An Artist’s Guide to Monhegan Island

An Artist’s Guide to Monhegan Island

BY Claire HarnEnz | June 2, 2023

This story appears in the Unplugged issue, available for sale here. See more of the issue here.

Monhegan Island is the kind of place where you can forget what day of the week it is within a few hours of arrival. Cars are banned on its five square miles and the roads are dirt. Cell service has been slow to creep into town and Wi-Fi, of course, is unreliable. Monhegan only got electricity in the late 1980s, and it is still limited. You won’t find any large televisions or even streetlights on the island. 

I first heard about Monhegan Island when reading about Edward Hopper. The famous American artist spent his summers capturing the rugged cliffs and spectacular ocean vistas of the island. I am a painter, so the remote outpost that inspired not only Hopper, but also Andrew Wyeth, Winslow Homer and many others, fascinated me. It’s home to just 70 full-time residents but influenced the paintings of an entire generation of artists. 

Coast of Monhegan Island, Maine.

When to Go

Monhegan, despite being far out to sea, is a hub for the monarch butterflies’ migration in late August. Thousands fill the flowers and foliage with bright wings. If possible, visit the island when they do. Reservations are also easier to come by later in the summer. 

Getting There

To get to the island, take a ferry departing from either Boothbay Harbor, Port Clyde or New Harbor. The ride is worth a trip in itself. Monhegan looks like a great humpback whale as you approach, a fact that the ferry boat captain will point out as he cruises past colonies of seals that live on the outcroppings near the island’s ferry dock. 

Can’t-Miss Activities on the Island 

Monhegan has 12 miles of hiking trails that snake around the perimeter of the island, past hundred-foot cliffs with the ocean crashing below and old shipwrecks on rocky beaches. I brought a sketchbook and spent hours trying to capture the light on the cliffs. 

The island is an active artist colony, and you could easily spend half a day enjoying all the galleries and studios dotted around the town. My personal favorite was Lupine Gallery with its small art store and amazing windows in the second-floor studio space. Art classes are offered at various galleries, and you can try your own hand at painting the landscape. There are also kayak rentals and boat tours for puffin sightings. 

Where to Drink, Eat

After hiking around the cliffs and enjoying the art, relax at the Monhegan Brewing Co. Situated at the end of many of the trails in the south of the island, it is an easy place to enjoy a lager. All of the beers are brewed there and the operation is family owned. After, walk down to the Fish House fish market for a fresh lobster roll made to order and served with hot butter, a pickle and a bag of chips. Eat at one of the picnic tables on the beach so you can enjoy the salty sea air and admire the brave souls swimming in the cold waters of the bay.

Where to Stay

Make reservations as early as possible as many accommodations book quickly. Many of the inns have shared bathrooms because the buildings are so old. So, if you want a hotel experience with a private bathroom, try the Island Inn, which dates to 1816 and has sweeping views of the sunset. Houses are available for rent too.

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