If you travel to Maine, Augusta is unlikely to be on your destination list. Other than being a state capital, this dusty little town has little to offer a casual visitor. But whether you are on political business for a few days, like I did in early April, or you just pass through on the way to someplace else in the Pine Tree State, there are a few things to do in Augusta, Maine.
Things to do in Augusta, Maine: Stay and dine at the Senator Inn
When I was deciding on a place to stay in Augusta, a local contact recommended the Hampton Inn [check the current prices] and the Senator Inn & Spa. Weary of chain hotels and hungry for a distinct local experience, I knew where to go when she said, “The Senator is…a good ol’ authentic place” that well represents Maine as “the old West of New England.”
Right off I-95, the Senator Inn & Spa is a sprawling motel popular with out-of-town state legislators who stay there during the legislative session. When I visited in April, I literally rubbed elbows with State Representatives, recognizable by name badges, in the dining room during the complimentary buffet breakfast and at the hotel bar after hours.
Because I was staying longer than their average length-of-stay (and perhaps also because I was from so far away), I got upgraded from my original small queen room in the Legislative Wing to a large king room with a desk in the Presidential Wing. While I didn’t indulge in the Spa, top-rated as it is among its competitors in Maine, the Cloud 9 Restaurant is perhaps the best place to eat in Augusta. I’ll always remember it as the place where I ate lobster for the first time, in the best ravioli I’ve ever had.
The “good ol’ authentic” part about The Senator is the decor. One way to put it would be that it’s dated, but I enjoyed stepping back in time into a 1980’s small-town charm. I mean, a place that features Psychic Dinner Series and a Murder Mystery Dinner is nothing but good ol’.
Check availability and prices at Senator Inn & Spa ›
Things to do in Augusta, Maine: Tour the State House
Augusta being the capital of Maine, most people travel there to deal with state government. But even if you aren’t a legislator or going to a hearing, like I did, you can visit the State House and take a tour.
Free guided tours of the Maine State House, are arranged through the Maine State Museum, located to the south on the capitol campus. Leaving on the hour between 9:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. every weekday, tours include the House and Senate chambers. Aside from the history of the magnificent building, you will learn how laws are enacted in Maine (you can visit during a legislative session, too).
The 1832 building, fashioned on the Massachusetts State House forms, the centerpiece of Augusta. Wander the hallways for that movie-like feel of old official buildings, and come back in thirty years to see the recently renovated copper dome oxidize from brown to green.
The Maine State Museum itself is a worthwhile diversion. Exhibits on Maine’s nature and history supply depth to the Maine experience. The closeted vexillographer in me thrilled in the small display of Civil War flags. And with snow still heaped in piles on road sides and even spitting sideways one day, I really wished I had the 175-year-old capote blanket coat at the center of a dedicated temporary exhibit.
Things to do in Augusta, Maine: Walk or run on the Kennebec River Rail Trail
I’d rank the Kennebec River Rail Trail as a top attraction in Augusta.
Part of the East Coast Greenway and Kennebec-Chaudiere International (Heritage) Corridor, the River Rail Trail starts under the Memorial Bridge in downtown Augusta and extends 6.5 miles south to Gardiner, running parallel to an old train track and the Kennebec River.
I ran four miles out on a crisp, clear afternoon. Banks of melting snow, scenic views of the Kennebec River, and the town of Hallowell, with its small-town New England charm and old cemetery, made for one of the prettier runs I’ve ever done.
Things to do in just outside of Augusta, Maine: Go out in Hallowell
The first word that came to mind when I ventured to downtown Augusta, a half mile to the north of the State House, was “dead.” My impression was confirmed when the helpful wait staff at the Senator Inn informed me that all the places to have fun on a week night are in Hallowell, two miles south of Augusta.
According to the locals, Water Avenue, the charming New England town’s main drag lined with historic brick buildings, brick sidewalks, and antique shops, becomes a parking lot in the summer as vacationers pass through.
But you aren’t here to shop.
Head to The Maine House for “craft cocktails.” A martini fan, I tried The Dirty Pickle, a cloudy concoction featuring mustard pickle juice, and the out-of-this-world German Bison made with Zubrowka, the Polish bison-grass vodka, shaken with Lillet and served straight up with a lemon twist in a martini glass sprayed with German chamomile.
Next door, The Liberal Cup Public House & Brewery is a charming English pub with a stout food menu—The meatloaf! The meatloaf!—a welcoming, cozy ambiance, and made-here, quaffable ales (which tend to be on the flat side, like in England). If you’re up for a dash of color, go to Slates, an American bistro where vibrant hues of the decor complement a varied menu.
With 30 brews on tap (including, to my surprise, one from Oregon) and live music on select nights, The Quarry Tap Room is a craft-beer lover’s haven. The Quarry’s slogan, “Hallowell’s deepest watering hole” is not an exaggeration.
Enough said, but if you want a less raucous late-night experience, The Wharf should be your riverside destination.
Find places to stay near Hallowell, Maine ›
Things to do in just outside of Augusta, Maine: Eat a whoopie pie
Locals told me that, aside from lobster and blueberries, Maine is known for whoopie pies.
As you head back to Portland, south on Highway 201, stop in Farmingdale at Wicked Whoopies for a treat, which will provide you with enough sugar for a week and, if you are constantly bewildered by how sweet American snacks can be, a lifetime’s worth of chuckles that such a thing even exists.
Have you been to Augusta, Maine? What other things to do would you recommend?
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Running four miles on a crisp, clear afternoon sounds beautiful. I’d love to see the scenic views of the Kennebec River with its New England charm. It sounds so relaxing and invigorating.
I’ve only been to Kittery in Maine, although I would love to spend more time in the state so I will keep this in mind for future. I would go with your choice too and choose the local hotel over the chain hotel. I can’t believe that was the first time you had lobster!!! Well I think it was one of the best places for it – in Maine 🙂
Thanks, Chantell. I definitely want to return to Maine to explore (and eat) more.
Augusta seems like the perfect destination. There are so many things to be seen in Maine and I hope to cross it off my bucket list really soon, Peter!
You are too kind to Augusta, but it’s proof positive there are nice places to see and things to do anywhere.
Free upgrades are the best and you got a great one! I love walking along the water, so Kennebec River Rail Trail would be a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.
It is nice, especially with all the pubs along the way…
I’ve not spent any time in Maine, despite how much I’d like to. I always envision eating tons of lobster and seafood. But I’d settle for the carmelized onion burger, if I have to!
There’s only so much seafood one can eat.
I’d go for that caramelized onion burger – yum. The walking trail along the river also looks really appealing and fun to explore.
It is, especially because there is local craft beer at the end of the walk.
What your post shows so clearly is that even those destinations you might not usually think to visit often have treasures to enjoy and can be a great place to stop and see. The natural landscape out and about from Augusta looks really beautiful too.
Exactly, Kavey. I’m a big fan of what one travel blogger called “ugly places”, locales that aren’t exactly destination magnets but still offer lots to see/do, if you are willing.
I’ve never been to Augusta, Maine…or Hallowell, either, for that matter. But it sounds like it’s definitely worth a stop for exploring… You’ve put together a great list of reasons for doing so!
I am simply floored by each of your photographs. You do have an eye for visual imagery. It seems as if I am standing right there!
Thanks, Punita, you’re too kind.
I’ve only been to Maine once many years ago, but it was such a pretty state. I’d love to explore more–I’d love to take a walk along the riverside trail here! One of my favorite things to do when I’m traveling is to stop in small towns and just wander. You find lots of little gems that way! 🙂
Me too, this trip seemed like such a tease, just a few days. I’ll be back!
Oh, I love that river trail! I was hooked the moment I saw your first photo here. 🙂 That alone would make me spend few days in Maine!
Thanks (hvala), Danijela. I’ve been thinking of moving to Maine…
Maine looks like a very pretty state, reading about it for the first time! I would love to get offbeat and try those cocktails!
Agreed, Maine is gorgeous, particularly if you like the outdoors.
I had never heard of a Whoopie Pie but it definitely looks like it covers my dietary intake of sugar for at least a few months.
That it would. So. Sweet.
Just like Iowa, Idaho and New Mexico, people rarely go to Maine. I’ve always wanted to go, but never got down to it. Your article has influenced me to add it to my potential-long-weekend-destinations list. Thanks.
Glad to hear it, Rohit. Safe travels!
I think Maine is a good place for some someone who would love to explore great food and enjoy outdoors
Not just good—perfect!