48 Hours in…Sebago
July 2011 | By Jennifer Hazard | Illustration by Josh Brill
48 hours of our favorite places to eat, rejuvenate, shop, and visit
During the summer of 1994, my college sweetheart and I borrowed a friend’s canoe to explore Sebago Lake. The state park campground was bustling that day: kids biked between campsites, shrieking with delight; the scent of charcoal lingered; picnic tables brimmed with hamburgers, hot dogs, and summer salads; and adults lounged on the beach while their children played Marco Polo in the lake.
Despite the enticement of summer revelry, we were searching for quiet. We pushed our canoe into the water and paddled toward a small island surrounded by evergreens. My boyfriend built a campfire and we sat on a rock overlooking the lake. The next thing I knew, he was proposing. Given the man and the dreamy view, how could I say no?
Sebago still holds a special place in our hearts. Every summer, we take our two small children to the state park, and we tell them the story of our engagement (whether they want to hear it or not). We swim, picnic, and indulge ourselves at the nearest ice cream stand. For us and many other visitors, Sebago is a place to enjoy Maine summers at their best.
For most people, traveling to the Sebago region means a drive along Route 302. The first thing you’ll notice? There is no shortage of diners and cafes offering breakfast.
A friend recommended Chutes Cafe & Bakery in Casco. Keep your eyes open for a tiny building with cedar shingles and faded green awnings. Inside, the bakery shelves are lined with homemade doughnuts and muffins. If that doesn’t tempt you, the cafe menu includes a variety of breakfast classics alongside specials such as red-flannel corned beef hash, made with boiled potatoes, carrots, and beets.
If you’re searching for a lunch you can take to the beach, stop by The Good Life Market. I love that the market features local food from all over the state, including coffee from Swift River Roasters in Raymond. The generous box lunches are perfect for families on the go, and the wine selection is one of the largest in the area. Beth’s Kitchen Cafe in Bridgton is another good choice for gourmet sandwiches, homemade desserts, and Matt’s Coffee. A friend and I sat together in Beth’s homey dining room and split a decadent whoopie pie filled with Oreo mint cream.
Bray’s Brew Pub & Eatery is everyone’s favorite for craft beers (make sure to sample the Orien Oatmeal Pale Ale), live music, and hearty meals. My pick from the menu is Bray’s pulled-pork sandwich, which is drenched in barbecue sauce and large enough to feed two people. During the summer, visitors enjoy sitting at picnic tables and listening to music in Bray’s outdoor beer garden. Newer to the pub grub scene is Buck’s Naked BBQ, which— despite its name—offers a kid-friendly atmosphere and play area that is a true treat for exhausted parents. My family likes the cornbread, Jamaican jerk chicken, and flavorful barbecue beans.
If you’re looking for New England fruits de mer, try the Naples Lobster Pound. The cozy post-and-beam establishment is beloved by all for its lobsters, steamers, and—yes—lobster pizza. While it’s nearer to the lake than it is to the ocean, a longtime fan says the restaurant feels like a quintessential Maine lobster shack.
No trip to the Sebago area is complete without ice cream. Raymond’s Frozen Custard is my personal favorite for thick chocolate frappes. I asked owner Raymond Dingley if I could get a kid-size, and he said, “Nope. Fourteen-ounce is all I have, dee-ah.” Truth be told, I didn’t have any problem polishing it off. The Mosquito is another TDF (to die for) ice cream stand that features flavors like Brownie Cookie Dough, Peanut Butter Fudge, and Red Raspberry Revolution.
Summer revelers will enjoy the host of late-night options in Naples and Bridgton. Rick’s Cafe, which is located right across from Long Lake, boasts sunset views and cocktails. It reminds me of a Florida Keys– style bar, complete with Corona, palm trees, ceiling fans, and regular performances by a Jimmy Buffet cover band. Also nearby is the Freedom Cafe & Pub, which serves locally inspired drinks such as the Sebago Perfecto margarita and the Causeway Colada. I particularly like the quieter Black Bear Cafe, a cozy Irish Pub that has Smithwick’s on tap (a good enough reason for me to go) and traditional Irish music on Sunday nights. And who can resist the pub’s motto: First class in every particular.
Finally, if you’re like my husband, the opportunity to watch the Red Sox without interruption is a rare treat. The Tannery Pub, located inside the Magic Lantern movie theater in Bridgton, features a 23-foot screen, beers on tap, and a mouth- watering burger menu that includes the Rodeo burger topped with cheddar, barbecue sauce, and onion rings.
My favorite shopping in the Sebago region can be found in Bridgton. The Bridgton Art Walk, which takes place on the first Friday of each month from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., is a great way to discover the galleries and shops on Main Street. Bridgton Books has a kind, knowledgeable staff and wonderful selection. I especially like their choices for children’s books, including a section devoted exclusively to Maine authors. The wildly colorful Party Insanity is a fun stop for candy, piñatas, and all things celebratory. Gallery 302 is the place to go for gorgeous, locally made gifts. The gallery has the work of fifty artists on display and also sponsors art classes and workshops throughout the summer. Located in an old church, Craftworks is a unique place to shop for everything from boutique-style clothing to home accessories. Bargain hunters will love the two-story Bridgton Renys, which my friend, a self-described shopaholic, says is the nicest Renys she’s ever visited. The Cry of the Loon Gift Shop in South Casco has been a beloved roadside destination for more than twenty years. This is the place to find an exceptional present for a summer wedding or gift for a generous host.
If the boho look is your thing, stop in to Mexicali Blues in Raymond. The store is a great place to find a colorful sundress or beach bag in a pinch (and on the cheap). I also like the paper lanterns for outdoor parties. Can’t get enough bohemian flair? There are Mexicali Blues stores in Freeport, Portland, Newcastle, and Bangor.
If you’re like me, nothing says summer more than a fabulous outdoor market. The Lakes Region Farmers’ Market in Windham features live music, fresh flowers, farm- raised meats, and the work of local artisans.
When my children were babies, I peered longingly at Blacksmiths Tasting Room and Winery on the way to Sebago Lake, wondering if I would ever make it there for a wine tasting. Thank goodness for grandparents who don’t mind babysitting! My husband and I thoroughly enjoyed sampling a variety of wines from Blacksmiths’ extensive list of offerings. Their crisp, light sauvignon blanc is the summer wine I bring to friends and family from away.
Steamboat Landing Miniature Golf is the place to go with family. The adorable little golf course is tucked away in the woods, and each hole is Maine themed. But don’t forget to bring bug spray! If the weather isn’t cooperating, visit The Rufus Porter Museum and Cultural Heritage Center in Bridgton, which is named after the nineteenth-century artist and inventor who founded Scientific American. The museum features folk art, murals, special exhibits, and activities for kids.
For evening entertainment, the lovely Magic Lantern movie theater shows blockbusters and independent films alike. Or make like Danny and Sandy from Grease and enjoy a night out at the Bridgton Twin Drive-In Theatre. If live performance is your thing, take the family to the Schoolhouse Arts Center. Narnia, Beauty and the Beast Junior, and a teen production of Shakespeare’s plays will be showing this season.
There’s nothing like swimming in sparkling lake water with views of the White Mountains in the distance. That’s why my family loves Sebago Lake State Park, one of Maine’s five original state- run parks. There’s a sandy beach, picnic tables (get there early to grab one), and a playground for little ones. Anyone with armloads of beach gear and a stroller will also appreciate the accessibility of nearby parking. The camping area is busy during the summer, so claim your site early.
If you’re looking for an adventure on the lake, there are a few fun options. Take a long, leisurely cruise on the Songo River Queen II—a replica of a Mississippi River paddle wheeler—or bring your bike on the seven- minute ferry ride from Raymond to Frye Island. Get a quick bite or an ice cream at the Frye’s Leap General Store and Cafe, and then bike to one of the island’s 13 beaches (you can buy an island map at the town hall). On the mainland, you can also rent kayaks and canoes from the Sebago Kayak Company. The kind folks who work there will provide suggestions for tours that will suit paddlers of all levels. And what I appreciate the most? They offer door-to-door service from local camps, so you don’t have to schlep your boat back and forth by car.
There’s nothing like swimming in sparkling lake water with views of the White Mountains in the distance.
The Loon Echo Land Trust is an excellent resource for hiking in the area. The nonprofit organization maintains trails at Pondicherry Park (Bridgton), Mayberry Hill (Casco), Bald Pate (South Bridgton), and Pleasant Mountain (Bridgton/Denmark) preserves. The hikes at each of these locations range from easy to moderate, with the exception of Pleasant Mountain—a ten-mile hike on southern Maine’s highest peak. For trekking with little ones, try the 400-acre Holt Pond Preserve in Bridgton, where you can spend time walking through the lush wetlands, searching for ducks and water lilies on the pond.
Fern Hill Farm Bed and Breakfast in Naples is a unique place to stay. Guests enjoy time on a working farm. Made-to- order breakfasts are a highlight, featuring eggs from Fern Hill’s hens prepared with artisan goat cheese. If you’ve dreamed of reliving your camp years and don’t mind splurging, then Migis Lodge on Sebago Lake is for you. You can stay in the rustic, circa-1916 Main Lodge or in a lakeside cottage with a fieldstone fireplace. Just be sure to make your reservation long in advance, of course. Generations of families return to this picture-perfect destination year after year. The Noble House Inn is another lovely spot to relax. Julie and Rick Whelchel pride themselves on spoiling guests with lavish breakfasts made from local ingredients. The nine guest rooms in the 108-year-old inn are inviting and comfortable, and each one features an ultra-cozy bed.
Families on a budget will appreciate the charm and simplicity of Merryfield Cove Cottages, which offers a generous lawn for horseshoes or badminton and a private sandy beach for swimming on Highland Lake. Merryfield also has a variety of boats, canoes, and kayaks on hand for guests. If you prefer to camp, the forty-acre Colonial Mast Campground on Long Lake is a gorgeous spot. The campground offers fun activities for kids, including a bike parade, tractor rides, and make-your-own tie-dyed shirts. No matter where you stay, there’s nothing better than unplugging for a little while and enjoying all that Sebago has to offer.