There’s no shortage of idyllic seaside towns along the coast of Maine -- the kind where you’ll find picturesque lobster shacks and weather-worn lighthouses. The town of Rockland, though, is doing its best to shatter that sleepy stereotype. A boundary-pushing new museum, an eclectic collection of galleries, and a hotel that’s anything but a quaint B&B are all working to reshape this mid-coast gem. Here’s why you should add Rockland to your New England must-visit list.
Standing in stark contrast to the area’s low-slung brick buildings is the brand new 250 Main, which opened on May 1, 2016 and brings a breath of modernity to this traditional seaside town. High-ceilinged rooms are done in corrugated steel and have enormous windows and minimalist furnishings; many have balconies with ocean views. Each of the hotel’s common spaces doubles as a mini-gallery filled with the work of local artists, and the roof deck is a perfect place to enjoy a sunrise or sunset with a mug of complimentary coffee from Rock City Coffee Roasters, which is located next door. A light breakfast of fruit parfaits, muffins, and other grab-and-go items is complimentary, as is a nightly happy hour. To explore the town, you’ll have to walk exactly five minutes down Main Street -- the central drag that gives the hotel its name.
Of all the places to eat in this burgeoning community of art and artists, none quite equals Primo in quality or reputation. James Beard Award-winning chef Melissa Kelly has opened her restaurant in the maze-like rooms of a beautifully updated Victorian home. You may sit downstairs in what was a parlor, or upstairs in any number of low-lit bar and counter spaces. You’ll enter through the home’s front porch and likely catch a glimpse of what lies beyond the house -- a working farm, where nearly all of the items on the menu are raised. The focus is Italian, but the menu feels anything but traditional. Try hand-rolled ricotta cavatelli with chicken, seared yellowfin tuna with Bordelaise sauce, apple and chicory salad, or Hudson Valley foie gras. Other worthwhile food stops in town include Main Street Markets, which is more upscale grocery store than restaurant, but hot food offerings like chicken and dumplings, burrito bowls, and omelettes are good for a quick bite. Fog Bar and Cafe is the lively watering hole for the town’s artsy set -- you’ll see their work all around the space -- but go for the cocktails, teas, and atmosphere, rather than dinner. Rock Harbor Pub and Brewery delivers on its name with good pub grub and a roster of proprietary beers. The reuben sandwich, which exchanges corned beef for fried haddock, is a surprising must-try.
Perhaps the best part of visiting Rockland is that all of its sites are clustered on or around Main Street -- so park your car, put on your walking shoes, and explore. The classic Rockland outing is a day spent wandering the halls of the Farnsworth Museum, which houses more than 15,000 pieces of American art. With a large number of paintings by N.C. and Andrew Wyeth -- who lived and vacationed near Rockland -- these galleries alone make this museum worth a visit. Then, cross the street to the gleaming new Center for Maine Contemporary Art. Housing temporary exhibitions -- plus an excellent gift shop -- this sleek, bright space is perfectly in step with this forward-thinking town. In the evening, stop to see what’s playing at the historic Strand Theatre; the bulb-lit marquee is a classic downtown fixture. Built in 1924, the theater was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2004 and features a unique combination of live events and films. When you’re not museum-hopping, explore Main Street’s smaller galleries and shops, including Seagull Cottage, which is crammed with nautical-themed gifts; Harbor Square Gallery, which has a peaceful rooftop sculpture garden; and Hello Hello Books, which offers an impeccably curated selection. If you’re itching to see a picture-perfect coastal Maine vista after all of that walking, drive five miles south to Owls Head Lighthouse, which was built in 1852 and sits on a rocky seaside cliff in Owls Head State Park.
Rockland is located along the central coast of Maine about 80 miles southeast of Portland. The drive takes about an hour and forty-five minutes. From Boston’s Logan Airport, it takes about three-and-a-half hours to reach Rockland by car. For a longer trip, the neighboring towns of Camden and Rockport offer seaside beauty all their own.