You’ll find plenty of things to do in Rockland ME including exploring two outstanding art museums, strolling among the unique shops and restaurants downtown, visiting a scenic lighthouse, and spending time on the water.
Although small in size and remote in location, Rockland, Maine has a surprising number of things to do.
Let’s begin with what this city is most well-known for – art. Rockland’s small downtown has not one but two impressive museums showcasing work from both regionally and nationally celebrated artists.
Art and creativity continue to be a theme as you walk along Rockland’s streets. Here, you’ll find exquisite art galleries, high-end fashion boutiques, a cozy cafe with a bookshop in the back, and a range of delectable restaurants.
But the things to do in Rockland ME don’t end there – there’s also the opportunity to visit a lighthouse with scenic views, travel to a nearby island, or spend a day or two on a schooner, exploring Penobscot Bay.
The Best Things to Do in Rockland ME
Here are the top 14 best things to do in Rockland ME.
View world-famous art at the Farnsworth Museum
The celebrated and nationally-recognized Farnworth Museum is a must-see attraction when visiting Rockland. Open since 1948, the Farnsworth has more than 20,000 square feet of gallery space and more than 15,000 works in the collection. It’s particularly well-known for its extensive collection of works from three generations of Wyeths – N.C., Andrew, and Jaime, and for its collection of works by sculptor Louise Nevelson.
In addition to viewing works within the main museum, visitors are also able to visit the Farnsworth Homestead down the street and the Olsen House, the location of Andrew Wyeth’s most famous work, Christina’s World. (Note that the Farnsworth Homestead is currently closed but is expected to reopen in the summer of 2023 and that the Olsen House is indefinitely closed for repairs.)
Hours: February 1st – May 31st, Wednesday – Sunday, 10 AM – 4 PM. June 1 – October 31, open 7 days from 10 AM – 5 PM. Admission: Adults $15, Seniors (65 and over) $13, Students (17 and older) $10, Children (16 and under) Free. (16 Museum Street)
Stroll through downtown Rockland
After a visit to the Farnsworth, take some time to stroll the immediate downtown.
Rockland is an easily walkable city with many fun and unique stores to visit. Start your stroll by picking up freshly roasted coffee at the Rock City Cafe (316 Main Street). In the same location, at the back of the cafe, you’ll find Hello Hello Books (316 Main Street), a sweet little bookstore with both new and used titles.
Walking north down Main Street, you’ll also want to make a stop at Archipelago (386 Main Street), the retail component of the Island Institute. Inside, you’ll find unique crafts and gifts from local Maine artisans, especially those living on Maine islands.
Just a few stores down you’ll also find The Grasshopper Shop (400 Main Street), which sells clothing, housewares, gifts, shoes, and games, among other interesting items. And don’t forget to pick up a treat at Ruckus Donuts (377 Main Street), featuring an ever-changing variety of donut flavors.
If fashion shopping is more up your alley, check out fourTWELEVE (412 Main Street), a high-end clothing store that feels like it belongs in Boston or New York. There’s also the Black Parrot (328 Main Street) a boutique that features one-of-a-kind quality pieces as well as small gifts, shoes, books, and perfume.
Visit Owls Head Lighthouse
To take in a quintessential Maine coastal view, a quick 15-minute drive south from downtown Rockland will take you to the Owl’s Head Lighthouse.
Built in 1852, this lighthouse features a white cylindrical tower and a red lantern room that houses a fourth-order Fresnel lens. From the parking lot, it’s about a quarter-mile walk to the lighthouse along the coast, featuring scenic views of Monroe Island in the distance.
Upon arrival, climb the stairs to the tower for panoramic views of the coastline and the surrounding islands. The lighthouse grounds also feature picnic areas, hiking trails, and a museum.
Owl’s Head Lighthouse is open to the public for tours during the summer months, typically from late May through Columbus Day in October. Hours: 10 AM – 5 PM, Closed Tuesday. (186 Lighthouse Road)
Take a walk along the breakwater and enjoy the views
Among the fun things to do in Rockland ME is a walk along the breakwater to take in the views of the sea and harbor.
The breakwater is a long, somewhat narrow strip of granite boulders that extends for almost a mile into the ocean. The walk can be challenging at times, as the boulders can be a bit uneven and slippery, but the experience is well worth the effort. You may even spot a seal or birds and other wildlife along your stroll.
To access the breakwater, drive toward the Samoset Resort and then drive to the end of Samoset Road (not Samoset Inn Road). There, you’ll find a parking lot specifically for the breakwater.
View art at The Center for Maine Contemporary Art
Just steps from the Farnsworth you’ll be able to visit The Center for Maine Contemporary Art (CMCA), dedicated to showcasing the work of contemporary artists from Maine and beyond.
Stepping into the CMCA’s galleries, you’ll again be amazed that such a premier museum can be found in such a small city. The museum’s permanent collection includes over 3000 works of art, ranging from paintings and sculptures to installations and multimedia pieces.
A few of the artists who have been featured at CMCA include Lois Dodd, Alan Magee, John Walker, Neil Welliver, Robert Indiana, and Jamie Wyeth to name just a few.
Winter hours (Nov. – May): Wednesday – Saturday, 10 AM – 5 PM, and Sunday 12 PM – 5 PM. Summer hours (June – Oct.): Monday – Saturday 10 AM – 5 PM, Sunday 12 PM – 5 PM. Admission: General $8, Students & Seniors $6, Under 18 Free. (21 Winter Street)
Take a boat tour
One of the best ways to take in the Maine coast is through a boat tour and Rockland features a variety of them.
On board, you’ll see quintessential Maine views of the coastline and surrounding islands, lobster boats, lighthouses, and potentially spot seals, whales, and seabirds.
A few of the tour companies you’ll find in Rockland include A Morning in Maine (located on the Middle Pier at 3 Police Plaza) which does 2-hour sailing tours throughout Penobscot Bay, Bufflehead Sailing Charters (Captain Spear Drive) provides private sailing charters and Schooner American Eagle (11 Front Street) offers 3-9 night sailing excursions. (These are just a few options there are many other sailing and boat tours leaving from Rockland during the summer.)
Visit the Owls Head Transportation Museum
Car and aviation enthusiasts will have fun visiting the nearby Owls Head Transportation Museum, just a 7-minute drive from downtown Rockland.
The museum features a wide collection of antique cars, airplanes, motorcycles, and other vehicles from the early 1900s to the mid-20th century. Visitors can explore exhibits that showcase the evolution of transportation, from the first automobiles and planes to the sleek and stylish designs of the mid-century.
And the museum also hosts a variety of events and activities throughout the year, including air shows, car shows, and educational programs that engage with the history and culture of transportation.
Hours: 10 AM – 4 PM, daily. Admission: Adults $14, Seniors (65+) $12, Kids (17 and under) Free, Active military, veterans and military dependents free. (117 Museum Street, Owl’s Head)
Enjoy a meal at one of Rockland’s restaurants
After exploring museums, wandering through shops, or strolling the breakwater, be sure to grab a meal at one of Rockland’s many restaurants.
Good lunch options include the Atlantic Baking Company (351 Main Street) which features sandwiches, soups, and delicious breads, and the Rock City Cafe (316 Main Street) where you’ll find locally roasted coffee, sandwiches, and wraps.
For greater variety, head over to Home Kitchen Cafe (650 Main Street) where you’ll find tacos, burgers, and salads in addition to sandwiches. And for something more casual, visit Wasses Hot Dogs (2 North Main Street), a popular takeout hole in the wall that’s open in the summertime on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.
For dinner, you’ll want to consider going to Rockland’s premier restaurant, aptly named Primo (2 Main Street). Chef Melissa Kelly is a two-time James Beard award-winner who has worked alongside Gordon Ramsey and been featured in Bon Appetite, Food & Wine, and National Geographic. Reservations are a must and Primo is only open during the summer months (check the website for specific times).
Other dinner options include the classic water-side lobster shack Claw’s (743 Main Street), fresh pasta and pizza from Ada’s Kitchen (449 Main Street), and a locally sourced menu + an extensive wine list at In Good Company (415 Main Street).
See related: 10 of the Best Lobster Shacks in Maine
Visit an art gallery
With two extraordinary art museums in Rockland, it’s not surprising the city is also home to a number of excellent art galleries.
Dowling Walsh (365 Main Street), located just across from the Farnsworth, carries an impressive collection of art by regional and national artists including works by all three generations of Wyeths. Caldbeck Gallery (12 Elm Street), also across from the Farnsworth, features a collection of art, sculpture, and photography. And Landing Gallery (409 Main Street) offers art by Maine artists, with a focus on landscape and marine paintings.
Watch a movie at the Strand Theater
Although you could watch a movie just about anywhere, there are few opportunities to view a film in an old classic theater like The Strand.
Here you’ll find classic movies as well as recently released indy films and documentaries. Built in 1923, The Strand has undergone extensive renovations in recent years and in addition to movies, also hosts concerts, plays, and comedy shows. (345 Main Street)
Visit the Maine Lighthouse Museum
Among the fun things to do in Rockland ME is a visit to the Maine Lighthouse Museum.
Lighthouse enthusiasts will enjoy the museum’s exhibits that showcase the history and culture of Maine lighthouses including models of historic lighthouses, photographs, artifacts, and more.
Visitors can learn about the role of lighthouses in navigation and safety at sea, as well as the daily lives of the keepers who maintained them.
The museum also offers educational programs, guided tours, and special events. Hours: Thursday – Saturday, call for specific hours: 207-594-3301. Admission: Adults: $10, Seniors: $8, Children 12 and under are free. (One Park Drive)
Take a ferry to Vinalhaven
A fun day trip from Rockland, is a visit to Vinalhaven island.
The Maine State Ferry Service operates multiple ferries every day from Rockland to Vinalhaven. The ferry ride takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes each way and for an additional fee, passengers can take their car.
Once you arrive in Vinalhaven, you can explore the town which offers a variety of restaurants, shops, and galleries. On hot days it’s fun to go swimming in a local quarry and there are also opportunities to go hiking or kayaking.
Take the kids to the Coastal Children’s Museum
A fun thing for young children to do in Rockland is to visit the Coastal Children’s Museum.
This museum offers interactive exhibits and hands-on activities that encourage learning and exploration of the natural world. Visitors can explore exhibits of the marine life, wildlife, and geology of the region, as well as the history and culture of Maine’s coastal communities. The museum also hosts a variety of educational programs, workshops, and events throughout the year.
Visitors must make a reservation for one of the three daily sessions. Hours: Friday – Saturday, Morning session: 10 AM – 11:30 AM, Afternoon session #1: 12:30 AM – 2 PM, Afternoon session #2: 2:30 PM – 4 PM. Admission: $8 per person. (75 Mechanic Street, Sharp’s Point South)
Attend the Maine Lobster Festival
If you happen to be visiting Rockland in late July or early August, be sure to make time for the Maine Lobster Festival.
This is the city’s biggest event of the year, lasting five days, and includes a variety of activities, including lobster cooking contests, live music, arts and crafts vendors, carnival rides and games, and a parade.
Of course, there’s also plenty of lobster to eat including boiled lobster, lobster rolls, and other specialty dishes like lobster mac and cheese. But beware – this festival also draws large crowds, especially over the weekend so plan accordingly.
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About Kerry Flatley
Kerry Flatley has lived in New England for the past 26 years. She has roots in Maine & Massachusetts, family in New Hampshire, and grew up close to the Connecticut border. She loves all that this region has to offer – the ocean, mountains, islands, history, villages, and cities. When she’s not writing about New England, she’s relaxing at home in the Boston suburbs with her two teenage daughters and husband.