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Let’s say you’re traveling east on the Maine coast along Route 1, and you’re the sort of person who travels with one eye on the compass or GPS heading. Somewhere around Rockland, you suddenly notice something strange: You’re pointed almost due north. Huh? Yet it’s true. The culprit behind this geographic quirk is Penobscot Bay, a sizable bite out of the coast that forces drivers to take a lengthy northerly detour in order to cross the head of the bay, where the Penobscot River flows into it at Bucksport.

Fear not; you’ll find some of Maine’s most distinctive coastal scenery in this little region, which is dotted with offshore islands and hills rising above the shore. Although the mouth of Penobscot Bay is occupied by two large islands, its waters still churn when the winds and tides are right.

Thanks to both its natural beauty and architectural cuteness, the bay’s western shore sees a steady stream of tourist traffic in summer, especially along the stretch of U.S. Route 1 passing through artsy Rockland and affluent Camden. You’ll need a small miracle to find a weekend bed without a reservation in summer or early fall. Nevertheless, this is a great area if you want to get a taste of the real Maine coast. Services for travelers are everywhere.

Following Route 1 around the bay, you can stop to check out the historic shipbuilding towns of Belfast and Searsport; detour south on the east side of the bay to visit the quiet tree-shaded streets of Castine, or get away from it all on outdoorsy Deer Isle. Forming the eastern boundary of Penobscot Bay, the lovely Blue Hill Peninsula is a sort of backroads paradise. If you came to Maine to get lost on country lanes that dead-end at the sea or loop back on themselves, this is the place. By and large, the peninsula is overlooked by the majority of Maine’s tourists, especially those who like their itineraries well structured and their destinations clear. In my book, that makes it doubly worth considering for a day or two’s visit.