Stonington is anything but a Maine resort town. Lying on the tip of the Deer Isle peninsula along the Maine coast in Penobscot Bay, tourists would have to point to this offbeat fishing village as their destination to find it. Most travelers have their eyes on Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, another hour and a half north. But Stonington, which is about 86 miles northeast of Portland and 173 miles northeast of Boston, has the charms that few gentrified coastal cities have these days.
I asked a Downeaster how far away Stonington was, and his response was blunt: “Go to the end of the E’th,” he said, “and it’s 25 miles FUH-THUH!”
The Scenic Route to Stonington
Drive on Route 172 from the town of Ellsworth, and you know you weren’t kidding. You’ll pick up Route 15 in Blue Hill, a town that has several bed and breakfast inns and a fancy restaurant or two. But you still have to travel seriously for the next 45 minutes. It is not until you get to the panoramic view of Eggemoggin Reach from Caterpillar Hill in Sedgwick that you will see the narrow old suspension bridge that you will have to drive to get to the long causeway that leads to Little Deer Isle and then Deer Isle.
Stop here in the fall, and the hill that runs down to the waters has turned bright red. The blueberry moors are vibrant before turning a gloomy brown in winter.
Take a short drive east from the town of Deer Isle to visit Nervous Nellie’s jams and jellies, or visit Haystack Mountain Craft School. This artist colony is located where the gravel ends in the city of Sunshine. You can also take another road west to the town of Sunset.
From Deer Isle, you will still have to travel south to finally reach Stonington. The city, formerly known as Green’s Landing, was incorporated on February 18, 1897 by the Maine legislature. In addition to fishing, Stonington was known for Deer Isle granite, but the quarries have long since closed.
What to do and where to stay in Stonington
However, Stonington is still a functioning port city, and that’s particularly clear early in the morning. From a vantage point overlooking the water, lobster boats await their morning races, and warm light spills over the picturesque town. The streets rise steeply from the harbor, past the Stonington Opera House, to more houses high up on the hill. Lobster traps can be seen everywhere along the docks, a constant reminder that this is where the delicacy that draws Maine visitors is harvested.
Those who work in the seas are honored each July with a special Fisherman’s Day celebration that includes rowing boat and cod relay races.
Although tourism is still in its infancy, there are some good places to dine, such as Fisherman’s Friend, Aragosta, and Harbor Café. There are also a few galleries along the narrow main street. Stay at the Inn on the Harbor, formerly Captain’s Quarters, for the best view of the water, or find affordable accommodations across the street at Boyce’s Motel. The Harbor View store has all the supplies any sailor would need. Wanderlust visitors to the island can take an excursion boat for a cruise to the surrounding islands, including Isle au Haut, which is part of Acadia National Park.
Get out on the water in a sea kayak and explore the many inlets and coves. Or just enjoy the incredible views of the sea.
This is truly the Downeast Maine of legend. Watch it now before it becomes yesterday’s Downeast.