Looking for a summer getaway? Just a 17-minute ferry ride off of mainland Portland lies Peak’s Island, a sweet refuge right inside the city limits.
Once known as the “Coney Island of the North” for its many hotels and restaurants, the 1.5-mile-long island is now a sleepy hamlet known more for its ocean views than vacation amenities. It only has about 1,000 year-round residents, but the population balloons by several times in the summer, with even more visitors hopping onto the island to enjoy the seaside splendor for the day.
Getting There and Getting Around
Casco Bay Lines runs a ferry service to Peaks Island roughly every hour from 6 am to 11:30 pm during the summer. While a limited number of cars are allowed on each ferry, it’s not recommended to bring a car onto the island. It’s best to explore the island by foot, bike, or golf cart. A 3.7-mile path circumnavigates the island’s shoreline, making it easy to see all of the sights within an afternoon. Stop by Brad’s Bike Shop just off the ferry to rent a bike or Peaks Island Golf Carts to zip around in style.
Where to Stay
Looking to extend your stay beyond the afternoon? The Inn on Peaks Island is a perfect place to spend the night or the weekend. Their seven guest cottages include jacuzzi tubs, private decks, and views of the Portland skyline from across the water.
What to Do
Despite historical comparisons to Coney Island, Peaks Island is no longer known for plentiful attractions – the lack of recreation is now the island’s main draw. Take a walk, enjoy the ocean views, and bask in the island’s slower pace and summer sunshine. However, there are some important sights to add to the schedule for your visit, whether it’s for just an afternoon or for several days.
Hit the Beach
Many beaches on Peaks are private property, but there are two public beaches available to visitors. Sandy Beach is aptly named with classic sandy shores, while Cairn Beach is a bit rockier and great for looking at lighthouses, but not somewhere to go swimming.
Grab Some Souvenirs
Stroll up and down Island Avenue to explore a collection of quaint shops and attractions. Head to Down Front, a combination ice cream parlor and souvenir shop, for a scoop of Gifford’s ice cream or soft serve while you shop. For a unique gift for those back home, stop by Take a Peak to choose from their curated selection of island-inspired goods, or support local artists by shopping at the Gem Gallery – this is worth a stop whether or not you’re planning to purchase, as they are always showcasing work by members of the vibrant Maine arts community.
See the Sights
Battery Steele Fort: During WWII, Peaks Island was home the most important fortification in Casco Bay. Now, the island’s historic gun battery, one of the largest in the country, is protected by the Peaks Island Land Preserve. The organization protects about ⅕ of the island’s lands, which are open to visitors year-round.
Peaks Island Tours: Peaks Island Tours offers three types of tours three times daily. Between the Spirit of Peaks Golf Cart Tour, the Coney Island of Maine Walking Tour, and the WWII Military Trail Golf Cart Tour, there is something of interest for every type of traveler – or local looking to learn more about their surroundings. Be sure to book at least two days in advance if you’d like to take a tour.
Umbrella Cover Museum: This unique and quirky museum is filled with a wide variety of umbrella covers. A tour of the museum takes about twenty minutes. You’ll likely be greeted by the founder, director, and curator, Nancy Hoffman, who will happily give you a history of the collection. The mission of the collection is to find joy and wonder in the mundane and everyday, a message the whole of Peak’s Island seems to offer to visitors and residents alike.
Fifth Maine Museum: This museum houses two distinct stories – special exhibitions on the island’s history and the Maine Fifth Regiment’s involvement in the Civil War. The building itself dates back to 1888 and boasts stunning architectural details, such as the iconic stained glass windows that have earned it a place on the National Register of Historic Places
Where to Eat
Despite the island’s small size, Peaks has a little something for everyone, from lobster shacks to fine dining. Start the day with one of Lisa’s Famous Cinnamon Rolls at Peaks Cafe. Then, head to Hannigan’s Island Market to pack up a picnic for the beach. They have everything you need, and in their words, “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it”. Forest City Seafood will happily provide freshly caught lobster for a summer cookout. If you’re not looking to cook for yourself, the island has plenty of dine-out options.
The Inn’s on-site restaurant offers a chef-crafted, locally-sourced menu paired with Maine-made beer, including a cask-conditioned ale brewed right on-site. Grab a pint and watch the sunset from their deck after a day of seaside sightseeing.
Cockeyed Gull: This classic Maine seafood spot is year-round, and boasts a beautiful patio with views of Portland.
The Greeks of Peaks: While they now serve their Maine-famous Greek cuisine all around the Portland area, follow the Greeks of Peaks on Instagram to catch them on the island many summer weekends. Hit up their food truck for gyros and occasional specials such as halloumi cheese fries.
Il Leone: Head to Greenwood Garden Park to hunt down Il Leone, a Neopolitan-style wood-fired pizza trailer tucked into a woodsy clearing. Their crust is naturally leavened and fermented for 48 hours before hitting the 800-degree pizza oven, resulting in delightful – and quite beautiful – pizzas to enjoy al fresco.
Island Lobster Company: Located just off the ferry dock, this restaurant is owned by a commercial lobster family passionate about providing sustainable Maine seafood fresh off their boat, Patience. Stop here for a lobster roll for lunch to start your afternoon, or book one of their lobster bakes to cap off your evening. Every Monday-Thursday evening, Thom unloads his daily catch on the dock while Katie hosts guests for this coastal tradition.
Jones Landing and Milly’s Skillet: Enjoy lobster rolls and fish tacos from the Milly’s Skillet food truck on the deck of Jones Landing, which also serves Maine seafood and produce from local farms in the evenings. Sundays are known for Stream Reggae’s live music residency starting at 3 pm, and there are other bands throughout the week.
Whether you need a weekend or just a few hours away, get on island time and enjoy a visit to Peaks Island. In just fifteen minutes, you can feel a world away from the mainland — but still in the heart of Maine.
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