Nothing could be more quintessentially DownEast than its working waterfronts.
In generations past, you could see and hear our working waterfronts spring to life in the pre-dawn hours when fishermen loaded up their boats, cast off, and head out for the day with a familiar chugga-chugga-chugga as they headed across the harbor. Today much of that tradition remains; many of the skilled jobs and businesses that fuel our working waterfronts get passed down through families. Our working waterfronts are living, breathing examples of the vibrant fisheries, commercial enterprises, and small waterfront businesses that built Maine’s maritime reputation.
part of our heritage
It’s still all right here for those who share a casual interest or the adventurous looking to experience first hand, or even for those just looking to taste the bounty Maine’s waters have to offer. Come and glimpse into our coast’s great past to a time when Maine granite built America’s greatest cities. Or see firsthand as you travel along the Down East Fisheries Trail how places like McCurdy’s Smokehouse helped to feed a world hungry for smoked herring and tinned sardines.
In each of these waterfronts, and mind you, no two are alike, you will also hear that spirit it in the buoy bells and horns that safely guide mariners. Spot our nearly ancient maritime tradition come to life in the halyards, sheets and flags fly from rigging of boats getting hauled in and out of the water for servicing year-round. Breathe in the aroma of briny air, rusty metal, and new varnish. These sounds and smells tell a richly layered story of life working along the waterfronts. Call it what you will; the town docks and waterfronts of DownEast Acadia have long been and, in many cases, still are, the hubs of our coastal community life.
It’s all within an easy drive down any of the region’s peninsulas. Enjoy the journey – feel free to roll down the car windows–past fields and marshes, stacks of lobster traps and buoys sometimes stand proud next to a barn. The roads will narrow and the scent of the tide will fill the air.
The seaward vista will begin to open up with glimpses of sheltered coves. Along the way, many a home-based business owner might have wares advertised or even displayed roadside through the “honor” system. Be on the lookout for antique and craft stores boasting vintage nautical items and even mats made from old lobster rope or rocking chairs crafted from lobster traps.
Beals Island & BAR HARBOR
The tiny village of Beals Island was home to many of Maine’s top boatbuilders – a goodly portion of them named, you guessed it, “Beal.” Stop here to grab a selfie with “Tall Barney,” a seven-foot-tall monument to a popular figure of fishing folklore. The picturesque village has antiques and gift shops, art galleries, a campground, take-out restaurants, Maine’s largest indoor model railroad, and a sardine museum.
Nearby, the Downeast Institute, a marine research facility, offers daily tours and a touch tank for curious hands. The Nature Conservancy’s 1,500-acre Great Wass Island Preserve offers an excellent hiking trail and views of Moose Peak Lighthouse.
Bar Harbor may be more famous for being the hometown of the highly popular Acadia National Park. Still, the busy port in Frenchman Bay is home to many waterfront activities, from sea kayaking the Porcupine Islands, to lobster pound dining to passenger schooners, whale watch boats, and Friendship sloop and lobster boat tours.
Many of these communities celebrate their history, offering visitors the opportunity to learn more about local communities and working waterfronts. Keep an eye out for museums. The Abbe Museum, in Bar Harbor offers an understanding of the working waterfront activities of Maine’s Native people, the Wabanaki, with harpoons and other artifacts going back 2,000 years.
Be sure to schedule a stroll along streets overlooking the harbor. These are often lined with vintage homes built by sea captains of yesteryear, complete with iconic “widow’s walks” – railed rooftop platforms – said to be used by wives awaiting their husbands’ return.
STONINGTON & DEER ISLE
Suddenly, you will arrive at your coastal destination. It could be Stonington, where the “stone” of its name refers to the great quarries that once yielded much of the nation’s granite. Today, Stonington is Maine’s largest lobster fishing port. You’ll find restaurants, accommodations, beaches, trails, the ferry to Isle au Haut, the Stonington Opera House, lighthouse and wildlife tours, and an incredible island archipelago for sea kayaking and camping.
Check in on the Deer Isle Granite Museum and Settlement Quarry to find great examples of the granite industry. And while it is not strictly in and around Deer Isle, check out some of the spectacular works in stone along the Maine Sculpture Trail, an outdoor exhibit of 34 granite sculptures spanning over 273 miles along the Downeast coastal region.
eastport & lubec
Further along the Downeast coast in Eastport, you can visit the Tides Institute & Museum of Art, maritime culture and history repository, and Raye’s Mustard Mill Museum, a working museum housing North America’s last remaining traditional stone-ground mustard mill.
Try one of the many seagoing tours in Lubec and snap a picture of the Lost Fishermen’s Memorial. The memorial here and in other coastal villages is often a venue for annual ceremonies honoring lost seafarers; check out local listings. Plus, if the tides are right, you can stroll the beach for some sea glass or watch the rapidly moving waters carrying friendly seals just a few feet from shore.
MORE WAYS TO SEE OUR WORKING WATERFRONTS
The Schoodic National Scenic Byway, Downeast Fisheries Trail, and The Downeast Sunrise Trail are other great ways to find working waterfronts. You can catch arts and music on the Schoodic Peninsula during Schoodic Arts for All. Then pop down to one of several working wharves to watch fishermen come and go. The Winter Harbor Lobster Festival celebrates good eats and the lobster industry. Schoodic Institute has educational events about maritime topics.
But what might be the best experience is simply grabbing a lobster roll at the local shack and sitting by any town pier —you’ll often find benches, parks, or even just a convenient seawall—taking in the bustling scene. Fishermen hoisting crates of lobster, hosing down their boats, rowing back to shore while gulls swoop in for the spoils. Spot a bald eagle regally posed atop a piling. A brand-new boat is launching for the first time, sometimes with a bagpiper commemorating the event. Clammers in thigh-high muck boots digging on the flats.
Seafood farmers—kelp, mussels, oysters, salmon—building a new working-waterfront industry. It’s all tucked away in the countless inlets and harbors of Maine’s treasured coastline. Wherever you go, you’ll find True Maine in the working waterfront. You can taste it in the delicious seafood dishes that await you at countless eateries throughout the region. Visit our local foods page for information on some of the region’s most delightful dining options.
To help you plan your trip we provide information on drive time and distances to and around the region. Plus info on other commercial transportation options.
Once you arrive in DownEast Acadia, you will want to access local sources of visitor information, state laws, recreation rules, and road conditions.
To help you pack or plan your day, check out the current weather in the region or learn about year-round averages of temperature and precipitation.