When journalist and professional wanderer Charles Kuralt had to pick 12 of his favorite destinations for a travel book, Boothbay Harbor, Maine, made the list. And, it doesn’t take a visitor long to see why Kuralt selected this vibrant, coastal town, located about three hours north of Boston. It boasts a beautiful, protected harbor bustling with boat activity, ranging from expensive yachts and tour boats to local fishing vessels.
Indeed, the town’s rich history is steeped in lobster fishing and boatbuilding. Over the decades, the town has blossomed into a tourist destination, hosting annual celebrations and festivals. From Windjammer Days in summer, during which majestic schooners with their broad sails decorate the waterfront, to December’s Harbor Lights, which features many events, including a boat parade, there’s always a reason to visit Boothbay Harbor.
Things To Do In Boothbay Harbor
Exploring the region’s waterways should be a top priority, and there is no shortage of boat tours to do just that. On dry land, whether window-shopping along the town’s main streets or visiting a museum, Boothbay Harbor provides plenty of attractions and diversions to entertain everyone. Here are our top suggestions.
While observing Boothbay Harbor’s dynamic waterfront from the dock is entertaining, it’s much more fun to be a part of the action. There’s a reason the town has been called the boating capital of New England. To get a glimpse into the life of a lobsterman, book a trip with Sail Muscongus. Their two-hour lobster fishing excursion is done the old-fashioned way -- on a sailboat. Guests learn about the history of trapping lobsters and come to appreciate that a sailboat is the way to experience the harbor.
Cap’n Fish’s has been taking guests on whale-watching tours for decades, and the tours remain a fantastic way to see these giants of the sea. But this operator has other options to consider, including their puffin cruise with a National Audubon Society representative onboard to tell the story of a successful colony of puffins the society established on a nearby island.
Visit An Island
Many islands dot the waterways around Boothbay Harbor, but it’s hard to beat a day trip to Monhegan Island, situated 12 miles off shore. Balmy Days Cruises offers trips to this small, ruggedly beautiful island, which is covered in dense forest and has plenty of rocky overlooks. And with fewer than 75 year-round residents, this is the trip for you if you want to unplug from the modern world. Guests can wander the main village, tour the island’s museum, watch the birds at Lobster Cove, or hike the 12 miles of island trails. A note of caution though: Wear appropriate footwear and know your fitness level as some of the trails are steep and rugged. Limited lodging is available if you feel like staying for a few days.
Under The Sea
Interested in the aquatic life surviving in the harbor’s chilly waters? Pay a visit to the Maine State Aquarium. This small but popular attraction tells the story of the state’s marine life through a variety of exhibits. Don’t miss the daily lobster talk; the lives of these crustaceans are more interesting than you might think. From the museum’s dock, you can try your hand at sport-fishing and, even if you don’t catch anything, the views from here are practically worth the admission price.
Stroll Through Town
Get to know Boothbay Harbor by exploring the town on foot. To learn about the town’s past, stop in at the Boothbay Region Historical Society, where you can examine artifacts and antique tools as well as historic maps of the town going back some 250 years.
Another piece of Boothbay Harbor’s history can be found on the water, or, more appropriately, across it. Boothbay Harbor’s footbridge dates to 1901 (though it was largely reconstructed in the 1970s) and has become a tourist attraction itself.
From the footbridge, you can wander the town’s many shops and art galleries, which will keep most travelers busy for hours. For unique and creative gifts, visit Dirty Bird Pottery and The Nautical Rooster.
Take A Hike
While known for its water activities, the Boothbay region has many hiking trails and natural areas. The best place to start your hiking adventure is at the headquarters of the Boothbay Region Land Trust. Founded in 1980, this non-profit group manages numerous nature preserves and 35 miles of trails. The organization’s headquarters at Oak Point Farm, a farmhouse dating back to the early 1800s, hosts a visitor and education center where you can get maps and updated trail information.
In the neighboring village of Southport, take a hike through the woods at Hendricks Head Preserve. The half-mile roundtrip hike slices through a dense and scented pine forest. The trail also has the benefit of starting near a popular local beach with nice views of Hendricks Head Lighthouse. Built in 1829, the lighthouse is still in use today, though it is not open to the public.
Stop And Smell The Flowers
Maine’s coastline is known for its natural, inspirational beauty. So, it is hard to imagine anything improving on it, but Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens does just that. Located in the neighboring town of Boothbay, the gardens sit on 295 acres, making this the largest botanical garden in New England. The central garden features native flowers and plants as well as some imported species that thrive in this environment. Don’t miss the children’s garden if you have young ones with you. The main section of the gardens is paved, but make sure to wear sturdy shoes if you’re going to tackle some of the walking trails on site. Scooters are available to rent if you want to cover more ground.
Where To Eat
Come hungry to Boothbay Harbor as it is home to numerous fine restaurants, casual eateries, and take-out joints. Many are located near the town’s central waterfront, while more restaurants can be found on the east side of the harbor, which is quieter and less congested.
Lobster On The Go
Everyone wants to try Maine’s famous tasty crustacean, particularly when staying in a coastal town. If you’re short on time, stop by Shannon’s Unshelled. This take out-only establishment offers a limited menu but is famous for its lobster roll. They also serve a lobster salad if you’re counting carbs.
For a more refined dining experience, reserve a table at the Thistle Inn restaurant. Housed in a historic home originally owned by a local sea captain, the restaurant is broken into four cozy dining rooms, making it perfect for a special occasion. The Lazy Lobster and baked haddock are popular choices, but if seafood is not your taste, try the filet mignon.
A Table With A View
The Boathouse Bistro Tapas Bar and Restaurant, located near Boothbay Harbor’s footbridge, makes a great place to people -- and boat -- watch. Offering a more eclectic menu than many of its competitors, the restaurant features creative vegetarian choices and a good draft beer selection. And, oh, those views.
We All Scream
When the mercury rises, nothing hits the spot quite like the sweet reward of ice cream. In Boothbay Harbor, the place to go is Finn McCool’s. Don’t let its unassuming exterior fool you; inside, it’s a flavor explosion. If they’re in season, try the Maine wild blueberry offering. Remember to bring cash as the store does not accept credit cards.
Best Places To Stay In Boothbay Harbor
There are options galore when it comes to lodging in the Boothbay region, though during peak summer season, the pickings can be slim. If you’re looking for a property apart from the bustle of town, try the Spruce Point Inn and Spa. Situated on a thumb of land reaching out into the harbor, Spruce Point Inn has been entertaining guests for more than a century. The property boasts numerous amenities, including a pool, spa, and a lawn chess set. And they’re pet friendly so you can check in with Scout in tow.
If you love the water and the game of golf, then you will want to book a stay-and-play package at the Boothbay Harbor Oceanside Golf Resort. Situated on the waterfront, this property features a top-notch restaurant, a wellness center, and boat excursions in the harbor. And, with a golf package, you’ll have access to the Boothbay Harbor Country Club and its highly-rated 18-hole inland course.
If you prefer a bed and breakfast, Captain Sawyer’s could be for you. This is a lovely historic home, which, as the name suggests, was once a sea captain’s residence. The property features nine finely appointed rooms and wrap-around decks on the first and second floors, and it’s close to the waterfront.
- Frequent visitors to Boothbay Harbor will be familiar with the town’s trolley, operated by the Boothbay Harbor Oceanside Golf Resort. The resort has recently donated the trolley to the town’s Chamber of Commerce, so be sure to check out the trolley’s new route on your next trip.
- Still trying to decide where to go during your Maine vacation? We recommend eight quaint coastal Maine towns you must visit. And yes, Boothbay Harbor makes the list.