By Julia Clapp
Camden, Maine sparkles with natural beauty and local character year-round, but as with most of Maine towns that thrive on tourism, it tends to be expensive. It can be a challenge spending an afternoon there with a limited budget if you’re not familiar with the area, but there are many options for inexpensive food and shopping if you know where to go. Also, be sure to make time to walk around and enjoy the beauty of the area. There are remarkable views of the ocean and historic landmarks that make Camden a town to not be missed.
Boynton-McKay Food Co. Open Tuesday through Saturday 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, and Sunday 8:00 am to 4:00 pm (but the kitchen closes every day at 3:00). Serving breakfast and lunch, Boynton-McKay offers a wide variety of delicious dishes such as sandwiches, wraps, French toast and baked goods, all at reasonable prices. The space it occupies on Main Street was once a pharmacy, and the walls are decorated with antique tins for herbs and old photographs. There is also a coffee bar that was once a soda fountain, and 1950s music plays in the background under the sound of conversation. You may have to wait for a booth, but the staff ensures that the wait is never too long. The best deal is the vegetable flatbread pizza ($3.50), but the black bean and avocado quesadilla is big enough to serve two people and is wonderfully messy and gooey with cheese ($6.50).
Cappy’s Chowder House, open Sunday through Thursday 11:30 am to 9:00, Friday and Saturday 11:30 to 10:00, serves ‘Maine’ food such as chowders, crab cakes, and fish sandwiches, and is a great place to take children (the atmosphere is relaxed, the staff is friendly, and the paper placemats can be colored in – crayons are at every table), as well as being reasonably priced.
Zoot Coffee, though mysterious about their hours of operation (they seem to be open most of the time) is the best place in to go in town if you want coffee. Don’t be put off by the unassuming exterior – inside, the café has a quirky, modern vibe, with photographs by local artists on the walls and jazz playing softly. Zoot serves an excellent cappuccino.
Stone Soup – This bookshop has no set hours, and is one of the best things about Camden’s downtown area. On the second story of a building on Main Street, two tiny rooms house a collection of used books that are arranged in stacks, on shelves, and in piles. This is not a shop to stop at for a few minutes – once you’re there, it will be a while before you want to leave.
Serendipity – open Monday through Friday 10:00 to 5:00 and Saturday 10:00 to 4:00. This attractive consignment shop is a little pricier than some used clothing stores, but everything is clean, like new, and in many cases have designer labels. Sunny and welcoming, Serendipity is a classy, reasonable alternative to some of Camden’s high-end boutiques.
Stonewall Kitchen – open Wednesday through Saturday 9:00 – 5:00, Sunday 10:00 to 5:00. Stonewall Kitchen sells its own locally-made jams and preserves, as well as kitchen wares. It can be expensive to shop there, but it’s absolutely worth stopping by just to enjoy the warm, inviting atmosphere of the high-ceilinged, bright space; to try some samples of jams and mustards, and maybe to buy a miniature jar of their famous wild Maine blueberry jam (3.75 ounces for $3.50).
No visit to Camden would be complete without a stop at Camden’s beautiful public library, which was recently designated as a National Historic Landmark along with its amphitheater. The library building has three levels: the first is home to books, computers, a children’s room, and a stunning domed ceiling decorated by the first few lines of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poem “Renascence”; the next level houses the Edward J. Walsh History Center, which is really a town historical museum. The third story is home to one large, open reading room, the walls covered with historical books, paintings of majestic sailboats, and antique clocks.
Outdoors, the amphitheater park is grassy and protected by trees on three sides, an ideal place to sit and read or for children to play hide-and-seek. Across the street, there is a beautiful park that overlooks Camden’s famous harbor, where walking, running, kite-flying, and people-watching are all perfect ideas.