Take a Staycation
The first time I visited Freeport was in 1980. I had just moved to northern Maine from the west coast and was in need of a good quality winter parka. At the time, all I knew about the town was it was the home of L.L. Bean, the epicenter of all things outdoors related in Maine. Heck, even before moving to the state I had heard of “Beans” and the iconic Bean Boots found therein.
I remember going in and finding exactly the parka I needed at a price I could afford on my rather limited first-year university student budget. I also remember being struck not only by Bean’s retail selections, but by the store’s obvious commitment to outdoor stewardship.
Fast forward almost four decades, and the same can be said about Freeport as a whole.
About 100 miles south of Bangor, Freeport is where serious shoppers and outdoor enthusiasts collide.
And for everyone, there are enough restaurants, galleries, pubs and sights — inside and out — to easily fill a day trip or weekend itinerary.
Thirty-eight years ago when I made that first visit to Freeport, there was just a smattering of outlet stores. Today, the one mile of Main Street is lined with stores that sell name brand clothing, shoes, hats, camping gear, furniture, kitchenware, material, books, cutlery, local art, crafts and so much more. All of which grew up around the town’s flagship store L.L. Bean — and are affectionately known as “Beansprout.”
While I am not a hardcore shopper, even I enjoy wandering up and down Main Street, looking in all the windows and popping in some of the more than 100 stores when something catches my fancy. Often, it’s the looking that is the most fun.
That’s why one of my first stops in Freeport every time I go is at Thos. Moser showroom (149 Main St., www.thosmoser.com) to ogle at, and rub my hands over, the pieces of handcrafted wood furniture made at the company’s Auburn workshop.
There is just something very tactile about the pieces created by Moser’s craftspeople. Gorgeous to look at and — in the case of chairs and benches — super comfy to sit on. Every piece is that perfect combination of form and function and I dream of the day when maybe a few will grace my own home.
Thos. Moser is at the north end of Freeport’s Main Street. It’s a good starting point given that Freeport is best explored on foot. There are several large public parking areas around town in addition to streetside parking. Depending on the time of year, parking can be at a premium, so if you find a good spot, I recommend snagging it and heading out on foot.
After admiring the furniture at Thos. Moser, my next stop is often Sherman Books & Stationery (128 Main St., www.shermans.com) where I can spend hours wandering the aisles of books, calendars and greeting cards in the store.
Sherman’s has an excellent collection of books by Maine authors and I can’t begin to count the new (to me) authors and books I have discovered there. Every visit is like a literary treasure hunt and the staff is more than willing to guide me along the way.
They don’t even mind how long I spend leaning against a bookshelf lost in a new book, or laughing out loud at the greeting cards.
If there is one thing I can look at as long as books, it’s fine pottery and that’s what I see when I go into Georgetown Pottery (148 Main St., www.georgetownpottery.com) Everything there is handcrafted by Maine potters using Maine themes reflecting the sea, the forest or wildlife. I love the looks of the glazed pieces and dream of the day I may have an entire dinner set of Georgetown pottery for entertaining guests.
There is pottery and more at Abacus Gallery (36 Main St., www.abacusgallery.com) where you’ll find two floors of handcrafted jewelry, art and home accessories in an early 1800s Federal-style house rumored to also house some friendly ghosts. I have to say I have found some if the funkiest and eclectic pieces of art I have ever seen there and have some spots in my home in which they would fit perfectly, once I narrow down my choices.
It should come as no surprise to those that know what a foodie I am that my two other must-stops in Freeport have food.
Walking into When Pigs Fly (21 Main St., www.sendbread.com) must be what it’s like walking into a bakery in heaven. The first thing that hits you is the heavenly smell of fresh bread.
More than 25 different kinds of artisan breads fill baskets everywhere you look and samples are available to help narrow down — or expand — your selections.
I can never decide among the orange, toasted walnut and cranberry, the whole wheat honey nut with apricots and dates, the apple cinnamon, the red pepper hummus with sesame seeds and garlic, the multigrain anadama or the sourdough.
So, I often load up with one of each with a couple homemade cookies thrown in for good measure. The loaves travel well and when I get home I put them in my freezer to enjoy over a couple of months.
Finally, there is Bow Street Market (79 Bow St., www.bowstreetmarket.com) one of the few places I feel I need a stricter limit on my credit card.
More than a simple “grocery store,” Bow Street Market is a reminder of a corner neighborhood store where the staff knows the regulars by name and treats newcomers as welcome guests.
I’ll confess to a bit of sensory overload when I go in, thanks to a dizzying array of gourmet and locally made baked goods, deli items, meats, cheese, seafood craft beers, wines and specialty goodies like duck eggs, jams, coffee and popcorn, to name just a few.
It’s a perfect place to pick up everything needed for an alfresco picnic in one of the area’s nearby parks or to take back to your room for an afternoon snack.
If shopping is not your thing, or if you just want a change of scenery Freeport has you covered with several parks and miles of hiking trails just outside of the downtown area.
About 15 minutes from town is Bradbury Mountain State Park (528 Hallowell Road, Pownal, www.bradburymountain.com) with 800 acres of forested land and 21 miles of shared use (horseback, hikers, mountain bikes and snowmobiles) trails.
The highlight of a visit to the park is the hike to the summit of Bradbury Mountain. Sure, as mountains go, it’s on the petite side at 485 feet, but no one is going to dispute the views of Casco Bay, Portland and the surrounding area from the top. In the fall, it’s a leaf-peeper’s paradise.
There are two trails to the summit. The mile-long Northern Loop Trail is a gradual climb and along the way hikers can check out an abandoned quarry and the “cattle pound.” In the 1800s the pound was used to house stray livestock.
The Terrace Trail is somewhat steeper and gets you to the top in one-third of a mile. Both trails are lined with seasonal wildflowers from spring to fall, including rare wild orchids.
A 10-minute drive south of Freeport is Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park (426 Wolfe’s Neck Road).
It may just be a few miles from downtown, but Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park feels like a different world after you leave town. Tucked in on a peninsula between Casco Bay and the Harraseeket River, the park covers 244 acres with 4.5 miles of hiking trails through pine and hemlock forests, a salt marsh estuary and along the rocky coastline of the bay.
I love walking the trails at Wolfe’s Neck. I’ve never been there and not seen at least one of the Ospreys that nest there.
On the way to Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park is the the Pettengill Farm (31 Pettengill Road, www.freeporthistoricalsociety.org) a 19th Century saltwater farm on the Harraseeket River. Owned and operated by the Freeport Historical Society, the farm is now a living museum with an 1800s saltbox house and 140 acres of fields, woods, apple orchards and a salt marsh.
The grounds are a delight to wander and check out the gardens created by the farm’s last occupant Mildred Pettengill who lived there until 1970.
Inside the farmhouse be sure to check out the centuries-old etchings on the plaster walls of ships, sea monsters and animals.
Just a mile from downtown Freeport is Mast Landing Audubon Sanctuary with 3-miles of trails through fields, apple orchards and more white pine and hemlock forests.
The sanctuary takes its name from its location as a source of white pines used as ship masts in the early 1700s by the British navy.
The Mill Stream in the sanctuary once powered a saw mill, a textile mill and two gristmills. All were destroyed by fire in 1860, but visitors can still see the buildings’ foundations where the stream flows into the estuary.
Where to eat
When I’m in Freeport I have my go-to favorite places when it comes to dining out. There are dozens of excellent options in the town but I tend to gravitate back to these tried-and-true places.
The Broad Arrow Tavern (162 Main St., www.harraseeketinn.com) is part of the award-winning Harraseeket Inn and offers an amazing menu of appetizers and entrees prepared using a wood-fired oven and grill. The chefs specialize in steaks, pizza and fresh seafood and take great pride in using locally sourced food. To get a sampling of what they prepare, check out the daily lunch buffet (not available Sundays) and I recommend the brick oven macaroni and cheese (available with lobster) or the tavern’s famous lobster roll.
Speaking of lobster, Maine Kitchen and Topside Tavern (88 Main St., www.lindabeansperfectmaine.com) is one of several restaurants owned by Linda Bean of L.L. Bean fame. It’s right across the street from her family’s iconic Maine shopping destination L.L. Bean’s. Open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner the restaurant offers a full menu. I recommend anything lobster —and there are so many options! Lobster rolls, lobster stew, lobster bisque, lobster salad, lobster stuffed mushrooms, grilled cheese and lobster or a steamed whole lobster.
For a slight change of pace away from lobster, head to Azure (123 Main St., www.azurecafe.com) where it’s all about locally sourced Maine ingredients in dishes like clam chowder, fish and chips, wild Maine blueberry or spring ravioli. When I’m there, it’s hard to resist the Maine seafood risotto prepared with sustainably harvested gulf of Maine pollack and calamari combined with chopped local tomatoes and fresh basil in a creamy, buttery risotto.
Where to stay
If you want to spoil yourself — and be spoiled — there is the above mentioned Harraseeket Inn. The luxury rooms are perfect for a romantic weekend, a gals’ getaway or family vacation. It’s also pet-friendly. A gourmet buffet breakfast is served every morning and their famous Sunday lobster brunch has been named the Best Sunday Brunch in Maine. There’s even afternoon high tea every day. The staff is ready and able to recommend and arrange day trips or activities and don’t forget to say hi to the giant plush piano-playing polar bear in the lounge. There is plenty of parking and the inn is right in town, making it a perfect base of operations for any Freeport trip.
The Hilton Garden Inn (5 Park St., www.hiltongardeninn3.hilton.com) is not only located in town, but it has a bonus of being near the Amtrak Train Station in case you want to hop a train for a day trip into Boston. The Amtrak Downeaster (www.amtrakdowneaster.com) offers three round trips daily between Freeport and Boston. The Hilton Garden Inn has an onsite grill and bar, evening cookies and a heated pool.