Best Maine souvenirs – Maine Made products for the perfect travel gift
For the best Maine souvenirs or travel gifts think Maine Made products. You can find them across the state, from art and food, to woodworking and décor. Check out the authentic wind bells we love, gifts made by Maine State prisoners, and more.
Locally handcrafted specialties can’t be beaten for gifts and souvenirs when you travel. Same goes for Maine, a New England vacation delight. Where to buy Maine Made products is however the big question. You can love the lobster, lighthouses, beaches and mountains the state is famous for while you are there, but they won’t pack along as the best Maine souvenirs or travel gifts so well.
I took a spin recently through MidCoast Maine, and although not a souvenir kind of person, I ventured into a couple of places with authentic local products that will speak to the most jaded of souvenir-seeking traveler.
How about a Made in Maine buoy bell to hang in your garden so you can forever listen to the reassuring sound of a buoy you loved while traveling in the state? Or maybe some beautiful wood handicrafts made by state prisoners? Really, there is so much more than lobster or blueberry jam to make the best souvenirs or gifts from your Maine vacation. And so many of those are steeped in coastal and New England history and tradition.
North County Wind Bells a perfect souvenir
If you love a wind chime, you will adore these wind bells. These truly ideal gifts and souvenirs have been handcrafted for more than 50 years in a plant on a rural road outside of a Norman Rockwell-esque place called Round Pound. Founded in the ‘70s by Jim and May Davidson, North County Wind Bells is now run by their daughter, Connie, and her husband, Paul, on the same farmland where it all started.
Jim, from Staten Island, N.Y., came to Maine after he fell in love with May, who was from Maine. Then he also fell in love with Maine, and the couple did everything possible to stay there – “whatever it takes” was the family motto. A longtime lobster fisherman, Jim spent time on the ocean where the chimes of the buoys were “beautiful, reassuring and haunting,” Connie told me. Seems every buoy has a different melody so fishermen know where they are. Jim began recording the sounds and then started recreating them in a triangular bell.
Today, there is a line of 27 different buoy bells to buy from 10-18 inches, costing from about $32-$100. They are hefty (four to 13 pounds) with a resonance that vibrates inside your soul, relaxing and reassuring whether you are in Maine or at home in your garden. (There is also the huge Sea Gong for $336 that is 32-inches and weighs more than 32 pounds!) North County Wind Bells in Round Pound, MidCoast Maine, today has developed a larger line that includes buoy bells from outside of the state as well as other chiming products like Wilderness Bells and Lighthouse Bells. Me, I just wanted a traditional buoy bell whose song when playing in the wind would be my best Maine souvenir that goes beyond maple syrup.
“The appreciation of so many that enjoy our work we craft keeps one aloft in happiness,” said Connie, “and to know ‘we did it,’ we carved out our life in the place we adore.”
Bar Harbor Bell
Read our reviews of Inns and Hotels in MidCoast Maine
Looking for an amazing place to stay in MidCoast Maine? Read our reviews of the Craignair Inn – a secluded Maine waterfront hotel and the Cozy Bradley Inn near Pemaquid Point Lighthouse in MidCoast Maine.
Maine State Prison Showroom for travel souvenirs
You did not read this wrong. The Maine State Prison Showroom is where to buy great handcrafted gifts and the best souvenirs, all made at the state’s maximum-security facility. Made in Maine is an understatement in this case.
At the prison showroom, the motto for its souvenirs and gifts is “Craftsmen rebuilding their lives.” I corresponded with the head of the industrial program at the prison after popping by the store in Thomaston to find out more about these most definitely Maine Made products and gifts.
“Inmates who participate in the prison industries program gain many valuable skills,” said Ken Lindsey, prison industries manager. “In addition to learning a marketable trade (and in some cases multiple marketable trade skills), they gain, increase and regularly practice their world-of-work soft skills, i.e., communication, time management, problem-solving, conflict resolution, critical thinking, and certainly leadership development.”
We are not talking silly wood trinkets you buy as your Maine souvenir just to do a good deed. This expansive MidCoast Maine store is packed with impressive furniture, lamps, toys, birdhouses, kitchen utensils, with a lot of woodworking but also leather and other materials. The prices are not high, and there is a local coastal look to so much of what is there with décor or emblems.
I talked to some folks from nearby states who make road trips to the story just to find the best Christmas and birthday gifts. I sauntered through the showroom attempting to pick my chin up off the floor, I was so impressed with the workmanship. In the end, I came away with some goofy wooden toaster tongs (that I hear are very popular) and a tiny leather coin purse. Lindsey told me the best-selling Maine souvenirs of the 650 products in the Maine State Prison Showroom are the Acorn and Buoy Birdhouses (pictured below), and the airbrushed cornhole game introduced two years ago has become “extremely popular,” he added, likely due to the painting of a Maine lobster on the platform.
The Maine State Prison Showroom is not a new kid on the block for where to buy souvenirs and gifts. The industrial program began in 1825 with the founding of the prison, but it has obviously evolved over the years. The showroom has been around for nearly a hundred years, always in Thomaston, where the prison was originally located. Inmates must follow their plans, including education and anger management programs, to work in the program, and there are usually between 100-180 prisoners of a total of about 1,000 working in the program, which has a waiting list. Prisoners earn a small hourly fee for the work, and some have even become certified master woodworkers!
I noticed that on my visit during the pandemic in July 2020 that safety protocols were being strictly following with store numbers greatly limited – even mid-week there was a line out front.
“We have hundreds of visitors each day that visit the showroom, we have something for everyone,” Lindsey wrote in an email. “We enjoy seeing and saying hello to the many repeat visitors each year. Not only are we a destination for summer visitors but we also are a stop for many tour buses that visit in the summer and fall.”
Maine Made products promoted by the state
If you are not in the MidCoast Maine area near North County Wind Bells or the Maine State Prison Showroom for truly unique Maine Made gifts (North County Wind Bells does sell online, but not the prison showroom), you can peruse another great source to find the best Maine souvenirs at the state-run website, Maine Made.
Before, during, or after your travels to Maine, you can find unique Maine souvenirs and gifts from vendors vetted as truly Made in Maine through a juried acceptance process. Tammy Knight, Maine Made program manager, told me by email that the state established this still-growing program more than three decades ago to help support, market and promote its state’s products and independent retailers.
“We do know, from our members, that the branding plays a critical role in consumer purchasing; being able to identify that the product was crafted in Maine,” Knight said.
Maine Made now has 1,500 members, selling everything from art and apparel to jewelry and décor, to wine and beer (although not all are on the website yet). Maine travelers can search products by category and even city to find a nearby location and personally go to a plant, store or location to see the best Maine souvenirs and products on a road trip. After your trip, you also can link to members’ websites where in some cases online ordering is possible for the best post-trip Maine souvenirs.
I visited Odd Alewives Farm Brewery on my visit, which is a Maine Made member. You can enjoy Odd Alewives casual garden setting in Waldoboro in MidCoast Maine, plus the craft brewery is now bottling five styles of beers, including its “Odd Friend” style, to make that great take-home gift (if you want to share).
So even though you can’t tuck a Made in Maine lighthouse or the coastal sea breeze in your pocket as your best Maine souvenir from travels there – and, no, a Maine moose won’t go along willingly either – a remembrance of a trip to Maine will help you dream of the Maine coast and scenery. Why not choose a truly authentic, handcrafted, traditional Maine Made souvenir?
Learn more about Odd Alewives Farm Brewery
Watch a short video from our friends at GLP Films to learn more about MidCoast Maine and Odd Alewives
Other articles about things to do near Maine
In Maine, you are not too far away from the Adirondacks in New York state. The Adirondacks are incredibly beautiful. Start your visit in Albany and be sure to read 24 hours in Albany – fascinating walk through time. And then head north along the shore of Lake Champlain. Read our story The best of the Adirondack Coast – top things to do in the Adirondacks. Just to the south of MidCoast Maine you’ll find Marblehead … another amazing New England village to visit. Read Top things to do in historic Marblehead + where to stay & eat.