Surf-to-fork food, Wyeth paintings, and pebbly beaches—the Midcoast is where even Mainers go to find the real Maine.
With a handful of always-packed spots—including Francine Bistro ($$$) and casual pub Shepherd’s Pie ($$)—chef Brian Hill is the emperor of the Penobscot Bay dining scene. His latest, Seabright ($$), turns out perfectly charred wood-fired pizzas topped with everything from roasted cauliflower to whipped lemon cream . Annemarie Ahearn worked for Tom Colicchio in New York before opening Salt Water Farm ($$$), where she leads cooking workshops and classes; she also runs a light-filled café nearby, with a patio overlooking the bay. James Beard Award winner Melissa Kelly grows her own produce (and raises pigs and chickens) on the grounds of her Italian-inspired Primo ($$$$), set in a rambling Victorian.
Related: The 10 Best Lobster Shacks in Maine
Rockland is the region’s cultural hub, its gallery-lined Main Street anchored by the Farnsworth Art Museum, where an impressive Wyeth family collection is the prime draw. Rockport’s Center for Maine Contemporary Art showcases local artists; in 2015 it will relocate to a Toshiko Mori–designed building in Rockland. Just inland, Camden Hills State Park has 30 miles of hiking trails; the best view is from the summit of Mount Battie, a two-hour trek or a short drive up. And former investment banker Bettina Doulton has turned a 200-year-old barn into Cellar Door Winery, which hosts free daily tours and tastings.
In Camden, Once a Tree stands out among the nautical kitsch purveyors with its handmade wooden pieces, including iPhone docks made from driftwood and carved bowls. Nearby, Sugar Tools is like a modern-day general store, with handmade Sapua soaps and woven straw tote bags. Rockland boutique Fourtwelve looks like it was plucked straight from SoHo; the white-washed shop carries brands such as Velvet and Steven Allen, plus its own linen-focused Nuthatch line.
Related: Maine Travel Guide
Two Dutch expats have transformed the 20-room Camden Harbour Inn ($$$) into the area’s smartest boutique hotel, with textured wallpaper, velvet accents, and spalike bathrooms. Complimentary breakfast is served at the on-site Natalie’s; the lobster Benedict is the clear standout. The local crustracean also stars in a five-course tasting menu at dinner. Looking for a family retreat? Samoset Resort ($$), in Rockport, has 230 waterfront acres, a pool, shuffleboard, and a golf course.
Midcoast at a Glance
Getting There Fly to Portland and drive 75 miles east. From Boston, it’s 3½ hours by car.
Famous Residents Don “American Pie” McClean; author David McCullough; various Rockefellers.
Miles of Coastline 1,500, made rugged by an ancient glacier.
See the Light Rockland’s Breakwater Lighthouse is a scenic, nearly mile-long walk down a granite seawall.
$ Less than $200
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Brooke Porter Katz is an Associate Editor at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter at @brookeporter1.