The first question anyone will ask you in Searsport, whether you’re checking into a motel or tearing into a boiled lobster, is “Where are you headed?” As though you’re not already someplace.
Thus, it’s easy to feel a little sorry for Searsport, or to find yourself humming a few bars of Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle With You.” But instead of “clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right,” they’ve got Camden to the south of them, Bar Harbor to the north — two major tourist zones. But Searsport makes the most of it. “We’re a great base for people going to Bar Harbor and those who want to explore Camden and Rockport, since we’re in the middle,” says innkeeper Anita McLellan of the Homeport Inn. “We get the overflow when they have events,” she adds. Bonus for those who hunker down here: Restaurant and lodgings prices are more reasonable in Searsport than in the big-name tourist haunts. Hang around a bit, and explore the funky antiques shops, great parks, good eats, and terrific marine museum, and you may forget all about where you’re heading next.
New owners have really put a shine on the Captain A.V. Nickels Inn (127 East Main St., 207-548-1104, www.captainnickelsinn.com, from $175), a lovely 1874 former sea captain’s home on the National Register of Historic Places. The most elegant place to stay in town, the inn sits on three landscaped acres on Penobscot Bay. It offers six guest rooms and two suites; room decor reflects Paris, Dublin, Charleston, London, Havana, and Portofino, with flat-screen TVs and a luscious three-course breakfast. Homey as its name implies, the Homeport Inn (121 East Main St., 207-548-2259, www.HomeportHistoricInn.com, from $125) is an Italianate mansion with a casual vibe. The nine guest rooms come in varying sizes and layouts, with lots of chintz and antiques. (Two rooms have shared baths, and go for less than $100 per night.) The attached Mermaid Restaurant & Pub is a go-to spot, especially for lobster mac-and-cheese. For bargain digs, you won’t go wrong with the Yardarm Motel (172 East Main St., 207-548-2404, www.searsportmaine.com, from $65). Digs are basic, but very clean, with must-haves like Wi-Fi and flat-screen TVs. Bonus: a complimentary continental breakfast in the sunny dining room. Three rooms are pet-friendly, and innkeeper “Mac” Economy is a great resource for things to do in the area.
There are two stops you must make as you meander on Coastal Route 1, heading into or out of Searsport: Young’s Lobster Pound and Perry’s Nut House. Young’s Lobster Pound (4 Mitchell St., Belfast, 207-338-1160, from $9.95) is classic New England. You order at the counter, choosing your lobster from the tank (or maybe opt for smoked mussels, grilled haddock, or other fresh seafood) and enjoy it on a deck overlooking the water. Whatever you choose, order the potato salad as a side, it’s that tasty. Nearby, Perry’s Nut House (45 Searsport Ave., Belfast, 888-673-7797, www.perrysnuthouse.com) is a joyfully quirky shop filled with nuts, candy by the pound, a taxidermied gorilla, and 20 flavors of house-made fudge, from whoopie pie to salted caramel. Ask them about the candy they make using Maine potatoes. In downtown Searsport, there’s Angler’s Restaurant (215 East Main St., 207-548-2405, www.anglersseafoodrestaurant.com, from $8.99). This low-key roadhouse caters to a local crowd, with heaping platefuls of fried shrimp and scallops (the best bet here) and other seafood entrees. Got small fry in tow? Treat them to a “bucket of worms” for dessert. For a different take on the local delicacy — say, lobster Benedict or a lobster omelet — try the Brick House Restaurant (23 East Main St., 207-548-6550, www.thebrickhousemaine.com, $7-$17), open all day. You can also get a good meal at the Homeport’s Mermaid Restaurant & Pub (above) and the Captain A.V. Nickels Inn (the chef is the innkeeper’s son, but he earns his place with tasty dishes like wild blueberry salmon, $18, and chicken and waffles, $16).
DURING THE DAY
Searsport’s premier attraction is the Penobscot Marine Museum (5 Church St., 207-548-2529; www.penobscotmarinemuseum.org, $12), Maine’s oldest (1936) marine museum, with the look and feel of a seaport village from the great age of sail. Five buildings house exhibits and collections of maritime and shipbuilding history, including marine art, ship models, scrimshaw, ships’ figureheads, and examples of small craft from the early 20th century. Keep the seafaring vibe going with a stop at Blue Jacket Shipcrafters (100 East Main St., 207-548-9970, www.bluejacketinc.com), home to a gallery of 100 model ships, plus do-it-yourself kits. Searsport is also known for antiquing, and you’ll encounter a full 8 miles of shops. We love the crazy hodgepodge that’s the Treasures and Trash Barn (156 East Main St., 207-323-2000, Thurs.-Sun.). For a more orderly experience, try the Searsport Antique Mall (149 East Main St., 207-548-2640, www.searsportantiquemall.com), a multi-dealer, 10,000-square-foot shop set on two floors, where American and European antiques are displayed in room-like settings. Outdoors, take a hike on uninhabited Sears Island (www.friendsofsearsisland.org), located about a mile north of town and reachable by foot. A paved road leads to hiking trails along the water and past the foundations of an old homestead. Find more trails — and a great picnic spot along Penobscot Bay — at Moose Point State Park (310 West Main St., 207-548-2882, www.maine.gov, $3 per person for non-Mainers).
The Brick House (see above) offers live music on its small stage on Friday nights, while the Mermaid Restaurant & Pub (above) books musicians on Friday and Saturday nights. Meanwhile, the Port of Call lounge at the Captain A.V. Nickels Inn is a pleasant spot to settle in for wine and tapas. You could also head over to neighboring Belfast, and hoist a pint at Marshall Wharf Brewing Co. (2 Pinchy Land, Belfast, 207-338-1707, www.marshallwharf.com).Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.