By Kristin Batista
Heart sea rock (Carrie Morrison).
Picturesque. Quintessential. Rustic. Beautiful. These are all words used to describe the northeastern most U.S. state, Maine. Maine is known for its rocky coastline, fishing harbors filled with colorful boats, maritime history, lobster, lighthouses, and its natural beauty—and the islands of Casco Bay do not disappoint. Casco Bay is an inlet of the Gulf of Maine, located just off the coast of Portland. The islands of Casco Bay that are accessible by public ferry are Peaks, Little Diamond, Great Diamond, Long, Chebeague, and Cliff Islands.
Detail of Birds eye view of Casco Bay, Portland, Maine, and surroundings, 1906 (Geo. H. Walker & Co., Maine Central Railroad Company, Library of Congress).
Casco Bay Lines, located on Commercial Street in downtown Portland, is the primary means of reaching the islands, although private water taxis such as Fogg’s Water Taxi are also available for smaller groups. Other islands, such as Cushing Island, Hope Island, and Pumpkin Knob Island, are private and accessible only to residents. Casco Bay Lines ferry runs year-round. Of the six islands, four are open to the public to explore or have an extended stay, and three—Little Diamond, Great Diamond, and Cliff Island—are open to visitors who are staying on the island or visiting establishments such as restaurants. Pro tip: The ferries make unlisted stops at islands during the week to deliver and pick up supplies, so be sure to ask at your hotel or call Casco Bay Lines to find out if there’s a ferry going just where you want to go when you want to go.
The beaches of the islands of Casco Bay vary greatly, with soft sandy white beaches, hard packed sand beaches, and rocky coastlines perfect for beachcombing. We recommend Peaks Island, Long Island, and Great Diamond Island for finding sea glass. Check the low tide line for pirate glass and kickups, and walk the high tide line to find lavender and sea foam blue pieces of sea glass. Keep an eye out for pottery as well.
From 1775 to 1912, the Quartermaster Department was responsible for U.S. Army supplies, such as the Army mug this sea pottery piece came from, which was found on Great Diamond Island. (Phyllis Ford)
For exploring, Casco Bay is home to many lighthouses, including Cape Elizabeth, Portland Head, Ram Island Ledge, Spring Point Ledge, Portland Breakwater (or Bug), and Halfway Rock lighthouses. Casco Bay is also home to abandoned military fortifications dating from the War of 1812 to World War II, served as an anchorage for US Navy Ships, and was a route to Britain, all of which likely contributed to the abundance of sea glass and pottery found in Casco Bay.
Peaks Island is approximately a 17-minute ferry ride from downtown Portland. Once known as the Coney Island of Maine with amusement parks and theaters, and later an important World War II outpost, Peaks Island is currently the most densely populated island in Casco Bay. Peaks is the most family-friendly of the islands with cafés, ice cream and souvenir shops, restaurants where you can get classic Maine seafood, and bikes and golf carts to rent so you can fully explore the island and all it has to offer.
You can visit for the day, or you can stay at the Inn on Peaks or in a home rental. Or, better yet, stay at the 8th Maine Oceanfront Lodge & Museum, an easy 10-minute walk from the ferry landing. The 8th Maine was built to be the summer vacation for 8th Maine Regiment Civil war veterans and their families, and today the 14 rooms, as well as the museum and library dedicated to the Civil War, are open to the public to rent June through September. The porch, which wraps around the entire Queen Anne shingle style structure, overlooks the ocean and is lined with rocking chairs where you can sit and enjoy the amazing views.
Whether you are there for the day or there for a week, check out Torrington Point Beach, Centennial Beach, and Sandy Beach for beautiful sea glass, driftwood, pottery, and heart-shaped rocks. It is also not unusual to find a stopper, pirate glass, or a kickup on Peaks Island beaches.
Recommended on Peaks Island
- Directly off the ferry is the Unruly Girls Peaks Café where you can get delicious coffee, bakery items, breakfast sandwiches, and lunch depending on when you arrive.
- Rent a golf cart from Island Tours.
- Grab some delicious seafood at Island Lobster, the Inn on Peaks, or the Cockeyed Gull.
- Explore on foot or by kayak (bring your own or take a tour), or rent a bike from Brad and Wyatt’s Bike Shop.
- Check out the Battery Steele, one of the largest military batteries in the U.S., covered in interesting and beautiful street art. Visit the 5th Maine museum. Discover the local attractions including the famous Umbrella Cover Museum.
- A can’t miss is a stop for ice cream or a delicious milk shake at Down Front, located on Island Ave at the top of the hill from the ferry landing. Grab yourself a souvenir or sweatshirt at Down Front to remember your wonderful visit to Peaks Island.
GREAT DIAMOND ISLAND
Great Diamond Island is part of the city of Portland and has two stops by ferry. The first to the Great Diamond stop is a 20-minute ferry ride, and the second to the Diamond Cove stop, is a 30-minute ferry ride. Diamond Cove on Great Diamond welcomes visitors to walk along Diamond Avenue and enjoy the restaurants and lodging facilities. Visitors are not allowed to walk the island, including the beaches, unless they are staying in lodging on island.
The Inn at Diamond Cove is a renovated historic military base that has kept much of the original architecture with large windows, high ceilings, and balconies. Splash in the heated pool and hot tub, walk the island trails, rent a fat-tire bike, kick back by the fire pit, and enjoy the many sitting areas overlooking the water. Fort McKinley Museum just off the dock displays artifacts and photographs from when Fort McKinley defended the harbor during the Spanish-American War.
At the Diamond’s Edge Restaurant, a five-star restaurant built from the former quartermaster’s storehouse, ask for a table on the lawn overlooking the cove. Or, enjoy small plates and inventive cocktails at the Crown Jewel.
Just a ten-minute walk from the inn, Sea Glass Beach has abundant sea glass in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and colors. Guests are asked to limit what they take from the beach to leave more for future visitors.
Long Island is a 50-minute ferry ride from Portland. This island is three miles long and one mile wide, with a population of 200 year-round residents. Long Island, has been its own town since 1993 when it seceded from the city of Portland. Visitors are welcome to come explore Long Island which is home to a post office, two stores, and the Byers & Sons Long Island Bakehouse. Bring your bike and explore the island or enjoy the scenic walks along the shore. Visit Sandy Beach where the sand “sings” beneath your feet as you walk.
For sea glass, check out the coast down the stairs just past the Bakehouse. Grab a pastry or lunch at Byers on the way back to the ferry with your beachcombing loot.
Chebeague Island is about a 60-minute ferry ride from the Portland coast and is one of the most picturesque of the islands. Generations of year-round and summer residents make their homes on this island, whose name means “isle of many springs.” Within walking distance of the ferry landing is Chandler’s Cove, and although sea glass is not abundant on Chebeague, the beaches are pristine and are some of the most breathtaking in New England.
Bring food, water, and good shoes for walking, as Chebeague Island is known for walking, running, and hiking. The Slow Bell Café has coffee and breakfast items as well as lunch and will provide a ride from the ferry if you call ahead. Bike or walk the island’s loop to see the Great Chebeague Golf Club, have lunch at the Niblic at the Boatyard located in the middle of the island, or dine at the Chebeague Island Inn for the Chebeague Burger or the Casco Bay Lobster. The Chebeague Island Inn is a 1920s hotel that has been restored and has rooms that were each detailed by local Maine artists.
You’re probably going to be traveling through Portland on your way to Casco Bay, so don’t miss a chance to check out the galleries, boutiques, breweries, and restaurants in Maine’s largest city. Grab wood-fired pizzas made with organic ingredients at Flatbread Company just up from the ferry terminal or Fore, serving locally sourced fare in a warm and friendly atmosphere a block from the waterfront.
Check out the fun art, cards, and more at Maine Potters Market and pick up sea glass books by Maine author and sea glass expert C.S. Lambert. And, drop by the Sea Bags Maine Portland flagship store on Commercial Street or the Factory Store on Custom House Wharf to grab a Sea Glass Print bag to bring home your favorite finds.
If you would like to go on a trip like this, join Kirstin and Virginia on a Seaglass & Serenity retreat. They take care of everything from the minute you arrive to when you head back home. They do all the planning, driving, and share their expertise and knowledge on their small-group retreats. Learn more at seaglassandserenity.com.
Learn more about the best beaches and destinations for sea and beach glass, seashells, fossils, rocks, and more beach finds around the world. Articles ›
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Volume 38 September/October 2023.
All photos by Kristin Batista and Phyllis Ford except as marked.