Awesome Things to Do in Rockland, Maine for Food and Art Lovers
We made our first visit to Rockland in mid coast Maine around 1995 to check out this lobster festival we’d been hearing about. It wasn’t far from the beautiful and touristy Camden, but we liked that Rockland was quieter, plus it was cheaper to stay since it wasn’t right on Penobscot Bay. We loved it enough to keep going back for years afterward, exploring the local villages and secluded lobster pounds tucked back off the fingers of land that jut out into Maine’s craggy coastline. Highway 1 runs along the coast from Freeport to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park (and beyond) but one turn off the highway can take you exploring for hours just to bring you back to the same point again on the highway.
At the time, the Wyeth family had long been making artistic waves in Rockland, Cushing, and Monhegan Island, but the Farnsworth Museum was more of a hidden gem. The local dining scene was still pretty local, with a few diners serving comfort food and always delicious homemade blueberry pie. Places like Jess’ Market were our go-to for fresh caught lobsters that we’d steam and cook on our open fire at Saltwater Farm campground in Thomaston. Then in 2000, Chef Melissa Kelly opened Primo restaurant in a quaint farmhouse outside of town and it was the first time I’d ever heard the term farm-to-table. All of a sudden it felt like people were paying attention.
We recently went back to Rockland for the first time in 15 years, and things have certainly changed. It’s no longer that sleepy town, but besides having a lot going on there’s definitely something happening here — it appears to be the epicenter of both a cool art scene and hip spot for foodies too. In fact, there are so many unique things to do in Rockland, Maine whether you’re an art lover, foodie, camper, adventure traveler or all of the above. Mid-coast is just 90 minutes or so from the Portland area so it’s easily accessible and great fun to drive if you’re up for a good old-fashioned road trip. And who isn’t when there’s lobster rolls and blueberry pie nearly every step of the way! If you haven’t been to Rockland or mid-coast Maine in a while, what are you waiting for?
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Things to Do in Rockland, Maine for Food Lovers
Eat Maine Lobster
If ever there was a foodie’s food, it’s lobster from Maine, which makes Rockland one of our favorite food destinations in the USA! Because of the cold water of the north Atlantic, the flesh of Maine lobster is fresh and sweet. They’re considered the finest in the world. Lucky for you, a trip to Maine will have you eating them just about everywhere and in every way — rolls, bisque, salads, and of course steamed whole. The most popular lobster size are “chicks” (1 1/4 - 1 1/2 pounders) and can have a hefty price tag. If you’re looking to save some bucks, look for culls (that are missing a claw).
Rockland Lobster Festival
Every summer on the first weekend of August, from Wednesday through Sunday, the Camden-Rockland Lobster Festival (also referred to as the Maine Lobster Festival) attracts tens of thousands of visitors to it’s harbor looking to feast on the tasty crustacean. Now in its 72nd year (since 1947) the 5-day festival is still as much fun as any summer event can be and amazingly, admission is under $10 (free for active military with ID). 20,000 pounds of lobster is yours to enjoy before the big parade which culminates in the crowning of the Maine Sea Goddess (Sea Princesses and a Miss Congeniality too)! Getting to the festival is easy as it’s right on the harbor front, but if you don’t feel like driving, take the Rally Bus from points throughout New England right to the Festival.
Visit a Lobster Pound
A lobster pound is the storage facility built right at a dock or waterfront to hold lobsters until they’re sold, and they’re an interesting way to see the Maine lobster industry up close. You may feel like you’re trespassing since they are working facilities, but most of them welcome visitors to walk around and buy lobsters directly from them! The huge holding tanks have fresh seawater being constantly pumped through which hold lobsters by weight/size so orders for restaurants and markets can be more easily filled. The most common size lobsters are in the 1.25 to 1.50 pound range called “chicks”. Legal criteria on size is strictly enforced and any lobster found to be too small or too large is returned to the sea. Most people don’t know that a lobster can be too large, that is, with a measured carapace length of over 5 inches. This is done to protect the breeding stock and ensure that lobsters are not overfished. You can buy lobsters directly from most pounds to take back to your campsite or cabin, and many also have on-site restaurants where you sit on the water and eat lobster and other Maine specialties to your heart’s content.
Check Out the Best Restaurants in Rockland
There are lots of good places to eat in Rockland, Maine but these are a few of our favorites.
Primo - For almost 20 years, Chef Melissa Kelly has been creating her signature farm fresh cuisine simply and elegantly. Reserve early. It’s as popular as ever. 2 Main Street, Rockland
In Good Company - A tasteful and casual urban space serving contemporary American cuisine in the heart of downtown. The house-made pasta and fish special were fresh and beautiful. Even the appetizers like the Deviled eggs with smoked paprika were unique and delicious. 415 Main Street, Rockland
Cafe Miranda - This is one place with something for everyone. But don’t let the huge menu throw you — they seem to wear their multi-cultural hats equally well, from the tasty Asian-inspired dishes to homey comfort foods like their take on Pierogi casserole. 15 Oak Street, Rockland
Main Street Markets - A great place on Main Street for freshly prepared salads and house-made specialties, an excellent selection of wines and craft beers to go or eat-in. This is the place where perfect picnics are made! 435 Main Street, Rockland
Go Wine Tasting at Cellardoor Winery
Lincolnville may be quieter than Rockland or Camden but don’t pass it by. Outdoor enthusiasts can rent kayaks or hike the miles of trails in the nature preserve at Lake Megunticook. But the draw here for food and wine lovers is Cellardoor Winery, which has tastings and wine events in their 200-year old beautifully restored barn. And don’t miss Beyond the Sea for great down home cooking while you browse through the new and used books. It’s a really unique place and worth a visit. 367 Youngtown Rodd, Lincolnville, ME
Drink Beer at Rock Harbor Brewing
The Rock Harbor Pub & Brewing Company on Main Street is a fun place to hang out and try some good craft beer. Beers are brewed on site and if you happen to be there when the owner is, he’ll gladly show you where the magic happens. 416 Main Street, Rockland
Take a Maine Windjammer Cruise on the J. & E. Riggin
Windjammer cruises for food lovers? This isn’t just any windjammer cruise. Sailing on the Schooner J. & E. Riggin with Chef Annie Mahle’s gourmet cuisine is a dream for foodies and adventure lovers alike! Windjammer cruises go where the wind and tides want to take you and there are 9 schooner cruises you can take out of Rockland and Camden, Maine. But if you’re looking for amazing food, get onboard the Riggin. We went on their Lobsters & Lighthouses cruise and the food was incredible. But Captains Jon Finger and Annie Mahle also run themed cruise for foodies — check out the food cruises offered on the Riggin from late May through early October. Chef Annie is also a renowned author with several cookbooks to her credit, all inspired by the fresh ingredients and coastal flavors of Maine. If you’ve been wondering what this kind of cruise is like, check out our review of our 4-day Maine windjammer cruise aboard the Riggin, an amazing travel experience and incredible way to see and savor Maine. Captain Spear Drive, Rockland
Things to Do in Rockland, Maine for Art Lovers
Visit the Farnsworth Museum
The William A. Farnsworth Library and Art Museum opened in Rockland in 1948, thanks to Lucy Farnsworth who bequeathed the bulk of her sizable estate to establish the community’s first art museum and library. Lucy’s family was prominent in town, and their home in town (the Farnsworth Homestead) is now part of the Farnsworth complex which includes gallery, administrative, and educational space, the Farnsworth Library, the historic Olson House in Cushing, Julia’s Gallery for Young Artists, and the Wyeth Center featuring works of Andrew, N.C. and Jamie Wyeth. Today, the Library and Art Museum — known simply as the Farnsworth Art Museum — is the only center dedicated solely to American and Maine-inspired art, with over 20,000 square feet of gallery space and boasting over 15,000 works in the collection. The Farnsworth is open year-round. 16 Museum Street, Rockland, ME
Langlais Sculpture Park, Cushing
The Langlais Sculpture Preserve is a nature and sculpture park in Cushing, Maine which celebrates the legacy of Bernard Langlais and the natural resources of the Cushing peninsula. It’s part of the larger Langlais Art Trail that stretches along coastal Maine as far north as Eastport and south near Portsmouth and features reliefs, scultures, and other artworks of various mediums. Langlais has an interesting history — beginning his career as a commercial abstract fine artist in NYC before scraping it all to return to his native Maine where he began creating his famous oversized wooden sculptures. His style is rudimentary and rustic, reminiscent of Native American and Inuit-inspired art. The Preserve in Cushing is part of Langlais’s homestead, and retains several of Langlais’s outdoor sculptures in situ, including the thirteen-foot Horse, Langlais’s first monumental outdoor work and a landmark of Cushing’s River Road; his satirical depiction of Richard Nixon in a marshy pond; and his sculptural homage to Christina Olson, the local woman featured in Andrew Wyeth’s 1948 masterpiece, Christina’s World, among other works. The grounds in Cushing are open daily from dawn to dusk. 576 River Rd, Cushing, ME
The Center for Maine Contemporary Art
Wow. The Center for Maine Contemporary Art was an unexpected but welcome find in Rockland. Otherwise known as CMCA, your first impression as you walk in is only reinforced with each step through the modern gallery space inside. There’s always a fascinating exhibition or two on display, like the recent Hubris Atë Nemesis installation by Wade Kavanaugh and Stephen B. Nguyen (March 23 - June 16, 2019). Their hands-on education program offers year round classes and workshops for all ages. The Center is in the heart of downtown Rockland, and steps from the harbor front. 21 Winter Street, Rockland, ME
Experience Andrew Wyeth’s Maine at the Olson House
As if the Farnsworth Museum and traipsing the rugged coast of mid-coast Maine weren’t enough to satisfy your lust for a Wyeth-like experience, a visit to the Olson House just might set you over the top. Home to Alvaro Olson and his sister Christina, Wyeth’s subject of his haunting masterpiece Christina’s World, the original farmhouse and that field across the road is located in nearby Cushing not far from downtown Rockland.
Today, as part of the Farnsworth Museum complex, the property is open to the public and preserved forever for Wyeth lovers to spend hours exploring and pondering. It’s also a must-visit to see the final resting place of the artist himself, down the hill in the Olsen family cemetery. 384 Hathorne Point Road, Cushing, ME
Day Trips from Rockland, Maine
Boothbay has it’s share of shops and some excellent seafood restaurants some of which are run by one of the lobster pounds. The Maine State Aquarium is here and is worth a visit. Take the ferry boat or rent a kayak and paddle out to the historic Burnt Island Lighthouse and Keepers House for a tour. Pack a picnic and have lunch up on the hill with great views of the harbor.
Camden may be a bit artsy but it has it’s share of excellent restaurants and cafes as well along with the High Street Historic District. Looking for something outdoorsy? Hike one of the many trails on Mt. Battie and Camden Hills State Park. The views of Camden Harbor from the top are amazing. Stop by the Sea Dog Brewing Company or Blaze Brewing for lunch and try some of their refreshing crafted beers.
Port Clyde, once a working port for granite and timber along with a shipbuilding business and sardine cannery, is now home to mostly artists and writers. The area has seen better economic times but there are a few good places to eat and the old Maine architecture of the shore homes with their flower gardens takes you back in time. This is where you catch the passenger ferry out to Monhegan Island for a great day trip that we recommend below. For a fun Instagrammable shot, check out the Marshall Point Lighthouse with its long walkway that was featured in the movie Forrest Gump.
12 miles from the mainland and an easy ferry ride from Port Clyde, New Harbor, and Boothbay Harbor, Monhegan Island is a small rocky island with no car traffic and not a lot going on. And that’s exactly why you should go. The rustic island is a hikers and art lovers paradise, with easy trails leading to cliffs with breathtaking views and artist studios and galleries for you to explore — definitely a keeper on your New England bucket list! Perhaps its most famous artist resident is Jamie Wyeth and his studio is a must-see. Take a hike through Cathedral Woods and see the fairy houses of Monhegan that line the path (they’re rumored to have been the first of its kind in the world), stroll around the tiny quaint village, and explore the lighthouse that’s open a few days a week.
Portland, Maine is just an hour and a half from mid-coast Maine, making it an easy day trip from Rockland (and vice versa). Portland has become a real foodie town the past several years and is a popular destination for vacationers coming from Boston and New York. In fact, on our last trip to Maine, when our flight from Newark to Portland was cancelled due to heavy storms, we rented a car and did the 6-hour NYC to Maine road trip to make our Windjammer cruise on time — not a bad drive at all. Portland has great shopping, including the LL Bean flagship store in nearby Freeport, plus it’s just 8.5 miles to the picturesque Cape Elizabeth Lighthouse. Did you know mid-coast Maine was so close to Portland?
Where to Stay in Rockland, Maine
250 Main Hotel, 250 Main Street, Rockland, Maine
Looking to overnight at one of the coolest Rockland Maine hotels? The 250 Main Hotel is it! Located in the heart of just about everything to see in Rockland and across the street from the harbor, this modern boutique hotel is designed with an industrial decor reminiscent of boat building, and makes use of repurposed materials. Its 26 rooms are conveniently located on Main Street overlooking the water.
While the rooms are modern, they’re also well-designed and oh-so comfortable. We loved the excellent attention to detail like the luxurious Malin & Goetz toiletries, the bedside tablet, the overhead dim lighting, and the huge walk-in shower with that rainfall shower head. After 4 days on a Maine windjammer cruise, that hot shower never felt so good! Guests can enjoy a complimentary glass of wine on the rooftop terrace — where the view is worth the stay alone! Restaurants are close by, and coffee and tea are available throughout the day as is fresh or sparkling water from the dispenser in the lobby using a refillable glass bottle. We loved our brief stay at this hotel and highly recommend it as one of the nicest places to stay in Rockland, Maine. Check rates and availability.