September in Maine
By Melissa Coleman
It may be a well-known secret that September is one of Maine’s best months. Even still, it remains less crowded than summer, as vacationing families return home for school and work. And the light takes on a golden hue that says, “The warm days are almost over, but not just yet, enjoy them while you still can!”
This combination of diminished crowds, generally clear skies, warm temperatures, and starry nights make it an ideal time to visit. From Portland to Midcoast to Down East, here are some suggestions for enjoying coastal Maine’s September charm and foodie culture.
Inn at Diamond Cove, Great Diamond Island
One of my favorite September escapes is Diamond Cove, the restored Fort McKinley Army base on Casco Bay’s Great Diamond Island. Only a 30-minute ferry ride from Portland, it reminds me, minus the aliens, of Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, when the spacemen go to Mars, and find instead the peaceful 1920s neighborhoods and homes of their childhoods. The former officer’s quarters have been carefully renovated into 60 private homes and condos, and the former barracks into the Inn at Diamond Cove with 44 rooms and suites managed by Hart Hotels, as detailed in Travel Weekly.
The inn’s décor feels more like a nice home than a hotel, with fireplaces, kitchens, and high ceilings. Guests have access to the outdoor pool and hot tub, as well as complimentary bikes to explore the island, and the Diamond Cove Association’s duckpin bowling alley, fitness room, and basketball court. For dining, there’s the Lobby Bar and Cafe at the hotel, the Diamond’s Edge restaurant on the harbor, and the popular Crown Jewel, a flamingo bedecked bistro in the former general store (closes September 22).
September is the last hurrah for Diamond Cove, as the hotel and restaurants close at the end of the month. Until then, book two weeknights and the third is free.
Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture and the Environment, Freeport
Some of the best oceanfront camping in Maine can be found at Wolfe’s Neck Center Campground, amazingly just five miles from L.L.Bean and downtown Freeport. The 130 campsites, three cabins, and 16-foot canvas bell tent are all sited along the shores of Casco Bay and include access to bicycle, sea kayak, and canoe rentals, as well as the Farm Café.
On top of this, Wolfe’s Neck Center is a working saltwater farm with gardens, greenhouses, livestock, and an educational mission to promote sustainable farming practices. There’s a full schedule of educational programs on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons that include ice cream making and tours of the barns and gardens, plus the Farm Store is open daily for organic vegetables and meat from the farm. In September, rates are reduced and it’s easier to book oceanfront campsites, my favorites are on West Bay near the playground and community gardens. Don’t miss the 23rd annual Harvest Dance Saturday, September 28 in the 1891 historic Mallet Barn, a fun evening with local food and drink, contra dancing, music by the Mallett Brothers, and hay wagon rides to the dance for campers. Campground services scale back after Columbus Day Weekend, but the primitive campsites are open year-round.
Press Hotel, Portland
It’s worth staying at the Press Hotel, in the former Portland Press Herald newspaper building (built in 1923), just for the art. The clever installations of typeset letters and vintage typewriters near the reception desk set the tone for a 110-room and suite boutique hotel that is all about ingenious touches and art curated to the bygone newspaper era. Hallways are papered with newsprint and letters that appear to have fallen onto the pattern in the carpet. Suites have writing desks with working vintage typewriters and writing prompts. Tables in the Inkwell lounge are topped with memorable front-page headlines under glass. Local art includes repurposed newsroom relics, tapestries by rug artist Angela Adams, a nail sculpture by John Bisbee, and rotating shows in the permanent art gallery.
September visitors will find it easier to get a room at short notice, as well as a table at Portland’s notable restaurants, including Eventide, Central Provisions, and Fore Street, all within easy walking distance.
Maine Food For Thought, Portland
Press Hotel’s restaurant, UNION, also happens to be the first stop on Maine Food for Thought’s food tours, one of the best ways to sample Portland’s hip dining scene. Union is a destination in its own right, which is why it was selected by Bryce and Sarah Hach as one of their eight restaurant partners and samples of Maine cooking and sourcing. All of the stops on both the “Land, Sea to Fork” and “A Toast to Maine” tours feature native ingredients from a rotating selection of 36-some local farms, foragers, and fisherman, as Bryce points out in his informative narrative, or “story behind the plate.”
Venues on the 2.5 or 3-hour walk around the Old Port include Mediterranean flavors at EVO Kitchen + Bar and Solo Italiano and seafood specials at Luke’s Lobster and Street and Co. As attendees enjoy a course at each venue, Bryce highlights details about everything from Maine’s lobster and blueberry industries, to foraging for mushrooms, growing vegetables and grains, raising sheep and dairy cows, fostering fish and shellfish, distilling spirits, and brewing beers.
September brings dishes with Maine potatoes, fall sweet corn, and Ilma Lopez’s seasonal desserts at Piccolo. Tours run through October, with private group dinners highlighting local purveyors at UNION during the winter.
Tops’l Farm, Waldoboro
“Instagram fairy tale,” the apt term used in the New York Times for a camping venue in Sweden, fits just as well at Tops’l Farm in Waldoboro. Photos of the A-frame cabins and canvas tents tucked into the woods around a central cookspace conjure up an idyllic Maine camp experience. Add to that the two event venues, a yurt by the river for yoga retreats and pop up dinners, and a new barn for larger groups and weddings.
Owners Sarah and Josh Pike don’t like the word glamping, (see Maine magazine article), but they do know how to play the market. Cabins and tents are well appointed with Joss & Main beds, camp blankets, plaid rugs, and quirky flea market decorations. Guests can arrange for a cooler with a picnic, or a cast iron skillet meal to prepare over the campfire such as the “Cowboy steak, butter and ‘taters.” Plus a wildcrafted cocktail mix kit such as “The Yogi Bear,” with foraged forsythia and lavender cocktail syrup, lemon juice, and club soda to go with gin or vodka, and the camp evening is complete. The daily range of nature-farm-recreation activities include foraging, bee keeping, egg collecting, archery, fly fishing, canoeing, tree swinging (I kid you not), and more in that vein.
September visitors should ask about the Wild Game Dinner in the yurt, or round out the theme from September 20-22 with a visit to the Common Ground Country Fair, Maine’s celebration of rural and agricultural traditions, an hour north of Waldoboro in Unity.
Samoset Resort, Rockport
Maine isn’t exactly known for its resort hotels, aside, of course, from the Samoset. This full-service resort and 18-hole golf course sits on 230 oceanside acres in Rockport, just across from Rockland’s harbor and Owls Head Lighthouse. Those familiar with the area will recognize the adjoining Rockland Breakwater, a nearly one-mile long granite walkway that ends with the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse. Walking to the end and back is a great way to start or end the day, especially with the fantastic Maine sunrises and sunsets.
The resort’s 178 rooms and suites boast recent decor updates and balconies with sea views. Four private cottages offer full kitchens and separate bedrooms for families and groups. Especially popular are the indoor and outdoor pools, spa and fitness room with hot tubs and saunas, and evening golf cart tours of the grounds. Other activities include tennis, shuffleboard, croquet, and a nine-hole disc golf course. For dining there’s a restaurant and lounge, poolside bar, and golf clubhouse, plus group lobster bakes and catering for events. There’s also easy access to everything the Camden-Rockport-Rockland area has to offer, see 36 Hours in Camden-Rockport in the New York Times for tips.
What one remembers about Samoset Resort is that, despite its size, it feels friendly and communal. During a three-day visit, familiar faces begin to pop up around the pool and at the restaurants, or along the breakwater. Especially in September, when crowds are less, connections are formed and plans are made to return again the following summer.
Aragosta at Goose Cove Lodge, Deer Isle
There’s another option for those who can’t get into the famed Lost Kitchen. It doesn’t have a postcard lottery, but does have equal foodie cachet, plus outstanding oceanfront views and lodging. Aragosta’s new 21-acre site at Goose Cove on Deer Isle elevates chef Devin Finigan’s already celebrated culinary creations to a destination dining experience.
After stints working with Thomas Keller of The French Laundry and Per Se and Dan Barber of Blue Hill, Finigan opened the original Aragosta (Italian for lobster) in 2013 in nearby Stonington. Developing her own style on a remote and seasonal island in Maine, Finigan was quickly hailed as a fresh young talent in the farm-to-table scene. Now, with the addition of seven bright and updated cottages and four suites attached to the restaurant, the remote location is even more in her favor.
Guests might arrive by sea, tying up at the four moorings, or stay for a night or more in a cabin or suite with complimentary breakfast at the restaurant. The pine trees and views of Penobscot Bay are complemented by elegant finishings, white walls, and painted floors.
Dinner is served Thursdays to Monday through Columbus Day Weekend. Read more about Aragosta’s new location in the Boston Globe.
Melissa Coleman has written for publications including the New York Times, O, The Oprah Magazine, and National Geographic Traveler. She is the author of This Life is In Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres and a Family’s Heartbreak, a New York Times bestselling memoir and finalist for the New England Book Award, about growing up during the 1970s back-to-the-land movement. She lives in Maine and can be found at melissacoleman.com.