Boothbay Harbor, Maine

  • Postcard scenes await Boothbay boaters at every turn. Photo Joe Devenney

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With a deep harbor that’s easy to access and offers plenty of anchoring and maneuvering room, Boothbay has long been one of the East Coast’s premiere boating destinations. The beautiful natural surroundings and web of adjoining waterways only add to the experience.

Boating Base Camp

Boothbay Harbor Nautical Chart
Boothbay Harbor Nautical Chart

A cursory look at NOAA chart 13293 reveals 7 nearby ports worth visiting, 3 long tidal rivers to explore, 4 major bays to navigate, a dozen offshore islands to investigate and at least 8 major anchorages in which you could weather a hurricane. Even better, all the connecting waterways contain abundant wildlife, both above and below the surface—enough to occupy any shutterbug or angler for hours.

Perhaps the most popular side trip from Boothbay Harbor is the “Inside Passage” to the historic shipbuilding city of Bath. When it’s foggy offshore, this 8-mile route gives mariners a chance to spot bald eagles, get close to seals and watch osprey snag lunch, all in much better visibility than elsewhere, due primarily to the warmer inland water temperatures.

Stripers, Schooners & Lobsters

Recreational craft of every size and type share the busy harbor with working lobsterboats and schooners.
Recreational craft of every size and type share the busy harbor with working lobsterboats and schooners.

For sport fishermen, this is also the heart of Maine striper country. The waters of the extensive Kennebec and Sheepscot estuary systems produce fast action with schoolies on up to fish over 3 feet long. Best of all, the entire route is protected from ocean swells and annoying chop, making it feel as though you’ve glided from Boothbay onto an inland lake!

Back in Boothbay Harbor, though, there are plenty of attractions and activities to keep you occupied. In fact, for half a century the town has kicked off summer festivities with its signature event, Windjammer Days, which features some of the largest sailing vessels on the Maine coast. Watching these ships parade into the harbor, one by one, in the late-June sunshine is an event boaters of every description won’t soon forget.

Georgeous lobster yachts call on Boothbay through the summer.

At the other end of the season is the annual Claw Down Competition, a September extravaganza when Maine’s best-loved seafood becomes the focus of pretty much the entire town. This recent addition to the festival roster features more than a dozen Maine chefs from the state’s highest-rated restaurants, all competing to come up with new and scrumptious ways to enjoy Homarus americanus. Although the number of guests attending the tony Claw Down are limited, the ripple effect of the event is often felt throughout Boothbay, with specials on everything lobster just about everywhere.

But you don’t need a culinary competition to enjoy seafood in this seafood-centric town. Virtually every restaurant—and there are more than a score of them within easy walking distance of the Town Wharf—features some sort of chowder, broil or stew on its menu, in addition to the ubiquitous boiled lobster dinner. For a town of only 2,100 year-round residents, the eating options are truly impressive, although many restaurants shut down for the winter.

Paddler’s Paradise

Stand-up paddleboarding is a great way to get up close and personal with the harbor.
Stand-up paddleboarding is a great way to get up close and personal with the harbor.

Back on the water, kayaking has become popular in the harbor and surrounding backwaters. With several rental outfits in the area, it’s easy enough to hop in one of these colorful plastic boats, with or without a helpful instructor or guide, and take off on your own adventure. And even if you don’t care for kayaking, any sort of shoal-draft skiff, runabout or dinghy can provide hours of pleasure as you explore hidden gunkholes, coves and passages, especially when the tide is in.

As heavily oriented to the water as the town is, the arts are far from neglected. The classic Boothbay Opera House hosts top performers, from Grammy-winning musicians to Broadway-veteran actors, all in a fine old building with remarkable acoustics and architecture.

For those on a tighter budget, the Boothbay Harbor Memorial Library hosts free band concerts on its front lawn downtown, usually on Thursday nights. Poetry readings, wine tastings and lectures on everything from astrophysics to aquaculture also are sponsored by the library.

And did we mention shopping? Oh yes, there’s plenty of that. Everything from your standard mug-and-tee-shirt outlets to a couple of big-league antiques shops are clustered within a few blocks of the Town Wharf.

The ocean inspires local expression
The ocean inspires local expression

Boutiques, art galleries, high-end grocery stores and a very popular Thursday-morning farmer’s market round out the most popular offerings.

In all, for such a small town, Boothbay Harbor offers a lot to keep you busy—both close to home and farther afield.

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