Maine: It’s Closer and Better Than You Think

Ahh Maine. A special state for us. Both my  husband and I visited Maine each summer as little ones. We each must have liked it, because we’re still coming back now with our little ones.

Our trips always center around Ogunquit, an adorable seaside town in Southern Maine, not too far from the New Hampshire border. At approximately 4 hours from our house, it’s a very easy summer getaway. Read on for more details about our 2018 Maine adventure.

Ogunquit is Cute, Quaint and At Times, Crowded

The secret is out on Ogunquit. The adorable little beach town has become a popular getaway for families and couples alike.  It’s no surprise - the living in Ogunquit is easy and desirable.  Hotels, shops and restaurants are mostly clustered around Route 1 and Shore Road, which makes walking from place to place very easy. There’s a large public beach (water is freezing!) in town and, as you must expect, lobster is everywhere! Not a bad place to be.

When in Ogunquit, whether for just a day or a week long trip, you must do the Marginal Way. A breathtaking, cliffside mile stretch of paved pathway overlooking the ocean, the Marginal Way is an invigorating walk and definitely my preferred form of exercise.

One end of the Marginal Way starts right on Shore Road, right in the middle of the many hotels and restaurants there, and, conveniently, the other end is in Perkins Cove, another Ogunquit must do.

Perkins Cove is a second area of clustered shops and restaurants, this time, right along the water in OGT. Consider taking an inexpensive, hour long, family friendly lobster boat tour with Finestkind Cruises or maybe try their sunset booze cruise while there. Barnacle Billy’s, a Maine lobster institution, is also in Perkins Cove. It has a sit down restaurant and then a counter service spot next door.  Order up a lobster and beer and grab a seat on its waterfront patio.

Another great Perkins Cove option is the Lobster Shack for a tasty lobster roll and chowder combo (they recently opened sister spot, The Trap, nearby). And my absolute favorite candy store, Perkins Cove Candies, is another must visit. It’s so adorably sweet and its chocolate offerings are delicious (though my kids prefer all the sugary candies).

If lobsters and beach time isn’t enough for you, Ogunquit also has a solid arts scene for a small town. The Ogunquit Playhouse and Ogunquit Museum of American Art are both around town.

The Cliff House Rocked

I’ve usually stayed right in town on my Ogunquit visits, often at the Anchorage By the Sea - a decent motel with a pool and restaurant on site that's extremely well located right on Shore Road. If it’s your first visit to the area, I’d probably suggest you do the same in order to really soak up the town.

With this being somewhere around our combined 10th to 15th visit, this year, we decided to try the recently gut renovated and far more luxurious, Cliff House Resort. Though not walking distance to town and technically in neighboring Cape Neddick, Maine, the Cliff House is about a six minute drive to Perkins Cove and a shuttle is offered to take guests back and forth roughly every hour. That said, the resort is so beautiful and offers so much, you don’t need to, and may not want to, ever leave....

The Cliff House is located right on the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The hotel takes advantage of its obscene location by offering many areas inside and outside to enjoy that view. The main pool and a huge hot tub also sit along those cliffs, as do the hotel rooms with the best views and the hotel’s two restaurants.

The hotel has a spa, an upscale restaurant and bar called The Tiller and a casual, family friendly lobster shack with arcade games called Nubbs. (Food Note: The snacks we grabbed at Nubbs were nothing so special, so if you’re looking for truly good food,  I’d suggest spending your days by the pool and leaving the Cliff House for meals).

The hotel, while beautifully renovated, is also incredibly comfortable. There are families with young children everywhere. And the hotel goes out of its way to make them feel welcome. There’s a family pool, an indoor pool, baby toys, cornhole, a bouncy house (!!) and the aforementioned arcade games all on property. Popsicles and ices were given out at both the family and adult pools. One afternoon, we also put the girls in the hotel’s Kids Club for a three hour session ($45 per kid, available for ages 4-12) while we relaxed at the adult pool. They, and we, had a blast!

At night, the offerings continued. Family movies with popcorn are shown nightly at an indoor theater onsite and there are s’mores kits for purchase to be used at the resort's large outdoor fire pit. One night, the resort even did fireworks for guests!

Our room at the hotel was also much more comfortable than what we’d come to expect from the OGT motels. Each floor has an adorable little make your own station for coffee that included ample milk and ice (this came in VERY handy at night since our girls expect a cup of milk at bedtime). Speaking of coffee, there’s also a full service coffee shop at the hotel called Bald Head Coffee Co. You seriously don’t need to ever leave.

The Cliff House is pricey, but if you’re anal like I am, and book far enough in advance, the rate can be reasonable and you do get something very nice for the money.  We spent so much of our trip just enjoying and relaxing in the resort's beautiful pools and amenities. We definitely got our money’s worth and loved our stay.

There’s More to Eat In Maine Than Just Lobster

Since I was little, my family has always hit the Ogunquit Lobster Pound, a huge cafeteria-like restaurant where you pick your own lobster out of the equally huge tank out front. It’s an OGT institution much like Barnacle Billy’s and it’s great for large groups and hyperactive kids. Don’t expect anything so wonderful beyond the lobsters and steamers, though - their landlover options are nothing too special, and the atmosphere is chaotic and no-frills.

For a more relaxing and overall enjoyable meal, we really liked Brix + Brine, an al fresco only spot on Shore Road. And though I haven’t been myself, family members recently had good meals at Five O Shore Road and Northern Union, each within OGT.

Like our foray into the Cliff House this summer, we also pushed our meal choices beyond the town limits of Ogunquit. We did a tasty, low key dinner one night at Bob’s Clam Hut, a popular roadside fried clam shack in nearby Kittery (they recently opened a second location in Portland).

And one morning, we drove 40 minutes to the Palace Diner in Biddeford, Maine. WOW. It’s a tiny boxcar old-timey counter-only spot that is putting out some of the absolute best versions of greasy spoon diner food you’ll see anywhere (Bon Appetit just called it "the Single.Best.Diner.On.The Planet"). Waits can be over an hour but we got there early enough to not have to wait too long. My breakfast sandwich was the single best I’d ever had, my older daughter’s French toast was similarly outstanding and my husband raved about his tuna melt. The service was also incredibly warm and friendly. The Palace Diner was so crazy good -  I don’t think we’ll ever come to Maine without visiting again.

Then There’s Portland

Then there’s Portland. For years, my husband and I have been saying we wish we could do an adults only week there so we can hit every wine bar and nicer restaurant in town. Alas, we have kids and so our visits have instead been limited to a rushed day trip. This year, we dragged them all over and, somehow, it went surprisingly well!

Just under an hour from the Cliff House, Portland is a small, hip and happening city well known for its killer dining scene. That scene just got its proper due when, on August 7th, Bon Appetit named it 2018 Restaurant City of the Year!! There’s so much to eat and drink in this awesome little city and much has been written about it already. To prevent another 80 paragraphs of text, I’ll limit this to just giving you the rundown of our action-and-food packed day, in case anyone else with little ones wants to follow suit:

9:30am: We arrived to a short line at Tandem Coffee + Bakery. Ordered coffees, a loaded biscuit (butter and strawberry jam!), a chocolate chip cookie, a spiced molasses and ginger cookie and a cheddar jalapeño scone. By about 10:02am, I was back on line ordering a second ginger cookie and second cheddar scone, as my daughters and husband, respectively, had already scarfed down the firsts and were clamoring for more. Tandem was crazy delicious and deserving of its praise. Awesome logo, too.

10:30-11:30am: We visited playground #1 and then walked around the Old Port, stopping at a few souvenir shops, and the always awesome, Treehouse Toys, for some bribes....I mean toys along the way.

11:30-12:30: Next we drove to Oxbow Brewing Company, one of the breweries in Portland - this one specializing in farmhouse ales. Oxbow has a large indoor tasting room with arcade games in a corner and paper and crayons available, too. Since last summer, Portland’s Duckfat Restaurant (another solid spot we’ve done on past trips), opened a spin-off, Duckfat Frites Shack on property. Do not skip an order of Belgian frites with one or more of their homemade dipping sauces (we loved the truffle ketchup and curry mayo). It goes so perfectly with beer.

12:30-3pm: From here, it becomes a hazy blur of deliciousness and sweat from walking. We stopped quickly in Ten Ten Pie, part bakery, part Asian food market, for some onigiri and a chocolate croissant for the girls (so random, I know).

We then visited The Shop, a raw oyster and tinned fish specialty store. We sat out on the patio with more local beers, sweating, drinking and eating the afternoon away (while the girls ate potato chips and played nearby). Seriously, heavenly.

We pushed the limits even further and continued onto Goodfire Brewery Co., a kick ass new brewery that just opened this past year, for a few 3 oz pours. Portland’s craft beer scene is great and exciting new breweries continue to pop up (in the case of Lone Pine Brewing Company, in the same darn building as GoodFire). 

Last stop: We finished the day of running around with an early dinner at Eventide Oyster Co., a seafood small plates restaurant that’s long been getting heavy praise in Portland (now with a second location in Boston, MA!) While my husband put our name down on the waitlist, I took the girls to a second playground. [Serious Pro Tip: If you throw in kid friendly stops like playgrounds or toy shops to your city day, you get a lot more mileage out of the kiddies for the adult-leaning stops!]

A successful and busy day in Portland.  I think now that the kids are a bit older, we’ll include a few nights in Portland to our trip next summer!

Maine is wonderful. And there's so much more to the state than I've talked about above - the outlets (including the famous L.L. Bean Flagship Store with Ben and Jerry's inside!) in Freeport,  Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, beautiful Boothbay Harbor and other New England beach towns, etc. So much yet to explore!

Until next year, Maine!

UPDATE: It is next year! Click HERE to read about our Summer 2019 stop in Maine!