The tiny town of Lubec, in the “Sunrise County,” holds many hidden gems in the easternmost region of Maine. The iconic red-and-white-striped lighthouse at Quoddy Head State Park can be found here, as can a former sardine factory transformed into a wonderful waterfront hotel and restaurant, and a Peruvian chocolatier whose confections (and hot chocolate, in season) render all others lackluster by comparison.
The downtown area is walkable, if you don’t mind hills, and ultra-scenic, with water views from many vantage points, as well as colorful artisanal shops, historic buildings, public art, and more to feed the senses.
“Lubec now has more than one hundred and fifty miles of hiking trails, mostly coastal,” said Heather Henry Tenan, former president of the now-defunct Lubec Area Chamber of Commerce. “Acadia National Park only has one hundred and twenty-eight miles. We credit cobscookshores.org for this. The Butler Foundation invested more than $12 million into the Lubec area last year in an effort to help our economy.”
Heather owns The Eastland Motel and said this has been their best year ever, economically. “People are flocking in droves to the area to hike these gorgeous new trails, which also include bicycle paths and kayak launching sites. And I believe there are seventeen new parks.”
Obviously, she said, a big draw to the region is that “Easternmost point in the United States” distinction, but there’s so much more. “We have four lighthouses with a ten-mile range. Our whale watching tours never disappoint, either. You will see minke, finback, humpback, right whales and we even have a stray orca that never leaves, and this year we had a beluga whale hanging around, too,” she said. “Lubec is also a stopover for many migratory birds. We have birders here nonstop, and Lubec is home to an amazing birding festival [the Down East Spring Birding Festival] that takes place every Memorial Day weekend.”
Ever hear the phrase, “Maine, the way life should be?” That popular little tagline was coined in Lubec. “A young marketing major was out in Johnson Bay having a beer or five with his buddy in a lobster boat,” Heather recalled. “He said, ‘this is the way life should be.’ He got back to his office in Portland to find the contract from the state of Maine on his desk. He was charged with coming up with a slogan for the state and in a nanosecond, he had it.”
Where to stay, what to do, where to nibble and sip
There are several lodging choices. The Eastland Motel is a popular eco-adventure destination, as one might guess from Heather’s enthusiasm about whales and birds. The Water Street Tavern & Inn is known for its seafood and has great views, especially from the back deck (but hurry, as they typically close after Indigenous Peoples Day weekend). West Quoddy Station, just a half-mile walk from West Quoddy Head, is a former United States Coast Guard station that can accommodate up to 40 guests in seven unique units.
Another interesting and historic option is the Inn on the Wharf, which offers waterfront lodging and dining in a former sardine factory. Owned and operated by Victor and Judy Trafford, the lavishly converted inn offers suites and apartments with ocean views. Many of the public spaces, indoors and out, also face out onto the water and the working waterfront – boats deliver fresh seafood to the dock below, and it’s stored in tanks that you can sometimes hear burbling beneath the inn. There’s also a gift shop on site, where Judy sells her paintings along with other merchandise.
Victor said that COVID-19 has expanded the business’s busy season, with rooms rented out by March this year rather than April. “In the restaurant we’ve been extremely busy, and at the inn, we’re staying full. At the restaurant, this year and last have been good years, but we know that’s not the case for everybody,” he added somberly. The Fisherman’s Wharf Restaurant typically stays open through the end of October, but, “if the business stays, I would keep it open for as long as is viable.”
There are several other places worth visiting, and tasting, while you’re in town. Love at First Light is a gift shop and ice cream shop open through mid-October. Gift items, as well as the owner’s photography, may also be purchased online at loveatfirstlightlubec.com during the winter months when the shop is closed.
Monica Elliott was a fashion designer in the country of Peru, but now she’s the owner of Monica’s Chocolates, which offers up delicious handmade truffles, caramels, bonbons and other confections, as well as Peruvian clothing and jewelry. If you are lucky enough to be there when the hot chocolate is on the menu, do order it, but be forewarned – you may never taste a satisfying hot chocolate elsewhere again!
Narrow Escape is a full espresso bar and gift shop. During the summer months most of the merchandise is artisanal and more to tourist tastes, while during the colder months, they try to stock items Maine folks will appreciate. The shop also has a café with sandwiches and baked goods. Narrow Escape plans to remain open all winter, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.
The Lubec Brewing Company has given up on food service due to COVID-19 regulations, but the outside beer garden is open on weekends this fall, and fire pits will be added as the weather cools.
Lubec has attracted more than its fair share of artisans and crafters over the years. Jean Bookman’s Creative Arts Studio is located on South Lubec Road, as is Shanna Wheelock’s Crow Town Gallery and Cobscook Pottery. And Chuck Kniffen and Rhonda Welcome’s Turtle Dance Co-op is located on Water Street.
“We make art from treasure and trash found on the beach, and we call our art ‘activism art’ a little bit, because we’re all about beach cleanup,” said Rhonda. There’s also a finback whale’s jaw, skull and some bones on display at the shop, but those are not for sale. “They were dug up on Mowry Beach right here in Lubec,” she said.
Whales are special to the couple, who authored “Putep’s Tale” in 2020. “Putep means whale in Passamaquoddy,” explained Rhonda. Maine Public Broadcasting has taped a video about the book, which will be aired at a date yet to be determined.
A visit to Lubec wouldn’t be complete without seeing the West Quoddy Head Lighthouse, but don’t stop exploring there. Quoddy Head State Park has miles of scenic hiking trails to explore. Some, like the Coastal Trail, are moderate and offer scenic ocean vistas. Others, like the Bog Trail, provide a chance to see habitat that isn’t found every day.
The West Quoddy Head Bog evolved through a slow process of plant growth and decay over the past eight thousand years. This Maine Critical Area/National Natural Landmark, which may only be explored via boardwalk, covers approximately seven acres and is the easternmost open peatland in the United States. The bog is about ninety percent moisture and ten percent organic matter. Human feet sink deeply here, and footprints may last up to two years, so the best way to protect this unique and fragile environment is to stay on the boardwalk.
“I think October is the best time to come to Lubec,” said Lubec Brewing Company owner Gale White. “The restaurants are still open. There are fewer people. The weather is perfect. The trees still have their color. And as the weather cools, looking at the Lubec Narrows, the water is this cobalt blue color that is breathtaking! It’s a great time to sit outside and drink a beer and watch the waves.”