Camden & Rockport
These picture-postcard towns offer more than meets the eye.
With deep blue harbors, winding streets lined with classic homes, picturesque downtowns, and natural beauty in spades, the neighboring communities of Camden and Rockport epitomize picture-postcard coastal Maine. Unlike some of the state’s popular destinations for summer visitors, these towns are vibrant year-round. “Camden and Rockport are known to be where the mountains meet the sea, but if you add in the lakes you have a perfect trifecta of why people live here,” says Nancy Hughes, broker and owner of Camden Coast Real Estate. Hughes first came to Camden 32 years ago to work in a restaurant during a summer break from college in New York. After graduating the following year, she returned for another summer and never left. The connection to nature is a big draw, Hughes says. “Spring garden planting, kayaking to a friend’s island camp in Megunticook Lake for long swims on a summer weekend, hunting and hiking the mountains in the fall, and enduring the unforgiving parts of winter to ski the Camden Snow Bowl whenever possible—not just on the bluebird days—that’s what we all live here for.”
Hughes also notes Camden and Rockport’s small-town vibe as a reason people buy homes in this section of the midcoast. “Visitors find it mind blowing how we all address each other by name here, chat at the grocery store, and stop the car for folks to cross the street,” she says. “It’s a community that’s like an extended family.” On Saturdays from Mother’s Day through October, the Camden Farmers’ Market is another spot where locals meet. “Don’t miss the pizza from Uproot Pie Company,” says Hughes. One of her summer Saturday secrets is Rosalie Joys Bakery, in a tiny shed decorated with vintage finds. “Get there at 8 a.m. when she opens; she sells out fast.”
On non-market days, Hughes might start her day at Camden’s Owl and Turtle Bookshop Cafe; “Owners Craig and Maggie White do pour-over coffees and tasty lattés with fresh baked goods right out of their own kitchen,” she says. “In Rockport, Seafolk is a great morning stop before going over to world-renowned Peter Ralston’s photography gallery in a lovely old village building right across the street.” For a more hearty breakfast, she recommends Boynton-McKay Food Co. in Camden, especially the huevos rancheros. “If the line is too long, though, try Camden Deli across the street; it has an expansive menu and harbor views.”
When Hughes has out-of-state visitors, getting out on the ocean is a must. “The best way to do that from Camden is to go for a day sail on Aaron Lincoln’s Schooner Olad, or Schooner Surprise with Ramiro and Nicole de Acevedo,” she says. “For something smaller and more intimate, head over to Rockport Harbor and talk to Twig Bower and Bonnie Schmidt, who own the Heron; they will specialize a trip just for you.”
Like many residents of Maine tourism destinations, Hughes looks forward to September, when the weather is still warm and most summer visitors have gone back home. “September is a perfect month to start hitting the Camden Hills State Park hiking trails,” she says, suggesting the half-hour hike to the top of Mount Battie for panoramic views of Camden Harbor and beyond from the stone tower at the top. For those not inclined to hike, you can drive up the mountain from the park entrance on Route 1. “There are also town-owned waterfront-access points that not many people know about,” says Hughes. “Stroll down Bayview Street to the Beacon Street intersection, and look for the small sign on the left indicating a path to a place to sit and look over the water to the Curtis Island Lighthouse. Or walk up High Street and down Eaton Avenue to the wooden benches looking south over the harbor; the end of Norumbega Drive also has lovely granite steps going down to the beach.”
Sporty types can ski the Camden Snow Bowl, which hosts the National Toboggan Championships each February and is the only ski mountain on the East Coast that offers a view of the ocean. In the summer Side Country Sports at the base of the mountain rents bikes for the mountain trails. Also in summer, you can go for a paddle on Megunticook Lake; paddleboards and kayaks are available for rent at Maine Sport Outfitters in Rockport, less than five miles from the lake’s public access point. “Stop at the town-owned ‘jumping rock’ island for a swim and lunch break on the picnic tables there, or pull up on the conservation land at the northwest end of the lake, but tread lightly, carry in and carry out,” says Hughes. “The Megunticook River is a quiet treasure that meanders in and out of coves and is a treat to explore as well.”
If shopping is on the agenda, Camden is chock-a-block with unique retail stores, many open most, if not all, of the year. Hughes suggests starting at Josephine’s, which offers both trendy and classic clothing and household items, and Serendipity, “a real gold mine of consignment items that people travel from all over to see.” At Jo Ellens Designs, artist and children’s book illustrator Jo Ellen Stammen creates rug designs in cotton, jute, and wool; she also stocks pillows, bedding, and items for children. Margo Moore Interiors is another fine spot for home furnishings, or to pick up a gift. Newly opened Page Gallery shows work by local artists, including water-inspired watercolors by Stammen’s daughter, Jessica Lee Ives.
Camden and Rockport have an impressive range of options for food and drink. In Rockport, chef Sara Jenkins of Porcena in New York City serves fresh pasta and seasonal Italian dishes at Nina June. Long Grain in Camden is equally noteworthy for excellent Thai and Southeast Asian street food. For lighter fare, “you must stop at the Smoothie Shack,” says Hughes. “The wraps and salads are unbelievable, and it’s packed from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.,” She also recommends the 18 Central Oyster Bar and Grill in Rockport, and the authentically Scottish pub, the Drouthy Bear, just up the hill from the heart of downtown Camden, especially on a snowy winter night. In the summer when the weather is fine, she heads for the Rhumb Line on Camden Harbor. “Take a sweater, sunglasses, and have your phone camera ready,” she says. “Scott Yakovenko has created the perfect outside bar and restaurant with fun drinks, great dockside food, and space for kids to run around and burn off energy. You can look out at Mount Battie and the boats in the harbor with the sunset behind them; it’s hard to beat.”