24 Top-Rated Attractions & Places to Visit in Maine

Written by Barbara Radcliffe Rogers
Updated Mar 20, 2024

Few states can claim as many iconic images as Maine: fully rigged Windjammers, waves breaking against a rocky coast, lighthouses, pine woods, and fishing harbors filled with boats. The miles of backwoods inhabited by moose hold their own mystique and images: a lone canoe barely riffling the mirror-like surface of a forest-encircled lake, or rainbow trout jumping from crystal waters.

The remarkable thing about Maine is that it doesn't disappoint tourists who arrive with these romantic pictures in mind. Lighthouses do crown points from York to Quoddy Head, and between them lie dozens of snug little fishing harbors and mile after mile of rocky wave-beaten shore.

But Maine's attractions aren't all in iconic images, and between its museums, breathtaking gardens, art heritage, historic attractions, outdoor activities, and natural wonders, you're spoiled for choice of things to do on a Maine vacation.

I've seen Maine's attractions from many perspectives -- Moosehead Lake from a kayak and from a float plane, vast stretches of snow-covered wilderness from ski trails on Sugarloaf and Sunday River -- but my favorite view is of the islands and lighthouses from the deck of a Maine Windjammer as it sails through Casco Bay.

Let me help you discover your own favorite view, with this list of the best attractions and places to visit in Maine.

1. Acadia National Park & Mount Desert Island

Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park

The rugged and beautiful stretch of coastline that is set aside as Acadia National Park also surrounds a large inland region of lakes, streams, and forests. It provides a playground for locals and visitors who enjoy the outdoors. The scenic Park Loop Road winds its way through the park past the main attractions and is the best way to tour the park by car.

The handy Island Explorer buses also connect the various attractions, while cyclists and walkers can follow the network of unpaved carriage roads, part of the more than 100 miles of hiking trails for all levels of ability. These include trails to the summit of 1,530-foot Cadillac Mountain, the park's highest point, from which there are views of the coast and islands.

Other highlights in the park are Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse and the dramatic chasm of Thunder Hole. A second and little-visited portion of Acadia National Park is farther north, on the Schoodic Peninsula, where there are more hiking trails, coastal views, and opportunities for kayaking. There are two large campgrounds in the park and several picnic areas.

Throughout Mount Desert Island are waterside villages overlooking small harbors. Of particular interest to garden lovers are Asticou Azalea Garden and neighboring Thuya Garden, both in Northeast Harbor. Asticou is a Japanese-inspired garden at its most spectacular in the spring, when the azaleas are in bloom around the pond. Thuya reaches its prime in June and July, when the perennial beds are at their showiest.

After strolling the paths through both these gardens, I cross the road to the historic Asticou Inn, where I sit on the verandah overlooking the gardens and harbor, and savor a pot of tea, with hot popovers slathered in wild blueberry jam. That's my idea of a perfect Maine afternoon.

2. The Old Port and Portland Head Lighthouse

Portland Head Lighthouse
Portland Head Lighthouse

Tourists looking for things to do in Portland invariably head straight for its harbor district, the Old Port. There, along with fishing boats, busy docks, and seafood restaurants, they may find a cruise ship or see the tall masts of a sailing ship, for Portland is still an active port.

The narrow streets that climb from the dockside Commercial Street are lined by the brick and stone buildings that supported one of the East Coast's busiest ports from colonial times through the 19th century.

Shop for maritime souvenirs in a ships' chandlery, eat seafood on the wharf, and if you're there early enough, watch the fishing boats unload and local chefs choose the menu at the city's restaurants. Fore Street, which parallels Commercial, is where you'll find several of these. At the docks, you can board a cruise of Casco Bay or a ferry to visit its islands.

Tip: The island ferries that ply Casco Bay are the best bargain in town. You can take them to visit the individual islands, or you can just ride along on the entire circuit for a scenic cruise of the bay. In high season, if there are enough passengers, a tour guide shares interesting information on the islands, several of which have historic fortifications.

A landmark of Casco Bay is Portland Head Lighthouse, which marks the entrance to the harbor. It is one of the most beautiful along the coast, and from its promontory, you can see the city and Old Port, as well as the passing ships and boats.

The museum in the former Keeper's Quarters features exhibits on the lighthouses and their keepers, showing how these bastions of maritime safety have changed over the years with advances in technology. Along with historic photos, artifacts on display include Fresnel lenses and exhibits on how they work.

Address: 1000 Shore Road, Cape Elizabeth, Maine

3. Marginal Way and Ogunquit Beaches

Boats in Perkins Cove
Boats in Perkins Cove

The paved walking path along the shore from the center of Ogunquit to Perkins Cove is a beautiful way to see the rocky coast and its crashing surf.

Among the rocky cliffs are a series of small sandy coves that offer a more intimate beach experience than Ogunquit Beach, which is one of the most popular beaches in Maine. The Marginal Way is for walkers only (no bikes, no dogs from April to October) and runs about a mile and a half from the end of the village to the scenic wharfs of Perkins Cove.

Here, a slender peninsula shelters a small bay, creating a safe haven for small craft. Originally a small fishing port, today the harbor is overlooked by restaurants and small shops, but you'll still see plenty of fishing boats.

All along Marginal Way, benches are conveniently placed, both on the path and on overlooks above the sea. You can return to town on the same path, walk back along the shady Shore Road, or take the trolley.

Ogunquit Beach has a gentle slope to the sea and comparatively warm water, which makes it popular with families. The town's shops and restaurants are busy in the summer, and the thriving arts scene brings more tourists to the nationally known Ogunquit Playhouse and the Ogunquit Museum of American Art.

Author's tip: Around the museum (whose collections and special exhibitions are well worth seeing) are its outdoor exhibits, in a sculpture garden that slopes to the rocky shore. You can stroll through the gardens for free. Kids will love the largest of these works of art, the whimsical animal sculptures of Maine artist Bernard Langlais. Built from rough boards and scrap wood, the giant lion, horse, and rhino always bring smiles.

4. Pemaquid Point Light

Pemaquid Point Light
Pemaquid Point Light

One of Maine's most iconic lighthouses stands at the end of the long Pemaquid Point in Mid-Coast Maine and is such a landmark that it was chosen as the image on the Maine quarter coin. It was built in 1835, and along with the light tower, the keeper's cottage and the brick sound signal house have been preserved. The setting is made even more dramatic by the unusual formations of striped metamorphic rock in the ledges below.

The keeper's cottage houses the Fisherman's Museum which preserves the region's strong fishing heritage, with captains' logs, models, dioramas, photos, and artifacts, including information on the shipwrecks off this point. The scenic point is a favorite site for picnics.

To the north, in New Harbor, Colonial Pemaquid State Historic Site preserves the foundations of a colonial settlement and the reconstructed Fort William Henry. The museum and excellent sign boards explain the importance of this fort in the conflicts involving English and French settlers and the local Native Americans. The archaeological site has been designated a National Historic Landmark.

5. Old Orchard Beach

Old Orchard Beach
Old Orchard Beach

An unabashed old-fashioned beach resort, Old Orchard Beach revels in the somewhat tacky honky-tonk atmosphere of its pier and thrill rides at New England's only remaining full-scale amusement park on a beach. So kick off your shoes, step back into mid-century summer fun, and indulge in a little nostalgia.

Palace Playland has all the expected rides: a Ferris wheel right over the waves, a roller coaster, an old-fashioned carousel, bumper cars, and a dozen or so other kid-pleasers. Pier stands and street-side windows sell fries, soft ice cream, saltwater taffy, and fried dough.

The highlight of all this is a full seven miles of golden sand beach with free public access. The sands are scoured each night by volunteers, so you won't find a cleaner beach anywhere, and separating most of the seven miles of beach from the line of low hotels and shops is a barrier of grassy dunes.

Old Orchard is also the only Maine beach where you can arrive directly by train, which is one reason this is such a popular weekend getaway destination from Boston; the Amtrak station is opposite the pier and amusement park.

Author's Tip: I can't go to Old Orchard Beach without a stop at Pier French Fries, a traditional stop for locals and tourists since 1932. Do you need French fries? Of course you do — it's part of the Old Orchard Beach experience.

6. Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, Boothbay
Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, Boothbay | Photo Copyright: Stillman Rogers Photography

Strolling the paths through this 270-acre garden, it's almost impossible to believe that the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens opened as recently as 2007. The profusion of bloom and the size of the well-manicured and creatively designed gardens achieve the sense that they have been pampered by generations of devoted horticulturalists.

The paths wind among the various themed gardens, showing native and exotic plants that thrive in woodland, water, and other environments. There is a kitchen garden, and a garden for the five senses spotlights plants for their fragrances, flavors, and textures, in raised beds for wheelchair access. The large children's garden will charm any age, as will the woodland village of fairy houses.

Walking trails traverse the grounds, which slope down to the shore and include various shore environments. Daily tours point out highlights and follow themes such as rare and native plants. A large collection of original sculpture by regional artists highlights the gardens, and art exhibitions are held in the visitor center throughout the spring, summer, and fall.

Tip to parents: The Children's Garden here is a major part of the extensive campus. Like the rest of the gardens, it is scattered with sculptures — these inspired by children's books written by Maine authors. My kids' favorite is the lifelike bronze of Sal's Bear, by Nancy Schon, based on Robert McCloskey's Blueberries for Sal.

Highlights of the themed gardens are a cottage with a grass roof, an arbor tunnel to walk through, a maze lawn, a giant tree house, and a fanciful fairy house.

Address: 132 Botanical Gardens Drive, Boothbay, Maine

7. Farnsworth Art Museum

Farnsworth Art Museum
Farnsworth Art Museum | Photo Copyright: Stillman Rogers Photography

In the heart of downtown Rockland, the Farnsworth Art Museum is one of New England's best, which is saying a lot in a region with such a rich art heritage. No other museum has such a complete collection of works by artists connected with Maine, and its Wyeth Center is one of only two in the country dedicated to the work of the three generations of Wyeths – N.C., Andrew, and James.

The Farnsworth Art Museum's collections include some of America's most prominent late 19th- and early 20th-century landscape painters. Along with the earliest known work by Thomas Cole, you can see paintings by George Bellows, Rockwell Kent, John La Farge, George Inness, Childe Hassam, and maritime artist Fitz Henry Lane.

A separate building, a former church on Union Street, exhibits works of James Wyeth and N.C. Wyeth. The Farnsworth also arranges tours of the Olson House, made famous in several works by Andrew Wyeth, the best-known of which is his 1948 painting Christina's World.

Author's Tip: Ask at the museum for directions to visit the Olson House, a farmhouse made famous by Andrew Wyeth in his 1948 painting Christina's World. You can see the exterior of the house, which stands on Hathorne Point Road in Cushing, Maine, or see the interior on a guided tour arranged through the museum.

Address: 6 Museum Street, Rockland, Maine

8. Boothbay Harbor

Aerial view of Boothbay Harbor
Aerial view of Boothbay Harbor

Once a busy shipping port, Boothbay Harbor today is primarily a popular summer resort, with the largest boating harbor north of Boston.

Schooner cruises, whale watches, lighthouse viewing trips, and island cruises begin here, sailing from a harbor so big that in the days of sail several hundred vessels could find safety here during a storm.

For the best view of the waterfront and all the boats, walk across the 1,000-foot-long Boothbay Harbor Footbridge, a wooden walkway across the harbor that's been a landmark since 1901. You can rent kayaks near the footbridge to explore the harbor and shore. In East Boothbay, Linekin Bay is popular for kayaking.

The downtown area is packed with waterfront seafood restaurants, antique shops, and art galleries, reflecting the more than 200 artists and craftspeople who live and summer in the area.

It has been a haven for the arts since the early 1800s, and along with studios and galleries, the little town has an Opera House and Carousel Music Theater, as well as a community band. Reflecting this love of the arts, the Boothbay Harbor Sculpture Trail leads past more than three dozen original sculptures decorating streets and public spaces.

You can learn more about marine wildlife at the Maine State Aquarium, and ride in a vintage coach behind a century-old steam locomotive at the Boothbay Railway Village.

Read More: Top-Rated Things to Do in Boothbay Harbor, ME

9. Rockland

Fishing Boat in Rockland Harbor
Fishing Boat in Rockland Harbor

Circling a large harbor protected by Owl's Head and a long stone breakwater, Rockland's historic downtown, lined with nicely maintained 19th-century brick mercantile buildings, speaks of a prosperous past.

This was a thriving port for the limestone quarried in the surrounding hills. Until the 1950s, the harbor was lined with kilns that processed the stone for shipment to eastern cities for use as mortar and plaster.

This old seaport town is worth a stop for several attractions, including Owl's Head Light and the Owl's Head Transportation Museum; Rockland is one of the home ports for the Maine Windjammer Fleet, whose historic sailing ships you can often see moored here.

The town and the nearby islands of Penobscot Bay have long attracted artists, whose works you can see in Rockland's numerous galleries and museums.

You can visit some of the islands that inspired them, on ferries from downtown Rockland. Regular ferry departures can take you to Islesboro, where you can hike through a rare cedar swamp, or get away from the mainland crowds at one of the island's beaches. On Vinalhaven, you can hike through nature reserves, rent kayaks to explore the shoreline, or swim in a former granite quarry.

10. Bar Harbor

Bar Harbor
Bar Harbor | Photo Copyright: Stillman Rogers

More than just a base for exploring Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor is a lively town with a long history as an oceanside resort. Its streets are still lined by impressive "summer cottages" built during the Gilded Age, when wealthy city families came here to escape soaring city temperatures. Today several of these are elegant inns and B&Bs.

Stroll along Frenchman Bay as they did, following the Shore Path from Agrimont Park, for views of the bay and islands. Or at low tide, walk across the bar to Bar Island – but be careful to return before the water covers the track.

Shop in the classy boutiques and artisans' galleries; dine on ocean-fresh seafood; take a whale-watching cruise; and relax to the music of the town band, which plays on The Green two evenings a week in the summer.

The excellent Abbe Museum has an exceptional collection of Native American arts, and across the street from it is St. Savior Episcopal Church, with stunning Tiffany stained-glass windows.

Expect Bar Harbor to be less crowded on cruise ship days from now on; a limit has been imposed on the number and size of ships allowed to make a port stop here.

Read More: Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Bar Harbor, ME

11. Camden

Camden Harbor
Camden Harbor

Just north of Rockland, Camden is Maine's other harbor for Windjammers, and you can often see these graceful tall ships in the large harbor. You can also take a two-hour schooner cruise from here.

The harbor sits just below Camden's busy Main Street (Route 1) and Bay View Street, where you'll find shops and galleries featuring everything from fashionable resort wear and fine art to dreamy knitting yarns and vintage garden ornaments.

For a harbor and island view unmatched anywhere south of Acadia National Park, climb or drive to the top of Mount Battie, in Camden Hills State Park, where hikers will find more than 30 miles of trails. For more trails, and beautiful flowers, stop at Merryspring Nature Center.

A block from the busy intersection of Elm and High streets, look for the colorful Riverhouse Footbridge, a garden of flower boxes and leafy arbors suspended over the short Megunticook River. After flowing under downtown buildings, the river ends in the dramatic little Megunticook Falls as it enters the harbor.

Camden's charms don't end when winter arrives. The Camden Snow Bowl claims two distinctions: it's the only ski mountain in the East with ocean views from its trails, and it's the home of a 400-foot toboggan chute. You can take a turn on the precipitous ice-covered track that hosts the annual U.S. National Toboggan Championships.

Read More: Top-Rated Things to Do in Camden, ME

12. Nubble Lighthouse (Cape Neddick Light)

Nubble Lighthouse (Cape Neddick Light)
Nubble Lighthouse (Cape Neddick Light)

Perhaps New England's most photographed lighthouse, and certainly one of the easiest to get to, Nubble Light poses on its own islet just off the rocky point of Cape Neddick. Especially on a rising tide, the surf usually obliges photographers with a few waves breaking into froth against the rocks.

In late November, the lighthouse and keeper's cottage are outlined in lights for the holiday season, and the annual lighting is celebrated with music, hot chocolate, and a visit from Santa. You can take a cruise from Ogunquit to see the lighthouse from the water.

The point bounds one end of Long Sands, the largest of two popular beaches in York. The southern end of the beach is a favorite for surfers; York is known to those of us who grew up swimming there as the beach with the coldest water on the entire south coast.

In another of the four villages that make up the town, the Old York Historical Society museum complex includes Jefferds Tavern and the 1745 York Corner Schoolhouse, one of the oldest surviving in New England.

13. Maine Maritime Museum

Historical pitch oven at the Maine Maritime Museum
Historical pitch oven at the Maine Maritime Museum

On the site of a 19th-century shipyard where large wooden sailing vessels were built and launched, the Maine Maritime Museum preserves and interprets Maine's seafaring, shipbuilding, and lobstering heritage.

Along with the extensive collection of artifacts and materials that make up exhibits on everything from the clipper ships and lighthouses to maritime art, the 20-acre campus includes a blacksmith shop, and a working shop for the restoration of wooden boats.

A highlight is a 36-foot section of the bow of the American clipper Snow Squall, built in Portland in 1851. It was retrieved on archaeological expeditions to the Falkland Islands, where it had run aground in 1864.

The more than 140 Maine-built or Maine-related boats in the collections include an antique birchbark canoe. The Mary E, the oldest fishing schooner built in Maine, is part of the floating collections, one of three in the museum that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Address: 243 Washington Street, Bath, Maine

14. West Quoddy Head & Lighthouse

West Quoddy Head
West Quoddy Head

The dramatic red-and-white stripes of its lighthouse, plus the thrill of standing at the easternmost point in the United States, make West Quoddy Head & Lighthouse one of the most popular places to visit on the northeast coast of Maine.

The brick lighthouse was opened in 1858, but there has been one here since 1808, when President Thomas Jefferson ordered it built to guide ships through the Quoddy Narrows. The current lighthouse is 49 feet tall, and the lantern rises 83 feet above the sea.

Learn more about the lighthouse and its history at the Quoddy Head State Park Visitor Center in the former Keeper's Cottage and take a tour of the light tower itself on Saturday afternoons in July and August. The lighthouse is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Five miles of hiking trails explore the point, which is a prime spot for viewing sea birds, especially during the spring and fall migrations. You might also spot humpback, minke, and finback whales in the narrows, which is bounded on the opposite side by the tall red cliffs of Grand Manan Island in New Brunswick.

An easy one-mile trail in the park leads to a coastal plateau bog, where you can see subarctic and arctic plants rarely seen this far south.

Address: South Lubec Road, Lubec, Maine

15. Portland Museum of Art & Winslow Homer Studio

Portland Museum of Art
Portland Museum of Art | Photo Copyright: Stillman Rogers Photography

The superb collections of the Portland Museum of Art go far beyond the expected works of those artists who lived and painted here – artists such as Winslow Homer, Rockwell Kent, and the Wyeths.

Among the more than 18,000 pieces of fine and decorative art, dating from the 1700s onwards, are works by Monet, Degas, Picasso, Warhol, Sargent, Whistler, Mary Cassatt, Gilbert Stuart, Joshua Reynolds, Alexander Calder, George Bellows, and Edward Hopper.

The museum also features traveling and temporary exhibits throughout the year. Attached to the museum is a historic house, formerly home to a prominent Portland family, with outstanding examples of period furniture, art, and decorative details.

Separate from the Portland facility, and accessible only by tours that originate here, is the studio of artist Winslow Homer, overlooking the sea on Prouts Neck, a point of land in nearby Scarborough, Maine.

Address: 7 Congress Square, Portland, Maine

16. Cruising the Maine Coast

Victory Chimes, Windjammer Fleet
Victory Chimes, Windjammer Fleet | Photo Copyright: Stillman Rogers Photography

Don't miss the chance to see the craggy, irregular Maine coast and its rock-bound islands from the water. Not only will you get a new perspective on the lighthouses and granite cliffs, but you'll have a chance to be part of the busy harbor life of Maine's seaport towns.

The options are many. You can join a whale watching tour from Bar Harbor, go deep sea fishing from Eastport, take a Puffin Tour to Machias Seal Island from Jonesport or Stonington, join a lobster boat out of Portland to haul traps, or take a seal cruise from there to Eagle Island.

From Boothbay Harbor, you can go deep-sea fishing, take a day sailing cruise along the coast, go whale watching, or even join a local lobsterman hauling traps. From Ogunquit, you can take a breakfast sightseeing tour or cruise to see York's Nubble Lighthouse from the water.

Boat experiences can be as short as the 15-mile ferry ride from Rockland to Vinalhaven or a week-long cruise under sail on a Maine Windjammer out of Rockland or Camden. Windjammer cruises are informal, with the itinerary determined by winds and tides, and passengers can help with the lines and sails if they wish. Special theme cruises may feature lighthouses, music, star gazing or boat races.

Most of the windjammers are suitable for adults only, although those as young as 12 are welcome on some ships — a popular vacation option for grandparents traveling with teens. Couples looking for a romantic vacation should book one of the full moon cruises.

17. Kennebunkport


The little coastal town of Kennebunkport, 12.5 miles south of Portland, is very popular in summer. Stately homes of former ship captains and owners, some of which have been carefully restored as bed-and-breakfasts, line its quiet streets, and you can learn about these on a self-guided walking tour, or at the Historical Society's First Families Kennebunkport Museum, in an 1853 Greek Revival home.

Shopping and gallery-hopping are favorite pastimes in the small commercial area of restored dockside buildings around Dock Square, which is lined with shops, studios, boutiques, and restaurants. Parsons Way, a scenic path, begins from the square and leads along the shore to Walker's Point. At the other side of the Kennebunk River, a series of sandy beaches line the shore.

Two miles east of Dock Square is the still-active fishing village of Cape Porpoise, with more shops and galleries, along with working lobster boats. Also of interest is the Seashore Trolley Museum.

In nearby Kennebunk, look for the outstanding Brick Store Museum and drive past the fanciful Wedding Cake House on Summer Street. The entire street, designated as the Summer Street Historical District, is lined with elegant Victorian mansions.

Read More: Top-Rated Things to Do in Kennebunkport, ME

18. Monhegan Island

Monhegan Island
Monhegan Island

Monhegan is a small island that lies 10 miles off the coast of Maine, and although it's one of many inhabited coastal islands, it has achieved iconic status over the years. This is in large part due to its long history as an artists' colony, coupled with the many tales of its hardy population and their lives on this storm-swept outpost.

There are no cars or paved roads on the island, and its 75 year-round residents are mainly engaged in fishing and lobstering. During the summer, visitors can take day trips to the island from Boothbay Harbor, New Harbor, and Port Clyde, but will have only three or four hours ashore.

Monhegan's combination of rugged granite cliffs (the highest ocean cliffs in Maine), crashing waves, and unique light, coupled with its air of an untouched fishing village, has made it a destination for artists since the middle of the 1800s. Because of this long-term art colony and the several dozen artists who currently work there, you'll find an abundance of studios and galleries.

Monhegan's art colony began in the mid-1800s, and by the turn of the 20th century was a well-established summer colony. Artist Rockwell Kent built a home and studio there, later the studio of painter James Edward Fitzgerald.

Now a gallery of his work, the James Fitzgerald – Rockwell Kent Historic Artists' Home and Studio is managed by the Monhegan Museum of Art & History, whose collections include works by both of these artists and others who painted here.

Art isn't the only appeal of Monhegan, a favorite of birders for migrating Merlins, American Kestrels, Peregrine Falcons, and others that touch down here.

Author's tip: To hike the island trails and see some of the artists' favorite viewpoints, get a trail map at Monhegan Associates, near the ferry landing. Wear good boots, as the trails are rough and often run along steep clifftops. Be very careful on the shoreline rocks anywhere along the southern or back side of the island, where rogue waves and a fierce undertow are constant dangers.

19. Victoria Mansion, Portland

Victoria Mansion, Portland
Victoria Mansion, Portland

The beautifully preserved Victoria Mansion is an extraordinary Italian-style villa built in the mid-19th century.

The architecture and the interior details are exquisite, and it's one of the most lavishly decorated mid-Victorian homes in the country, with painted walls and ceilings and ornately carved woodwork. Most of the furnishings are original, and along with the house itself, they provide a glimpse into how Portland's wealthy lived during the pre-civil war era.

While Maine has many historic homes you can visit, representing all eras and lifestyles from the colonial era forward, Victoria Mansion offers an example of Victorian art and culture that is unparalleled.

20. Desert of Maine

The Desert of Maine
The Desert of Maine | Photo Copyright: Stillman Rogers Photography

While you'll find plenty of sand on Maine's beaches, you don't expect to find acres of it inland, surrounded by pine forests. A true desert, with its enormous shifting dunes that cover forests and entire buildings, the Desert of Maine is a geologic anomaly – and a Freeport success story.

When I was growing up and traveling the Maine coast with my parents, I was enthralled by the roadside signs showing camels, palm trees, and Arabian tents. But with the support of the town, this one-time hokey tourist trap is now a natural attraction, well-cared-for by locals Mela and Doug Heestand and highlighting its natural history, science, and local history.

Large signboards with photos of the farm that once stood here explain how old farming practices stripped the topsoil from this sandpit left by glaciers. They explain how, in this active environment, the dunes shift constantly, and you can see the former spring house now being dug out of the dune that swallowed it.

I was surprised to learn that little pine trees growing out of the top of a dune were actually the tops of full-grown pines hidden beneath the sand. It's not all serious science -- you'll want to stop for a photo-op with the colorful camel.

Tip for parents: I enjoy visiting as an adult, but kids are even more excited to explore the Desert of Maine. They can find ancient bones in the Fossil Dig, discover artifacts from early colonial settlers in the Secret Sandbox, and dig in the sand at Gemstone Village where they can keep three polished gems that they find. A Maine-themed playground is filled with clever slides and climbing towers.

Address: 95 Desert Road, Freeport, Maine

21. Peaks Island

Peaks Island Ferry
Peaks Island Ferry | Photo Copyright: Stillman Rogers Photography

Technically part of the city of Portland, Peaks Island seems a different world, separated by a ferry ride. The ride is part of the fun of visiting; the fare is inexpensive, and you get a nice mini-cruise in Portland Harbor, past Fort Gorges and other small islands.

Like many along the Maine coast, Peaks Island played a defensive role during World War II. Battery Steele is the largest of the island's military structures, occupying 14 acres facing the Atlantic. Walking trails connect its three sections (two gun batteries with command and munitions in the middle), and you can walk through the echoing abandoned passages — be sure to bring a powerful flashlight.

My favorite place to sit and contemplate the ocean is at Whaleback Ledge (named for its whale-shaped rocks), but Cairn Beach is a close second. Although not a swimming beach, it's a scenic spot where you won't be able to resist making your own little rock monument.

Several art galleries are worth perusing, as well as the quirky Umbrella Cover Museum, the world's largest (and only) collection of umbrella sheaths. For a full meal, several good options are close to the ferry with views of the water and surrounding islands. Get snacks and lighter fare at Milly's Skillet Food Truck and ice cream at Down Front.

Having a car here is more hindrance than help because there is simply nowhere to park on the island. You can realistically visit most of the island's attractions on foot in a full day. Getting around by bicycle (bring your own on the ferry or rent one at Brad's Island Bike Rentals & Repairs) is a faster way, but I prefer renting a cart from Peaks Island Golf Carts. To see all the sights without rushing, give yourself at least four hours, although I always end up wishing I had booked the cart for longer.

Author's Tip: If you're renting a cart or bicycle, book well ahead. It's also important to remember that although the ferry runs year-round for residents, most restaurants and shops are closed or reduce their hours between Labor Day and Memorial Day, so an off-season visit might not offer as much to do.

22. Bowdoin College Museum of Art

Bowdoin College Museum of Art
Bowdoin College Museum of Art | PAVDW / photo modified

The Bowdoin College Museum of Art, on the college campus in Brunswick, features a permanent collection of more than 20,000 pieces, ranging from ancient Greek ceramics and a 15th-century painting by Florentine artist Fra Angelico to 17th-century New England furniture and mid-century modern furniture by Charles Eames.

Multiple works by Winslow Homer, Rockwell Kent, Gilbert Stuart, John Singleton Copley, and Maurice Prendergast highlight the collections, along with those of Bierstadt, Inness, Eakins, and Corot. Rotating temporary exhibits, gallery talks, tours, and lectures throughout the year make this an active cultural center.

Address: 245 Maine Street, Brunswick, Maine

23. Wiscasset

Castle Tucker in Wiscasset
Castle Tucker in Wiscasset | Photo Copyright: Stillman Rogers

If you are driving to the northern Maine Coast, you will go through the tidy center of Wiscasset. It is a renowned bottleneck on Route 1, and there's no workaround if you're heading for Boothbay Harbor and coastal points north. But Wiscasset is well worth a stop to explore its historic houses and browse in art galleries and antique shops.

Overlooking the main street, which is Route 1, is the Nickels-Sortwell House, one of the finest Federal homes in New England. It is beautifully restored, its rooms furnished in antiques, art, and period decorative features. The gardens are being restored to their original design and plantings.

Castle Tucker was built nearly a century later, in the late 19th century, as the home of a sea captain. Stroll some of the side streets to find more well-kept historic homes and churches.

The town wharf sits beside the long bridge that crosses the estuary of the Sheepscot River. You can order a full shore dinner or a seafood lunch at Sprague's and enjoy it at one of the picnic tables beside the water.

24. Bangor

Boats on the Penobscot River in Bangor
Boats on the Penobscot River in Bangor

Bangor is one of Maine's most underrated places to visit, but if you're willing to make the long drive, you will be pleasantly surprised to find that it has very little in common with Stephen King's "Derry." Fans of the King of Horror's books and films should take a tour with SK Tours of Maine, but if getting creeped out isn't your thing, don't worry — there's plenty more to do and see in Bangor.

Bangor's Main Street is a lively area full of energy, lined with shops and a dizzying array of restaurant choices, almost all of them locally owned. You'll find everything from small-batch roasted coffee with fresh baked pastries to traditional German dishes with a local touch. This is also where you'll find the colorful Maine Discovery Museum (formerly the Eastern Maine Children's Museum).

Downtown straddles the Kenduskeag Stream, which looks more like a canal, with more places to visit along Harlow Street. These include the University of Maine's Zillman Art Museum and the beautiful Bangor Public Library, now a great source of pride thanks to the philanthropy of the King family.

The area offers several museums that please kids (and kids-at-heart). My favorite is the Cole Land Transportation Museum, which will scratch the nostalgia itch for adults and entertain kids (under 18 always get in free). You'll find everything from early tricycles to classic cars and vintage freight trucks to train cars that you can explore.

If you're interested in aviation, head to the Maine Air Museum, located next to the airport, and if you didn't see enough fire engines at the Cole Museum, try the Hose 5 Fire Museum.

Bangor and its surroundings have plenty of places to go to enjoy nature, and the Orono Bog Walk is my favorite. This handicap-accessible nature trail is a one-mile boardwalk loop with signage and optional guided naturalist tours. It's adjacent to the Bangor City Forest, which has over nine miles of multi-use trails.

Author's tip: A great spot to enjoy both Maine history and the outdoors is the Maine Forest and Logging Museum at Leonard's Mills, in nearby Bradley. As you walk the grounds of this open-air living history museum, you'll find historic buildings and equipment that show how people lived in rural Maine in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Map of Attractions & Places to Visit in Maine

Best Time to Visit Maine

The best time to travel to Maine depends on what you want to do while you're here. If you're hoping to ski, head to the mountains during the winter (obviously). Want to hike through Acadia National Park? Choose spring, summer, or fall. In general, though, the best time to visit Maine is during the summer, especially if you're headed for the coast, planning on spending time at a resort, or simply visiting small towns.

Yes, you'll be faced with hordes of tourists and yes, prices will be higher on everything from souvenirs to lunch to lodging. But with these downsides comes a big payoff: spectacular weather. Highs hover in the comfortable high 70s with lows dipping into the upper 50s. You won't be sweltering during the day or shivering at night, which is perfect.

Plus, this is an ideal time to visit Maine's best beaches, take a sail around Frenchman Bay from Bar Harbor, or enjoy a weekend getaway to Portland.

Another summertime bonus: all restaurants and attractions (many of which tend to close in the off-season) will be open. If you're itching to enjoy a meal in one of the state's best restaurants or stay in one of the top resorts in Maine, book early to ensure your summer visit is a success.

July and August experience the least amount of rain, with only 3.3 to 3.5 inches recorded to fall throughout the month, which is another plus.

A close second to summer is a tie between fall and winter. High season for the inland section of the state, these two seasons are popular for widely different reasons. Fall, which sits comfortably in the high 40s to high 50s, presents artists with a dream palette. Nature's bright red, yellow, and orange hues highlight the beauty of this New England masterpiece. Trees burst into color, captivating visitors and begging cameras to immortalize their beauty.

Winter is cold (sitting in the 30s) and often pummeled by snow. These conditions create a fantastic upside: optimal weather for those who prefer to spend their days on the slopes. Plus, there are plenty of indoor attractions to enjoy in big cities like Portland, so you won't be at a loss for ways to stay warm and entertained.