When we first started planning our trip to Maine (and to be clear, planning is a term I use very lightly, as neither my husband nor myself are natural planners), we knew we wanted to be in the general vicinity of Acadia. Close enough to go in and enjoy the park, but far enough out to avoid that crowded touristy feel. I had my eye set on areas about an hour south of Acadia, since it would be a shorter drive from home. But thanks to our lack of planning, by the time we were ready to book, all the ideal houses we’d found were either too expensive, already fully booked, or only available on the weeks we were not.
Filled with frustration and ready to give up the vacation for another year (me), we went back to the drawing board and started looking at properties north of Acadia (my husband). I was unconvinced. Staying north of the park would mean an extra hour tagged onto an already ridiculously long roadtrip with three kids. But when my husband stumbled upon a cute little cottage in the tiny town of Roque Bluffs, I hesitantly agreed.
And now, on the other side of the trip, I’m so glad I said yes. I ended up loving our AirBNB rental so much, as well as the area surrounding it. It was the perfect spot for ventures south into Acadia, or north towards Canada. Even more important, it was in an incredible location all on it’s own. Free of the tourist feel but full of beauty and interesting places and activities, here were some of our favorites at our home away from home in Roque Bluffs and Machias, Maine.
We lucked out finding a rental property that bordered the hidden gem of Roque Bluffs State Park. With views of various bodies of water from each room, there was always a chance to watch the ever-changing sea and sky. Pond on one side, bay all around, and forest just beyond; we were in paradise. Our favorite exploration, just steps from our door, was the half-mile crescent of sand and pebble beach that met the gentle waves of Englishman Bay. This sand beach is a rarity in this area of downeast Maine, created by an accumulation of sediment left behind by a glacial moraine, the evidence of which you can see in striations on the rocks flanking the beach. Our kids loved running and playing in the sand and sorting through pebbles, watching the tide roll in and out, and listing to the musical clatter of pebbles rolling in the waves. Their favorite, though, was climbing the rocky outcroppings at the end of the beach, which grow taller as the tide recedes, leaving tiny tide pools in the rock crevices. Our kids would wake before the crack of dawn and, though initially annoyed to be up so early, some of my favorite memories from the trip ended up being when we rose in the dark early morning and walked to the beach before 6:00 am, exploring the shoreline as light and colors slowly emerged in the eastern sky above the bay. By the time we walked back for breakfast, a golden glow bathed us in excitement for the day ahead. We’d revisit throughout the day, checking how the changing tide morphed the landscape, and end some evenings with books on the beach until the light fell away again. I would be happy to begin and end all my days on this beautiful secluded stretch of beach.
The small village of Roque Bluffs, where we were staying, is located a scenic 15 minute drive from the slightly larger town of Michias, Maine. Machias is a Wabanaki word that translates to “bad little falls,” and it’s easy to see where the town gets its name when visiting downtown and witnessing how the Machias River cuts through it’s center and cascades into an estuary below. Given the name, we were expecting a small waterfall, so we were surprised when wandering through town and coming upon a roaring torrent of water. There’s a small, beautifully landscaped park at the town center where you can witness the majesty of the falls from various vantage points, even walking across a small footbridge suspended above the raging river. Usually, you’d have to do a decent hike to reach this type of waterfall. So it was a nice break to have the falls so easily accessible, especially on the rainy day we visited when we were itching to get out of the house but not in the mood for a fully drenched adventure.
While small, Michias has all the things a vacationer (or local) might need to live comfortably – grocery store, gas station, drug store, and a couple restaurants. But I was most impressed by the few specially shops in the little downtown area. First, the Whole Life Natural Market, stocked with a variety of local, organic, and specialty food and wellness items, alongside a full coffee and espresso bar and casual lunch cafe. The vibe is both calm and funky, and makes apparent the rich connection to community in this area; something I always love to experience while traveling. Just next door is The French Cellar, a knowledgeable yet unpretentious wine shop with a variety of types and price points, as well as friendly owner to help indecisives such as myself, and the sweetest dog to greet you. Beyond libations, though, The French Cellar offers an array of delicious gourmet cheeses, both local and exotic, that you can buy by the pound. When in vacation mode, we like to indulge in great food and drink, and we loved getting to stock up on some delicious goodies from these great small shops.
We made the mistake of not checking out Bad Little Brewing until our final day in town, when we’d already blown most of our restaurant budget and still had plenty to eat through at the house before leaving. But I’m so glad we still stopped in to sample some of their handcrafted food and drinks. Wherever we go, we love to visit breweries; I find they give a taste of flavor and culture in an area. Plus, they tend to be more casual than taking kids to full sit-down restaurants. The interior of Bad Little Brewing looked like a great place to for dinner among adults, but with kids we opted for outside on their spacious patio. The staff was wonderfully accommodating, and though we mostly stopped in for drinks – they offer beers brewed in house and by other local brewers – we couldn’t resist the tempting food menu. The restaurant serves a rotating menu, focusing on what’s seasonally and locally available, which is pretty much my love language. We ordered a bowl of the creamy seafood chowder, and wished we had about a gallon more of it. The decadent warm soup, loaded with local seafood, was one of the best we’ve ever had, and paired perfectly with their porter on a cool day. As a treat, we also got their blueberry cobbler, made with fresh-picked local blueberries, and topped with homemade blueberry-ginger ice cream. As you can imagine, we were all fighting over final bites.
5. Eating Lobster (of course)
You can’t go to Maine without eating lobster, it’s a key cultural piece not to be missed. However, lobster eating can be expensive, time consuming, messy, and less than enjoyable for the little ones in tow. As fun as it sounded, we made a point to avoid lobster pound restaurants, because they sound less fun with kids, and opted instead to do the lobster cooking at our rental house. Fortunately the house was well stocked for just this activity. The nice thing about staying in a small lobstering town is that we could find fresh lobsters for less than we would in some of the more touristy area. Nothing fancy, and arguably awkward as we drove up to a local lobsterman’s garage to buy the fresh catch. But they were delicious and half the price of the lobsters floating in the tank at the grocery store just down the road, plus the benefit of helping to support the local economy and community, which we always strive for in our travels.
Honorable Mention: Though I couldn’t convince the others to join for a hike, I loved briefly exploring some of the trails in Roque Bluffs State Park. Uncrowded yet well marked and maintained, the trails weave through the woods, emerging into various habitats, from a coastal cove to a peat bog and all the way to the beach. We also had fun going to the boat launch and pier just past Roque Bluffs park to explore among rocks and seaweed at low tide. Finally, if you find yourself in northern Maine at night, go outside! The stars are incredible, more vivid and numerous than I ever recall seeing elsewhere, thanks to the lack of light pollution. Unfortunately we didn’t have many clear nights to enjoy them, but were able to catch a few shooting stars.
(Note: I forgot to grab pictures of all the great places we went, so I substituted some of my other favorite pics of explorations in this area.)