Belfast, Maine: New England’s Coastal Secret
By Jennifer M. Eisenlau
Heaps of people love Maine. Perhaps, too many. You can’t even enter Bar Harbor on some weekends. Yet, despite the crowds, there’s something about Maine that is alluring – the sea, the old captains’ houses, and the lobster dinners.
If the Vacation State is calling you, you should visit a mid-coast town just an hour east of Bangor. Having recently celebrated its 150th birthday, Belfast is northern New England at its best.
Belfast is a great spot for a three-day getaway. By the time you drive into town, it will probably be dinner time.
Maine and lobster are synonymous. Young’s Lobster Pound is as real as it gets. Order at the counter, where college-aged servers drop net bags of seafood into the vats of hot water. Your steaming lobster will be opened with a whack of a cleaver. Carry your tray past the tanks filled with crustaceans to a picnic table upstairs.
Afterwards, go to the Lookout Pub at the Belfast Wharf. The lobster pots you see on the docks are trade tools. The forty-foot long bar is a replica of the hull of a real Maine lobster boat. Sample the local brews made by the Atlantic Brewing Company out of Bar Harbor, while listening or dancing to the live music offered here on the weekends.
Stroll Down Main Street
Start your first full day with a walking tour of town. Belfast has an old-time Main Street that runs from the post office down to the harbor. Visit America’s oldest shoe store, Coburn’s Shoe, which was established in 1832 and still run by the same family. The Shamrock, Thistle, and Rose offer Celtic gifts, as well as The Good Table and the Garden Cottage.
Several art galleries are also along Main Street such as the NTWH Gallery and Jacobs. Take a coffee break at The Gothic. With a caffeine surge -- and a low tide -- you can walk from town via the rocky shore to Belfast Town Beach. Stroll back to town via Northport Avenue and look at the refurbished Victorian mansions.
For a light and healthy lunch, pop by Bay Wraps, off of Main Street . Take the sandwhich to go to the harbor for a peaceful repast at one of the many picnic tables overlooking Penobscot Bay . Or, if you prefer a hot meal, try the Lunch Wagon, located near the Tourist Office. This take-away stand serves lobster rolls and fried clams. Just don’t feed the seagulls. If you do, that will invite all its relatives to your table.
Glimpse into Maine’s Past
Go to The Penobscot Marine Museum next. Set on beautiful grounds, this museum ($8) gives a glimpse into Maine’s maritime past. With a 19 th century captain’s home as its highlight, the museum has earned a place on the Register of Historic Places. Sailing ships, fishing gear, and marine art and memorabilia are on display. It’ll show what life was like on the seas, when captains took their families aboard and seamen hunted whales with harpoons.
Head back to Belfast because a romantic seaside dinner awaits you at Three Tides Waterfront Bar. Located on Marshall Wharf , the bar serves cocktails and tapas, all within sight of tugboats and the city’s only town lobster pound, called lb. The Three Tides’ menu has a Downeast flavor -- Pemequid oysters, rope-grown mussels, lobster salad, and steamers by the pound. Even the drinks have a local flavor. Try a Tides Classic Martini or a McGovern’s Oatmeal Stout -- both brewed in Belfast.
Wander up the hill from the water to the movies, and walk through the Colonial Theatre’s doors, and into an old-fashioned movie-house. With $2 popcorn and $5 movie tickets, prices take you back in time.
On your final day, get some exercise by the sea at Moose State Park. This rocky coastline is surrounded by huge dark pines. On hushed hiking trails, a pleasant stroll is an enjoyable way to get some fresh air. If the tide is out, climbing on the seaweed-covered boulders is fun, as is sitting and enjoying the views (Parking fee $2).
Before going home, you ought to shop for souvenirs on the little homely strip mall on Belmont Avenue, just outside of downtown. Reny’s is a Maine shopping tradition. You can get great bargains. You may find golf shirts from L.L. Bean for $5, GAP sweaters for $10, and Ecco shoes for $20. Also, kitschy keepsakes like lobster key chains, moose-shaped lollipops, and lighthouse thermometers are very inexpensive there.
For more Americana at its goofy best, stop at Perry’s Nuthouse. Established in 1927, this gift shop once held the treasures of Commodore Perry, the famed explorer. Some of his travel curiosities are on display, along with stuffed animals, giant pencils, Indian bead necklaces, and homemade maple walnut fudge. Look for the giant squirrel in front of the two-story house.
Rocky beaches, nice views, good food, and an unhurried pace. Belfast offers a quiet corner in a very popular vacation state. But hurry, before people find out about Maine’s best-kept coastal secret.
The Good Table
NTWH Gallery (National Theater of Workshop of the Handicapped)
The Penobscot Marine Museum
The Colonial Theater
Moose State Park
Perry’s Nut House
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