Pack your bags! In honor of life’s most delicious highways, we give you Hit the Road, Snack, our travel guide of things to eat, see, and do this summer, from coast to coast.
When I tell people I grew up in New Hampshire, right by the coast, they tend to look at me cockeyed. "It's just under Maine," I'll say, watching recognition wash over their faces. While most people apparently think of New Hampshire as landlocked (it’s not!), it seems that almost everyone can call to mind some version of Maine’s rocky coast.
Don’t get me wrong; I don't take offense—even proud New Hampshirites will trek over the border to Vacationland for a lobster roll. A few weeks ago I made the trip with most of my family in tow, for a seafood-centric mini road trip to celebrate my dad’s birthday. Our chosen route would take us up to Wiscasset, an hour north of Portland, so we could eat our way back along Maine and New Hampshire’s Route 1—hands down my favorite stretch of highway.
That Sunday, we were gunning to hit the road by 8 or 8:30 am with everything we had planned. But by the time everyone had all limbs in the car, it was almost 10. Only two hours off-schedule! To be honest, that's pretty good by Baldwin car trip standards.
More miracles: no arguing, no spills, no terrible sing-a-longs, and my dad agreed to stop at a rest stop so I could pee even though we were only 15 minutes from our first destination. I hadn't done this drive with my family since probably the 4th grade, when we drove up to Swan's Island, way up past Maine’s mid-coast, which I'll forever remember as the first place I saw more stars than sky. Turns out that as grown-ups, we're more than capable of getting along in a car (although...we may need to re-test this accomplishment with my sister wedged into the back seat, since she was only along for this ride via FaceTime).
Like any good road trip (even a mini one!), the key to keeping all parties happy is frequent stops...and even more frequent snacks. And since our must-eats spots are the very same ones I’d recommend to any visitor, I figure I’ll bring you along for the ride, too.
Because we’re local, we like to do this trip in a day. But if you’re making the trek north from farther afield, consider spending more time in each stop—check out the map above, and drop me a line in the comments for more recs! There’s definitely enough to keep you busy—and very full—for several days.
Naturally, our first stop was chosen by the birthday boy. My dad was pulling for the lobster rolls at Red's Eats, an award-winning, traffic-stopping seafood shack in Wiscasset that my parents swore was one of Maine's best. While I had been to nearby Boothbay on many a drive up the coast to Acadia National Park, I had never stopped in Wiscasset before, even though it’s right on the way. That’s because this picturesque town is so small you'd miss it if you blinked.
Keep your eyes open, because it's even cuter than the Yankee Magazine spread I had been (and you probably are) imagining. While the well-curated boutiques and antique stores are all worth a browse, Red’s is the real draw. In early June, when we went, it wasn't high season by any means, but by the time we arrived the line already wrapped around the corner—as it does any given day, at any given hour throughout the summer. (A tip: it’s a little quieter in the evenings than it is around lunch time.)
My parents knew the drill. Take turns having one person wait in line, while everyone else explores the town. Snacks from adorable bakery and cheese/wine shop Treats are a must. I got the raspberry-granola scones and some kind brioche situation that was bigger than my face; both beyond delicious. 80 Main Street; 207-882-6192.
But don't fill up too much: Before you know it, you'll be at the front of the line, and there's little on Red's menu that you'd want to skip. Our favorites included the fried scallops, fried zucchini, fried clams (sensing a pattern here?), and of course, the lobster roll, which comes piled high on a hot dog bun buttered with Kate’s Butter, a local brand my dad is in love with. (You'll definitely want more of that butter on the side for dipping.) It’s pricey for a seafood shack, but I love that it comes with plenty of knuckle meat, a whole tail—torn, never cut—and two big claws sticking out of either side, competing for the best bite. Water and Main St. Corner; 207-882-6128.
With a sunny, Instagram-friendly interior, Eventide is one of the best spots in town to sample local seafood, including around a dozen varieties of Maine oyster. But they don't stick too closely to the New England classics. Instead, expect the (deliciously) unexpected, like scallop crudo with blood orange and salsify; lobster stew with green curry; and a lobster with brown butter in, of all things, a steamed bun (86 Middle St.; 207-774-8538). If you’ve got time, stop by Eventide’s sister restaurant, Honey Paw, right next door, for some honey soft serve with honeycomb and a hard chocolate shell (78 Middle St.; 207-774-8538).
For the complete opposite experience, head to J's. This is where you'll find the locals taking a load off, enjoying simple New England dishes and a cold one on the horseshoe-shaped bar. You can't go wrong with the lobster roll, lobster salad, any of the straightforward fish dinners, my mom’s favorite lobster stew, or (surprise!) a Maine red hot dog, which comes in a buttered bun like a lobster roll. 5 Portland Pier; 207-772-4828.
A postcard of a cliffside beach town, Ogunquit is a lovely place for gallery hopping, lounging on the beach, or taking an easy hike. Or, if you get sidetracked enjoying Portland like my family, it's a great spot to stop off and watch the sunset. The absolute best establishment to do this at is Barnacle Billy's, a seasonal seafood restaurant that overlooks Marginal Way. Order some clam chowder—my brother’s order at every seafood joint since he was like, two—if you've got any room left. Then settle in outside (or inside by the fire) to reflect on your day. 50 Perkins Cove Rd.; 207-646-5575.
Happen to be there the next morning? My mom would be bummed if I didn't find some way to sneak in a mention of Bintliff's, an old school Maine spot that's her favorite place to go for brunch. Definitely order the lobster Benedict. 335 Main St.; 207-646-3111.
If you've never been, stop off for an hour (or a few days!) in Portsmouth, an old brick navy town just across the border into New Hampshire. I never realized how completely adorable it is until I moved far away. The food scene isn't as noteworthy as Portland's, but it's slowly been getting better over the years—and I'm sure you could fit in some good old-fashioned homemade ice cream, right?
For that mission, head to Annabelle's Ice Cream, nestled in a little alleyway down by the harbor (49 Ceres St.; 603-436-3400). The flavors are ever-changing, so I'll leave it up to you to decide. (Pssst, black raspberry chip and moose tracks are classics.) It’s right across from another proper New England seafood joint, Old Ferry Landing (10 Ceres St.; 603 431-5510).
But the real don't-miss: A sunset drive down Route 1B, which winds through the waterways of coastal New Castle into Rye. It's breathtaking, and will take you right past The Ice House, yet another ice cream and seafood option. 112 Wentworth Rd.; 603-431-3086.
Keep going and Route 1B turns into Route 1A, which will bring you all the way down the New Hampshire coast to Massachusetts, if you keep going. You'll pass gorgeous 17th-century mansions along the coast. You'll pass state parks and beaches. You'll pass what used to be Saunder's, the overpriced tourist trap lobster joint I worked at in high school. You'll pass Petey's, the more reasonably priced, less touristy tourist trap that all my friends worked at in high school (1323 Ocean Blvd.; 603-433-1937). You'll pass Hampton Beach, New Hampshire’s own cheesy-but-loveable boardwalk. And I bet you'll never question my native state’s 18 miles of coast again.