48 Hours in Augusta, Hallowell, and Gardiner
With the State House in Augusta, the quintessential New England community of Gardiner, and the nightlife in Hallowell, Maine’s capital region is a hub of activity perfect for a weekend getaway.
First night, first bites
Rain patters against the car windows as we drive north for a weekend of exploring the capital area. The rain clears when my boyfriend, Dylan, and I arrive at the Maple Hill Farm Bed and Breakfast Inn in Hallowell. The Victorian-era farm-turned-inn has animals roaming the grounds, including cats, llamas, and chickens that provide the eggs for the inn’s complimentary breakfast. Our suite overlooks 70 acres of untouched woodlands, creating a peaceful atmosphere.
We settle in and make our way to The Maine House for dinner. Inside is a cocktail lounge where we order martinis and a charcuterie board. Next door is The Liberal Cup, a casual and lively brewpub featuring comfort food and beer. It is perfect for the cloudy weather. After dinner, we retire to the inn for the evening.
Symbols of Maine
The rain has cleared, so we go on an early excursion to Augusta. We walk along Water Street before the downtown storefronts have opened for the day and cross the Kennebec River to admire Fort Western, the country’s oldest surviving wooden fort.
Earning our brew stripes
Vaughan Woods is a nature preserve with trails not far from the center of Hallowell. Once at the preserve, we cross over stone bridges that lead to quiet fields and woodlands. It is a still and scenic area, perfect for a brisk walk (which we need before hitting up the area’s many eateries and pubs).
After our walk, we drive to Water Street in Hallowell, which overlooks the Kennebec River. We explore the cavernous Hallowell Antique Mall, filled with so many antiques that we wonder how they all ended up at the shop. We next stop at The Quarry Tap Room, which has a great beer selection and tempting food. We order Sip of Sunshine IPAs from Lawson’s Finest Liquids, a goat cheese quesadilla, and fried pickles, satisfying our hunger from the morning’s walks. Down the street is Granite City Park, where we stop to photograph the colorful Adirondack chairs that line the Kennebec River.
About ten minutes from Hallowell in downtown Augusta is Cushnoc Brewing Company, where we split the Sand Hill Classic flatbread, topped with salami and pepperoncini, and wash the pizza down with a Lawyer Up! porter and a Downeast Cider.
We head back to the inn after a long day of exploring the area and watch the sun set from inside the inn’s sauna and hot tub.
Hallowell at night
Our innkeeper recommends Slates Restaurant in downtown Hallowell for dinner. Inside is a welcoming and comfortable atmosphere and creative decor, with colorfully painted walls and tables that give off a bohemian feel. Our dinner of sesame-seared ahi tuna, seared salmon, and a bottle of sauvignon blanc exceeds our high expectations.
We’re craving cocktails again, so we head back to the Maine House for a nightcap. With its jovial, lively atmosphere and solid cocktail offerings, the bar comes through a second time. Margarita lovers will enjoy the Ramonarita, which spices up the classic with muddled jalapeños and a chili-dusted rim.
Hearty diner fare
We check out of the inn and make our way to Gardiner for breakfast. It’s a gray spring morning as we approach A1 Diner, an original Worcester diner car with legendary fare that was featured on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives in 2007. Our meal— farmers’ breakfast grilled cheese with an egg, bacon, potato, and cheddar cheese for me and Monte Cristo French toast for Dylan—is some of the best breakfast food I’ve had in Maine.
Touring historic Gardiner
We explore downtown Gardiner, including Renys department store and the historic local landmarks of Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center and the Gardiner Public Library. We rest at the well-maintained Waterfront Park to take a final look at the Kennebec before driving back to Portland, feeling fulfilled from our time spent exploring antique shops, breweries, wooded trails, cafes, and restaurants.