlights its local agriculture with several inventive food festivals throughout the year. Every fourth Sunday in March, sugar shacks throughout the state open their doors for Maine Maple Sunday, where visitors can learn about the maple-making process and sample plenty of the sweet treat. In July, the Maine Potato Blossom Festival celebrates everyone’s favorite undercover vegetable with potato-themed events like mashed potato wrestling and a potato picking contest. The Machias Wild Blueberry Festival, held in August, pays tribute to the famed Maine fruit with pie-eating contests and—wait for it—an original blueberry-themed musical. And the Maine Whoopie Pie Festival in Dover-Foxcroft dedicates one day each year to sampling a variety of flavor combinations of this famous dessert sandwich, which Mainers claim was a local invention (Pennsylvania may beg to differ).
Take an Art Crawl Along the Maine Coast
With four distinct seasons and a dramatic coastline, it’s no surprise that many visual artists have claimed inspiration from Maine’s beautiful scenery. The Pine Tree State has directly inspired many pieces from legendary artists like Edward Hopper and John Singer Sargeant, and beloved painters Andrew Wyeth, Winslow Homer, and Bernard Langlais called the Maine coast home. Art lovers can spend time perusing the nine museums that comprise the Maine Art Museum Trail, whose highlights include the Ogunquit Museum of American Art, the Farnsworth Art Museum, and the Monhegan Museum of Art, located on a remote island off of Boothbay Harbor. Art history nerds shouldn’t miss Winslow Homer’s Prouts Neck studio, a converted carriage house where he painted some of his most notable works, and the Olson House in Cushing, Maine, best known as the grey house in the background in Andrew Wyeth’s best-known painting, "Christina’s World."