Visit Maine like a local: lobsters to lighthouses to blueberries

by Mar 28, 2022Maine

Visit Maine Like A Local Lighthouse

Visiting Maine like a local means more than visiting art galleries or brewery hopping. Head to coastlines, blueberry farms, lighthouses and more to experience the tastes, smells and sounds of Maine.

Nestled high in the north-easternmost corner of the United States – with water and Canada as neighbors on three sides – Maine is beloved by locals for its mind-your-own-business attitude and independent streak. For locals, there is no better place to live.

So convinced that all who enter its ports will want to stay, the sign when entering Maine from New Hampshire says, simply, “Welcome Home.”

Maine is a pisser – wait, wait, that’s really not what you may think. In the quirky Maine dialect, that means something that is highly regarded (better pronounced as “pissah” since “Mainahs” don’t have much use for the “R” sound. Maine natives find their state pretty highly awesome. For good reason. Maine IS awesome. Admittedly for somebody who travels the world, waiting so many decades to get to Maine, as I did, is almost embarrassing. Now I find myself plotting how to get back again and again, especially, now that I am beginning to experience Maine more like a local.

I want to visit more of the state’s famous lighthouses. I want to explore the small towns, coastlines, and fishing piers on the seven peninsulas that dangle off the mainland like coins hanging on a belly dancer. I want to hike more trails, eat more wild blueberries, and indulge in more lobster.

I most certainly want to talk to more Maine natives who have great colorful stories to tell and love to share how a traveler – called a “From Away” in Maine dialect – should see Maine through their eyes.

Maine Lobster Pound Night

A Maine lobster pound and dock at night is a quiet, beautiful place.

Things to see in Maine like a local

There is a lot to see and do in Maine and at the same time oh-so-little. And that’s really what there is to love. Maine is the most rural state in the United States, so heading to bustling breweries in Portland or sipping bubbly at art galleries in Camden may feel like a Maine vacation, but it is not what Maine is really about. Visiting Maine is about forests, hills, rocky coastlines, lighthouses, water, islands, lakes, more water, more islands, and a whole lot of space. You don’t enjoy all the things to see in Maine if you just head to art galleries, fine dining, and Bar Harbor.

To find out more about visiting Maine, I talked to natives who represent four different sights, sounds, and tastes Maine is traditionally known for: lighthouses, lobster shacks, blueberries, and the faraway sound of buoys. If you are planning a trip to Maine, read on to find out how you too can experience all the things to see in Maine just like a local, because these are true “Mainahs” offering you advice.

Irene Rizkalla, Marshall Point Lighthouse, Port Clyde

See In Maine Marshall Point Irene

Irene Rizkalla at the greeting station of the cozy Marshall Point Lighthouse museum.

Irena Rizkalla could be called the “matron saint” of Marshall Point Lighthouse in MidCoast Maine. Born in 1938, she still holds court in the lighthouse museum a couple of days a week. Say the word and she is ready to regale you about how she and a troop of dedicated locals on the St. George Peninsula saved the historic lighthouse from potential demolition and the coast from another tourist resort.

It is an idyllic scene on the rocky shores of Point Clyde – one of the top things to see in Maine – but when a developer was looking to buy the shuttered property in the 1980s, the community found the fire in its belly. “Oh really?!!?! Ya think!?!” Rizkalla said, recalling what she thought back then. “We were all going cuckoo. We wanted Marshall Point to belong to us.”

So seven people huddled in Rizkalla’s kitchen to plot a take back, one bake sale at a time. They had to raise money, find grants, and convince the U.S. Coast Guard that a merry band of volunteers could be the MidCoast Maine lighthouse’s guardian.

“People were fired up. Everybody wanted to get involved and wanted to protect what we loved,” she told me. When I asked her why such passion, she gave me a bit of sideways glare, then demanded: “Just sit out there and look at the water and the lobster boats going by, and the people and kids, then you’ll know it’s a special spot.”

Marshall Point Scenic

It is however Tom Hanks who can probably be thanked for bringing so much attention to the restored Marshall Point Lighthouse, one of Maine’s 65 historic lighthouses dotting the rocky coastline. It was on Marshall Point’s wooden ramp where he, as Forrest Gump, finished his cross-country run in the 1994 movie of the same name. Just like the local volunteers do, you can even spend some time watching the lighthouse’s webcam for the entertainment of watching visitors recreate Forrest Gump’s finish.

Today, the grounds are maintained and run by the all-volunteer St. George Historical Society lighthouse committee, including their jobs renting the former lighthouse keeper’s house and running the museum the group founded in 1990.

Rizkalla knows about experiencing Maine like a local. She was born in St. George and her family dates back to 1700. Or thereabouts – she’s not really sure how many generations but maybe six or seven, she said. Who needs to count: “Once a Mainah, always a Mainah,” she said. No, I am not making up that delightful Maine accent.

“I was always happiest when I was here,” said Rizkalla. “I feel most comfortable when I’m close to the ocean.” Mainers mind their own business but not if you need help, she said. “If you have a problem, your neighbor comes to your door; otherwise, they let you live.”

Five Maine highlights to see from Irene

Penobscot Narrows Bridge

The graceful Penobscot Narrows Bridge offers stupendous views from its observatory, seen at the top on the right — the tallest bridge observatory in the world.

Tops on her list of Maine highlights are the St. George villages – Port Clyde, Tennants Harbor and St. George – including of course the Marshall Point lighthouse. “Each one has something and is a great place to hang out with locals or buy a lobster roll.”

Don’t miss Lincolnville and the beach – you just can’t drag Rizkalla too far from her beloved ocean. And, she advised, grab some fried clams, a lobster roll “or whatevah, and just sit and look at the water.”

The graceful white fingers of the Penboscot Narrows Bridge reaching toward the sky and swooping back down to the river are eye-catching. Make time to take the elevator to the observatory, which is the tallest bridge observatory in the world.

Take a boat on a Puffin tour or out to Moneghan Island – for a day or several – since she stressed that water is what Maine is all about.

Pemaquid Point or Owls’ Head lighthouses are also on the list of what to see in Maine, but, she warned, slightly prejudiced of course, “they don’t have what we have.”

John and Allison Boyington, Ridgeberry Farm, Appleton

Maine Wild Blueberries Ridgeberry

John and Allison Boyington with the Ridgeberry Farm pup show off acres of Maine wild blueberries.

As I drove toward Ridgeberry Farm along a dirt road and looked at the expanses of fields covered with what looked like ground-hugging shrubs or low grasses along the way, I kept thinking, where are the blueberries? I was told I’d be driving past the blueberries?! How “from away” could I have been? Any local would know wild blueberry plants, but that wasn’t me.

Those large bright blue marbles sold in grocery stores or you pick off tall bushes in handfuls that most people normally know as “blueberries?” No, sir, those are not your Maine WILD blueberries. These wild berries are tiny blue pearls busting with fruity goodness growing on those low-to-the-ground shrubs – and don’t call them sweet because they aren’t really. In other words, those WERE blueberry shrubs on the sides of road, the Boyingtons and their son-in-law Tim Davis explained patiently to this West Coaster.

At Ridgeberry Farm, John and Allison Boyington have been growing wild blueberries since 1981, slowing expanding the farm to today’s 100 acres or so. It became a full-time endeavor about 2010. “We just started accumulating land,” John said, adjusting the brim of his AGCO cap.

Between his own farm and other areas in the region he also farms (a total of 200 acres), the Boyingtons will produce anywhere from 350,000 to 500,000 pounds of blueberries a year. Ridgeberry is in fact one of the largest growers of wild blueberries in the area – and Maine is the largest producer of wild blueberries in the world. Most growers of wild blueberries are independent farmers who have maybe 10 acres in their backyard, he said. “There aren’t too many people who do what I do.”

John isn’t much of a talker. In fact, son-in-law Davis was called in to assist since John said he wasn’t sure what he would tell me when I got there. “I’d rather be on a tractor seat,” he said, flashing a shy smile and stuffing his hands in the front pockets of his jeans. Either on a tractor or dreaming up farming equipment to make in his shed. John Boyington, a mechanic by training, is a bit of a tinkerer at heart, even making a simple blueberry harvesting “rake,” which sold like hotcakes for years, until the big manufacturers starting doing it cheaper than he could. But improving land is his love. And he just can’t stop.

“Have you ever had Maine wild blueberries” Davis asked me. No, I answered. “Then,” came the matter-of-fact reply, “you’ve never had blueberries.”

VIsit Maine Ridgeberry Farms

Traveling companion Rocky shows off his haul of Maine wild blueberries on the rolling hills of berry shrubs surrounding him.

Blueberries are very Maine, but a little publicity never hurts: The state recently launched the Wild Blueberry Commission and held its first Wild Blueberry Weekend in July 2021. The goal is to turn the state into the “Napa Valley of blueberries,” he said, making the farms one more thing to see in Maine. Like Ridgeberry Farm, where like the locals you could stop by in season to pick up some fresh berries or grab some frozen ones in the off-season. (They are looking to expand into more jams, jellies, wines, and other products.)

After decades of living and breathing blueberries, I had to ask if John still eats them. He looked at me askance. “I eat blueberries every day,” he nearly snapped back. “I can’t get enough of them.”

The Boyingtons sent me off with a small basket of frozen blueberries – frozen since it was off-season. But he instructed me to just put them in the microwave for about 10 secs, so they get all juicy. I did. And they did. It was a taste sensation like none other. Fruity, not too sweet, and definitely not those tasteless blue blobs usually found in grocery store blueberry muffins.

Five Maine highlights to see from John, Allison and Tim

Visit Maine Acadia Park

The carriage roads and stone bridges in Acadia National Park offer walking and biking without traffic.

Along the coast, the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse is a must, with its rocky breakwater to traverse.

Acadia National Park, although often pretty busy, is also worth exploring. And don’t miss the so-called Thunderhole where waves at high tide crash into the rocks of a small inlet with a thundering roar.

Just down the road from Ridgeberry is the town of Union, which has the oldest town commons in Maine. OK, there’s not a lot there, but that makes it a pretty quintessential small-town Maine thing to see. Feel free to sit on the green with an ice cream.

The Langlais Sculpture Preserve on the Cushing peninsula was once the home of Maine artist Bernard Langlais (If you landed in Portland, you will see his impressive art in the airport). Operated by the Georges River Land Trust, the property now has a short, ADA-accessible trail to tour the outdoor art.

And it’s not a visit to Maine unless you get to an island – and what a choice since there are more than 4,600! Their favorite is Vinalhaven, in Penobscot Bay, which is one of the largest.

Seth Cote, Perry’s Lobster Shack, Surry

Seth Perrys Lobster Shack Visit Maine

My friends were starting to question my guidance about this alleged lobster shack with great reviews, located 12 miles outside of Blue Hill. “Are you sure?” one asked as we maneuvered the winding road along the water. Still, it was a pretty drive, and we agreed we could always go back to town to find something to eat. It was after all a spectacular fall day on the Blue Hill Peninsula for hunting out off-the-beaten-path travel highlights in Maine.

Then we cruised around another bend in the road, and there it was: a red lobster shack perched on the edge of a dock, decked out in lobster paraphernalia and signage noting, “Slow, lobster crossing.” We had arrived.

If there is one thing to see in Maine – or, better put, to nosh in Maine — it’s a lobster roll busting with fresh-picked lobster meat. All the better if you’re sitting on the water on a dock, watching the lobster boats coming in and unloading their catch of the day. This is as fresh as it gets.

When you go to Perry’s Lobster Shack outside of the tiny burg of Surry, there are no tour buses or streets lined with shops. There is in fact no town, just a shack with a dock on Union River Bay. Here, the experience is king – and part of the experience is just getting there. Only 12 miles outside of Ellsworth – so really only 22 or so miles from the clogged lobster shacks just outside of Bar Harbor on the Mt. Desert Narrows — Perry’s remains well off the beaten path. And that’s part of what makes it such a fantastic stop for the epitome of a lobster roll experience among things to do and see in Maine.

Perrys Lobster Shack Maine Experience

Perry’s is run by Seth Cote, 29, grandson of the shack’s namesake, Perry, who was a lobster man by trade. Perry built the dock for lobstering. Soon after that, locals were buying lobster from Perry, bringing cookers down to the dock, and hauling out lobster crates to sit on for a feed. Perry realized he had something here, so he added a simple lobster shack. Seth started working for his grandfather as a young teen, even telling his beloved grandfather that it would be a dream for him to own the place someday. When Perry passed away from cancer in 2015, Seth decided he indeed wanted to buy the place and carry on his grandfather’s legacy. After working out a deal with his grandmother, Seth took over Perry’s Lobster Shack at just 23, fresh out of college.

With youth as his guide, he started building out the popular shack his grandfather had founded, adding social media for promotion, as well as Perry’s-branded gifts like blankets and T-shirts and, new in 2021, an oyster bar. During the pandemic shutdown, he built out a food trailer to keep his promotional efforts going.

“We’re about an experience, and it starts with the drive. You wonder, am I going to the right place?? Then you come around the corner,” Seth told me. “Nobody is going to drive miles down Newbury Neck Road just to get a lobster roll.”

I knew that drive and the feeling of “am I going to the right place.” Let me assure you, you are. Forget those “name” lobster shacks with lines snaking down the road and around the corner. Perry’s – which can also get pretty crowded during the high season – is a place you want to find to really see Maine and have a “Mainah” experience.

“I’m totally just loving it,” Seth told me about running the shack. “It’s so cool to have that place that people love. It’s humbling.”

Five Maine highlights to see from Seth

Deer Isle Sunset Maine

Sunset Sand Beach on Deer Isle is what it says.

“I’m a Mainer through and through,” Seth told me, so here are his insights about what to see in Maine. Of course, I had to tell him that telling people to go to Perry’s couldn’t be one of the things he named for travelers to Maine to see. (although…pssst…you should.)

Above all else, he said to “get out on the ocean somehow,” perhaps with a charter or a ferry.

Get to an island. Two islands to consider are Vinalhaven or Little Cranberry Island and the town of Isleford.

Don’t miss the sunrises and sunsets, particularly from a mountain top. They are spectacular since there is “very little light pollution” outside of the big cities, he noted. He suggested Cadillac Mountain in Acadia or Blue Hill Mountain.

Just drive Route 1 and see all the small coastal cities to discover “places like mine.”

Drive off-the-beaten-path roads where you also find great little towns and working harbors. A couple of recommendations are Deer Isle and Stonington at the far end of the Blue Hill Peninsula where his shack is.

Connie Davidson, North Country Wind Bells, Round Pound

Maine Like A Local Wind Bells

Any place you go there are smells, sights, and sounds that embed themselves into your memory, although you may not realize it. Until you are not there. Then you may see or hear something similar, and, without warning, your mind catapults you back to that other place. In Maine, anywhere you are near the water – which means just about everywhere along the jagged coast – you will hear the sounds of buoys and their bells, signaling to sailors where they are and what to beware.

The sounds of the buoys are so haunting and yet reassuring. Little known fact: Every single one has a different sound, which sailors get to know. Even if they can’t see a landmark, they will know where they are. These reverberating tones burrow deep into your soul and remain there long after you leave Maine. That’s what prompted Connie Davidson’s father, Jim Davidson, a long-time lobsterman who spent countless hours with these bells guiding him on the ocean, to start building wind bells that replicated the sounds of Maine.

He started in the ‘70s, recording the sounds of the ocean buoys and coming out with the first set of “Buoy Bells,” which remains in the North Country collection today. The manufacturing facility also remains where it began – on Jim and May Davidson’s farm outside of the little bump in the road called Round Pound, run by Connie and her husband, Paul.

Today, there is a line of 27 different buoy bells ranging from 8-18 inches, with prices running between $50-$105 (with a ginormous 32-pound “Sea Gong” going for $425 at the time of this writing). They are hefty (four to 13 pounds) with a resonance that vibrates inside your soul. Whether in the garden or on your deck or patio, they are the perfect souvenir Made in Maine. Since its start, the Maine wind bells line has expanded to include buoy bells outside of the area.

For me, the sound is so relaxing, with any tension in my shoulders immediately loosening as I inhale and exhale deeply. I immediately had to have one – listening to its poignant, deep chimes in a breeze takes me back to that Maine feeling. And that’s a good thing, don’t you think?

Five Maine highlights to see from Connie

Dodge Point Like A Local

Dodge Point Preserve trails wind you through woods to oceanfront and rocky beaches.

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse remains one of the most accessible, lighthouses with stupendous views. Drive right up to it but be careful of the slippery rocks down to the water on the far side.

During the summer season, volunteers at Colonel Pemaquid State Historic Site are busy with ongoing restoration and archeological digs at Fort William Henry, built in 1692. As one of the earliest settlements in Maine, the sweeping ocean-side grounds are a peaceful spot for a walk or a history lesson from volunteers dressed in period clothing.

On the other side of MidCoast Maine’s Bristol peninsula – not far from the North Coast Wind Bells store and facility – is the tiny town (population, 600) of Round Pound with the Granite Hall store and gift shop (built in 1873). It’s a quaint, old-fashioned general store cum gift shop stuffed with candy, trinkets, souvenirs, textiles, and everything you may need — or not.

Take one of thousands of hikes run by dozens of land trusts in Maine along coasts or in the hills. Try Dodge Point Preserve in Newcastle with frontage on the Damariscotta River.

Thomaston, incorporated in 1877, is a former seafaring town today known for antiquing and New England’s antique-focused Thomaston Place Auction Galleries.

Pemaquid Beach Like A Local

When it comes to things to see in Maine, doing it like a local will transform your travels into something memorable in a state where so much is already memorable. Like the official Maine state motto, which is a rather quirky one-worder that may leave you scratching your head if you don’t speak Latin: Dirigo. Yup, that’s it. Succinct and stemming from a dead language, Dirigo means “I direct” or “I lead,” and there is something about its quirkiness that perfectly expresses the Maine attitude.

Even if you just summer in Maine or pay the state an occasional visit, you will fall in love with that attitude. And you may just want to stay. “I don’t know anybody who lives here who wishes they lived someplace else,” said Irene Rizkalla of Marshall Point Lighthouse, “and that’s the truth, so help me God.”

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