Here is my Maine confession: Before I moved here, the Maine of my imagination was always the northwoods—Thoreau’s Maine, the Maine of moose and lumberjacks and wooded mountains and Acadian fur trappers. A clueless western transplant, I had no idea that Maine’s rocky, romantic coast is, in fact, what draws the overwhelming majority of the state’s gazillion summer tourists. Now, I live on that coast, smelling the saltwater each time I step outside, and yeah—I get it. There’s no shortage of waterfront lodging in Maine, from the family-friendly beaches of the southern coast to the lobster belt of the midcoast to the rugged, lonely stretches of shoreline down east. The best coastal inns manage the tricky act of embracing Maine’s nautical heritage without drifting into the realm of anchors-and-barnacles kitsch. The five hotels below strike the perfect balance, augmented by private ocean views and touches of approachable luxury.
Inn by the Sea
There’s precious little glitz to this New England classic. An immaculate lawn, scattered with Adirondack chairs, slopes towards the sea. A gravel path winds through permaculture gardens to reach pebble-strewn Crescent Beach. Rooms are sunny and spacious, with balconies clearly meant to serve as sitting rooms. This might be one of the country’s most approachable luxury hotels.
Camden Harbour Inn
One of Maine’s two entries in the Relais & Châteaux alliance of luxury hotels, Camden Harbour Inn has a hillside location with arresting views of the high-masted ships in Camden Harbor. The rooms have a bright, European élan, but the excellent Natalie’s restaurant is hyper-local, with a chef’s menu that’s a seven-course tour of Maine’s bounty.
West Street Hotel
Anchoring downtown Bar Harbor, West Street looks out over Frenchman Bay—in fact, the view from the rooftop pool might be the best waterfront vista in town. The rooms and suites are all seaside-modern, a refreshing bit of boutique cool amid the rustic and lodge-y air of most Mount Desert Island lodging.
Inn at Sunrise Point
On one side: the perfect blue of Penobscot Bay, with its bobbing sailboats and island chains that streak across the horizon. On the other side: the sylvan swells of the Camden Hills. It almost doesn’t matter that the inn itself is tasteful, airy, and secluded, or that you can skip stones from the beach out back, but it doesn’t hurt either.
Haven by the Sea
A restored seaside church, this nine-room inn on Wells Beach maintains a touch of the sublime. Chandeliers, stained-glass windows, and overstuffed furniture give the place the country-plush vibe of a classic B&B. The deck out back overlooks a salt marsh, a lovely place to enjoy breakfast while herons and egrets preen in the shallows.