If you haven’t been to Rockland Maine, but think the name of this small, midcoast coastal city rings a bell, it’s probably because it’s the lobster capital of the world! There’s a good chance you’ve seen it featured on a travel show, at the Food Network, or in the news every year during Rockland’s annual Maine Lobster Festival.
Aside from the buzz of 37 million out-of-state visitors who flock to Vacationland (that’s how Rockland likes to call itself) and speak highly of the place, Rockland has also been recognized as the “Top Adventure Town in Maine” by National Geographic Travel and “Coolest Small Town in the US” by Budget Travel thanks to its thriving art scene, fantastic harbor views and rocky shoreline, charming locals, and good food.
This post has everything you need to know to make the best of a Rockland Maine trip:
Where is Rockland Maine?
So where is Rockland Maine located, exactly?
Rockland is a city in Knox County, Maine. It is located on Penobscot Bay and the Gulf of Maine.
If you wanted to visit the islands of Penobscot Bay (Vinalhaven, North Haven, and Matinicus), you’d have to pass by Rockland since this is the departure point for the Maine State Ferry Service.
To get to Rockland, Maine, you have to drive about 2 hours from Portland, 3 1/2 hours from Manchester New Hampshire, or Boston, and around 7 hours from New York City.
If you’re flying, check if the nearest airport has flights direct to Rockland Airport (RKD). THere’s one from Boston (CapeAir.com). If you can’t find one, your next best bet is to fly to Portland. From here, you have options to drive your own vehicle, rent a car, ride a bus/train, and hire a shuttle going to Rockland.
No matter how you get there, Rockland, Maine is one of those perfect weekend getaways, if you want to get away for good food, good company, and a good atmosphere.
Things to do in Rockland Maine
Rockland may be a small town, but it’s been a top tourist destination for decades that several spots in the area had been developed to cater to the annual influx of tourists. Some of the must-see attractions include:
Parks and Lighthouses
- Breakwater and Marie Reed Park – This park is small, but it has a beach and is one of the most popular parks because it is where you’ll find the famous 1-mile Rockland breakwater and the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse at the end of it.
- Johnson Memorial Park – If you have time for a quick picnic, this park (by the Chickawaukie Lake) has a recreational area, small beach, public boat launch, restrooms, barbecue grills, and free parking.
- Harbor Park – Located in downtown Rockland Maine, this park hosts dozens of annual festivals and events. It is right in front of the Landings Marina (with boaters going in and out of the park). It is also part of the 5-mile Rockland Harbor Trail, which has been around for over 20 years.
- Owls Head State Park – If you want another view of Penobscot Bay, check this small state park. This is also home to the 1850s Owls Head Light, an active lighthouse the U.S. Coast Guard still uses to this day.
- Snow Marine Park – This dog-friendly, boaters park is included in the Rockland Harbor Trail. The park has a small recreational area, which makes it a go-to for runners and other sports.
If you can’t get enough of Rockland’s outdoors, there are also several golf courses around the area, including Samoset Golf Course and Rockland Golf Club. Both offer golf lessons and feature 18 holes with spectacular views of the coastline, woods, and mountains.
Those who are aching to swim or sail should check out Maine Windjammer Association for a quick cruise (about 6 hours or less), diving underwater, and so on. If you’re interested in lobsters and how they are caught, look out for Captain Jack’s Lobster Boat Adventure. There’s also the Apprenticeshop boat building school, where you can learn all about building boats.
Art Galleries & Museums
Rockland is considered the art capital of Maine with contemporary art from both locals and visiting artists who got inspired by the beauty of this coastal town.
- Maine Lighthouse Museum – Home of the largest collection of Fresnel lighthouse lenses, U.S. Coast Guard memorabilia, and other lighthouse-related artifacts. You’ll find the Maine Discovery Center here as well. It’s open daily with a small fee for adults, but free for kids.
- The Farnsworth Museum – Houses over 150,000 American artworks, including pieces from Robert Indiana, Louise Nevelson, Alex Katz, and The Wyeth family, among others.
- The Caldbeck Gallery – Near Farnsworth, this small and homey gallery showcases artwork from artists like Sam Cady and Katherine Bradford.
- Center for Maine Contemporary Art – The CMCA building is an institution. It used to be located in another part of town but moved to the Rockland waterfront with Architect Toshiko Mori’s vision of making the CMCA feel like it’s been there forever. Inside, CMCA offers massive contemporary exhibitions, ArtLab classroom for their year-round educational programs, and a gift shop and courtyard.
- Friends of Maine Coastal Islands – This is one part museum, one part playground, and another part bird sanctuary was built to support the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge.
- Coastal Children’s Museum – The museum encourages kids and families to discover and learn through play about the natural world, the arts and sciences, and the diversity of Maine’s mid-coast.
- Harbor Square Gallery – If you’re a fan of architecture, make sure to pass by this historical building (it dates back to 1912). It is now where the Muir Garden for Contemporary Sculpture and the Contemporary Art Gallery is located. Open Tuesdays to Saturdays from 11 am to 5 pm.
- Project Puffin Visitor Center – This center began with the “Project Puffin” campaign that brought attention to puffins and other rare seabirds of Maine. Today it hosts a gallery, exhibits, lectures, and educational programs for all ages.
Most of these galleries and museums line up by the waterfront in Downtown Rockland. There are also smaller craft shops and art galleries along this street, so if you have the afternoon available, I recommend you support and check them out.
Rockland Maine Restaurants
Rockland Maine food is synonymous with lobsters and all the awesome Rockland restaurants that serve them. I recommend you check out the following must-visit restaurants if you came here for the lobsters:
- Claws is an award-winning restaurant that prepares super-fresh lobsters with classic recipes handed down from generations. Customers love it (they’re #1 on Yelp) and have won multiple awards from TripAdvisor, travel magazines, and so on.
- Brass Compass Cafe – Buy the “King of Clubs” lobster sandwich. It won against Bobby Flay in an episode of his Food Network show, “Throwdown! with Bobby Flay.”
- Archers of the Pier – Experience authentic sea-to-table dining with Archer’s on the Pier. With awesome views on their large deck, you can enjoy your lunch or dinner (they have the best crab rolls and chowder) right along the Pier.
- McCloons Lobster Shack isn’t technically in town (it’s located in Spruce Head, South of Rockland), but if you can visit, you won’t regret it. Not only do they serve THE best lobsters in the area, but you also get to enjoy Maine’s beautiful midcoast while eating your meal.
While the lobsters are definitely a MUST-have, Rockland Maine food isn’t exclusive to lobsters. Some of the best restaurants in Rockland Maine don’t even have lobsters on their menus. Examples of other places to eat to check out in town include:
- Bixby Chocolate – This bean-to-bar chocolate store is a must-visit even if you don’t have a sweet tooth.
- Café Miranda – If everyone in your family is craving something different, head over to Cafe Miranda. It has everything from Mexican to Italian, Indian, Asian, Greek, French cuisines, so you can order comfort foods like burgers, soups, pizza, chicken, and even gluten-free/veggie meals.
- Suzuki Sushi Bar – For seasonal sashimi, sushi, and other Japanese food staples.
- Primo – This farm-to-table restaurant is located in a 130-year-old farmhouse, on top of a hill overlooking the town of Rockland. Its 4-acre location still has an on-site farm where they raise their own pigs, chickens, ducks, and more. You can visit the bees, vegetable garden, and farm while waiting for your Mediterranean meal to be served.
- In Good Company – If you’re visiting between January to May, check In Good Company what chef-owner Melody Wolfertz has in-store for its 10-year-and-running themed dinners called “Food Journeys.” If you’re lucky to catch one, join her as she showcases food from a specific cooking style, historical period, or culinary region.
- Home Kitchen Cafe – Offers some of the best breakfast items (that they serve ALL day), you have to try Home Kitchen Cafe’s sticky buns, cinnamon buns, omelet specials, Huevos Rancheros special poached egg meal, and other comfort food cooked to perfection.
And if you can visit Rock Harbor Brewing Co., try their scrumptious bar food with their locally produced pale ales and flavor-forward IPAs.
Where to Stay in Rockland, Maine
Rockland offers a wide range of lodging options, from luxury oceanfront resorts to motor inns, and everything in between. Check out these places to stay in Rockland:
- Samoset Resort – Oceanfront 230-acre property with awesome views of Maine’s coast.
- Rockland Harbor Hotel – This one is smacked in the middle of downtown Rockland, so everything’s within walking distance.
- Historic Inns of Rockland – Choose from the Berry Manor, LimeRock, and Granite Inns – all of which have their own histories and charm.
- 250 Main Hotel – Fairly new (opened in 2016) hotel with modern 26 boutique hotel rooms with views of the harbor and showcases many of Maine’s art all around the hotel.
- The Country Inn Bed and Breakfast – It’s been around for over 60 years, providing homey lodging options that are affordable and comfortable.
This list of Rockland accommodations is more comprehensive if you can’t find anything for you on my recommended lodging options. There are also AirBnbs for rent in Rockland, Maine, if you’re looking for more privacy.
Planning Your Visit to Rockland
What is the best time of year to visit Rockland Maine?
Check the calendar of festivals and events before deciding when to visit Rockland.
Rockland has several BIG festivals, starting with the famous Maine Lobster Festival (held in August). There’s also the Summer Solstice Festival in June, the North Atlantic Blues Festival in July, and the Rockland Festival of Lights in December.
If you want to visit Rockland without the crowd, avoid the dates above and go by weather. The summers here are comfortable (so visit between (June through the end of August), the winters are freezing (but good if you’re after skiing). If you’re after the fall foliage Maine has to offer, visit between late September and early October.
Summer is peak season, while off-season is from May until mid-June, and 2 weeks after Labor Day in September.
Rockland itinerary: How long should I stay?
For those who have time and budget to spend on accommodations, I recommend you spend a night and two full days in town to appreciate the chill vibe of Rockland.
A weekend getaway is enough for most travelers, but Rockland should welcome you with open arms if you decide to stay longer and explore more islands nearby, learn boating, hike your way all over Rockland’s parks, or just mingle longer with the locals.
Where Can I Shop?
Aside from the artwork you can buy from galleries, you can also find locally made trinkets, souvenirs, and products that would commemorate your stay here in Rockland at the Archipelago, where all products showcase Maine life and culture.
If you came prepared with your own cooler in hopes of buying fresh lobsters and bringing them home on your drive back home, stop by Jess’s Market.
What Else Should I Know before Visiting Rockland?
Unless you plan to visit Owls Head or jump to other towns in Camden or Maine, there’s no need to rent a car (if you plan to). Almost all Rockland attractions, restaurants, hotels, and waterfronts are close together and can be visited on foot.
I recommend you take advantage of the Rockland Harbor Trail, and if you have more time and money, visit at least one of the 200 islands along Penobscot Bay (the largest and most popular is Vinalhaven and can be a cool day trip by riding a ferry from Rockland.)
Interesting Places to Go Near Rockland
If you’re going beyond Rockland and are looking for other Maine destinations, check out my post on the best Maine lakes to visit. Hunting for gorgeous sea glass? Glass Beach in Southern Maine could deliver.
If you’re lucky to be visiting when the Northern Lights show up in Maine (it’s known to be visible 3 times a year), head over to Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge to experience something quite magical.
For those planning a trip to Rockland Maine around September to October, I recommend you take time to visit another coastal town nearby. The gorgeous fall colors can be seen everywhere in Bar Harbor, on Mount Desert Island.