Of course you’ve heard about the many attractions that make Southern Maine so popular with vacationers – the beaches, restaurants, clothing, gift and antique shops, theaters, clubs and a myriad of events. Just in case you’re still searching for something different, something memorable, something that you might not have thought of, here is a select list of sometimes overlooked attractions that deserve your consideration. Listed in no particular order, except to get you out and about to add to the memories of your visit.
- What: Route 103
Where: Between Kittery and York
The section of Route 103 between Kittery and York is one of the most quaint and historic roads in Maine. Just about 8 miles long, this stretch of winding, meandering by-way encourages a leisurely ride so you won’t miss the scenery. It’s a return to the colonial route traveled on horseback and carriage by early New England settlers.
Long stretches have stately trees that hug the road to form a leafy arch over your vehicle as you pass beneath. On the ocean side you’ll pass inlets with views of sea crafts bobbing on wind swept waters. Clusters of classic buildings dating back to the 1600s line the route. Some homes approach mansion status, others are more modest cabins. Stone walls, tidal inlets and marshes filled with lily ponds add a sense of quite and peace. White steepled churches with adjacent graveyard honor times gone by. Two spots deserver special mention. One is Fort McClary, a military blockhouse dating back to 1689. The other is Frisbee’s Market, until recently, the oldest family run market in America. Don’t be discouraged by the short detour near the York section. Even the alternative route provides stunning views of stylish and well cared for private homes.
- What: Wiggly Bridge and Steedman Woods
Where: Entrance off Old Mill Road, York
Start with an easy stroll or bike ride along the tree lined path in Steedman Woods, a 17 acre woodland preserve. As you wind around a curve you’ll come upon a mystifying sights – a steel suspension bridge that looks like it’s part of an oversized model train set. It’s called the Wiggly Bridge. The “wiggly” name caught on when, tradition has it, some girl scouts with a sense of humor in the 1940s discovered it wiggled when they crossed it.
The bridge has the distinction of being “the smallest suspension bridge’ in the world. It spans a tidal pond created when local entrepreneurs build a dam in 1726 to operate lumber and grist mills. The Wiggly Bridge was built in 1931 by Hussey Manufacturing, North Berwick so summer guest on the beach side of York could reach the golf course on Organug Road. Due to construction on the York River side of the bridge the only access is from Old Mill Road. Parking is limited, so plan you visit with care. Free.
- What: Wells Auto Museum
Where: Route 1, Wells
Beware! Step into this sanctuary of automobile history and you may have a difficult time leaving. Don’t be fooled by its unpretentious façade. Inside, history will tug at your sleeve as you immerse yourself in memories of your first car and auto trips you made with your parents. Ghosts of automobiles past whisper in your imagination as you view more than 80 antique automobiles classics.
The impressive collection includes such icons as a 1915 Stutz Bearcat, 1930 Ford Model A, 1918 Pierce Arrow, 1909 Stanley Steamer – invented by Maine born twins Freelan and Francis Stanley, 1982 DeLorean, 1955 Chrysler – reported to usher in the era of the “muscle cars” – and many other rare vehicle. In addition to the cars you’ll find motorcycles, bikes, toys, working calliope, player pianos, peep shows and games. The gift shop features model kits and automotive-themed playthings and artifacts. Open daily Memorial Day through Columbus Day, 10 AM to 5 PM. (207) 646-9064. Adults – $7; Children $4.
- What: Atlas Aero Bi-plane Scenic Flight
Where: Sanford Airport
One of the most thrilling ways to see Southern Maine is soaring in a bi-plane 1,000 feet in the air. The excitement starts when you settle into the front seat and you hear the engine of the restored 1933 open cockpit double winger rev up for take off. As you watch the ground slip away behind and you the “feel” the plane’s wheels lift off the runway the rush of air matches the rush of your senses.
Dave Trucksess, your pilot and tour guide, is a veteran airline captain with 35 years of flying experience. He provides a running description through your headset of the breath-taking views from York to Biddeford Pool. Among the sights you’ll see are the lighthouses at Cape Neddick, Goat Island and Boon Island, the beaches at York, Wells and Kennebunk, Walker’s Point, Cape Porpoise as well as landmarks inland. One or two people, depending on size, ride in the forward cockpit. Half-hour ride is $150. One hour tour: $235. (207) 332-4174. Website:www.seacoastbiplanetours.com
- What: Exhibits of American Artists
Where: Ogunquit Museum of American Art, 543 Shore Road, Ogunquit
If you have even a casual interest in the arts be sure to visit this gem of a museum. For more than 100 years the arts have flourished in Ogunquit. This art tradition has a passionate champion at the Ogunquit Museum of American Art. Founded in 1952 by artist and teacher Henry Strater the museum has a permanent collection of more than 1,600 works of art including paintings, sculptures, photography and graphics.
You’ll fall under the spell of the museum the moment you enter the property. You are greeted by a stunning example of sculpture, both realistic and fanciful. Upon entering the museum lobby you see a spectacular view of the ocean through massive glass windows. Catch your breath and tour the galleries which feature changing exhibits throughout the years. OMAA is the only museum in Maine devoted to collecting and exhibiting works by American artists. New this year is an expanded gift shop. Open May 22 to October 31. Monday-Saturday, 10 AM to 5 PM; Sunday 1 to 5 PM. Adults – $7.50; Seniors – $5; Students – $4; children under 12 – free. (207) 646-4909. Website:www.ogunquitmuseum.org.
- What: Nature Trails and Wildlife Views
Where: Wells Reserve at Laudholm Trust, 342 Laudholm Farm Road, Wells
Take a short ride off Route 1 onto Laudholm Farm Road and find one of the most peaceful, natural wildlife settings. Bring your camera or just wander through seven miles of trails through the local forest, wetlands, dunes and beach. You’re sure to see unparalleled views of birds and wildlife in the estuary created by the Webhannet and Little Rivers and the Gulf of Maine.
The reserve consists of about 200 acres of salt marshes, forest, brush and grassland. It is home to a wide diversity of flora and fauna. The reserve trails are open from 7 AM to sunset seven days a week in the summer and Monday through Friday in the winter. It is closed December 15th through January 16th. The trust includes historic farm buildings as well as a Visitor Center with books, videos, maps and gifts. There is a small entrance fee from Memorial Day weekend to Columbus Day which includes parking. Please – no pets and no smoking. (207) 646-4521. Website:www.laudholm.org.
- What: Boat Watching
Where: Harbors, Rivers and Beaches
One of the delights of a summer vacation along the Maine coast is enjoying the romance of the high seas without leaving land. You don’t even have to know which part of a boat is the bow or stern, port or starboard, boom or rudder to appreciate the beauty and sleekness of a sea craft on a sparkling ocean. Just settle in at one of the many harbors, rivers or beach along the coast and let your imagination “sail.” Take a vicarious boat ride as you watch motor crafts, sailing yachts, whale watching and working lobster boats ply their way out to sea and back.
There are several spots that offer a great view for “boats watching.” In Kittery visit Fort McClary off Route 103 (see above). The high ground of the fort offers a panoramic view of boats on the Piscataqua River and Atlantic. York Harbor near Stage Neck Road offers another great play to watch boats. Perkins Cove in Ogunquit has both working and leisure boats. In Wells take Harbor Road to its end to see boats of every description. Some very large yachts return each year to the Kennebunk River. Visit the Cape Porpoise pier to see more working and leisure boats. Bon voyage!
- What: Picnic, Nature Walk, Scenic Views
Where: Vaughn Woods Memorial State Park, 28 Oldfields Road, South Berwick
When you’re ready to escape for a peaceful connection with nature, visit this 165 acre park of unspoiled woodland. Trails wind through the park under hundred year old towering trees, making an ideal shady setting for hikers, walkers, runners and equestrians. You’ll cross bubbling streams that flow through the park toward the tranquil Salmon Falls River. Wildflowers are abundant and you might get a glimpse of rabbits, coyotes, foxes, porcupines and other forest critters. Before you enter the wooded area you’ll find a picnic area with charcoal grill, tables and rest room facilities and an open field for family and group outings.
The park was bequeathed to the state in 1949 by Elise Tyson Vaughan who lived in the Hamilton House adjacent to the park (see below). The park is open 9 AM to sunset Memorial Day through Labor Day. A small fee is charged on the honor system. (207) 384-5160.
- What: Historic Home Tour #1
Where: Hamilton House, 40 Vaughan’s Lane, South Berwick
This elaborate Georgian style mansion gives you an opportunity to witness the grand lifestyle of prosperous early colonial families. The building stands on a high bluff overlooking the Salmon Falls River. Its large rooms, central staircase, oversized windows and interior furnishings were designed to showcase the wealth of its builder Jonathan Hamilton (1745-1802). Starting from humble beginnings, Hamilton amassed his fortune during the era of the American Revolution. He started selling fish and timber which led to privateering, ship building and timber harvesting. A sizeable part of his fortune came from his involvement in the infamous “Triangular Trade” dealing with rum, molasses and slaves.
In 1898 the property was purchased by Emily Tyson, widow of the president of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and her stepdaughter Elise Tyson Vaughn. The Tyson’s went to great efforts to restore the original style of the mansion, plus added an elaborate Colonial revival-style garden and room-size murals in the dining room and parlor. A path leads to the adjacent state park (see above). Open Wednesday – Sunday, June 1 – October 15, 11 AM to 4 PM. Adults -$8: Seniors – $7; Students – $4. Free for Historic New England members and South Berwick residents. (207) 384-2454. Website: www.historicnewengland.org.
- What: Historic Home Tour #2
Where: Sara Orne Jewett House, 5 Portland Street, South Berwick
Climb the elegant staircase of this stately Georgian residence and you can see where Sara Jewett (1849-1909) sat at her writing desk overlooking the hubbub of downtown South Berwick. The building was owned by her family since 1819. Much of the inspiration for her novels and short stories came from the citizens and surrounding of this quiet town. Jewett rose to prominence as a Maine writer with her novella The Country of Pointed Firs (1896).
In 1886 Jewett and her sister Mary inherited the house and added decorations to express both a style that honored their family’s past, plus their individual, cultured taste. They filled the house with a stylish mixture of antiques, bold wallpaper designs and artful furniture. Open Friday- Sunday, June 1 – October 15, 11 AM – 4 PM. Adults – $5; Seniors – $4; Students – $2.50. Free for Historic New England members and South Berwick residents. (207) 384-2454. Website: www.historicnewengland.org.
NOTE: The Hamilton House and Jewett House are part Historic New England, the oldest, largest and most comprehensive regional heritage organization in the nation. It is a museum of cultural history that collects and preserves buildings, landscapes, and objects dating from the seventeenth century. HNE oversees 36 historic properties throughout New England.
- What: Ride Trolley Cars
Where: Seashore Trolley Museum, 195 Log Cabin Road, Kennebunkport
When the conductor hollers, “All Aboard” get ready for a journey into the past on a restored antique trolley car. The clickety-clak of the trolley’s wheels as you ride on the museum’s two-mile rail line creates a rhythm that conjures up an era of by-gone travel. The museum was founded in 1939 with the purchase of one open trolley car. Today the collection consists of more than 250 transit vehicles, mostly trolleys, for around the world. Restoration of cars and operation of the property has been the enthusiastic work of thousands of dedication volunteers since the museum’s earliest days.
In addition to trolley rides you can learn how public transportation developed and contributed to the way people traveled for business and pleasure. Exhibits in the Visitor Center and descriptions of car restorations will add to your enjoyment. Chances are you’ll see a trolley, train or bus similar to one you once rode. Open daily from Memorial Day through October; open weekends in May. Adults – $8; Seniors – $6; Children 6 to 16 – $5.50; 5 and under – free. (207) 967-2712. www.trolleymuseum.org
For next year:
- What: Friday Night Mariners Buffet
Where: The Colony Hotel, 140 Ocean Avenue, Kennebunkport
Continuing a long time tradition at The Colony is the Friday night Mariners Buffet. Be prepared for one of the most splendid dining experience of your vacation. Imagine yourself aboard a luxurious ocean liner in the early 1900s. You can select a table in the massive grand dining room, decorated in rich wood paneling and hanging chandeliers. Or you may prefer a table with a view of the garden, pool and distant beach. If Mother Nature cooperated you can see a spectacular sunset.
Buffet tables brim with tempting selections. A highlight from the sea is lobster along with North Atlantic salmon, fresh local steamers and chowder. You can also fill your plate to overflowing with leg of lamb, prime roast beef, baked chicken and succulent vegetables to compliment the main meal. Enticing desserts include an assortment of cakes, pies, cookies and a variety of confectionary delights. Make reservations for either 6 or 8 PM. Friday nights June 25 to September 3. Adults: $39.95; Children under 11: $19.95. Cash bar. (207) 967-3331. Website: www.thecolonyhotel.com.