If you've ever visited us during high season, you know that there's nothing quite like summer in midcoast Maine. The weather is perfect, the skies are clear, and here in Camden the harbor is full of boats bringing people from near and far. Of course, things can get a little crowded when everyone else has the same idea! Summer here may be a dream come true, but winter has a magic of its own: long cozy nights, the intoxicating scent of woodsmoke, and the kind of close-knit community that only comes from facing the coldest time of year together.
A winter trip to Camden has its own set of perks: while some of businesses may be closed or have a reduced schedule for the off-season, the ones that are open tend to be a haven for community members and visitors alike, giving you a great opportunity to tap into that wonderful Maine spirit just like a local. (Mainers are known for being particularly welcoming to outsiders, since many of us who live here year-round are originally "from away.") A lot of businesses also offer enticing discounts and deals in the off-season.
From us locals to you, consider this a crash course in how to get your best Camden experience at one of the most underrated times of year.
Note: For the purposes of this post, all businesses featured are based in Camden. We had to narrow down our list, because there were simply too many great options!
For sophisticated urbanites: 16 Bay View
Urban sophistication meets small-town charm, right in the heart of downtown Camen. This brand-new, 21-room boutique hotel offers a variety of well-appointed rooms with fabulous views. The best part? Pets are welcome, so bring your dog along for the ride. Interested in skiing during your stay? 16 Bayview has partnered with the Camden Snowbowl to provide a special stay/ski package through March 31, 2019.
For luxury connoisseurs: Camden Harbour Inn
A proud member of the prestigious Relais & Chateaux association of luxury hotels, the Camden Harbour Inn has earned its designation as one of the most beautiful and romantic hotels in New England. Choose from any one of their unique suites, including a fully-accessible suite on the ground floor, and enjoy the proximity their spa, as well as one of the midcoast's finest restaurants (profiled below). Multiple packages available--check out their Valentine's Day Special.
For foodies: Hartstone Inn and Hideaway
This charming haven of New England hospitality is home to a highly-ranked restaurant (open to the public as well as to guests!), with cooking classes also available. Rooms are available both in the 1835 Mansard-style Victorian on Elm Street and in the Hideaway building just a 2-minute walk away. Exclusive spa options round out the experience. Hartstone Inn offers seasonal and year-round package deals for every interest, from mushroom hunting (sadly not available in winter) to downhill skiing. Explore their cooking class weekend package and enjoy a variety of culinary perks.
For the winter sports enthusiast: Camden Snow Bowl
This community-owned ski resort consists of 105 acres of skiable terrain over 20 trails. It's also the only alpine ski locale in America with a view over the Atlantic! Alpine and cross-country skiing are both available, but the highlight of the year is the U.S. National Toboggan Championships, which are hosted here annually. (This year's dates are February 8-10, 2019, and it's still not too late to sign up!)
For the eclectic shopper:
Recently under new ownership, this tiny shop combines a curated selection of antique and vintage goods with local craftsmanship. Pick up the 1950s-style juice glasses or vintage jadeware you didn't know you needed. The Shop Next Door is located at 8 Mechanic Street. Hours are 10 am to 5 pm unless otherwise stated.
For the book lover: The Owl & Turtle
The coziest bookshop in town! Curl up with the latest bestseller, a cookbook, or some Maine-related history. Once you've made your purchase, indulge in a coffee/pastry combo at the attached café on the ground floor. Check out their website for upcoming talks and events throughout the year. The Owl & Turtle is located at 33 Bayview Street. Hours are 8 am to 5 pm Tuesday-Saturday.
Coffee: Zoot Coffee
Does it get more local than Zoot? This cozy hangout is many a Camden native's favorite spot to curl up with a freshly brewed coffee or tea and some free wifi. Homemade vegan and gluten-free pastries are also available! (We highly recommend the fruity muffins.)
Breakfast/brunch: Boynton-McKay Food Co.
Ranked "the best breakfast in Maine" by Food Network Magazine in 2010, this place is a must-see for breakfast lovers of all stripes. Food and coffee are of exceptional quality, and there are plenty of options for health nuts and bacon lovers alike.
Lunch/dinner: Long Grain
This scrumptious locavore Asian restaurant features locally-sourced ingredients, from vegetables to meat to tofu to mushrooms. Its recently revamped and updated space now features a specialty Asian grocery store, in case you should feel inspired to bring some of the magic home with you. Don't miss their pan fried garlic chive rice cakes. Reservations recommended--this place fills up quick! Call (207) 236-9001.
Fancy dinner: Natalie's
Natalie's touts itself as "a New England culinary vacation destination," and they're not wrong. Executive chefs Chris Long and Shelby Stevens offer up a fresh, locally-based take on New England dining. Add to this a stunning setting overlooking Camden harbor, as well as exceptional presentation and service, and you have a recipe for an unforgettable evening. Call 866-658-1542 or 800-236-4266 to make your reservation (recommended).
Picture a scene from an old Hollywood movie where the protagonist leans back in his tufted leather chair in front of a fire with a whiskey after a long day. That's the vibe in The Vintage Room, except that your cocktails are made by a mixology pro named Marcus and there's free wifi. While the summer rooftop bar may have its perks, we can't help but love the wintertime coziness and intimate atmosphere.
This place is a fabulous restaurant in its own right, but we chose to include it under the drink section because of its show-stopping bar. Think local cocktails, extensive craft beer options, and a comprehensive wine list. Happy hour specials are available, and you should get the arancini combo (you know you want to).