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Rockland Harbor Breakwater Lighthouse (shakzu / iStock)
Your favorite small town probably doesn’t look quite like how Norman Rockwell drew it. Small towns may be united by their modest population sizes, but they’re remarkable for their diversity of character. And so for the sixth-annual round of Smithsonian.com’s America’s Best Small Towns, we set out on a quest to find 20 great slice-of-life (and if you’re Rockland, Maine, also award-winning slice-of-pie) small towns full of unique flavor
To help us on our task, we once again consulted geographical information company Esri (which sorts towns with a population under 20,000) to identify tiny towns chock full of local culture, history and natural beauty. We then narrowed down our list to pinpoint the destinations that are especially worth making the trip to this year—whether they’re celebrating a special birthday, commemorating a famous resident or happen to be smack on the path of the “Great American Eclipse.”
Our top 20 picks range from the well-traveled to the offbeat, but each town shares a special something that makes it ripe for discovery in 2017. Happy travels!
Rockland was first called Catawamtek by the Abenaki people. The word means a “great landing place” and it’s a sentiment that still rings true today for the many who seek out the charming fishing community. During your stay, check out the local businesses on the town’s beloved Maine Street. There you can learn about Maine’s “sea parrots” at the Audubon’s “Project Puffin” and catch a show at the historic Strand Theatre. Afterward, tour the lighthouse and soak in the natural beauty of midcoast Maine.
Rockland’s lighting has long made the picturesque seaside town a place for artists. This year, one artist in particular is getting the Rockland shine: Andrew Wyeth. In honor of the painters 100th birthday, Rockland’s Farnswoth Art Museum is hosting an exhibition that will include rare and privately held works, showing off the range and scope of the artist who never stopped being influenced by Maine.
Be sure to browse the rest of Farnsworth’s massive collection when you’re there—contained within its walls you’ll find an authoritative look at the development of art in the state. The museum pairs well with the forward-looking Center for Maine Contemporary Art and the First Friday Art Walk on Main Street, where the next Alex Katz just might be showing.
If you’re in Rockland for the summer, come for the famed Maine Lobster Festival. The five-day bash, which turns 70 this summer, started out as a local festival and has evolved into a huge tradition of great eats and giving back to great local causes.
If you can’t make it out for the crustacean celebration, never fear. The festival recommends getting your fix year round at The Lobster Shack or the The Landings. Lynn Archer’s Brass Compass Cafe, a Rockland staple, which is home to the mighty “King of Clubs” lobster club, is also worth saving room for. If you’re not squeamish, you can check out how your dinner makes it onto your plate by setting sail on a Rockland lobster boat tour.
Don’t leave Rockland without trying a bite of pie. The town didn’t earn the nickname “Pie Town USA” by the Food Network for nothing. The honor is thanks in large part to the “Pie Moms,” the mothers of the owners at the beautiful Berry Manor Inn who serve up a mean slice of mixed berry. You can try their pie along with plenty of others, savory and sweet, at Rockland’s annual pie-a-thon in January. For true believers, the Berry Manor, as well as the LimeRock and Granite historic inns offer packaged pie lodging specials to complete a pie-fect experience.
Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/20-best-small-towns-visit-2017-180962925/#IxpZZEK78JCRQrcv.99