City Guide: Camden, Maine

Mid-coast Maine (Penobscot Bay in particular) is the most beautiful part of the state. Camden is family friendly town with loads of recrfeational and photo opportunities within a short drive.

Where the mountains seet the sea, Camden is a popular destination. The harbor, the architecture, the landscape, and recreational features are vast and varied; and the food is pretty darned good too (hint: Cappy's Chowder House).

With a river running through town and emptying into the harbor as a waterfall, there are some great photography choices (hint: footbrige in early evening). Many of the shops and boathouses are built on pilings that are set into the water.

There are parks within walking distance to town as well as a short drive away, where you'll find warm water fun on the many lakes and ponds.

You can also hike or drive, up one of the mountains in Camden Hills State Park for sensational vistas (hint: bring a tripod, and go during leaf-peeper season).

Camden is also especially dog-friendly
Ol' Ralf can swim, chase balls (or sticks) in the inner harbor, and get fresh water at one on many dog bowls put out by local businesses along the sidewalks. Poop-bag dispenser boxes are conveniently scattered around the parks, and there are even a couple of doggie boutiques.

The two hotels that are down town, the Lord Camden Inn and the Camden Riverhouse Inn and Suites, each have dog policies.

Other photo oportunities are numerous and varied too. Morning and evening light in the harbor and parks can be magical (I don't say that things are magical very often; it's just not a word I normally use, but the light at thosae times is pretty cool). The wiki map below shows some of the places we like (give me a few more days to get little photos in the map please), you can add your favorites too.

Things to do with kids:
Play in a park or on the beach -- At Camden's inner harbor is a grassy park great for exploring the beach, picnicing, relaxing, or burning off steam. There are also lot's of ducks here. You can also head south on Bay View Street and you'll get to a little park on the left with swingsets, playground, and a semi-sandy beach great for swimming, sunbathing, or exploring intertidal sea life.

Walk the breakwater out to Rockland light house
This 1 mile round trip is a fun way to get a little excercise after dinner, a good photography opportunities, and a popular fishing spot. Kids love to run along breakwaters on top the rocks, and when they run this one, you can bet they'll be tired enough to go to bed without much guff!
Swim at Lincolnville Beach -- a sandy beach on the rocky coast. There's a good little seafood stand down by the ferry terminal and there are some stores for kids to pick up souveneirs, sodas, and sweets. At low tide, you can walk way, way out and look for sand dollars.
Ride the ferry to Islesboro -- board at Lincolnville beach, north of Camden. Get some fried clams at the clam stand while you wait.

Visit Camden Hills State Park -- Auto road up Mount Battie, trails up Bald Rock Mountain and Maiden's Cliff, camping in the campground.

See the National toboggan Championship races at Camden Snow Bowl (or ski there)
Cruise the Bay on a Schooner! book passage on the waterfront.
Places to eat:
Cappy's Chowder House -- You've got to eat at Cappy's at least once. A great lunch or dinner spot (tip: try the chowder). Kid's meals come in big cardboard classic cars. It's crowded, but in the off hours, seating isn't such a problem. Bloody Marys got greast reviews from the folks I sat next last.
Camden House of Pizza has the best pizza; at least if you like traditional pizza. Good for eating in the room while doing laundry and packing the night before leaving for home.
Su Casa -- A great Mexican restaurant opened by two guys: one from Corpus Cristi and the other from Ecuador via Seattle. The salsa is fresh pico de gallo, and the entrees are fantastic. The margeritas are nothing to shake a stick at either.
Camden Deli -- good sandwiches, good coffee, enclosed sun room seating overlooking the harbor. A little congested up front, but there's plenty of room in the back.

Mariner's Grill -- A kid-friendly restaurant with "The best haddock sandwich I've ever had!" says Tinsley. And the cole slaw was "to die for". A nice quiet peaceful place to get away from the mob; the service was fast and friendly. The blueberry pancakes are awesome as well. And there's a deck overlooking the harbor.
Peter Otts Tavern has been the traditional fine dining choice in Camden, but reviews of this placu under its new ownership haven't been great.

Places to stay:
Camden Riverhouse Inn and Suites -- our favorite for the homey one bedroom suites.
Norembega Castle -- great place for a second (or first) honeymoon.
Lord Camden Inn -- haven't stayed there, but the balconies look over Main Street and the harbor. It could be a nice place to stay.

The Wrong Way to Do Family Roadtrips

A veritable How-Not To plan and execute a family road trip.

There's a stunning essay in the current issue of Newsweek: The Family Road Trip: Strangers in a Minivan It's ironic that we picked up the Newsweek at the front desk of the Residence Inn in Scarborough, ME in the middle of our annual early-summer family road trip across northern New England.

Tinsley read it first, and then handed the magazine to me muttering something like "I think you'll find this interesting".

The irony didn't stop at the front desk. The article 's lead photo (below, right) is similar to one I took recently on our way down to Philly: a wide angle view of the family from the front of a minivan (above right). The main difference in the two photos though, was that in my photo, the family is happy and unplugged, whereas in the Newsweek photo, the family is miserable, plugged in, and uninterested in each other. Granted, our children are not teenagers and the essayist's are, but I think her problems run a lot deeper than that. Here are some of the things that it looks like they did wrong:

They didn't start the kids young on road tripping. They started with teenagers on a 1,200 mile journey from New Jersey to Florida. We started our kids the minute they were born. Well, the month they were born. Tommy is now a true Knight of the Road. He sits back there in his happy road trip world grooving on the sights, yapping at us, and looking at his kid's atlas and other books. Lilly, (2 yrs old) is still going through the boot camp phase, sometimes she'll scream at us for an hour or two (as Tommy did), but she's developing her little road trip routine. Tommy used to scream at us too, but now he's a champ. The key is to do a lot of short trips with the youngsters to get them used to the routine.

They avoided America by sticking to I-95, no Scenic American Backroads, no local restaurants, no history lessons about the country they live in. Getting there is the best part. They didn't know this. They were looking for a way to get through the drive rather than looking for ways to make the drive great. If you take a different return route, getting back is just as cool.

They distanced themselves with electronic gear
rather than interacting with each other. When Tommy got a DVD player for Christmas a couple of years ago, we thought that it was going to be a great addition the the family road trip gear pile. And for a while, it seemed like it was. While Tommy was wrapped up in Toy Story, March of the Penguins, or some crazy Superhero comic movie, Tinsley and I had the most wonderful conversations (note that the passenger parent wasn't watching a movie or tapping on a computer). But when we arrived at the hotel, or restaurant, Tommy was like a zombie. When we took away the DVD player, we got our son back.

She was too uptight
about what her vision of the trip would be vs. the reality of it. Our rule #3 Don't Sweat the Schedule goes right along with Take What They Give You, Don't Try to do Too Much, and Let Sleeping Dogs Lay.

They severed the seat belt of their daughter
. And then the author pats herself on the back for it because she used a low-tech tool (scissors) to do it. I can't believe this one, somehow the daughter got "inexplicably tangled in her seat belt. She was uncomfortable and started to panic." So they cut the seat belt. Nice move. Why not tell the girl to calm down, pull over at the next exit, and get her untangled?

In our Tips for Road Tripping with Kids series, we lay out a bunch of ways we've found success. I hope that these tips can help others avoid road trip hell as chronicled in Newsweek.

What do you think of this story?

9 Classic Northeastern Shore Towns

The towns chosen by Fodor's are the more upscale ones. Also check out Belfast, Maine (north of Camden), Old Orchard Beach, Maine for family fun, Mystic, CT, and The Cape Cod National Seashore. And the Moxie Festival in Lisbon Falls, ME July 13-157th or so...

9 Classic Northeastern Shore Towns

For Northeasterners, the lazy days of summer are best spent at "the shore" in one of the many small beach towns along the East Coast. Though the crowds can get thick, the vibe remains friendly and laid-back. Here are a few favorites -- starting with the jewel of the Jersey Shore and moving north to Maine's coast.

062106_virginiahotelcapemay.jpgCape May, New Jersey
The southernmost point in New Jersey, believed to be the oldest beachfront resort in the country, is a National Historic Landmark. Cape May today retains more than 600 Victorian-era houses, built from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s. Many have found new life as B&Bs, inns, and restaurants.
Eating Out: In a town with no shortage of good restaurants, Washington Inn reigns as the spot for a special dinner at the shore.
Sleeping In: Forget frumpy. For classy lodging, book a room well in advance at the Virginia Hotel. (photo, right)
Tip: The Cape May "diamonds" -- pebbles of pure, rounded quartz -- that wash up on the shore of Sunset Beach (within walking distance from the Cape May Lighthouse) are yours for the taking.

Southampton, New York
Like much of Long Island's Hamptons, Southampton is a magnet for affluent summer breakers from "the city" (New York, that is). The beaches, like the people that gather on them, are beautiful.
Eating Out: The small village of Water Mill, one mile east of Southampton, is proud of its star restaurant, Mirko's.
Sleeping In: The Hamptons are all about splurging -- a stay at The Inn at Box Farm is a worthwhile one.
Tip: For a fee, you can stretch out on Cooper's Beach, studying the sea in one direction and historic mansions -- including Calvin Klein's massive manse -- in the other. 268 Meadow Lane.

Montauk, New York
Twelve long miles of windswept road, aptly named the Napeague Stretch, separate Montauk from the Hamptons. Surrounded by water on three sides, Montauk is known for its distinct natural beauty and rustic, laid-back vibe.
Eating Out: Sidle up to the bar at Shagwong Tavern for something refreshing -- on a busy night you'll have to wait your turn to savor its delectable seafood fare.
Sleeping In: Bigger is better at the Montauk Manor.
Tip: The Montauk Trolley traverses the sights of Montauk---the village, the lighthouse, the harbor, and several parks -- on 90 minute tours from Memorial Day weekend through Columbus Day. Same-day-ticket holders are allowed all-day boarding privileges (15 stops), which makes this a great way to get around. Tours begin at the Chamber of Commerce, Main Street across from the village green.

062106_blockislandISTOCKfinal.jpgBlock Island, Rhode Island
Well-preserved Block Island, 12 miles off Rhode Island's Coast, boats 17 miles of sandy beaches. The Old Harbor area is the island's only village and visitors will find the majority of the island's inns and hotels here.
Eating Out: For something casual, head to Finn's, a local institution. If you're seeking something more formal, Eli's serves up delectable Italian.
Sleeping In: Guests can expect elaborate breakfasts and immaculate grounds at the Atlantic Inn.
Tip: The Greenway, a well-maintained trail system, meanders across the island, but some of the best hikes are along the beaches. You can hike around the entire island in about eight hours.

Newport, Rhode Island
Larger than most harbor towns, Newport is a haven for recreational sailors. For those not arriving by water, a boat tour of the harbor is a great way to get your feet wet.
Eating Out: Enjoy fine dining in a garage at Asterisk.
Sleeping In: The panoramic views are almost as expansive as the list of amenities on offer at Castle Hill and Resort.
Tip: Easton's Beach (also called First Beach) is the beginning of the Cliff Walk, a spectacular 3 1/2-mile path, which runs south along Newport's cliffs to Bailey's Beach. The promenade has views of sumptuous mansions on one side and the rocky coastline on the other.

Edgartown, Massachusetts
Once a well-to-do whaling port, Martha's Vineyard's Edgartown has managed to preserve the elegance of that wealthy era. 062106_winnetuEdgartownFinal.jpgLining the streets are 18th- and 19th- century sea captains' houses, many painted white with black shutters, set among well-manicured gardens and lawns.
Eating Out: For a special evening out, head to Alchemy for upscale French fare.
Sleeping In: Winnetu Inn and Resorts is a top hotel on the island for both couples and families. (photo, right)
Tip: While Edgartown's South Beach reigns as the town's most popular sandy strip, sunbathers in search of a little peace and quiet should head to Little Beach. From here you can look across and see the lighthouse at Cape Poge, at the northern tip of Chappaquiddick.

Nantucket Town, Massachusetts
The center of island activity, just as it has been since the early 1700s, Nantucket Town on the island of Nantucket consists of only a few square blocks of mostly historical buildings, lovingly restored inns, and boutiques and galleries leading up from the pretty harbor and waterfront, where the ferries dock.
Eating Out: Locals and visitors line-up outside of Black-Eyed Susan's for a chance to sample a menu that straddles the globe.
Sleeping In: A night's rest can be pretty pricey here; Seven Sea Street is a particularly good value.
Tip: The Steamship Authority runs car-and-passenger ferries to Nantucket year-round. The trip takes just over 2 hours. If you plan to bring a car in the summer or weekends in the fall, you must have a reservation. Book as far ahead as possible.

Provincetown, Massachusetts
Cape Cod's smallest town, Provincetown is a place of liberating creativity and substantial diversity. In the busy downtown, Portuguese-American fishermen mix with painters, poets, writers, whale-watching families, and gay and lesbian residents and visitors.
Eating Out: Re-fuel from an afternoon walk at Clem & Ursie's, a local favorite for laid-back dining---there are plenty of seafood favorites to go around.
Sleeping In: With fireplaces and whirlpool tubs in some rooms and an on-site full service spa, the Crowne Pointe Historic Inn makes for one of Provincetown's most refined stays.
Tip: Race Point Beach, one of the Cape Cod National Seashore beaches in Provincetown, has a wide swath of sand stretching far off into the distance around the point and Coast Guard station. Because of its position on a point facing north, the beach gets sun all day long, whereas the east coast beaches get fullest sun early in the day.

062106_windjammerweekendfinal.jpgCamden, Maine
More than any other town along the Penobscot Bay, Camden is the perfect picture-postcard of a Maine coastal village. Exposed as such, the tiny town is uber-popular -- don't expect to be savoring that lobster roll down by the harbor solo.
Eating Out: Cappy's Chowder House is a local institution; a bowl of "chowdah" is an essential order.
Sleeping In: Check-in to Norumbega Inn, Maine's most photographed piece of real estate.
Tip: One of the town's biggest and most colorful annual events, Windjammer Weekend is the single largest gathering of windjammer ships in the world.

Photo Credits: (1) Courtesy of the Virginia Inn; (2) Block Island Beach, Matthew Pisani; (3) Courtesy of Winnetu Inn and Resorts; (4) Courtesy of Windjammer Weekend

Take Great Pictures of Kids, part 4

New tip about taking great pictures of kids here.

Weekend Philly Trip

Philly is a very walkable city with great architecture, food, and nice folks. In short, Philly is Phantastic!
(sorry, I couldn't resist)

I wanted to drop in on the Congress for New Urbanism conference in Philadelphia a couple of weeks ago. I wanted to meet some of people who were speaking there, so I really only needed to take a couple of hours on Saturday and again on Sunday to listen to their presentation and then schmooze afterward. As a roadtrip-addicted family, we used the opportunity to have another FamilyRoadtripper weekend adventure.

We had never really been to Philly before and we were happily surprised at how cool it is. We'll be back, early and often!

As usual, we took back roads
We try to avoid interstates unless we're truly in a hurry, or if it's night time and there is nothing but dark to see out the windows. We took 84 west to Port Jervis, and then hopped onto the back roads whittling our way to Route 611 along the Delaware River (a great American back road) and right into the heart of Philly (see the map below). The road ended three blocks from our hotel, so in addition to being a scenic route, it was a direct route too.

Before going, I went to Fodor's forum to ask advice about kid-friendly places and activities. As usual, the Fodorites had a handful of tips and tactical advice.

At the top of the list was the Reading Terminal Market
What a great place. Almost everything you need under one roof. I say almost because we didn't actually explore the whole place enough to be sure that something was missing, but just about everything I need was there: Mexican food, sushi, Greek food, Philly Cheese Steaks, jalepeno hummus (!), beer garden, wine store, bakery, ice cream restaurant, bee store (bees wax, honey, etc), toys, post cards, beer garden, fresh fruit, vegetables, seafood, meats, flowers, coffee, did I say beer garden?

Needless to say, we started the days at the public market, and ended them there as well. We went to the Liberty Bell and the Independence Mall, taking the advice of PaulRabe not to stand in line to see the Liberty Bell because you can see it through the window, and the kids can play on the mall.

China town was right there by our hotel, and Tinsley found herself in seventh heaven when she noticed a Chinese dollar store. All of the kitchy little Chinese lanterns and budahs and dragons that you see in Chinese restaraunts for a buck. It so happened that this weekend was Lilly's second birthday, so Tinsley bought a bunch of party supplies (noisemakers, silly hats, a mask for lilly...) and we had a birthday party up in the hotel room, then Lilly got a birthday bath and went to bed!

Below is a little map with our stops: