Published in National Geographic Adventure
Come August, Mainers and Maine-lovers take to Portland's Casco Bay like lobsters to salted herring. But while the bay's more than 200 islands offer countless opportunities for sailing, paddling, and lighthouse ogling, savvy visitors combine coastal attractions with inland thrills to create the ultimate seaside escape. Hit the coast, sure, but also bike a back road, climb a local hill, and save an evening or two to check out the urban scene in Portland's very own warehouse district-bum-boutique haven: the Old Port.
INN AND AROUND
Drop your bags. The 1835 vintage Inn at ParkSpring ($149; www.innatparkspring.com), just off Portland's bustling Old Port, offers an eclectic medley of lodgings, from 19th-century colonial bedchambers to renovated modern rooms - all air-conditioned to cool you down after a hard day's exploring. In the morning, get your fill of Maine blueberries and other local delicacies at the inn's breakfast table before setting out on your day's paddle or pedal.
Treat your ears. Seven nights a week, top local and regional artists, like the rockabilly group King Memphis, jam at the Free Street Taverna's downstairs bar (207-772-5483). Accompany the set with a pint of local summer ale like Geary's or Shipyard ($3).
Fill your belly. Wrap up your day's coastal adventures like a true-blue Mainer: Eat seafood from a plastic basket at a picnic table right on the rocky shore. The Lobster Shack at Two Lights (207-799-1677) in Cape Elizabeth specializes in steamed lobster and lobster rolls, but their lobster stew ($13) - a coastal favorite little known elsewhere - steals the show ($4 to $22 for entrées; lobster prices vary with market).
OUT AND ABOUT
Bike by morning. If you only have a few hours, rent a bike from CycleMania ($20 a day; www.cyclemania1.com) and head north out of town for the rolling countryside along the lightly traveled State Routes 9 and 115. Don't forget your snack money: At Toots Ice Cream (207-829-3723) on Walnut Hill Road, just south of the junction with Route 9 in North Yarmouth, you'll have a chance to meet the cows who contributed to your chocolate shake.
Hike by day. A scenic hour's drive northwest of Portland is Pleasant Mountain, in Bridgton, where the three-and-a-half mile (round-trip) Ledges Trail affords summit views that extend to New Hampshire's Mount Washington.
Paddle by night. Choppy surf and hidden rocks make a nocturnal paddle on Casco Bay a dicey proposition. But at Scarborough Marsh - the state's largest - you can paddle in the enchanting stillness of a full-moon night. Your naturalist guide from the Scarborough Marsh Audubon Center ($12 for a one-and-a-half hour trip; www.maineaudubon.org) will attune you to the great horned owls hooting from their perches and the black-crowned night herons stalking in the darkness.
Resources: To find out about the best sea kayaking between Kennebunkport and Bar Harbor, take the ferry to Peaks Island to visit the Maine Island Kayak Company (800-796-2373; www.maineislandkayak.com). For other pursuits, stop by one of Maine MountainWorks's two Portland stores (207-879-1410).