Cruising Mid-Coast Maine

If you have to choose, you can't go wrong with Mid-Coast Maine.

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Is there a finer place for summer cruising than the coast of Maine? It's true that the euphemistic "sea smoke" is a nuisance, but oh-what-a-view when it finally lifts. And with more coastline than California, you could live your whole life in Maine and never run out of new places to hike, picnic, kayak, sail, fish, swim, and sunbathe. But you have to start somewhere, it may as well be with Mid-Coast Maine, which is a textbook case of gorgeous. Ranging roughly from Brunswick in the south to Ellsworth in the north, the midcoast shoreline feels less touristy than southern Maine and more down-to-earth than its Kennebunkport and Bar Harbor neighbors to the north.

Don't miss Bath, known as the City of Ships, and home to the Maine Maritime Museum. The scenic cruise up the Kennebec River to reach Bath is studded with lighthouses. If you don't have time to make the 11 mile journey up the Sheepscot, the next river north, make the short drive from Bath to Wiscasset, to dine at Red's Eats-an unpretentious shack near the Wiscasset Bridge, that serves great lobster rolls and blackberry ice cream cones you don't want to miss.

The Boothbay Harbor region, which bills itself as "the soul of the coast," is quintessential Maine, home to boatbuilders and fishermen for generations. Stroll the wharves, kayak, or take a schooner trip. Then head toward Pemaquid Point, further up the coast, and put in at unspoiled South Bristol or scenic Christmas Cove, before visiting Pemaquid Light and its museum. Damariscotta is a pretty town with good shopping and a trip to Round Pound is like stepping back into a simpler time.

If you're a boat lover, and we know you are, check out Friendship Harbor, birthplace of the Friendship Sloop. These pretty sailboats were Maine's original lobster boat-ruggedly built and stable. Port Clyde and Tenants Harbor are small fishing villages on the St. George's peninsula and delightfully sleepy stopping points before you head up the coast toward Penobscot Bay's bustling towns. If you have time, visit Monhegan Island, which has inspired artists George Bellows, Rockwell Kent, Jamie Wyeth and Edward Hopper-amongst many others.

Rockland, the birthplace of Edna St. Vincent Millay, is a fishing town and a ferry departure point for North Haven, Vinalhaven, and Matinicus Island. Rockland used to have a slightly down-at-the-heels, rough reputation but it's been completely revitalized in the last decade. Of course, it's got tough competition in the charm department, as close as it is to picturesque and salty Camden. Camden Harbor gets very crowded in the summer but try to sneak in for a couple of days. The town is fairy tale pretty, with some nice shopping, great places to eat, and easy access to other destinations like Rockport and Camden Hills State Park.

Penobscot Bay is 40 miles long, 15 miles wide, and home to over 200 islands, so you could spend a couple of lifetimes-if you had them-just poking around here. But make sure you see some of the area's coastal towns like Belfast, which Budget Travel named as one of the 10 Coolest Small Towns in America last year, and Bucksport, site of the Penobscot Narrows Bridge and Observatory. Last but not least, take an afternoon stroll through Castine, a wonderful old town on the National Register of Historic Places and home of Maine Maritime Academy.

Maine is great. But there's so much Maine and so little time. If we've left off any of your favorite cruising spots, let us know by sharing your Mid-Coast Maine cruising secrets.