I’ve always dreamed of traveling internationally with my kids. The thought of exploring new cultures and languages with them. Exposing them to perspectives outside of their home country. Expanding their horizons and broadening their knowledge.
As it turned out, our first international venture with the kids was less idyllic and more just trying to convince the border guard to let us cross, since we’d brought the wrong documentation for the kids. Meanwhile, the kids in the back stared down at their tablets and asked us to pass them a snack.
“We’re in a new country!” I exclaimed, “Look up, take it in!”
Except from my husband, who looked at me, confused, “I’m not sure how to convert the speed limit into kilometers.”
When we discovered how far north in Maine we’d be residing for the week, and realized we were only about an hour away from the Canadian border, we decided to take a spur of the moment international road trip. As I’ve mentioned, we’re not planners, and we had put approximately zero planning into this day trip. We simply looked at what would be one of the closest Canadian towns to visit and hit the road.
We ended up in the beautiful seaside town of Saint Andrews in New Brunswick, Canada. It was one of the few sunny days of our trip, and turned out to be a lovely location to simply meander around. However, if we were to go back, there are a few things I would definitely want to add to the list to do (see below).
As it stood, these were our favorites from our first venture into the land of maple and Mounties.
In my humble opinion, a day of exploration should begin with a delicious (and preferably caffeinated) beverage. So first stop of the day was the adorable Honeybeans coffee shop. I’m a sucker for a great coffee shop, and this one did not disappoint with it’s cute sidewalk patio, spacious and welcoming interior, and vast menu of coffee and tea drinks, as well as fresh-baked goods. In the spirit of Canada, I ordered a Salty Maritimer Latte – espresso complimented by maple and sea salt – a surprisingly good mix of sweet and savory. We happened to be in town on the National Day of Mourning for Queen Elizabeth II, and to commemorate the occasion, Honeybeans had a special Royal-Tea Latte. Composed of a tea blend served at Buckingham Palace, with flavor notes of Earl Grey and Jasmine, along with sweetener and milk, this drink was bright and soothing and deliciously unique. Even the kids agreed on its royal stature.
Saint Andrews boasts a long and lively pier, known as the Market Wharf. Though we visited after high season, there was still a flurry of activity – from tourist whale-watching trips to research missions to local watermen. Simply walking the pier and watching the activity moving in and out is entertainment in itself. Our kids loved waving at the people loading onto boats and witnessing the maritime activity that abounded. Beneath the pier is a vast area perfect for exploration at low tide, though we chose to stay clean and dry up above, as it was still early in the day.
3. Indulging Appetites at Char & Chowder
We had been in Maine for days, and still, I had not accomplished one of my greatest goals for the trip: eating a lobster roll. Alas, my first lobster roll of vacation ended up being north of the border, but Canada does the delicacy proud. Lured in by the lobster roll and hooked by the amazing setting, Char & Chowder was the perfect place to rest for a bite, especially with kids in tow. Really good food in a casual atmosphere. We’re drawn to locations that don’t tie us to a full sit-down meal with service, as we never know when the littles will get restless. So Char & Chowder’s model of ordering at the window was ideal, as was their incredible open-air barn-like space, great for our little roamers and climbers. Plus, with a selection of local beers on tap, it was just the spot for a midday indulgence.
4. Wandering Pagan Point Nature Preserve at Low Tide
After a day spent exploring the shops and sights in town, we wanted to check out the natural side of Canada as well. We found the closest green space on the map and drove there, discovering the beautiful Pagan Point Nature Preserve. Overlooking the Passamaquoddy Bay, the preserve boasts 30 acres of woodlands, salt marsh, and shoreline. We found that one of our kids’ favorite activities when exploring the rocky coastal areas was simply wandering around the shore while the tide was out. They searched for flat rocks to attempt skipping into the bay, climbed around and over the larger boulders, and searched through seaweed and tide pools. Just watching how the tide rolled quickly in, and the area we were exploring only a moment before was now completely underwater, was an everyday miracle that surprised us each time. I loved wandering out on the small spits that jutted into the water, little disappearing land bridges, seeing how far I could venture before the water caught up with me. Always mindful, of course, that Mother Nature is far wiser than I, so never pushing her boundaries. The preserve was a lovely peaceful place for that all important but often overlooked activity of simply being.
5. Grabbing Canadian Bites at The Clam Digger
As we began our trip back to Maine after a day spent in Canada, I was feeling disappointed. We had come all the way to this new country, arguably done, seen and eaten a lot, and yet, a key piece of the Canadian experience was missing: Poutine. If you’re not familiar with poutine (or disco fries, as we call them down south), they are a dish originating in Quebec of french fries topped with cheese curds and drenched in brown gravy. No one ever accused me of being a health nut, so I was determined to try this Canadian classic. “Pull over!” I commanded my husband as we headed out of town. We rumbled into the gravel parking lot of The Clam Digger, a small shack flanked by inviting red picnic tables and an alluring menu of seafood specials and takeout favorites. Including, of course, poutine. Just to make it a balanced meal, we paired our order of poutine with a maple walnut milkshake. While we waited for our Canadian delicacies, the kids enjoyed swinging and climbing on the playground onsite while we talked with some Canadian travelers. And as I finally tasted the rich indulgence of poutine alongside the signature Canadian flavor of maple, it felt like the perfect completion of our day abroad. A little bit salty, a little bit sweet, and certainly memorable.
Honorable Mention: I’m going to throw this in the honorable mention category, though it really should be filed under “wish we would have.” It was late in the day before we discovered Pagan Point Nature Preserve, and the paved St. Andrews Trail that runs alongside it. This trail would be perfect for biking and exploring all the area has to offer. And despite hauling our bikes the 800 miles from Maryland to Maine, we’d left them at the rental house on this particular day.
And so, if we were to visit Saint Andrews again, I would make a point to bring our bikes and bike the St. Andrews Trail from Pagan Point to Ministers Island. Minister’s Island is 500 acres of land towering over the bay, connected to Saint Andrews by one of those magical land bridges, that I love so much, only accessible at low tide. By the time we made it to the Minister’s Island lookout, the sandbar was underwater. Once the summer home of Canadian railroad barron William Van Horne, the island now offers walking and biking trails alongside a number of historic buildings. I would love to go back and spend a day biking, hiking, and exploring the island.
Alas, sometimes it pays to plan ahead. But in the mindset of no regrets, I look at the missed opportunity of Ministers Island as a reason to return.