Cape Elizabeth in Cumberland County, Maine currently has a population of around 9,000. This headland on the Maine coastline and the main offshore island – now named Richmond – first appeared on Spanish maps before the middle of the 16th century.
Richmond Island became a center for fishing and trading, with Native Americans living there and on the mainland – land that was already given the name of “Elizabeth,” after Charles I of England’s sister.
An initial settlement then called Purpoodock was located on the Fore River before Cape Elizabeth was incorporated as a town in its own right in 1765. It remained largely rural, in contrast to the development of commerce further north.
Farming and fishing were the foundations of Cape Elizabeth but in many ways, the town is a commuter residential district for the Greater Portland Metropolitan Area. If you are planning a visit to the headland, here are the Best 15 Things to do in Cape Elizabeth.
1. Fort Williams Park
Visitors to Cape Elizabeth are welcome to take a number of free guided walks in the immediate area. One of them is located in Fort Williams Park, where there are a number of historic sites to enjoy.
Located on Shore Road, admission is free and the park opens during daylight hours, with parking on site.
This stretch of coastline is stunning and the cliff walk is a lovely experience. It is also a great place to sit and enjoy a picnic at one of the tables. Visitors are asked to take their rubbish with them; there are no trash cans.
2. Crescent Beach State Park
The State of Maine operates this park, whose highlight is a crescent-shaped stretch of sand, about a mile long. Found at Seal Cove off Bowery Beach Road, visitors will delight in the grassy sand dunes and gentle breezes throughout summer.
Popular with locals and tourists alike, people enjoy simply relaxing and sunbathing, taking the occasional swim, or a number of more physical pursuits. There are sea kayaks for hire, sea fishing off the beach is popular, and some trails are perfect for hiking, jogging, or even cross-country skiing in the winter.
3. Goddard Mansion
Built from granite for John Goddard in 1858, the town’s budget provides an annual allocation for keeping these ruins in good shape. Goddard, from Bangor in Maine, made his money from lumber, and this was his dream home in his dream location.
Bought by the Town more than 50 years ago, it has become popular with visitors, who flock to see it in significant numbers every year. Although you are not allowed to enter the ruins, you can still marvel at the granite structure as it is today.
4. Portland Head Lighthouse
The oldest lighthouse in Maine – and arguably the most photographed in the USA – is on the shoreline of Fort Williams Park. It deserves a visit on its own, although, as a working lighthouse, public access is denied. As well as the lighthouse, there is a small and interesting museum which is not open during the winter.
Situated at the opening to the main channel into Portland Harbor, it was built after the War of Independence, commissioned by George Washington. Its light has shone for shipping since 1791, with the building project of this 80-foot-high lighthouse starting four years earlier.
5. Cape Elizabeth Lighthouse
The Maine coastline has seen several shipwrecks over the years and has a number of lighthouses. The Cape Elizabeth Lighthouse – sometimes called ‘’Two Lights’’ – is at the southwest end of Casco Bay with just one of its towers still active. It is maintained by the Coast Guard.
Both towers helped guide ships from 1828 to 1924, but the western tower is now privately owned. This 68-foot-high lighthouse was automated in the 1960s; its huge lens was placed in the Town Hall, before ending up in Maine Maritime Museum.
6. Two Lights State Park
This 41-acre State Park on the headland of Cape Elizabeth provides great views of Casco Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. It was opened in 1961 and, not surprisingly, is a highly popular recreation area for locals and visitors alike.
It gets its name from ‘’Two Lights’’ Lighthouse, although there are no lighthouses within the park itself.
Visitors can enjoy the trails and picnic tables in this picturesque area.
7. Richmond Island
When settlers first came to this island in the 17th century, they found Native Americans who had lived there for many centuries. It became a fishing and trading settlement before the mainland itself was widely settled.
Richmond Island has been privately owned for over a century, but visitors are welcome – with the proviso that they respect the island’s ecology of dunes, grassland, forest, and lake. It covers 226 acres, with four beaches and a small number of camping permits.
You have a good chance of seeing bald eagle, owls, hawks, and herons, as well as the resident deer.
8. Peak’s Island
North of Richmond Island, in the heart of Casco Bay, lies Peak’s Island, which has the largest population of any in the bay. It is a favorite place for retiring, and for commuters into Portland.
This spot has been a popular place for holidays since the 19th century, hence the development of tourist accommodation and amusement parks. It is easily accessible via regular ferries from the mainland and retains a small town feel despite its popularity.
9. Sea Fishing
Whether you want to visit the islands or not, you can try your hand at sea fishing; either from the beach or on a boat charter into Casco Bay.
If you get a group together, you will be able to have a boat all to yourself and be provided with all the fishing equipment you need. You may score cod, bass, pollock, and even mackerel in the right season.
10. Spurwink Church
Spurwink Congregational Church on Spurwink Avenue was opened in 1802 and renovated three decades later. As the oldest public building in Cape Elizabeth, it remained a church until 1957, before becoming a community center for public use.
Recently restored again to help weatherproof the building, it still maintains its original appearance. The cellar and foundation work have made it secure from infestation, but outwardly it looks no different – that is one of the successes of the project.
11. Great Pond Trail
The natural environment around Cape Elizabeth is one of its real qualities; walkers can really get a taste for nature on a number of designated trails. The town has created these trails and maintains them well.
Cape Elizabeth owns 1,000 acres of space, on which there are 15 miles of trails for walking, cycling, and in some cases, horseback riding. Great Pond Trail is an excellent example of what is on offer. The hike circles a 40-acre pond, where boating and fishing are common. In winter, ice skating is also popular.
Dogs are permitted, though owners must pick up after them. With the exception of some sections which allow snowmobiles, motorized vehicles are not allowed.
12. Winnick Woods
This 71-acre wooded area was given to Cape Elizabeth by Alice Larrea in memory of her family, the Winnicks. The trails within the woods are easy to access and offer the chance to enjoy nature while walking or jogging in the summer or using snowshoes in the winter.
You can expect areas of wetland, meadows, woodland, and ponds.
13. Alewives Brook Farm
This farm has been in the hands of the same family for 70 years. It has progressed from wholesaling its production in the early years to becoming involved in direct retail sales.
The farm still produces a range of vegetables, but now there is much more for visitors to buy. Livestock includes pigs, turkey, and chickens, with fresh eggs one of the best sellers.
In addition, the family has branched out into providing lobsters – one of Maine’s most delicious food items.
14. C-Salt Gourmet Market
If you are planning a picnic with the family, why not get an expert to put the food together for you? C-Salt Gourmet Market is just the company to do it.
You can buy sweet and savory, sandwiches and snacks, soups and salads, alcoholic drinks and desserts. If you need an idea for a present, the hampers produced by the market will rarely disappoint.
Wherever possible, everything is local – and certainly fresh. A fresh lobster from the bay sets everything off nicely.
15. Seaglass Restaurant at Inn by the Sea
Sea Glass Restaurant at Inn by the Sea is certainly a great place to sample some delicious local cuisine. Sit looking out to sea and enjoy fresh local seafood.
Inn by the Sea is a nice accommodation. If you want to stay a night or two, you can take advantage of a fantastic in-house spa. Want to bring your dog along? No problem, this place is pet-friendly.