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Calling All Chowderheads

Even those 'from away' can appreciate the best Maine has to offer with a road trip along its picturesque Route 1.

Traveling along Route 1 in Maine can afford any visitor the entire essence of the state's motto, "The Way Life Should Be."

The 400-mile rural route, which hugs the Atlantic Ocean as it runs from Kittery to Fort Kent, has become a tourist destination thanks to its picturesque views, antique and outlet shopping and, of course, those sublime Maine lobsters.

Our trip along the northern coastal route begins in Kittery, just across the Piscataqua River Bridge from Portsmouth, N.H.

Kittery bills itself as the oldest incorporated town in Maine and has become one of the best destinations for New England

outlet shoppers.

The town features more than 30 clothing shops, including the Gap, J. Crew, Aeropostale and Talbots' J. Jill. The outlet centers also boast a plethora of shoe, housewares and toy shops.

An absolute must-see store is

Yummies, a candy and nut haven sure to satisfy any sweet tooth, no matter how much of the road trip lays ahead.

Before leaving Kittery, one should enjoy the banquet at the

Weatherwave, arguably the best seafood restaurant in the area.

With plentiful portions and beyond-fresh seafood, you can't find anything better. Try the oversized lobster roll, or for those who shy away from seafood, order up an overflowing platter of golden-fried chicken fingers.

On to Oguinquit

Oguinquit is the next stop along Route 1, toting itself as the "Beautiful Place by the Sea."

Oguinquit is considered more of a resort town, similar to the nearby town of York. At high tide, a rocky coastline peeks out of the blue water, while low tide reveals its pristine beaches.

A trolley that runs alongside Route 1 adds to the small-town charm; a rustic footbridge winds a similar path along the coast.

While not blessed with many brand-name shops, Oguinquit is sprinkled with a surprising number of excellent restaurants. Don't let the name fool you:

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Poor Richard's Tavern is a fabulous choice for dinner.

A personal favorite is the charbroiled swordfish steak, but the menu offers a host of dishes highlighting the best of the local cuisine, like lobster pie, cranberry-glazed roast duckling and fresh, tender seared scallops.

If splurging suits you, spend the night at the

Cliff House Resort & Spa, which effortlessly blends the luxury of fine lodging with the ultimate pampering of a high-end spa.

The resort has 32 oversized guest rooms with plush, king-sized beds. Rooms feature gas-fired woodstoves, wet bars and the option of spa treatments right in your room. In addition, the hotel boasts a 75-foot lap pool, whirlpool, sauna, steam room and fitness center.

If you want to take a short detour following a relaxing day in Oguinquit, Kennebunkport is a good choice.

Famed as the summer home of former president George H.W. Bush, the fall colors are always a main draw at this snug stop. However, the voyage north on Route 1 still has plenty more to offer.

Next Stop, Freeport

Freeport is another shopper's paradise, highlighted by the Maine classic --

L.L. Bean's flagship store, which is always open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Check out the live fish in the store's indoor pool ... just make sure you don't throw any coins in while making a wish.

L.L. Bean is just one of over 170 stores in Freeport open to visitors.

Coach, Jones New York, Yankee Candle and Limited Brands' Bath & Body Works all have gigantic outlet centers in the village.

While the city can brag about the beautiful Main Street feel and great shopping, Freeport also features excellent dining. If your appetite is light, take a visit to

The Corsican Restaurant on Mechanic Street.

While I was content with a refreshing Sea Dog Blueberry Ale, the Corsican's homemade New England clam chowder is always absolute bliss in a bowl.

Lobstah in Paradise

As Route 1 continues north toward the Bay of Fundy, turn off at Boothbay Harbor -- the final stop on our tour.

Nestled a ways from any major highway, Boothbay Harbor affords tourists a welcome respite from the frantic shopping centers along Route 1. The trek between Freeport and Boothbay Harbor may seem a bit long, but it is ultimately quite rewarding.

The village may not be as luxurious as Maine's other havens, but the small-town coziness and charm make Boothbay endearing and well worth the visit.

In place of sprawling chain stores are boutiques and small mom & pop specialty shops. Visitors can also board boats and head out on whale-watching tours; upon returning, a bevy of fresh seafood restaurants await.

Kaler's Crab & Lobster House on Commercial Street may seem an odd choice when you sit down to plastic silverware, but you won't be disappointed with the menu.

The house specialty, not to be missed, is deep-fried lobster.

That's right -- fresh lobster meat dipped in batter and fried until delicately crisp, served with the perfect accompaniment, warm melted butter. Unhealthy as it sounds, your taste buds will recognize this is a match made in heaven.

Visiting in the late-fall offseason turns Boothbay Harbor a relaxing break from other congested tourist spots, making the town a welcome respite. Just don't forget your coat when making the late-season arrival!

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