If you get past Kennebunk, you’ve already seen more than the majority of tourists do in Maine. But venture further than Portland, or better yet, past Bar Harbor and you can really say you’ve experienced the state. There are certain rites of passage you need to complete in order to get to know the true character of the region, but if you truly want to earn the respect of locals and have an authentic experience, knock off the next five challenges.
1. Venture off Route 1.
While the scenic, and often jam-packed route is a great way to see the many boutique towns off the Maine coast, the real dive-bar communities exist past Mount Desert Island. If you want to see Maine the way the locals do, avoid the creeping line of traffic along the coast and jump on I-95. You still get to take exit 182A, but you can feel a little sense of adventure as you branch off toward Machias rather than follow the herds to Bar Harbor. Pick some blueberries in Cherryfield, get a coffee brandy in Machias, or be the first to feel the sunshine in Lubec.
2. Go to a local fair.
Summertime is very much appreciated in this winter-dominated state, but give it a month and you’ll hear more than one Mainer complaining about the heat. By the time September rolls around, we’re ready for woodstove evenings and our favorite flannels, which only means one thing: fair season. Whether it’s the crunchy, old fashion vibe of the Common Ground, or the flashing lights and dough boys of the Fryeburg, Maine has a long list of fairs that offer something for everyone.
3. Spot a moose.
The unofficial mascot of Maine, watching a moose in its natural environment is a memory that will stick with you forever. It’s true you’re more likely to see one clambering across the road (assuming you’ve ventured off Route 1) but get on a lake after a hot day and you’re likely to see one grazing, knee-deep in the cool water. In that quiet moment, floating in your canoe, you’ll know you’re living in the real Maine.
4. Head out to Congress Street, Portland.
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The Old Port in Portland can be a fun place to get a beer or hear some good music, but it’s also an incredibly fun place to walk away from — especially knowing that the rest of the city is packed to the brim with amazing restaurants and a unique bar scene. Make your way up to Congress Street and take your time getting there. Wind your way through the vibrant city, knowing that it’s one of the safest ones in the country and that almost every little back street has something cool to check out. Walk through the West End for a self-guided historic homes tour or get across the city to the East End for jaw-dropping views of the ocean.
5. Stick around in February.
Maine wouldn’t be complete without its colder months. Visit the state in the heart of winter to catch an authentic Nor’Easter. Even if you’re not a skier, there are a multitude of ways to get out and enjoy the freshly-fallen snow. You haven’t really seen Maine until you’ve headed out the morning after a big storm and seen the way the light catches in the trees. Better yet, go out during the storm for a true view of Maine — a blurred, snow-filled vision of white.