Situated on Maine’s impossibly picturesque coastline, Rockland embodies the best of New England charm. With its small size and easily walkable downtown filled with cafés, galleries, and boutique shops, this place is both as approachable and inviting as can be.
Rockland has been undergoing a slow but steady revitalization over the last few decades. It now boasts a thriving foodie scene, including destination-worthy restaurants with internationally renowned chefs.
Here are a few of the best things to do in Rockland, Maine.
Walk the Rockland Harbor Trail
The coastal regions of Maine have no shortage of scenic seaside walks and hikes. The Rockland Harbor Trail is particularly popular with daytrippers since it packs an especially high effort-to-reward ratio.
Both the start and end of the trail are right in town and the entire five-mile route hugs the coastline, passing some of the top attractions in the area along the way.
You’ll begin right near The Coastal Children’s Museum, go right by the Maine Lighthouse Museum, then end by walking out along the granite breakwater point to a historic lighthouse. Since the whole route is relatively flat, it’s easily accessible for children and less experienced hikers.
Take a Tour on a Lobster Boat
Maine’s lobster industry is often held up as one of the greatest examples of sustainable fishery. In the 17th century, English colonists in Maine saw lobsters as a throwaway food barely worthy of feeding to prisoners.
Needless to say, lobster became one of the most sought-after delicacies by the 19th century and the demand skyrocketed.
Fortunately, state government officials realized the value of protecting their local lobster population from overfishing. Since the mid-20th century, Maine’s lobster industry has been one of the most closely regulated—and ecologically responsible—fishing industries in the world.
Lobstermen and women use humane traps that do not harm their catch. Strict guidelines mean that only lobsters over a certain size—which indicates that they’re about seven years of age—may be harvested. As soon as they exceed another size limit, they can never be captured and fishermen are legally obligated to re-release them.
If a fisherman catches a female lobster with eggs, they leave a tiny notch in her tail to let future fishermen know that she must be released unharmed for the rest of her natural life. Since lobster traps require no drag nets or other harmful techniques, they do no damage to Maine’s biodiverse oceanic ecosystems.
The result of this highly conscious approach to fishery is that Maine’s lobster population is not only stable, but thriving. And because lobstermen and women are typically locals who stay within the industry for life, they have a deep-rooted sense of responsibility to make sure that it stays that way.
Many of them also lead educational boat tours, which is one of the best things to do in Rockland. They’re a fantastic way to learn more about both the industry and Maine’s unique natural environment.
Although tours vary, they tend to feature plenty of colorful anecdotes, as well as the chance to see lobsters, crabs, starfish, and anything else that might have wandered into a trap up close.
More often than not, the boats will pass by other wildlife, including harbor seals sunning themselves and cormorants diving for fish. It’s a great activity for curious kids, but one that parents may end up enjoying just as much.
Feast on Freshly Caught Lobster and Maine Seafood
Given that one of Rockland’s biggest claims to fame is its annual lobster festival, it should come as no surprise that the crustacean features prominently on menus around town.
The biggest name by far in the town’s small but noteworthy fine dining scene is Primo, chef Melissa Kelly’s James Beard Award-winning farm-to-table eatery. The menu is loosely Tuscan-inspired, but with a focus on the best produce and seafood that Maine has to offer. Book well in advance in order to secure a reservation here.
An equally important part of your culinary agenda should be to try the “bugs,” as they’re sometimes affectionately known, in true Maine fashion.
At Archer’s on the Pier, the lobster rolls come piled high with tender claw meat on a toasted, buttered bun, along with a mound of hand-cut fries.
For a less traditional—but equally tasty—riff on the concept, try a lobster reuben, served on grilled rye with Swiss cheese and Thousand Island dressing, or a “king of clubs”, with lobster, bacon, lettuce, and tomato, all stacked on a triple-decker sandwich.
The restaurant also serves up local wild oysters, harvested daily by the owner’s son and served raw, Rockefeller, or fried.
Take a Tour of the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse
If you close your eyes and picture the quintessential New England lighthouse, the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse may well be what you inadvertently have in mind. The history of this lighthouse dates all the way back to 1827, when locals set a lantern at the end of Jameson Point to keep ships from crashing into the rocky shore.
By 1899, the town had created a protective granite breakwater, which still exists to this day and extends nearly a mile into the sea. Not long after, in 1902, the lighthouse was erected to stand watch and keep sailors safe.
Thanks to the efforts of highly dedicated volunteers, the lighthouse has been beautifully restored and remains in excellent condition. The views are stunning and make for an especially satisfying reward for anyone who walks the entirety of the Rockland Harbor Trail.
An engaging, informative tour leads visitors through both the lighthouse and the old keeper’s quarters. Since tour schedules are contingent on volunteers, note that they vary quite a bit. Be sure to check the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse Facebook page ahead of your visit.
After you visit the lighthouse itself, be sure to check out the Maine Lighthouse Museum. This small but thoughtfully curated look at maritime history features the bulbs and inner workings of a number of lighthouses from around the state, as well as vintage posters depicting them.
Visit the Farnsworth Art Museum
From Winslow Homer to Alex Katz, Maine has inspired some of America’s most influential painters, sculptors, and multimedia artists over the generations.
The combination of the state’s rugged, wild beauty and abundance of places where one can still seek solitude have made for particularly fertile creative ground. Since 1948, the Farnsworth Art Museum has been a celebration of some of the greatest artists to work and live in Maine, and visiting is one of the best things to do in Rockland.
The museum’s collection includes more than 15,000 works, a rotating selection of which are displayed within more than 20,000 feet of gallery space. As the only museum of its kind, it has an unparalleled collection of works by Maine artists, including renowned sculptor Louise Nevelson.
During the summer months, be sure to check out the Wyeth Center at the Farnsworth Art Museum, which concentrates on the works of James Wyeth and N. C. Wyeth. Almost as compelling as the exhibits is the building itself: a former United Methodist Church that is very much emblematic of the town’s 19th-century architectural style.
Admire the Avant-Garde at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art
Maine’s proud artistic traditions have extended well into the 21st century. The Center for Maine Contemporary Art (CMCA) has been a dynamic showcase for the avant-garde since 1952.
In the freewheeling spirit of the art scene of the era, the CMCA kicked off not in the stark, white confines of a mega-gallery space, but in local backrooms, barns, and anywhere else that would serve as a makeshift showroom.
During the 1960s, it migrated to a converted firehouse. Nowadays, the museum boasts a suitably sleek, stylish home right in downtown Rockland. Architect Toshiko Mori made extensive use of glass and corrugated metal in the striking building, which is inspired by Maine’s light.
Exhibits over the years have included heavy-hitters from Lois Dodd to John Walker to Fairfeld Porter. The museum is also renowned for its ongoing role in fostering art within its own backyard.
As Rockland’s de facto artistic cultural hub, it has hosted everything from lectures with speakers including artist David Salle and Pulitzer Prize-winning art critic Jerry Salz, to a glam gala each summer.
There’s also plenty to keep younger, artistically inclined visitors entertained here. ArtLab, the museum’s innovative education center, provides art camps and classes for K-12 youth.
Check Out Olson House
It’s worth noting this remarkable extension of the Farnsworth Art Museum. The site, which was donated to the museum in 1991, had a special personal significance for the artist Andrew Wyeth.
His wife once said that it looked much like “looming up like a weathered ship stranded on a hilltop”, a particularly evocative description for this classy New England house.
The historic building features prominently in some of the artist’s best-loved oil paintings. More than anything, it captures the feel of small Maine towns dotted throughout the country.
Take Flight at the Owl’s Head Transportation Museum
This ode to all manner of vehicles and aircraft predating 1940 is a surefire smash-hit with younger travelers and teens.
The museum has an unusual origin story: Tom Watson, an aviation enthusiast, sent a hand-scrawled note to Jim Rockefeller, part of the wealthy family that established Maine’s Acadia National Park. He remarked casually that it would be nice to have some “old airplanes” flying around the area.
Rockefeller, being the type to think big, took the idea to heart. By the 1970s, the one-of-a-kind museum was born.
In addition to an extensive collection of more than 150 fully operational historical replicas and originals—the largest fleet of its kind in all of New England—the museum boasts immersive 3D virtual exhibits in the Wright Gallery. Go inside the Wright Brothers’ pioneering journey into the skies or learn all about the fearless women daredevils who fly and drive and breakneck speeds.
Shop for Seafood at Jess’s Market
Rockland, Maine’s reputation as a serious foodie destination—particularly for seafood-lovers—is well-deserved. While there are plenty of restaurants around town that will serve up the catch of the day, Jess’s Market is an experience in itself and one of the best Rockland, Maine attractions.
The local institution prides itself in selling only the freshest sustainable seafood around. From diver-harvested razor clams to local cockles, rope-grown mussels, and wild oysters from the icy waters of the Atlantic, the selection here is truly unparalleled.
While travelers may not want to stock up on perishable shellfish immediately, the shop will gladly ship a live lobster anywhere in the United States.
There’s also an extensive selection of local items, including vinegar, hot sauces, and products by all-star Maine chefs. Prepare to spend an hour or so browsing all the curiosities, then stock up on souvenirs for back home.
Read: Fall in Maine
Learn more about all that this exceedingly quaint Maine town has to offer when you book a luxury cruise. Rockland makes for a perfect stop on a longer voyage, one that captures the magic that makes this state so undeniably compelling. Browse our luxury cruises to Rockland and book your next journey today.