Once-gritty Belfast has been undergoing a renaissance. Today, this historic seaside town is one of coastal Maine’s unheralded gems. While its midcoast neighbors — Camden, Boothbay, and Rockland — grab more attention, Belfast has just as much to offer, without the crowds. The revitalized downtown area, perched on a hill overlooking pretty Penobscot Bay, has redbrick Victorian-era buildings and sea captains’ mansions, many now housing one-of-a-kind shops, galleries and restaurants. In fact, downtown Belfast is home to more than 70 places to shop or dine, along with a working waterfront, a picturesque seaside park, a cluster of art studios and galleries, and a thriving farm-to-table culinary scene — all just about a 3½-hour drive from Boston.
The award-winning Belfast Bay Inn (72 Main St., 207-338-5600, www.belfastbayinn.com, $278-$398), located in a pair of impeccably restored mid-1800s row houses, has eight elegant suites, some with gas fireplaces, private balconies, and harbor views. The suites are huge — up to 1,000 square feet — with separate sitting areas, lush linens, and stylish furnishings. Each has modern, granite and marble baths, fine fabrics, and shiny wood floors. Some also have 1840s brick accent walls and restored woodworking. Spoil yourself with breakfast in bed or in the garden terrace, before a morning walk along the bay; the inn is steps from the waterfront. Guests rave about the warm and attentive innkeepers at Alden House Inn (63 Church St., 207-338-2151, www.thealdenhouse.com, $139-$199), housed in a stately 1840s mansion, with airy, country chic rooms. The inn is set in a quiet neighborhood, a short walk from downtown, surrounded by pretty pocket gardens. Guests have use of two parlors with fireplaces, a comfy library room, and outdoor porches. For simple, value-packed digs, check out the spruced-up Yankee Clipper (50 Searsport Ave., 207-338-2353, www.yankeeclippermotelbelfast.com, $69-$149), a completely renovated 1950s motel, located on busy Route 1, a short distance from downtown. Rooms are ultra-clean with surprising modern furnishings and top-notch bedding.
You can’t leave town without enjoying lobster-in-the-rough, and the best place for it is Young’s Lobster Pound (2 Fairview St., 207-338-1160, www.youngslobsterpound.webs.com, market prices vary). Grab a seat at one of the waterfront picnic tables to watch boats come and go and dine on some of the freshest crustaceans in Maine. It’s also BYOB. Wildly popular Chase’s Daily (96 Main St., 207-338-0555, $5-$15), a pioneer of the farm-to-table movement in Maine, serves creative vegetarian and vegan dishes for breakfast and lunch; many of the ingredients come from the proprietors’ farm. Intimate and charming Delvino’s Grill & Pasta House (52 Main St., 207-338-4565, www.delvinos.com, entrees $12.99-$22.99) consistently serves tasty, freshly prepared dishes. Start with appetizers like the eggplant fries or locally smoked scallops, followed by house-made entrees like the spinach and garlic tortellonni, lobster risotto, or mussels marinara. We love the come-as-you-are, friendly atmosphere at Darby’s (155 High St., 207-338-2339, www.darbysrestaurant.com, $10.95-$29.95), located in an historic 1865 building with the original tin ceiling and antique bar. You’ll find a large menu of burgers, steaks, seafood, and pasta dishes. Its Sunday brunch and every-day happy hour from 3:30 to 5:30, with $3 drafts and $5 appetizers, are
DURING THE DAY
Start with a self-guided walking tour of the historic downtown area; you can pick up the easy-to-follow maps at the Belfast Historical Society & Museum (10 Market St., 207-338-9229, www.belfastmuseum.org/index.html , free). Visit bustling Belfast City Park (Northport Ave., 207-338-3370, ext. 27, www.cityofbelfast.org, free) with recreational fields, picnic area, playground, walking path, rocky beach, and great water views. Learn about life on the sea and take in water views aboard the historic 1901 Friendship Sloop Amity. Two-hour cruises are offered by Belfast Bay Company (Belfast Town Pier, 207-323-1443, www.belfastbaycompany.com, $45). Or join a guided, evening kayak tour of Belfast Harbor with Water Walker Sea Kayaks (152 Lincolnville, 207-338-6424, www.touringkayaks.com, $35). Landlubbers might enjoy the one-hour train ride through scenic woods and fields aboard the Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railway (City Point Station, 207-22-3899, www.belfastandmooseheadlakerail.org, adults $14, ages 3-12 $5). You’ll want to spend some time browsing local shops, studios, and galleries. The High St. Studio & Gallery (149 High St., 207-338-8990, www.highstreetgallery.com), founded by local artist Susan Tobey White, features her work as well as the works of other New England painters. The Lupine Cottage (7 Old Searsport, 207-338-4300, www.lupinecottage.net) is an artist coop showcasing the art and crafts of more than 65 Maine artists. Save time to stroll Belfast’s recently completed Harbor Walk, from Steamboat Landing to the Armistice Bridge. We like it best at low tide when you can see the artwork crafted from old wharf pilings; grab a seat on one of the benches and soak up the views and salty air.
Three Tides (40 Marshall Wharf, 207-338-1707, www.3tides.com) is coastal Maine’s version of a beach bar. Head to the downstairs deck where you’ll find a good selection of micro brews, great water views, and generous pours. Join the locals at Rollie’s Bar & Grill (37 Main St., 207-338-4502, www.rolliesmaine.com), a longstanding neighborhood bar, with big-screen TVs, communal tables, vintage booths, and standard pub grub. The vintage, Art Deco-style Colonial Theater (163 High St., 207-338-7930, www.colonialtheater.com) shows first-run movies and foreign films.Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at email@example.com.