Another in a series of New England getaways on public transportation.
FREEPORT — When the Downeaster pulled into Freeport on the second day of scheduled service, the platform was decked out in red-white-and-blue bunting, mylar confetti covered the ground, and one merchant was handing out gift cards. We can’t guarantee the gift cards, but if you want to do some shopping in a place where the merchants are glad to see you, head to Freeport. It has always been our favorite among New England’s outlet centers because you can walk from store to store on real sidewalks along real streets. It’s even better when you don’t have to drive.
Amtrak’s Downeaster service was extended north of Portland to Freeport and Brunswick, Maine, on Nov. 1. The ride is scheduled for 3 hours 10 minutes in the morning (3 hours 5 minutes in the evening) from North Station to Freeport, and we found it about 10 minutes late going north, 20 minutes late coming south. So far, there is just one morning train per day from Boston (9:05 a.m.) and just one early evening train from Freeport (6:10 p.m.). Sandwiches and refreshments are available in the cafe car, but the whoopie pies always seem to be sold out, so stock up on Wicked Whoopies for the return trip at Isamax Snacks (32 Main St., 207-865-3100). Passengers hopped on at every stop along the way. On the way up, riders were subdued. On the way back, everyone had at least one shopping bag and a tale of a great buy.
Stop first at the Freeport Information Center across from the train platform for a walking map of downtown merchants and the latest discount coupons. It’s less than a two-minute stroll uphill to Main Street, the largest concentration of shops in town. Consider bringing a lightweight backpack to carry your first several purchases, as the downside of arriving by train is lacking a car trunk to stash packages. Some merchants will ship your purchases (L.L. Bean does it for free), so be sure to ask.
WHAT TO DO
The 24-hour L.L. Bean flagship store (95 Main St., 877-755-2326) is the gateway to an entire campus. Lost husbands can usually be found either in the hunting and fishing or the bike, boat, and ski buildings. Of course, you will find many of the usual outlet mall suspects like J. Crew
(8 Bow St., 207-865-3180), Jones New York (58 Main St., 207-865-3158), Tommy Hilfiger (100 Main St., 207-865-4022), Cole Haan (66 Main St., 207-865-6321), and Crabtree and Evelyn (100 Main St., 207-865-1374). But there are some fresh faces here, including the only freestanding Jill McGowan store (56 Main St., 207-865-0909, www.jillmcgowan.com). The Portland-based designer known for her white blouses otherwise sells only in high-end fashion stores. Not all intriguing stores are outlets. Visit Bridgham and Cook, Ltd. (116 Main St., 207-865-1040, www.britishgoods.com) for such British wares as teapots and tea cosies, Barbour jackets, soccer shirts, and a Solar Queen Elizabeth whose hand makes a demure wave. (This might be Bean’s 100th, but it’s the queen’s diamond jubilee year.) If a certain member of your party starts to flag, send him to watch a movie at the new six-screen Nordica Theatre (Freeport Village Station, 207-228-1868, www.nordicatheatre.com, adults $9).
When it’s time to refuel, Freeporters are especially fond of the burger at the Jameson Tavern (115 Main St., 207-865-4196, www.jamesontavern.com, sandwiches and entrees $9.50-$25). The Taproom in the Revolutionary-era building also serves two signature craft beers. Other tavern fare, including local haddock and lobster, is available. The popular lunch buffet at the Broad Arrow Tavern (Harraseeket Inn, 162 Main St., 207-865-9377, www.harraseeketinn.com, lunch buffet $17.95, sandwiches and entrees $11-$34) is available daily except Sunday. For extra atmosphere, ask to sit under the stuffed moose.
Round-trip fares between Boston and Freeport range from $44 to $54 for adults, depending on time of day; half fares for children. Find schedules and make online bookings at www.traintomaine.com or call 800-872-7245. Promotional fares can cut costs if you purchase at least three days in advance. One deal that is no longer trumpeted on the website but is still valid allows two adults to ride for the price of one. Use promotional code v353 for travel through Dec. 31.
We figure that the savings from our purchases paid for our tickets. If you are planning on saving a lot, you can cover the cost of an overnight stay. Among the good options are the cozy Applewood Inn (8 Holbrook St., 207-865-9705, www.applewoodusa.com, doubles $140-$185 with breakfast), where Jay and Jennifer Yilmaz preside over 11 bright and comfortable rooms just steps from the downtown shopping. The 93-room Harraseeket Inn (162 Main St., 207-865-9377, www.harraseeketinn.com, doubles $125-$305 with breakfast) sprawls across a woodsy lot about a five-minute stroll from the north end of downtown.
Lyon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.