Maine: the land of plunging coastal cliffs, serene mountaintops, small communities, and Chinese-made lobster paraphernalia. Nearly 28 million tourists stampeded the Pine Tree State in 2012, a number only expected to rise in coming years.
Here’s what you can find most tourists doing.
Eating lobster ice cream
Lobster ice cream: sounds disgusting, is disgusting. Tiny frozen lobster chunks are swirled into homemade creamy vanilla ice cream to ensure that every last penny is milked from the obscene cash-cow teat that is Maine lobster.
Buying shit that says “Yessah!” and “Wicked!” on it
Did you come all the way up here, to the state that is primarily believed to be ‘just part of Canada,’ to spend 50 bucks on a tie-dyed pair of sweatpants with a moose on the ass? Or to buy a pillow with a blueberry on it? If you need a pillow with a blueberry on it, 20 bucks, I’ll do it. Serious inquiries only — my contact information is below.
Never leaving the corporate safety of the waterfront
An idea of a perfect vacation: Freezing your ass off on a whale watch tour in the harbor, probably not seeing any whales. Eating a lobster roll on the pier that’s probably composed of pre-packaged lobster and 90% mayonnaise. Having dinner at an ‘authentic’ Irish pub called ‘Paddy’s,’ where your waitress will probably speak to you in Leprechaun, and you’ll probably giggle over a $10 Guinness and scarf down a $25 shepherd’s pie.
Here’s what you should really do in Maine:
1. Swim in a swimming hole.
Maine is filled with precarious rope swings and skinny-dipping spots. Here are just two:
The Long Pond Cliffs
Do you enjoy jumping off of a 20-foot cliff into somewhat refreshing water on a hot August afternoon? So do Mount Desert Island’s locals. Here, you can watch absurdly athletic drunk kids front flip into Long Pond from an extremely high point. Or in turn, you can compete with the ‘shy pencil,’ a straight-legged and plugged-nose jump done from the out-of-sight and much lower right-hand corner of the ledge. Or you can say that you don’t want to get your hair wet and just sit there.
In Southwest Harbor, take Long Pond Road for a little over a mile, take a right onto an unmarked dirt road with a park sign, and park along the loop. The trail to the cliffs will be to your right.
The Lakewood Swimming Hole
Once rumored to be a popular nighttime hangout for the local gay community, Lakewood has recently become a hangout for the local pot-smoking and swimming-enthusiast community.
Located off of the unmarked Lakewood Pond Road in Bar Harbor (take the Crooked Road 0.7 miles and turn left), there’s a small ‘parking lot’ and a path that’ll take you to the water. I suggest BYOF-ing (Bring Your Own Floatie). In which case I’d recommend jumping onto your flotation device off of the shallow ledge and promptly falling asleep on it as you slowly tour the lake.
Tips and warnings: Although remotely located, Lakewood is still part of the Acadia National Park system and is often monitored by the (friendly but authoritative) park rangers. Also, you might get a leech on you.
2. Go see some local music.
Open mic nights are prime spots to observe hipsters in their natural habitat. The Lompoc Café in Bar Harbor, for example, is a great place to find the politically correct, free-spirited, and fashion-forward granola of Mount Desert Island’s youth culture, sensitively strumming on one or more ukuleles in unison. Often overrun with the rowdy restaurant-industry crowd, this event doesn’t get started until around 9:30 every Thursday night.
Lompoc has an outdoor patio with bocce ball, where you can pass the time and wait for the music to start. But you should expect to be watched closely by the territorial onlookers, waiting for you to lose so they can play.
Tips and warnings: Service at Lompoc is very lackadaisical. You should probably go ahead and order your second drink when you finally receive your first.
3. Buy lobster from a real lobsterman.
Get yourself down to the docks by late afternoon, wait for the lobster boats to come in, buy some lobster from anyone who looks the part, bring it to a campsite, and cook it your own damn self. Although lobster in Maine is a $365 million industry, Maine lobstermen are only receiving an average of $2.89 per pound for their catch, a hefty price cut since the mid-2000s.
If you order in a restaurant, your 1.5lb lobster has probably changed hands at least five times before landing on your $30 plate. Buying directly from the source ensures you’re supporting the struggling economy of Maine lobstermen, and not purchasing an even cheaper Canadian-caught, frozen-and-shipped version of the ‘Maine’ delicacy.
4. Play ring toss and get late-night takeout at the Dog and Pony Tavern.
Ring toss. There’s a metal ring attached to a string, attached to the ceiling. There’s a hook screwed into a wall. There are drunken lobstermen, standing around and criticizing. There’s you, miserably failing.
The Dog and Pony is one of the only bars open year-round on Mount Desert Island, making it a real locals’ spot. In the fall it’s known for some pretty heated fantasy football competitions, and in the summer it’s known for the late-night takeout window, which can also get heated.
The window is open from 1am until every drunk girl in spike heels is fed. You can expect a very satisfying Styrofoam container of fries, given to you by a very crabby woman.
5. Go to the Commonground Fair.
Maine is a big state with a small community. We’re not heavily populated, and we have yet to be drastically changed by all that hubbub technology of the modern world. Therefore, we’re still having town-hall meetings, contra dances, and farmers’ markets, and not just because they’re cool and ‘offbeat.’
If you want something more authentic than a corporate Irish pub, plan your vacation around the Common Ground Fair, put on by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. The Fair has been a thing for 40 years. You’ll meet real-time farmers, masons, herbalists, activists, and carpenters. You’ll eat some really kickass French fries, and you’ll watch some incredibly intelligent border collies herd ducks. That’s Maine, in a weekend.
6. Fuck with other tourists.
If you have the time, and you have a dulcimer (or other melodious sounding instrument), camouflage yourself in the mid-afternoon and hike up high into the woods overlooking the carriage trails of Acadia National Park.
Like hunting, this sport requires patience and silence but swift action at the precise moment. If you’re good, you’ll know when to anticipate the whimsical passing of a tourist family on bicycles, chatting pleasantly (sometimes whining) as they maneuver the flat, gravel, tree-lined trail. Or perhaps you’ve snagged yourself a copy of the horse-drawn carriage schedule — that’s better. Either way, eerily strum your dulcimer as the tourists pass, pause, and nearly shit themselves when they realize there’s creepy music playing in the middle of the woods. Or, alternately, exclaim how thoughtful it is that Acadia National Park has provided them with theme music, in that exact spot, in the middle of nowhere.
Bonus exercise: While hiking, tell foreign tourists that the trail blueberries they’re eating are known to have hallucinogenic properties when picked in the wild.