New England: A Maine-Stay

As spring heats up and you’re figuring out what to do when the Southern soup of heat and humidity descends upon us, you may be tempted to head somewhere well north of here. My humble suggestion? Check out Camden, Maine, the cutest, most charming town you could imagine on that rocky northern coast, where, as their motto states, “the mountains meet the sea.”

Situated in the midcoast of Maine on the southern side of Penobscot Bay, there’s a year-round population, in addition to the summer crowds, that supports the many restaurants and shops in operation. The area is also favored by artists who enjoy the clean air and stunning natural vistas. Once there, you’ll find gorgeous views, scrumptious food and beverage, and friendly townsfolk who live to give you an unforgettable experience in the tourist season.

The town itself was officially founded in 1791 and named after Lord Chancellor of England, 1st Earl, Lord Camden, Charles Pratt. Since its very origins, all the way to the early 1960s, the town was known for its shipyards, building schooners, and later, in World War II, minesweepers, troop transports, salvage tugs, and other vessels. Other industries that complemented shipbuilding also arose, including a famous anchor foundry, The Camden Anchor Works. These days, the town, as well as the surrounding area, is still known for the lobstermen and fishermen who return their catch to the picturesque harbor in Camden, where they can be tasted in one of the local restaurants in the old town, known as the High Street Historic District, full of 19th-century commercial buildings, shops, and homes.

If you like spending time outdoors and enjoy mind-boggling spectacles of nature, you absolutely must visit Camden Hills State Park. Go just north of town on legendary US Route 1 and you’ll see the entrance that includes a series of hills that rise over 1000 feet, allowing visitors to take in the entirety of Penobscot Bay and its islands on a clear day, as well as a view of the town of Camden and its harbor far below. The view is so moving, it inspired famed poet Edna St. Vincent Millay to pen the ode “Renascence.” Accessible by vehicle, as well as a network of trails that offer multiple views of the bay, the park is open year-round for those who enjoy traversing the winter snows by ski, snowshoe, or snowmobile. The park extends down to the coast where you can enjoy camping, picnicking, and hiking along the shore.

If nautical marvels whet your whistle, you won’t want to miss the Great Schooner Race the first week of July, where North America’s largest annual gathering of tall ships convenes to race, beginning in Camden harbor. In fact, all through the summer you can view lots of different kinds of sailboats,  schooners, and yachts sailing in and out of Camden harbor. If you’re looking to get out and explore the harbor and the surrounding Penobscot Bay and its many islands, there are day trips as well as multi-day excursions launching almost daily. In addition, there are several ferries in the area that can take you to some of the larger, inhabited islands in Penobscot Bay. Several local kayak outfitters and professionally guided kayak trips up and down the coast provide access to local wildlife including seals, dolphins, puffins, and osprey.

For great seafood dining, try The Waterfront Restaurant. Located right on Camden harbor, the food is bought fresh from local growers and fishermen, and you can eat the clam chow-dah and rock the fresh lob-stah. If you’re looking for a local watering hole which happens to have authentic Scottish, Irish, and English food, try the Drouthy Bear, a Scottish-themed bar with over 70 single-malt scotches and whiskies from around the world. Once you’re stuffed to the gills (sorry, fishes!) and looking for something to read while lazing on a local beach or a bench overlooking the harbor, check out the Owl and the Turtle Bookshop Café, just a couple blocks from the harbor, a local fi xture since 1970.