Check out the Gardens’ Dig It! blog for more of my favorite road trips, perfect for an individual, a couple, or a small family. Every destination is within a 1-2 hour’s drive and can be stretched into a 2 to 3-day getaway; timing is based on a Friday-Sunday trip.
Disclaimer: There are a million things one might do here in MidCoast Maine, but I offer you a tour of places I have been to, worked with, and highly recommend. I encourage you to research with Yelp, TripAdvisor, VisitMaine.com, and travel apps like Roadside America; after all, planning is half the fun of any trip! Also, this trip was mapped pre-COVID. Be sure to call or check ahead to ascertain opening hours and general availability.
There’s no doubt that MidCoast Maine is the perfect place for a family vacation. I made many trips down to Boothbay Harbor as a child with family. Funny story, as a toddler, I dropped my pacifier (I called it a “dum-dum”) off the 1901 Footbridge as a child, and I was so upset, I never had another one. With all the changes children have been asked make due to COVID-19, they could certainly use a fun-filled vacation this summer! In a normal year, you could spend an entire weekend on the Boothbay peninsula enjoying such places as the Boothbay Railway Museum, the Maine State Aquarium, and the Carousel Music Theater. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, these places are not open this year. However, there are so many other fun things to do in MidCoast Maine. Follow me for a great family trip (or for a couple who are young at heart) around the Boothbay and Phippsburg peninsulas – with an obvious stop at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens (get your tickets in advance, here)!
Make sure you plan your visit on a sunny weekend as this trip includes a lot of outdoor and water-related activities – children’s favorites! I drove by Knickerbocker Lake on my way to work five days a week for two years without stopping, never knowing what I was missing. Start your fun-filled family staycation with a trip to this peaceful, clean, and beautiful swimming hole. Knickerbocker Lake, located on Barters Island Road – ½ a mile from Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, is a 109-acre freshwater lake that supplies water to the Boothbay peninsula. It is also a popular place for locals and visitors to kayak, boat, fish, and swim. The lake is very active with trout and wildlife.
Once the kids are sufficiently soaked, squeeze that last bit of energy out of them at Dolphin Mini Golf in Boothbay. This 18-hole “nautical theme” mini-golf has so much to offer, including a shell museum, arcade (not open in 2020), and ice cream! Every kid loves ice cream, but Dolphin’s is a real treat for parents as their hard ice cream is locally sourced from Shaker Farm in Alfred. I have to warn you though, the mini-golf here is not easy due to its location on a hill – yet it is so much fun!
Head on over to Brady’s once everyone is ready for dinner. Named 2019’s Best New Restaurant by Downeast Magazine, Brady’s never fails to impress me with their food, service, and all-around welcoming atmosphere. My all-time favorite dish is the Fish ‘N Chips—the fish is lightly beer-battered and absolutely delicious! You cannot go wrong with any of the menu items, all prepared by the talented Chef Stan. For example, the Blackened Chicken, while a simple dish, is amplified with pineapple salsa. If you filled up on too much ice cream while mini-golfing, try Brady’s Classic Caesar.
After an eventful day, check into the beautiful Ocean Gate Resort, located on Southport Island. With its 64 rooms located on a 33-acre ocean view property, there is something for every family member. Ocean Gate Resort offers an outdoor heated pool and hot tub; bikes, canoes, and kayaks for guest use; a mini-golf course (if you’re not tired of mini-golf yet); a fire pit with nightly s’more making; and tennis and basketball courts. Enjoy the remainder of the evening on your private balcony while the kids tire themselves out before bedtime. Once you’ve had plenty of rest, grab a light breakfast at the resort before heading out on your next adventure.
A scenic drive up the Boothbay peninsula, then south on U.S. Route 1 will take you to the vibrant city of Bath – the “city of ships.” The Galley Restaurant is located in the heart of the city and is the perfect American family diner. The talented and dedicated cooks make every meal fresh and with love. My favorite dish is the veggie scramble with mozzarella cheese; it’s a great nutritious breakfast to start your day. The kids may be more tempted by the sweet and delicious cinnamon French toast with powdered sugar. For those with a passion for breakfast, try the steak and eggs – complete with a 6 oz. sirloin steak, two eggs, home fries, and toast.
Once you’re fueled up, drive the short distance across the city to Maine Maritime Museum. Maine Maritime Museum is a staple of MidCoast Maine and has something for everyone. On its 20-acre campus, you will find a variety of galleries and exhibits, all about the Maritime industry in Maine and its history – trust me there is a lot! My favorite exhibit is “Into the Lantern: A Lighthouse Experience,” where you can experience what it’s like to visit the top of Cape Elizabeth’s Two Lights lighthouse tower (without the stairs and fear of heights!). One could spend all day here exploring the county’s only surviving shipyard, a large wooden sailing vessel once built there, and even a human-sized lobster trap! If your family has their sea legs, check out the “Shipyards and Lighthouses Cruise” on the resident Merrymeeting boat.
Next, head back into the center of town for a scrumptious lunch on the banks of the Kennebec River at Kennebec Tavern. While the views are amazing, the food is even better! The Bean and Veggie Burger is healthy and delicious – I always add barbeque sauce and sautéed onions. The Crab Cake Sandwich is one of the best I’ve ever had – I think it’s the savory remoulade sauce. If you’re a first time visitor to the MidCoast you may not know about local Morse’s Sauerkraut, which is why you should try the Rueben’s Sandwich. It is loaded high with their delicious sauerkraut with a choice of house-bruised corned beef or panko-fried haddock.
With a fun-filled morning and a full belly under your belt, it’s time to unwind on the Phippsburg peninsula. Take the scenic drive down Popham Road towards the historic Fort Popham State Historic Site. Construction began on this Civil War-era fort in 1862, but was halted in 1869. The fort once had 36 cannons to protect the Kennebec River, which leads to capital city Augusta, from Confederate naval ships. Now it is a great place to bring the family to run around, explore, and enjoy the views of the ocean and Seguin Island Light Station.
Popham Beach State Park –
Time to get the bathing suits out and find the perfect spot to enjoy at Popham Beach State Park. This popular tourist destination has bathhouses with fresh-water, rinse-off showers, charcoal grills, and ample parking. It is a great place to swim, enjoy the sun, try stand-up paddle boarding, or even sea kayaking. If you’re lucky enough to be there during low tide, you can walk out to Fox Island to climb the rocks – just be mindful of the tide and return before it gets too high!
Taste of Maine Restaurant –
After an exciting (yet likely exhausting) day, it’s time to relax and get some amazing food at the Taste of Maine Restaurant, located minutes north of Bath in Woolwich. This family-owned and operated restaurant offers great food, beautiful views, a friendly atmosphere, and, oftentimes, a GIANT inflated lobster on its roof. If you’re not impressed enough by its appearance, you will surely be by ordering the World’s Largest Lobster Roll. This giant toasted roll with mounds of fresh lobster and mayo gives you the quintessential Maine experience – yet it’s best shared by the whole family. If lobster isn’t your thing, the menu has something for everyone; for example, my favorite is the Baked Stuffed Scallops with homemade Newburg sauce and famous seafood stuffing. Even though calories don’t count during vacation (or at least that’s what I choose to believe), the Quinoa Bowls are an excellent choice.
Once you have filled up on a lovely dinner, head back down the Boothbay peninsula to spend your final night at the Flagship Inn in Boothbay Harbor. With its 80+ rooms, the Flagship is one of the top-rated and most affordable places to stay in the region. It is also perfectly placed near the local grocery store and small shopping mall for all of your needs. Enjoy their heated outdoor pool and hot tub before enjoying a comfortable and quiet night’s sleep. If you’re a family of early risers, grab something to eat from the continental breakfast and walk behind the Inn to the Penny Lake Preserve for a morning stroll.
Before embarking on the last day of your family vacation, grab a lovely breakfast at the Blue Moon Café on the water in Boothbay Harbor. This quaint café has some of the greatest views in the Harbor, and the food is delectable! The Smoked Salmon Omelet is stuffed with smoked salmon, cream cheese, and red onion – great for people like me who love the anomalous items on the menu. One could never go wrong with Maine Blueberry Pancakes—there’s nothing more “Maine” then blueberries or lobsters! If you want to go for a staple item, I suggest Fred’s Corned Beef Hash, which is handmade and comes with two eggs to keep you full all morning.
Spend the rest of the final day of your memorable family vacation at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. A five-minute drive from Boothbay Harbor will bring you to beautiful CMBG. Although on hold subject to COVID-19 restrictions, CMBG usually offers a one-hour guided walking tour daily at 11:00 a.m. With or without a tour, be sure to give yourself ample time to explore the 17 acres of cultivated gardens, 4.5 miles of coastal walking trails, and the many other sights to see. There is a breathtaking Gardenshop in the Visitor Center, packed with personal gardening supplies and gifts to bring back to your friends and family as you tell them all about your wonderful MidCoast vacation. If you aren’t still full from brunch or want to grab food for the next step in your trip, check out the Snack Shack or Market in the Café building, both are stocked with handcrafted sandwiches and snacks made by our talented Garden Kitchen Café staff.
And, of course, no family vacation would be complete without a visit to the Bibby and Harold Alfond Children’s Garden! Even with COVID restrictions, there’s still plenty to do:
- Request a Field Notebook at the front desk when you arrive, and begin a choose-your-own-adventure at the Gardens!
- Unleash your inner architect—visit the Fairy House Village on the Shoreland Trail, and let your imagination guide you as you collect building materials and construct dwellings for our tiniest residents!
- The Bibby and Harold Alfond Children’s Garden is rife with activities—look for our chalkboards bursting with inspiration and ideas for you to try.
- Fascinated by our pollinators? Drop by the Native Butterfly and Moth House or our Learning Apiary—new this year!
- For older children, check out our self-guided wetlands tour, Headlands to the Harbor.
- Finally, drop by our CMBG for Families Facebook page filled with projects for home and away!
I hope you fall in love with this area as much as I have and plan year-round visits, as there is so much more to offer!
Written by Amanda Garland, Group Tour Marketing Coordinator at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. Plan your group trip to the Gardens today by contacting Amanda at (207) 633-8050 or firstname.lastname@example.org.