Bustling seaside villages, rugged ocean beaches, ancient lighthouses...sometimes you just gotta roll with the clichés. Which is how we found ourselves on the East Coast’s oldest highway heading north to Maine. U.S. Route 1 is the only option for a quintessential New England experience, and once we crossed into southern Maine and headed toward our beachside hotel in York, the asphalt narrowed to two lanes and 25mph. To the west is a blur of trees, and to the east, the great Atlantic Ocean, occasionally punctuated by a lighthouse lording over a pile of busted gray rocks. If you want to taste the salt and smell the roses (or the lobster), you’re in the right place.
U.S. Route 1 is a major highway running 2377 miles from Key West, Florida, to Fort Kent, Maine, but it becomes the more down-home-y Coastal Route as it hugs the sandy shore through the Maine Beaches area. From York, the roadway bridges the Cape Neddick River (with picture-perfect Cape Neddick Lighthouse), before piercing Ogunquit and one of the prettiest peninsula beaches in the country.
It’s been said that Maine is at its height in the summer, when long lines snake around roadside lobster shacks, and fresh-caught seafood is being sold on the docks. But our jaunt was in mid-September, which was even better: The humidity had eased up, the beaches were empty and the boys and girls of summer had gone home, leaving Vacationland to a couple of scruffy bikers. But we had received a hot tip for epic lobster rolls at a joint in Wiscasset, so we didn’t dawdle in touristy Kennebunkport and paused only briefly at Maine’s largest city, Portland, on our northbound run up Route 1. (Make time to visit the Old Port area, with its distinctive architecture and plethora of great eating and drinking establishments.)
By the time we passed the 100-year-old L.L. Bean store in Freeport, we could smell the crustacean in the wind. A couple of miles later, the long line at Red’s Eats loomed into view. It was 3pm on a Wednesday—but the place was still jammed. Folks come from all over for the (spendy) lobster roll: Heaps of lobster meat piled in great hunks into a toasted bun, served with drawn butter.
Sounds like an excellent reason for a road trip, no?