Augusta, Maine may be one of the United States’ smaller state capitals, but don’t let its size fool you. Situated along the Kennebec River in southern Maine, this quaint city is overflowing with history, outdoor adventure, and delightful local culture. If you’re looking for things to do in Augusta ME, you’re in the right place. Let’s explore some of the city’s highlights.
Are you into excellent State Museums? State Houses? Old (very old, the oldest) fortifications? Then, visit Augusta ME, which has it all, plus a very charming suburb with great restaurants, bars, and shops.
Maine’s Capital City might not have the charm of the craggy coastline or the adventurous lure of the rugged wilderness, but there’s no better place to learn about both aspects of our country’s easternmost state. Here’s what to do.
Where is Augusta ME?
Augusta is located in southern Maine, nestled along the banks of the scenic Kennebec River. It serves as the state capital and is the county seat of Kennebec County. Positioned about 58 miles northeast of Portland and approximately 78 miles southwest of Bangor, Augusta enjoys a strategic location that makes it easily accessible from major cities.
The city’s inland position, framed by lush hills and waterfront vistas, provides it with both natural beauty and a sense of seclusion while still being a central hub for politics, commerce, and culture in Maine.
Things to Do In Augusta ME
VISIT: Maine State Museum
Do not be deceived by appearances. Low slung and not much to look at, the 1971 building that houses both the State Library and Archives and the Maine State Museum is built into the side of a hill and in fact encompasses four floors of exhibits – some really engrossing.
Enter on the 3rd floor where you can’t miss New England’s oldest locomotive, the 1846 Lion, which ran on (and currently sits on) wooden tracks covered with a thin metal veneer.
The Museum excels at creating scenes and environments. Take “Maine @ Home” on the 4th floor (the recommended starting point), where visitors are invited to sit in a 1960’s living room to catch up on some TV shows. Step onto a lakefront porch and listen to the sounds of boat motors and loons. And pull a flush-toilet chain and hear its rush of water, among other interactive experiences.
The 2nd floor “Made in Maine” features a two-story working water mill with ramps that wind around its inner workings. You’ll end up within view of a Cabinet of Curiosities. The “Luck Chair” made of Deer Antlers, is extremely popular. Check out its fur seat, worn down by hunters who rub it for luck before deer hunting season.
Fantastic nature dioramas – that rival the Museum of Natural History in NYC – and multi-media scenes of Maine industry will keep visitors engaged a long time. Plan at least an hour plus to see everything.
It’s just a short path through pretty gardens from the Maine State Museum to the entrance of the State House. Designed by Charles Bullfinch (U.S. Capitol, Massachusetts State House), and finished in 1831 (with new wings added in 1917), Maine’s Capitol building is as unembellished as a Puritan home.
Because the interior is not gilded or festooned with fanciful architectural details, several portraits stand out. A bust of Percival Baxter, who endowed the state with the thousands of acres of forest that became Baxter State Park, is situated in the center of the rotunda.
A portrait of one of the country’s first women to be considered presidential material – Margaret Chase Smith, who served terms in both the Senate and Congress in the 1960s – hangs near a portrait of Edwin Muskie.
Muskie, who served as Secretary of State under President Jimmy Carter, was from the very industrial and polluted Rumford ME, and as Senator, pushed through the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts in the early ’70s.
When you finish peering into the modest-looking House of Representatives and Senate chambers, step outside on the patio overlooking Augusta – a beautiful view.
WALK: Capitol Park
Just a stone’s throw away from the State House, this peaceful park is ideal for a relaxing stroll. Mature trees and well-maintained paths make this a beloved spot among locals and visitors alike.
TOUR: Old Fort Western
On the National Historic Register, Old Fort Western, built in 1754, is the oldest surviving wooden fort remaining in North America. It stands as a 100 ft. by 32 ft. remnant of the French and Indian War.
A tour of the wooden fort is a fascinating trip through time. During Colonial America, this area of mid-Maine was an unsettled wilderness. European merchants used the Kennebec River to transport items to trade with Native Americans for beaver pelts.
By the 1920s, the buildings that remained of Fort Western served as a run-down flop house for Irish immigrants.
Fort As Wilderness Store
In the mid-1700s, traders began to settle the land. The Fort became a well-trafficked trading post on the Kennebec River.
This was the last straw for local Native Americans who were incensed at the incursion of the White Man. These hostilities, in part, fed the French and Indian War. Reconstructed Block Houses on either side of the original structure offer visitors a glimpse of how this fort looked in the 1750’s during that conflict.
After the war, Captain James Howard, the Venture Capitalist of his day, purchased the fort building. He shingled it and used it as both his home and general store for the influx of settlers who made their way up the Kennebec River from the Atlantic Ocean shipbuilding town of Bath.
From here, they could transport goods to and from all corners of the world. Most fascinating are documents from that time provided by descendants of the Howard family. Surviving ledgers list items such as fish, pork, and timber, purchased for cash and barter.
The store is fashioned as it would have looked in the late 1700s when Benedict Arnold used the fort to stage a march to Quebec. Settlers could buy tools, bolts of fine cloth, buckles, buttons, pins, needles, tobacco, pipes, silk from China, fashion dolls, household goods, paper, ink, ceramic ware, and other exotica one wouldn’t imagine could be found in the middle of the woods.
Fort As Private Home
James’s son, William Howard, inherited the property and turned it into a showpiece. He loved to entertain, so the dining room is set with a china cups, crystal wine glasses and decanter, awaiting the guests’ arrival. Original wooden chairs (circa 1790), painted to look like bamboo, surround the table.
By the mid 1840’s, the Howard Family had moved out and the building was sold to a real estate company that turned it into an 8-room apartment house for mill workers.
In 1922 the Gannett Family (descendants of the Howard’s) purchased the run down place. They restored it and turned it over to the city as a museum. It has been in operation as a historic site ever since.
WALK: Kennebec River Rail Trail
This scenic 6.5-mile trail runs along the Kennebec River and offers the perfect setting for walking, running, or biking. Stop at one of the several observation decks for a quick photo or a moment of serenity.
GO: Viles Arboretum
For a leisurely day outdoors, head to Viles Arboretum, a 224-acre botanical garden. The extensive trails are open to the public year-round, allowing you to discover the beauty of Maine’s flora and fauna in every season.
VISIT/SHOP: Hallowell ME
A cute suburb of Augusta, Hallowell’s Main Street invites window and actual shopping. You can spend hours perusing art galleries, and antique stores, and pause for the best restaurants and bars in the Augusta area.
Augusta ME Restaurants
EAT: Slates Restaurant and Bakery – Hallowell
On the hippy end of the farm-to-table movement and way before its time, Slates has been dishing out locally sourced foods for thirty years.
Dine on wonderful dishes in a funky Caribbean-hued space. Homemade desserts are excessively decadent. I bestow a thousand blessings and curses on the too-good Chocolate Mint Cheesecake.
EAT/DRINK: Maine House – Hallowell
Dine on small plates and imbibe in the creative efforts of an expert mixologist at this trendy rustic spot.
PUB: Cushnoc Brewing Co.
After a day of sightseeing, nothing beats a local craft beer. Cushnoc Brewing Co. offers a range of brews along with a delicious menu featuring wood-fired pizza.
EAT: Locals Recommend
Locals also love Liberal Cup, a microbrewery. Also, Oak Table & Bar, and State Lunch (which also serves dinner and wins raves).
Hotels In Augusta ME
STAY: Hampton Inn or Homewood Suites
Comfy, updated, and though chain hotels, the best places to stay in town.