As we head up Route 1, our excitement builds. We’re finally going to see Sadler House again, heading right into the Maine spring after being absent the entire fall and winter. “Where do you want to eat dinner tonight?” I ask the boys. Rockland has become their second home after all these years, and they are full of opinions. After discussing the many kid-friendly options in town, the boys settle on The Waterworks Restaurant. The free popcorn may be giving those folks a little edge.
People always look at us strangely when we say we’re heading to Maine for spring break. The easiest way to explain it is “We have to do spring cleaning at the house,” but the truth takes a little bit of convincing. In reality, we love being back in Rockland at the onset of mud season, when we can get a last glimpse of the snow my kids pine for in Virginia and see the crocuses arrive. The Maine spring may not feature all the charms of summer, but it has plenty of advantages. Many of our favorite places in town will be open, but few will be sustaining the crowds of summer. Visitors may be largely absent, but local friends abound. We are nearly guaranteed to run into people we haven’t seen since August. You can hardly go anywhere in town in the quiet season without seeing people you know.
As the car heads up our favorite stretch of the journey (the “almost there” part) we talk about the plans we have for the week. There are so many ideas flying around that I’m pretty sure we won’t get to all of them. Looking back now on the week, I’m impressed with how much fun we squeezed in, even if a few ideas got tabled for our return in June. So what is there to do in midcoast Maine spring?
The answer: A heckuva lot.
Maine Maple Sunday
The day after we arrive is Maine’s traditional Maple Sunday event, statewide. On this day, the sugarhouses and other community locations across the state host a wide variety of fun activities celebrating the flowing of that spring sap and the delicious treats it provides.
After consulting local friends, we decide to head to Simmons and Daughters. The drive from Rockland to Morrill is really scenic in a way you would never experience the Maine countryside in the winter. When we get there, cars are all up and down the long road leading to the sugar house.
The joint is absolutely jammin’.
There are fat flakes falling in the sunshine, as we approach the festivities. Despite the brisk air, happy people are crowding every outbuilding on the property and eating maple hot dogs and other treats from local vendors. We stand in one short line for a free ice cream sample with maple syrup. Then we get in another to buy what turns out to be just about the best maple syrup I’ve ever had. We also score some delicious maple cotton candy and some maple hardcandy to take home.
We end up back in the car with muddy feet, sugary treasures, and a plan to have pancakes for dinner. Then we head toward Belfast, stop for some hot coffee, and enjoy the trip all the way down Rt. 1 toward home.
Rheal Day Spa
There’s a joke that goes around, that being mom on vacation means doing dishes with a view. Luckily, we have a dishwasher, but it’s true that Mom often ends up sacrificing her own relaxation on these family trips, just to make sure everyone else has fun. This time, I’m determined to finally use a gift certificate I’ve been hanging onto. It’s for Rheal Day Spa and I made sure some “me time” happened this visit by booking myself a facial for Tuesday morning.
I’m so very glad I finally got into this extremely popular local spot to really see how wonderful it is! I’m not one who splurges on a lot of spa services, but I have had facials at big spas in New York City and also in the D.C. area. While the experiences are uniformly good, Rheal is something special. Even though they have a busy roster of local and visiting clients, you really feel the intimacy and relaxation there as soon as you walk through the door.
I’m provided with a robe and flip flops in the cozy changing room and directed to a sunny sitting room in the back, where I pour myself some green tea. Soon the owner, Rhonda Nordstrom, appears to usher me in to what turns out to be a luxurious and peaceful facial. I try to be quiet and relax like normal people, but I can’t resist chatting her up a little and hearing about her business. One of the key pieces of info I glean from her is that she has her own skincare line, and I am lucky enough to take home a couple of samples of the wonderful products she has apparently applied to my thirsty face.
I really should do this more often.
I’m so happy I took this time out for myself on a Tuesday in March, and I leave the comforting embrace of the day spa feeling hydrated, relaxed, and pretty determined to do the same thing again next year! I highly recommend anyone who needs a little TLC or “me time” or “mom is done” time make an appointment in advance of visiting and experience the day spa, themselves. You can read all about the services and various lovely products they offer at their website.
Owls Head Transportation Museum
One thing Rockland is rocking all year is the art scene, and the perfect Maine spring activity is visiting the state’s many fascinating museums. Last year, I convinced my then-eight-year-old to spend the morning with me at The Farnsworth. This year, my eleven-year-old is the one hoping for a museum trip, so his dad takes him to one of his very favorite places: The Owls Head Transportation Museum. I can’t even count the number of times we’ve visited this spectacular place and, if you’ve never been, I predict it will exceed your expectations. Whether your interest is in vintage planes, trains, automobiles or…gypsy wagons… there’s something at this wonderful place for you. It’s also enormously kid-friendly, offering a special area where kids can try out a beach wagon and other climb-in vehicles.
The guys have a typically spectacular visit and are excited to hear that the Hemmings 2018 Great Race City Stop will be happening when we’re next in town. They’ll be back!
Browsing stores is a perfect activity for a chilly March day, and we are here for it!
Antiques and Vintage Finds
While my oldest and his dad are wandering the museum, my youngest prefers to accompany me on a different type of vintage appreciation expedition: our nearby antiques markets.
Our first stop is our mainstay, The Rockland Marketplace, which is just literally around the corner from us on Rankin St. From the time we moved in, this has been our go-to spot for finding everything from a dresser to a coat rack, and we’ve landed a number of other delightful smaller items you will find sprinkled throughout our house. With over 50 dealers under one roof, this place can occupy a treasure hunter for simply hours! My son and I check out every corner and leave with a vintage LP of a cappella tunes and a 1950’s copy of “Into the Maine Woods.”
We also cross the street to check out the newly-opened Antiques, Etc. and are delighted by this airy, attractive space, as well. I am loving the beautiful old wood floors. Both of us stop to peer through binoculars standing in the windowsill, facing the harbor. We don’t leave here empty-handed, either. I head out with three vintage Nancy Drew hardbacks, wishing I’d kept mine from so many years ago!
It’s hard to believe so much vintage goodness exists just 2-3 blocks from us, on foot! There’s even more on Main Street for further exploration, but we are antiqued-out for the day.
Handmade Crafts and Wooden Treasures
The next day, all four of us venture out to one of our favorite stores: The Maine State Prison Showroom. To anyone unfamiliar with midcoast, it’s important to explain that this wonderful store in Thomaston is the outlet for the many gorgeous woodworking and craft creations of inmates in the Maine prison system. They make these beautiful items, you buy them, and the proceeds go back to supporting their program.
I am a huge fan of the cutting boards, and I actually buy extras to bring to people as gifts during the holidays. The boys always bring their allowance and end up going home with handmade trucks, cars, and airplanes. Every time we visit, there are new and clever items, ranging from tableware to Christmas ornaments to games. We even bought a beautiful luggage rack there (and you are invited to stay with us and put your luggage on it!)
We are always in the store longer than we expect and walk away with a treasure trove to take home with us. The service is helpful and friendly, too. You can read more about everyone’s great opinion of this place on Tripadvisor!
Now we’ve spent most of our mad money, but there are still fun family activities on the horizon that don’t cost an arm and a leg! After wanting to try this for ages, we finally get up to the locally famed Oakland Park Bowling Lanes in Rockport. I have quickly found that folks who grew up in the area also grew up having fun here, since it’s been around for over 55 years. As soon as you step through the door, the feeling of community is obvious. Right by the coat rack, you can see pictures of record holders on the wall. Even with only a few older folks bowling on this weekday (when local kids are in school) it’s a friendly and welcoming place.
The man behind the counter helps us get the right shoes and explains the rules of the game to us, since I’ve never done candlepin bowling and Dan hasn’t since he was a kid in Massachusetts. Apparently, this special kind of bowling is native to New England, which is why I didn’t see it growing up in other regions. The pins are tall and thin and the balls are conveniently small for the kids and also easy for us to lift!
We proceed to our lane, past vintage arcade games like Pac Man, which get the boys super excited. The next 45 minutes or so of bowling are a great family time. Our nine-year-old almost takes first place, beaten only narrowly by his Dad. It’s such a fun, low-pressure activity and I wonder why we haven’t done it sooner.
Once we’ve played through our entire game, the boys each get some change and play on their first real full-size Pac Man game. I’m drowning in nostalgia.
We reluctantly return our shoes and head out saying, “We’re definitely coming back here. This place is awesome.” The nine-year-old helpfully suggests we should tell all our guests about it.
On the way home, we stop for a cupcake at Three Dogs Cafe in Rockport which now actually has four dogs! We admire them playing in the yard. It’s a perfect finish to the afternoon.
This week isn’t complete without the parents getting a couple of great grown-up restaurant nights. The boys are tired and happy to stay home for two nights with their favorite babysitter, so we set up two dates for ourselves.
Ada’s Kitchen and In Good Company
On Thursday, we start by checking out the hoppin’ new bar at Ada’s Kitchen on Main Street. The beer selection is excellent and we get the most delicious cheeseboard. The pastas coming to the diners there look incredible and we think longingly of coming back here for a meal. However, we are off to another location!
We finally are able to take advantage of one of the “Food Journeys” offered by In Good Company. These are a series of prix fixe menus created along a theme each year and served only on Thursday nights. This year, the dinners are based on Melody Wolfertz’s favorite cookbook authors, and the subject of this evening’s dinner is Carol Field.
Every seat appears taken, and we sit down to our two requested spots at the bar. The wine is excellent and the meal is lovely from start to finish. Every bite disappears. Then we have the good fortune to have a friend stop by at the end to have another glass of wine with us and catch up. It’s a wonderful evening enjoying town.
Long Grain, the Drouthy Bear, and Fog Bar and Cafe
The next afternoon, the boys cheer the return of the babysitter and we take the opportunity to finally (FINALLY!) get up to Camden to try Long Grain. Everyone in the midcoast has raved about this wonderful restaurant, and we easily see why. Thank goodness for reservations: the small and unpretentious dining room is absolutely packed. While we’re waiting for our table, numerous hopeful couples appear and are regretfully told there are no available tables for hours. Takeout is booming, as well. We see many people pick up their dinner at the bar and take it away.
Overwhelmed by the delicious options on the menu, we start with jasmine tea, pork dumplings and spring rolls. I want to take a picture, but I feel massively uncool doing so in such close quarters with the other delighted diners. After the appetizers, we move on to Ramen and Yakisoba noodles. Against the odds, we eat ALL OF IT. We leave saying, “When can we return?” I want to eat every single thing on the menu.
After dinner, we stop in to finally see The Drouthy Bear. The mood is jovial and we score a spot at the bar, where we watch the bartender amaze people with a card trick. He’s in a great mood despite being extremely busy. This is clearly a favorite and cozy local spot and we’re really impressed with the incredible whiskey selection. We could stay here all night, but we want to go home, park the car, and make one more stop in Rockland.
Fog Bar and Cafe is always a favorite place for us to end the evening. They’re playing Casablanca on the wall, and little white lights twinkle above the bar. We enjoy a glass of wine (me) and a cocktail (Dan) and have a fun chat with two men sitting next to us at the bar. As we exit the front door, I snap a photo of the marquis at The Strand Theater all lit up, and we quicken our pace to beat the cold rain showers home. We don’t quite make it, but this last stop in town was well worth getting a little soaked – especially with a warm house and our couch waiting for us.
Our tales of the Maine spring break week wouldn’t be complete without a thanks to the restaurants that make our lives easier by being so darn nice to our kids. In our experience, the servers of Rockland are amazing. They easily handle our pickiest eater, our kids’ offbeat plating requests, the need for crayons, and the occasional outburst of less-than-perfect behavior and they always make the four of us welcome. This week we had that usual stellar treatment from Trackside Station, The Waterworks Restaurant, Rock Harbor Pub, Archer’s on the Pier, and The Home Kitchen Cafe. You can definitely feel good taking the kids to all these local favorites in any season!
Maine Spring Break Over and Out
By Saturday, we have to face the reality that it’s time to wrap up all our spring cleaning projects and pack for departure.
It’s been another amazing week and, as we close the door behind us, leaving the house to our April and May guests, we are already dreaming of the wonderful things we’re going to do when we return in two months.
…and June is another story.