Leah LeClaire has a special place in her heart for Midcoast Maine.

LeClaire grew up in Bristol but moved to a town outside Burlington, Vermont, to start a family after college. She has lots of family still in Lincoln County, including her father and a sister, so there are usually multiple trips back to “Vacationland” throughout the summer.

“It’s nice to travel home instead of having to plan a vacation to somewhere I haven’t been,” LeClaire said. “There is less stress going home, and I feel completely comfortable letting my kids roam free in an area I hold near and dear to my heart.”

People flock to the region — stretching from Freeport to Rockland — all summer for the weather, outdoor activities, food and family.

Whether it’s kayaking on the Kennebec River and taking a cruise in Boothbay Harbor or playing golf at the Samoset Resort and shopping at L.L. Bean, Midcoast Maine is as popular a destination as anywhere in the state.

“Filled with lighthouses, endless coves and peninsulas to explore, the Midcoast and islands region is authentic and iconic Maine,” said Tony Cameron, director of marketing and communications for the Maine Tourism Association. “Wedged between two other well-known regions — Greater Portland and Downeast and Acadia — the Midcoast is the heart of Maine’s coast.”

To a family like LeClaire’s, coming to the Midcoast means going back home to spend time with family and friends while letting her children, Rhys and Tessa, and her husband Steven, get to know the places that meant so much to her growing up.

“I love to visit in the summer and show my children what I used to do as a child,” LeClaire said. “I spent a lot of time at the beach and on the water growing up, so being on the coast is one of our favorite places to be.”

Her family’s favorite summer spots include Pemaquid Beach and the lighthouse at Pemaquid Point, Boyd’s Pond and the swimming hole at the Bristol Dam in Bristol and Popham Beach State Park in Phippsburg.

Anthony David Fernandez is a native Floridian, but he used to come to Maine to visit his grandparents as a kid and now that he has the financial freedom to travel, Fernandez makes sure to visit the Midcoast every summer.

“I don’t consider it a successful summer unless I’ve come to Maine and eaten lobster, visited Monhegan (Island) and sat on the beach at Reid (State Park),” Fernandez said while enjoying a lobster roll at Red’s Eats in Wiscasset.

In Brunswick, the Bowdoin College Museum of Art just opened a new exhibit featuring Winslow Homer, the painter and artist who helped influence future generations of American painters.

The Maine Maritime Museum in Bath also sees an increase in visitors during the summer, and the museum hopes a new, permanent Bath Iron Works exhibition is another thing that’ll draw people to the waterfront location.

“One of the things I often do when I come to Maine each summer is check out new exhibits in galleries and museums all along the coast,” Fernandez said. “There are usually plenty of new things to see, and I make sure I do that as much as I can.”

Cameron said the Midcoast welcomed an estimated 11 million visitors in 2017, and tourism is instrumental to the local economies. The dollars spent by visitors fuel the local businesses and vital public services, improving the quality of life for residents.

“Tourism also is a means to attract people to come live and work in Maine,” he said.

Katie Spiridakis, marketing and communications manager for the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath, said the museum welcomes more than 50,000 visitors annually with the vast majority coming during the summer and fall.

She said the museum sees such an increase during its peak season that, for the second straight year, the museum will be open until 7:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday beginning July 3 until Aug. 23.

“We are fortunate in that the Midcoast region is ideally located to capture the millions of visitors who make the drive between Portland and Acadia every summer,” Spiridakis said. “The trick is getting those visitors to detour off Route 1 to explore all of the awesome cultural, recreational, retail and dining options the Midcoast has to offer.”

Fernandez said what the region has to offer is relaxation, fun, and an escape from everyday life in Florida. There are different foods to eat, the weather is considerably better and the atmosphere is something very different than what he experiences in the Sunshine State.

Referencing some of the words on the sign on Interstate 95 when crossing into Maine, Fernandez said visiting Maine is “the way life should be.”

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