Beer, Gardens And Lighthouses – Boothbay, ME
When you RV fulltime you do a lot of stealing…of travel ideas! It’s rare (very rare) that you find a spot so unique and never-before-visited that you’re the first one to know about it. Maybe you’ve got a unique take on the place, or you’re the first blogger to write about it, but I guarantee that someone came here before you and that somehow that idea trickled down in the universal internet of ideas to you.
And in truth, this is a beautiful thing!
We are rarely alone in this modern world of ours, having at our fingertips an extended virtual network of contacts and information through other bloggers, Facebookers, Youtubers, Instagrammers and who-knows-what-else. As an active traveler myself I’m always on the prowl for good RV travel ideas, so when I see something I like I’ll make a note of it. Most of the time I remember where it came from, but sometimes I don’t (and as I age, admittedly I don’t have the photographic memory I once did). When I do remember however, it’s fun to track the connection back to it’s source.
Boothbay (and Boothbay Harbor) was one of those places.
Last summer I followed two bloggers up in this particular part of Maine. One of them was RV-A-Gogo who were camphosting up by Acadia NP (guess where we’re staying now?) and the other was the Nealy’s On Wheels who were serving up all kinds of tempting places on their way north to meet RV-A-Gogo. The Nealy’s stole many of their ideas from RV-A-Gogo who very likely stole them from someone else. So naturally we continued the streak, stealing ALL of their collective ideas including where they stayed and what they did. And then we added on a few ideas of our own.
See how this RVing thing works?
So for Boothbay we had it all PLANNED OUT, but before we got that far there was ONE important stop we had to do first….
Side Trip -> Portland Head Lighthouse, Portland ME
We started off from our previous spot in Boston early AM on a gorgeous 80-degree sunny day with ~164 easy driving miles ahead of us to our first destination in Maine. Our route took us through Portland ME, a place we hadn’t planned to stay (this time around) but definitely wanted to stop and see for one very specific reason = lighthouse!!!!
Portland Head Light is not only the oldest lighthouse in Maine (first lit 1791) but she is one of the most photographed thanks to her location at the top of some rather stunning cliffs. The rock here is a mixture of quartzite and dark grey phyllite which drape in alternating (and very attractive) layers along the coast. And the light herself is just as stunning. A beautiful 80ft tall white conical tower adjacent to a charming Victorian keeper’s house accented by a pretty red roof. Walk just about ~200 feet along the coast (either direction) and you can get a easy pic that captures it all. Lighthouse -> check, stunning cliffs -> check, crashing waves -> check. Yeah it’s a “must see”!
I was so keen to see this lighthouse that I’d called back in FEB to make sure she was going to be open on the day we arrived and to double-check we could park the RV there. We were assured of both “Oh yes, we’ll be open. And yes, you can park in the lot just down the way”. Alas upon arrival, we discovered neither was quite as promised.
Yes you can theoretically park a 40-foot RV in the mini-lot next to the lighthouse (in fact “the beast” DID fit, with a bit of directed encouragement) but I wouldn’t exactly call it “RV friendly”. Also, when the power goes out (which it just so happened to do on the very day we arrived) they apparently just decide to close up the whole place to visitation regardless of official opening hours. Arghhhh…gutting!
Ah well, at least we got to see the light from the outside and snap the coveted lighthouse avec cliffs pic. One lighthouse down, 64 or so more to go 🙂
VISIT & PAW NOTES/ The Portland Head museum is usually open 10AM-4PM everyday Memorial Day through Oct 1st. Grounds are open year-around sunrise to sunset. Dogs are not allowed inside the lighthouse or museum, but are welcome outside and in all surrounding grounds!
BEER NOTE/ Although we didn’t get to go, Portland is also the home of Allagash Brewing Company which makes some very tasty brews (I’m a big fan of their Belgian Tripel). Sadly, no on-site RV parking there but if you’re staying in the area definitely check them out. Their beer list looks amazing!
Boothbay & Boothbay Harbor, ME
After we finished up our visit at Portland Head we motored another hour or so up Hwy 1 (which was PACKED!) to the area of Boothbay & Boothbay Harbor. It’s a classic quaint Maine coastal town with strong links to the sea (it was orignally settled in the mid-1600s by English fishermen and farmers), lots of cute places to eat and plenty of stuff for sightseeing & boating.
This was where we planned to stay and explore over the next four days.
For the RV we chose Shore Hills Campground (full review coming), the same campground the Nealy’s had stayed at while they were here. It’s in a great, central location to explore this area, and thanks to their tips we’d reserved one of the smaller 30A waterfront sites at the bottom of the hill, instead of the “typical big rig” FHU spots at the top.
We ended up in site 75 ½, IMO one of the nicest in camp with ample space for “the beast” and a wonderful water view over the inlet. Perfection!
As soon as we were comfortably settled in we all gathered for a happy hour at our site and formulated our plan for squeezing in as much as we could possibly manage into the 4 short days we were going to be here. The itinerary was going to include gardens, beer, lobstah and a fair few lighthouses. Could we fit it all in?
Boothbay Botanical Gardens
When you look up “top 5 things to do in Boothbay” the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens are one of the very first things that pops up.
I never used to be much of a garden-visiting kinda gal, but having toured some AMAZING Botanical Gardens in our time on the road (Cornell University Botanical Gardens, NY, Rose Test Gardens in Portland OR, Fort Bragg Botanical Gardens, CA & Shore Acres State Park, OR immediately come to mind), I’ve really gotten into them. So our very first morning in Boothbay, dad and I drove the few miles from camp over to see the local creation.
The gardens comprise 295 acres of land including 3,600 feet of tidal shore frontage. Thousands of species of plants and flowers here including a really cute children’s learning/play area and an entirely separate rhododendron garden.
And it’s lovely! Everything is beautifully manicured and well-signed, and there’s lots of beauty packed into a easily walkable space. Dad and I managed about an hour of walking around before the rain chased us out, but we both found it gorgeous and well worth the visit.
VISIT & PAW NOTES/ Gardens are open May-Oct 9AM-5PM and cost $16/adult to visit. Unfortunately NO dogs allowed in the gardens, so leave pooch at home for this one.
RECOMMENDED SIDE VISIT/ After our walk around the gardens we headed into town to check out Boothbay Historical Society. It’s small, but free & packed with info. The perfect place to while away some time on a rainy day.
OK folks I’m going to tell you this up front so I get it out of the way. Boothbay Brewery is hands down THE BEST brewery we’ve been to so far in New England!
We already knew we were going to like it well before we got here mostly based on the fact that the Nealy’s liked it (and we’ve shared enough happy hours with them to know their tastes), but we had no idea we’d like it THIS much! In the 4 days we were in Boothbay Harbor we went 3 times (!), and if we could have gone more, we would have.
Not only is the brewery in an awesome setting (super cozy building with a relaxing & shaded dog-friendly outdoor area), but it has superb food (Paul and his dad both proclaimed the sea food stew to be one of the best they’d had), and their beer is FABULOUS!
Paul and the two dads got completely hooked on the New England Style IPA (Thirsty Botanist) while I was totally impressed by the Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout (Steganos), but pretty much everything we tried here was good.
Oh and did you know you can park your RV here??? No, neither did we until we actually showed up for a tasting and saw their sites. There are only about 5 RV spots, but they are right on site! Oh my!
Basically if you’re a beer lover, don’t miss this one!
Pemaquid Point Lightouse
Another day, another lighthouse!
Located just one cape over (which means~30 miles or 50 min drive) from Boothbay Harbor, Pemaquid Point Light was on our “must visit” list as soon as arrived. First lit in 1827 (the tower was re-built 8 years later), she’s another beauty of a gal with an original 4th order Fresnel, perfectly restored and surrounded by yet another set of stunning Maine cliffs (are ALL Maine lighthouses so darn scenic?).
So, on a very foggy morning we loaded Polly in the car and drove over with dad to see her. We arrived right at open (a good choice given the crowds that came later) and enjoyed several hours of exploration by the light, taking turns to do the tour up-top while walking Polly around the grounds.
The area is gorgeous and the expansive cliffs provided lots of opportunity for climbing around and taking interesting pics of the sea and light (the first pic in my last post was taken here). The next-door Fishermans Museum was also super cute and an interesting visit. A lovely gal well worth a trip to see, even on a grey/foggy day!
VISIT & PAW NOTES/ The lighthouse tower is open Mon-Sun 10AM-5PM from early May to late October. Admission to the grounds is $3. Dogs cannot go inside the historic buildings, but are welcome outside and in all the surrounding grounds, so if there’s two of you can easily take turns visiting the tower one-by-one.
Seguin Island Light Station
As we got down to our last day in Boothbay there was ONE more lighthouse I was dying to see before we left the area.
Segiun Island Light Station is Maine’s tallest and second oldest lighthouse. She’s a gorgeous lady from 1795 with a first order Fresnel that sits 180 feet (55 m) above sea level. Adding to her allure, she sits atop a 64-acre island located roughly 2 1/2 miles off-shore. It takes some doing to get out to see her, but I had a personal reason for wanting to go.
You see we actually applied to be volunteer hosts here a few years back. As hosts you stay on on the island in the keepers house, conduct tours of the light and basically just live as lighthouse keepers for an entire season (Memorial Day through Labor Day). Plus they allow pets! Pretty cool right? We would have to store the RV for a few months, but we figured why not?
So we applied, got through the entire interview process and were just about to sign on the dotted line when some family stuff came up that changed our plans. Ah well..clearly it wasn’t meant to be.
But I still really, really wanted to see her!
So as soon as we got to the area I called the Segiun Island Ferry to see if they could fit my dad and I in.
Sadly they were fully booked (boooooo!), but told us we could drive down on the day and see if any cancellations came in. So early AM we made the 1 hr drive to Popham Beach, hung around next-door Fort Popham (also a nice visit) and waited anxiously. Just 5 minutes before departure the captain texted me “Come on over, we have space for you”. YEAH!!
And it was an EPIC trip! A rather bumpy ride on the way over (my stomach didst protest) followed by a rather dramatic row-boat into the rocky shore (with crashing waves at the time), finished by a hearty uphill walk to get to the light.
But she was totally worth it!
We spent several hours on the Island visiting the light and walking around the grounds. We ate wild berries, basked in the sun and just enjoyed the seclusion of being in this awesome place. It was SO much fun that it really warranted its very own blog-post, but alas I’m behind, so this will have to do. In retrospect I’m not sure we would have enjoyed hosting here for 3 ½ months (I think Island fever would have set-in quite quickly), but I LOVED visiting. Needless to say if you’re a lighthouse lover, put this one on your bucket list!
VISIT & PAW NOTES/ Segiun Island Light Station is open for visitation Memorial Day through Labor Day & can only be seen by boat so you must either get out there under your own sail (you can moor right by the light) or take one of the charter boats that go to the Island. We took the Segiun Island Ferry which cost $30/person (runs Sun, Mon, Tues, Thurs & Fri leaving 11AM, returning 2:30PM, July-Aug). Paws are not allowed on the Ferry, but they ARE welcome on the Island if you can find a way to get them out there on your own (we saw several boaters who’d bought their paws with them)! You can’t take dogs inside the building, but you can walk them all around the outside and grounds.
And The Rest (including Lobstah!)
Our 4 days in Boothbay raced by (it’s really not enough time!) but we managed a few foodie outings, and (of course) missed a fair few others.
The first place we did make was Red’s Eats, accredited as the “best lobster roll in Maine” by numerous foodie and travel sites. It’s a teeny little family-run deal overlooking the water (great location), AND it’s dog-friendly (yeah!) but it is POPULAR…and by popular I mean we waited almost TWO HOURS in line to get our meal!!! Being shellfish allergic I ordered a fish sandwich on gluten-free bread (they make their own) while the rest of the gang went for the lobstah. Our verdict? My fish sandwich was delish (amazing really), but the lobster rolls were so-so. They were good, but IMO not two-hours-of-waiting $22 a piece good. We weren’t tempted to go back.
The second place we went was a positive surprise. We were actually planning to go to the Brewery (for the 4th time), but it was closed that day so we headed on into town to The Thistle Inn Restaurant, a nicely-rated restaurant in an old inn. And it turned out to be awesome! We sat outside (beautiful setting), I had a fabulous basil-infused cocktail, we all ate some delish fish, and we all agreed the place rocked. A solid WheelingIt thumbs up!
And the things we missed? We never made it to Bet’s Famous Fish Fry which has a 5-star Yelp rating and was recommended by both the Nealy’s and RV-A-Gogo, so it HAD to be good. Sadly we didn’t pre-check their hours and on the day we wanted to go they were closed…wah! Also we never made it to the local distillery (Split Rock Distilling) which is also really well-rated and would have been fun to try. Plus there were a few more lighthouses we missed. We could easily have used at least 3-4 more days in the area.
That wraps up our Boothbay visit -> Up next Camden (and we’re almost caught up). Stay tuned…
Useful External Links:
- Visit Boothbay -> Click HERE and HERE for guides
- Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens -> Click HERE for official website
- Boothbay Craft Brewery -> Click HERE for hours and info
- Lower Maine Lighthouses -> Click HERE for comprehensive map
- Portland Head Lighthouse -> Click HERE for website
- Seguin Island Light Station -> Click HERE for official website