Postcard: Rockland, Maine

Scenes from vacations past

Part of a building with the name 'Maine Lighthouse Museum' on it. It's not the best picture but it has trees and sky and water in the background.

Maine Lighthouse Museum (foreground), Rockland, Maine. October 2017

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September 15th, 2020 at 11:43pm

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This is a postcard from Rockland, Maine, and towns close by.

The logistics

I bought a car in 2015. One of the purchase incentives was a travel coupon I could redeem for a free hotel in Paris, $50 flights to Hawaii, etc.

The breakwater was 700,000 tons of granite...stretched eight-tenths of a mile to protect the harbor

Gina and I read the literature carefully and chose a hotel in Maine. We paid for an upgrade and ended up getting a suite at a good hotel in Rockland for about 30% off. I only had to buy a $28,000 car to get the deal.

Mother and son in a plaza next to a colorful sculpture of video game characters

Outside the Center for Maine Contemporary Art.

Mom reading a menu while child thinks about climbing on steps outside a restaurant

Waiting for a table at the peerless Cafe Miranda.

And so, in late October, 2017—stopping in Pennsylvania on the way out and Niagara Falls on the way back—we drove to Rockland, Maine, population 7300. The region is called the "Mid Coast" and the city is on West Penobscot Bay, halfway between Portland and Bar Harbor.

The playlist: Alt-J, James Brown, and Season 1 of Serial.

First impressions

For the purposes of tourism and general commerce, Rockland is essentially one thoroughfare: Main Street.

An airport hangar with old, polished cars

The Owls Head Transportation Museum. It was mostly cars.

Neighborhoods clumped around downtown, and businesses dotted Rockland here and there: banks, gas stations, insurance agencies, the odd restaurant or bar. For the most part, though, if you're going out in Rockland, you're going to Main Street.

A majority of buildings had a red brick second floor, but they all sported different color combinations at ground level. The town offered a variety of restaurants—seafood, Italian, hipster American, sandwiches—and there were plenty of museums, galleries, bookstores, and shops.

Huge rocks forming a walkway leading to a white house with shuttered windows

The Rockland breakwater and its lighthouse.

Child rocking an empty stroller that dad is pushing through a gallery with green walls and polished wooden floors

Francis did not want to be in the stroller or the Farnsworth Art Museum anymore.

Shoulder season had almost ended and the sidewalks were empty. The locals were neither obsequious nor surly, as they can be in tourist towns—instead, everyone was just pleasant.

After an hour, I was sold. Rockland was charming. Not coffee table book pristine, not smarmy, but nice. Real.


We visited:

  • The Rockland Breakwater and Lighthouse
  • Center for Maine Contemporary Art
  • The Farnsworth Art Museum
  • Maine Lighthouse Museum

The breakwater was 700,000 tons of granite, shaped like a tall trapezoid sitting on the sea floor, stretched eight-tenths of a mile to protect the harbor. The trek to the lighthouse on cut stones required attention and balance, it was cold and windy, and the lighthouse itself was not particularly interesting, but I enjoyed the walk.

Pound for pound, the Maine Lighthouse Museum had the best gift shop in central Maine

We experienced a deathbed moment at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art. As I held my son Francis—15 months old at the time—he explained a painting to me in fake words and sounds. What he said made no sense, but he was speaking to me. He pointed, he gestured, he inflected. It was extraordinary.

Father and son in silhouette looking at an abstract painting of blue and white lines

Francis explained this John Walker canvas to me.

Family in a restaurant, eating lobster

Believe it or not, this was my first whole lobster—at the Rockland Cafe.

The Farnsworth Art Museum was a lovely set of buildings with a large collection of American art—in particular, all three Wyeths.

The collection at the Maine Lighthouse Museum had a DIY feel, but we liked it.

We learned that lighthouses have their own distinctive colors and patterns for daytime identification, as well as specific blast patterns for nighttime recognition. Those details are kept in a catalog called a light list. For example, the Owls Head Light is a cylindrical tower, all white with a black lantern, and its fog signal is two blasts every 20 seconds.

A small brown and beige airplane hanging from the ceiling

More from the Owls Head Transportation Museum.

I should also note that, pound for pound, the Maine Lighthouse Museum had the best gift shop in central Maine.


We particularly appreciated the Rockland Cafe, where I had my first whole lobster ever (liked, didn't love), Ada's Kitchen, and our favorite, Cafe Miranda.

Outside of Rockland

Owls Head

Owls Head: no apostrophe. It's a ten minute drive southeast of Rockland.

There are two things to see, and they are both spectacular: a transportation museum, which takes up a few airport hangars, and the lighthouse, now owned by the US Coast Guard.

Thick white lighthouse with boats in the distance

Owls Head Lighthouse. This is a crappy picture. It was a stunning view.

If you are ever in the area, you must see both.


Twenty minutes north of Rockland on Highway 1 is the pretty town of Camden.

We passed through it to get to Camden Hills State Park. We aren't hikers, but we walk every day and the trek to the top of Mount Battie suited us: 1.1 miles, 590 ft elevation. Just challenging enough to be fun, not at all difficult.

Family of three, on a hill, with an ocean in the background a town way below

At the top of Mount Battie. The town of Camden is over our shoulder to the right. Francis didn't trust the people taking our picture.

After the hike, we went into Camden and had dinner at the Hartstone Inn. It was not cheap, but it was worth every penny.

Mother and son tucked in a booth at a fancy restaurant

Dinner at the Hartstone Inn.

In closing

We visited other towns and ate at other fine restaurants, but they were much further away and I'll save them for another postcard.

We loved Maine. Rockland was an admirable introduction to the state and was well-situated for our excursions.

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