Considered one of the oldest towns in New England, Castine is a charming midcoast Maine spot offering cozy inns, scenic views, and plenty of history.
By Aimee Tucker
Aug 08 2022
Please note that many establishments throughout New England have modified their hours and/or operations in response to COVID-19. Please check with individual businesses and organizations for the latest information before making travel plans.
One summer, I found myself in Castine for a brief 24 hours and was determined to see and share as much of the lovely harbor town, named by Yankee as one of the 10 Prettiest Coastal Towns in Maine, as possible. Ready to see what I got up to? Let’s explore Castine, Maine!
Located about 130 miles north of Portland, Castine is big enough to spend the day (or more), but small enough to still feel special. Its Main Street slopes down towards the sea and includes most of the town’s dining, shopping, and lodging. I opted to spend the night at The Castine Inn overlooking Penobscot Bay. Built in 1898, the inn is surrounded by a wraparound porch and has a lovely public garden. It’s the kind of place where you still get a key for your room, and you can open the windows to let in the fresh ocean air. Basically, it’s my kind of hotel.
Although the Inn has many charming features, the dining room (used at breakfast) is especially bright and cheerful thanks to a mural that spans the entire room, depicting scenes from Castine.
Another favorite place for many to stay, just across the street, is the Pentagoet Inn.
Both sit on the higher end of Main Street, while the lower end is dominated by shops and eateries.
However, if you’re in need of some reading material or a game of Castine-Opoly, The Compass Rose Bookstore and Cafe has you covered.
At the bottom of Main Street you’ll find The Breeze & Castine Variety, another good spot for a quick bite or takeout lunch.
I’d heard good things about their lobster rolls, so (“When in Maine…”) I decided to get one and take it down to the water for lunch.
The roll was large – cold sweet lobster meat dressed with a little mayo on a bed of shredded lettuce – and served in the customary toasted New England-style hot dog roll, along with a small bag of potato chips. If you ask me, there’s nothing better in the summer than sitting by the ocean with a lobster roll.
Eager seagull waiting for crumbs optional…
By the water, you’ll also find a few other dining options – Danny Murphy’s Pub and Dennett’s Wharf.
Not to mention, some lovely harbor views.
After lunch, I decided to wander around and admire some New England architecture the beautiful historic homes and churches in Castine, of which there are many.
As I strolled, I repeatedly came across large and colorful painted signs sharing snippets of town history, marked with flags.
Although today’s it’s mostly a small tourist town, until 1820 the British, French, and Dutch fought over Castine’s strategic location at the mouth of the Penobscot River. This gives Castine, Maine a lively history, and the signs (“not all of which are strictly accurate” says the Castine Historical Society) both mark and help tell the tale.
The Castine Historical Society itself is a wonderful place to stop, situated in a corner of the town common inside a former schoolhouse.
Inside are two permanent exhibits – one on the 1779 Penobscot Expedition (historically a real low point for Paul Revere), and the other a community quilt commemorating Castine’s bicentennial in 1996. The 24-foot long quilt, which is as technically impressive as it is beautiful, was designed and constructed by dozens of members of the Castine community, and tells the tale of Castine’s history through pictures.
For more history, you can also check out the Wilson Museum, which offers a closer look at local history through displays of pre-historic artifacts, ship models, and a reconstructed 1805 kitchen.
Or you can just pop into the Castine Post Office, the oldest continuously-operating post office in the United States. We named it as a spot in NewEnglandville | The Town of Our Dreams, saying “This elegant 1814 building still has its original gaslight fixtures, but there’s an ongoing debate over whether post-office use began in 1831 or 1833. Just be grateful that the earlier name, “Majabigwaduce,” was simplified to Castine. ”
Then again, you can enjoy another dose of history (this time with ocean views) at Fort Madison. Only the grass bunkers remain from the early 1800s fort, but its location at the mouth of the harbor makes it the perfect place to enjoy the natural beauty of the Maine coast.
There’s also a wooden staircase over those grassy mounds that takes you down to the rocky shore below.
And speaking of the coast, Castine, Maine, is also home to the Maine Maritime Academy, established in 1941. It’s a public college and nautical training institution – one of six maritime training colleges in the United States. Its 500-foot naval research ship, the TS State of Maine, is worth a visit at the town dock if you have time. That is, if it’s there! During my visit, it was not.
Want yet another Castine claim to fame? The town is also home to an unusually large number of elm trees (“Under the Elms and by the Sea” it says on the free town map and walking tour), and once you start to look for them, you realize they’re everywhere. Large and stately, they tower overhead and cover the streets with a canopy of green. It’s a heartwarming sight. Once common throughout America, Dutch elm disease destroyed most of this country’s elms in the 1930s. In Castine, the community works hard to keep their elms healthy and strong, and their effort is appreciated.
And what coastal Maine town could be complete without a lighthouse? Castine’s is Dyce Head, built in 1828. Today it’s privately owned, but there is a footpath visitors can follow around the property for views. I’d heard the path takes you down to the water, but after finding myself in the woods with a steep (and slightly scary) view of the ocean below, I decided I must have taken a wrong turn (the path starts off clear but quickly fades) and headed back.
Finally, before leaving Castine, there was just one thing left to do – dip my toes in the water. I headed to Wadsworth Cove Beach to get the job done, and its pebbly shore offered the added bonus of a little massage.
What a perfect visit – history, lobster, lighthouses, and all the coastal New England charm you can fit into a single day. I’m already looking forward to a return visit next year. Castine’s charm is not to be missed.
Have you ever visited Castine, Maine? Which midcoast Maine town is your favorite?
This post was first published in 2015 and has been updated.