City Guide: Belfast, Maine

A waterfront city with magnificent downtown buildings is experiencing a wonderful renewal.

I'm a little prejudiced towards Belfast, Maine. Much of my family lives there, I visit whenever I can, and it feels like home. Home away from home, anyway. We've written about Belfast in the past.

My mom wrote about it when she was in elementary school:

Belfast is a little city
Nestled by the sea.
It's not much, but what the heck
It's good enough for me!

Belfast has gotten even better since then.
The harbor is full of boats, the waterfront is buffered by a park, the downtown is thriving with stores, restaurants, and service providers. And no big box sprawl to speak of. There are big stores, but no sprawling strip like almost every other town in America. The Victorian and classic revival buildings downtown are occupied and busy. There's even a new hotel in an old downtown building shooting for four or five stars. When I remember the name of it, I'll link to it.

If 4 star suites don't fit your bill, the Northport Campground fills in the other end of the spectrum.
We have a very big tent, and we camp there frequently. A tent site is $23 per night, so a week's worth of camping costs the same as a night at the Comfort Inn (every room has a great view of the bay), which is where we stay when camping won't work.

There's a footbridge over the river that feeds the harbor.
The name of the river is the Passagassawakeag River, which is Indian for "Pass a gassy wax egg". I'm not exactly sure what that means; I think maybe something got lost in the translation, but the kids sure enjoy saying it. And the footbridge is fun to run across if you're a kid. It's also a popular fishing spot.

Belfast City Park is a great place to spend the better part of a day.
Playgrounds, tennis courts, basketball courts, a city pool, picnic spots with built-in barbecue grills overlooking Pennobscott Bay. Rolling grassy areas shaded by mature trees. There's even a hot dog/hamburger stand. Why would anyone ever want to leave?

To go to Perry's Nut House, of course.
It's a combination wacky-stuff-candy-nuts-chocolate-fudge store and a weirdy museum. If that makes any sense. Goofy kids toys, books, treats, mummies, and shrunken heads. Not to forget the funny mirrors. And the carousel ride out front goes forever on 50 cents. An excellent value and a good way to amuse youngsters.

The Belfast Coop has good foods and great coffee.
And newspapers if you want one. And wine, beer, meat and cheese.

The Army-Navy store has some odd camp essentials
I went into the Army-Navy store downtown looking for enameled steel coffee mugs and mantels for out Coleman lantern. They had the mugs, but not the mantels. As we were about to leave, I looked up to see a Martin Backpacker guitar. I've been leaving my full size guitar at home over the years because it won't fit in the car and it's too expensive an instrument to take camping or road tripping. The Martin Backpacker isn't that valuable ($200). But what it lacks in value, it gains in portability. What a great score. Who knew an Army-Navy store would sell guitars (they had other styles too)? My kind of Army-Navy store.

One more landmark in Downtown Belfast is Colburn's Shoe store, the oldest shoe store in the country. And my Grammy used to work there when she was a girl. I bought my shoes there as a kid and convinced Tinsley to buy a pair there last month. She was thrilled with the experience, the shoes, and the nice folks who work there.

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