Rockland, Maine is a classic, small, New England city located in the heart of Maine’s scenic MidCoast. The popular destination is known for its magnificent, rocky shoreline, thriving art scene, glorious harbor views, and the annual Maine Lobster Festival.
Those looking to get out and experience Maine’s picturesque MidCoast will enjoy a day trip to Rockland, Maine. The city is located a little under an hour south of our Searsport bed and breakfast, Captain Nickels Inn.
Rockland was first settled by Europeans in 1769 and spent the next 100 years quite literally making a name for itself as a source for limestone and granite. The native Abenaki called the area “Catawamteak,” meaning “great landing place,” and that name still fits today. Rockland harbor is a working harbor, supporting commercial fishing, and the city is famous for its countless inlets, bays, and waterways.
Though well known for its lobster industry, Rockland also has a focus on tourism. The city is home to a lively arts community and there are now more leisure boats than fishing boats in the harbor. Downtown offers a charming collection of unique shops, art galleries, and fine dining opportunities to explore.
Exploring Rockland, Maine
There’s almost no end to the variety of fun you can have in Rockland. The busy Rockland waterfront, with its working harbor, is a great place to start. The Rockland Harbor Trail makes exploring the waterfront a real pleasure.
Rockland’s Main Street is lined with independent shops, thrift stores, boutiques, and galleries. A shopper’s paradise of fantastic finds and one-of-a-kind gifts. It would be easy to spend much of the day just wandering the shops.
The Rockland dining scene is surprisingly rich for a city of this size. Portland (Maine) gets all the press but Rockland’s reputation as a culinary hot spot continues to grow. Primo is an excellent example of this trend. Foodies will find no end of exciting options, from fast and fresh to fine dining, and don’t forget about the lobster! Rockland is also well known for its lobster and many of its restaurants serve up some of the region’s best.
Downtown is also home to many galleries and museums but few can rival the Farnsworth Art Museum, with works from artists like Gilbert Stuart, Winslow Homer, and, the Wyeth family. Prefer something a little more modern? The Center for Maine Contemporary Art is just steps away.
Other notable attractions include the Apprenticeshop boat building school, where you can learn about and watch boats being built. Gearheads will enjoy a visit to the nearby Owls Head Transportation Museum, in Owls Head, ME. This unique museum has a fantastic collection of vintage cars, aircraft, motorcycles, and bicycles to explore.
Many use their visit to Rockland as an excuse to get out on the water, which is a great idea. Penobscot Bay is an inlet from the Maine coast to the Penobscot River and the area has many beautiful waterways, inlets, and bays. A variety of charters, guides, and rentals can be found on the waterfront.
Lighthouses and the Maine Lobster Fest
Lighthouse fans will find plenty to love in Rockland.
In fact, the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse may be one of the first things to catch your eye. This unique lighthouse is located at the end of a long, 7/8 of a mile granite breakwater in Rockland’s harbor. Many visitors enjoy walking the breakwater out to the lighthouse. Wear comfortable shoes and use caution. Dress in layers in case of cooler temperatures on the water.
You should definitely add a stop to the Owls Head State Park. The park provides access to Owls Head Light, an 1852 lighthouse poised on a granite promontory 100′ above Penobscot Bay. Though the interior of the lighthouse is private, a climb to the tower’s base provides sweeping views of Penobscot Bay that are well worth the effort.
The Maine Lighthouse Museum is also in town. Come explore the museum’s dazzling array of Fresnel lenses, foghorns, lightships, and other historic, maritime equipment.
The Rockland area is also home to a variety of annual festivals like the renowned North Atlantic Blues Festival in July, Rockland’s First Friday Art Walk from 5 pm – 8 pm and the Rockland Festival of Lights in December.
The biggie, though, is the annual Maine Lobster Festival, held in August. This 5-day extravaganza includes carnival rides, cooking contests, a parade, road race, live entertainment, and more, including lots of fresh, delicious lobster, of course!
The Way To Rockland
Rockland is just under an hour’s drive south of Captain Nickels Inn, an easy and delightfully scenic drive down Maine’s MidCoast. The directions couldn’t be more straightforward.
Heading out from Captain Nickels Inn, turn left onto U.S. Highway 1, aka Main Street in Searsport, and head south until you reach Rockland, Maine. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.
Of course, your route will take you past a great many MidCoast attractions. Belfast, Camden, lighthouses, state parks, scenic overlooks, and much more. It can be easy get off track or miss things you don’t want to. Let us know if you’d like some help planning your itinerary to make the most of your day.
We love sharing Maine with our guests!
Published May 2019; Updated March 2023