Five Things to Love About Maine

This state has so much going for it, we didn't even have to include the succulent lobster or the boating opportunities.
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Coastal Maine is considered a vacation paradise -- and for good reason. It offers spectacular oceanfront views, outlet shopping aplenty and the prospect of $6-a-pound lobster.

But what if you want to experience something off the beaten track?

Not to worry: If you're looking for a slightly different vacation experience, it's there to be had. Here are my five suggestions for how to enjoy another side of coastal Maine.

Ride the Rails

The last place you might expect to find a vintage New York subway car is the picturesque seaside village of Kennebunkport, better known as the summer home of former President George Bush. But there it is, at the

Seashore Trolley Museum

.

That's just the start: The 69-year-old museum is more an open field filled with dozens of streetcars (and the occasional bus or train) from everywhere from Sioux City, Iowa, to Sydney, Australia. Some of the streetcars are in the process of being restored (you can see crews doing just that in a huge shop area), others are ready to be taken for a ride (admission includes a 25-minute trip aboard one).

There's also some indoor exhibit space in which you can learn about the history and development of the streetcar in the early 20th century and its renewed popularity today, especially as mass transit becomes embraced in a less car-dependent world.

Even the gift shop is a blast, filled with books and DVDs about streetcar and subway systems, past and present, and vintage maps and schedules, all for sale.

It's at 195 Log Cabin Rd., Kennebunkport; 207-967-2800; admission $8 for adults, $5.50 for children ages 6-16.

Go Candlepin Bowling

Here's a pastime that's very particular to Maine (and the rest of New England, plus Canada). Think traditional bowling, but with a much skinnier pin (hence, the name "candlepin") and a much smaller and lighter ball.

The result? A kid-friendly game (they don't need help hoisting or aiming anything), but an incredibly challenging one. As a former league bowler, I found it almost impossible to get any action with the pins -- since they're skinnier, there's a lot of space between them.

Put another way, even with three throws per frame (or "round") -- yet another distinguishing feature of the game -- I couldn't easily make a spare.

You'll find alleys scattered throughout the state; the

Maine State Candlepin Bowling Association

makes note of several.

We chanced upon the Oakland Park Bowling Lanes in Rockport (732 Commercial St.; 207-594-7525) on our own during a sleepy Sunday night. A nice bonus: The alley featured a vintage pinball machine, which beckoned to be played.

Whoopee Pies

Forget lobster: This is the real culinary find in Maine. After all, Maine lobsters are shipped and sold throughout the country. But whoopie pies? I've yet to see a single one in all my years of living in South Florida.

True, we're not talking anything fancy -- a whoopie pie is little more than a circular version of a Devil Dog, with two slabs of chocolate cake sandwiching a middle layer of creamy -- or, in some instances, marshmallow-y -- filling.

Never mind that the Pennsylvania Dutch are perhaps more famous for this sweet treat. Maine residents seem to claim it for themselves with a perverse pride.

What surprised me in a week's worth of sampling whoopie pies was not only the differences among them -- the fillings especially -- but the fact I found very few mass-produced ones. Most gas stations and convenience stores sold a homemade version that I'm guessing came from, well, someone's home.

One vendor at a beach amusement park told me he made nine a day to sell -- no more, no less.

That said, the best whoopie pie I enjoyed came from a real bakery -- specifically,

Congdon's Family Restaurant & Bakery

(1090 Post Rd., Wells; 207-646-4219); they also make a pretty mean doughnut.

Another solid bet: The whoopie pies sold statewide from

Wicked Whoopies

-- they come in more than just the standard chocolate flavor (gingerbread, anyone?) and they can be ordered through the Web site and sent by mail.

See the "Real" Mount Desert Island

It's a given that if you're driving up the coast of Maine, you're going to make your way to

Acadia National Park

in Mount Desert Island. As well you should: It offers some of the highest views and best hiking trails in the state.

You'll probably spend some time in delightfully touristy Bar Harbor, right near the entrance to the park. But don't neglect the southern, less-inhabited half of the island, filled with small towns (Tremont, Southwest Harbor), a renowned, picture-perfect lighthouse (Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse) and such quaint diversions along the way as antique shops and picnic areas.

A great place to stop for lunch:

Maine-ly Delights

(Bass Harbor, 207-244-3656), a seafood shack right where the ferry to nearby Swans Island departs.

Shop at L.L. Bean

OK, I know what you're thinking: What could possibly be off the beaten track about

L.L. Bean's

big store (actually, a mall-like complex of stores) in Freeport (95 Main St., 800-559-0747, ext. 37222), which many consider the state's top attraction?

But that's just it: I'm not talking about that L.L. Bean. I'm talking about the three

smaller outlet stores

spread throughout the state -- in Ellsworth (near Bar Harbor), Bangor and Portland. In visiting any of them, you'll still get a taste of what the legendary outdoor gear catalog is all about, but you'll also be able to avoid the crowds at the flagship Freeport complex.

Better yet, you'll enjoy decent savings. I found most items to be marked at least 20% off, on everything from clothing to furniture.

If you insist on visiting the Freeport complex (which includes an outlet store), consider coming in the middle of the night. The main store is open 24 hours a day.

Charles Passy is a Florida-based writer who covers food, travel, entertainment and consumer culture and products.