Location: Carrabassett Valley at Sugarloaf Mountain
Accommodations: Apartment. Basement unit below home.
- Master Bedroom with ensuite bathroom
- Alcove Bedroom with two twin beds and a set of bunkbeds
- Second bathroom has tub + shower
Amenities & Perks: Washer & Dryer, Strong Wifi, Television, Fully stocked kitchen with stove and dishwasher, parking.
Deciding on the best season to visit Carrabassett Valley depends on who you ask. Obviously, most people flock this way for Sugarloaf once the mountains are dusted with snow - but you'll also find plenty of golfers, hikers and more visiting during the "off" season. Which is my preferred season (check out our Area Guide here.)
Our family heads to Carrabassett Valley every year when the leaves begin to change. There's nothing quite as remarkable as the drive up to Sugarloaf mountain taking in the endless colors that dot the trees. There's so many beautiful hikes and adventures to be had just before the winter season that keeps me coming back every year. I feel like we've just scratched the surface on this area.
And our first trip here fully ruined us. And I mean that in the best way. It'll be tough to top the apartment we rented that was nestled into one of the winding roads that make up Sugarloaf mountain. The location puts you at a 2 minute drive to the golf course and a 5 minute drive to the Base Lodge. No matter what is bringing you to Sugarloaf, you are steps away from it by staying at this apartment.
The apartment is the basement unit at a local's home. There is a separate entrance in the back with plenty of parking. Even though mentally you know there are people living above you, we didn't hear anyone our entire stay and it really felt like a private, detached getaway. The unit is spacious with plenty of room for little ones to play and spread out. A full kitchen, board games and more await. And keep your eyes peeled - you may just see a moose.
The locals that own the place? Well, let's just say that one of us forgot to pack our daughter's overnight bag up when we checked out. I got a text from the owner, Denise, with a picture of the bag asking us if we forgot something - oh no! Sadly, we were already hours away on our way back home and turning around would be a not so fun day with our little one in the back. While debating what to do, Denise offered to have her husband meet us at a rest stop near Portland the next day as he would be passing through for work. So, he tacked on time to his commute by meeting my husband to drop the bag and truly he couldn't have been nicer. Just really genuine, kind Mainers and even beyond the bag snafu, the love and care put into their rental is evident. When you rent from them, just know you are renting from some pretty great folks.
Carla Tracy is everywhere. Well, more specifically, she’s everywhere that I want to be.
Whenever I sit down to plan an adventure in Maine, as I start digging into the details of our trip and figuring out the logistics of our stay, where we’ll eat and the dreamy adventures to be had - there’s almost always a common thread when I look at our itinerary. And that’s Carla Tracy.
Carla Tracy serves as the PR person for some of the most celebrated spots in Maine and the ones that sit at the top of my must do list. And it’s not a coincidence that these places are my most saved instagram posts or serve as the next getaway of your dreams - it’s because she’s really good at her job. She’s good at her job because Carla understands that behind all of these establishments are hard working, conscientious Mainers that all have their own story that are deserving of their own spotlight. Getting to know these people - their personal triumphs, goals, worries - is what informs the type of awareness she creates for her clients. It’s individualized, it’s personal and it’s so very Maine.
And when I say she is everywhere, I don’t just mean listed on her clients websites as the PR contact. She’s actually out experiencing and immersing herself in Maine, not just pitching about it. She’s probably sitting next to you at that new restaurant opening and she definitely has tickets to that event that sold out months ago.
I had asked her if we could do a 15 minute interview and we ended up chatting for an hour. She’s incredibly easy to talk to and it’s no surprise to me why someone would be drawn to working with her. She lights up talking about her love of Maine, the adventures with her husband and two boys, and of course, her clients.
From my perspective, this isn’t just her job, this is just her. She loves Maine, and she wants you to love Maine too.
How did you get started in the PR world? What was the transition like to become your own boss?
CARLA: So, I got started in PR in 2003 in New York City. I was an intern at what would become the only place I've ever worked - Laura Davidson Public Relations. It was a luxury travel PR Company that I discovered when I was sitting in a communications class at Marist College. I was trying to figure out whether to major in PR or Journalism and one of the students in front of me raised her hand and kept talking about her internship and how she was writing a press release for this private island and working on something for Australia. And so after class, I remember this so vividly, I grabbed her and I said: “Can I just ask you where you're interning? This sounds really fabulous.” Long story short is I got the next internship after her. I started there in January 2003 and was hired as the president's assistant right after graduation in May 2003. And so I worked there for 13 years and left as the Vice President.
The transition to working for myself really was born when I decided to move to Maine while still working in New York. I decided to try the work part-time in New York/work part-time from Maine thing and was out to prove to my boss: I can do this. I can do two weeks in Maine and two weeks in New York. I'll fly in for client meetings if I have to. I was doing that for a while but then once we decided to have kids, I was like, okay, this isn't going to work anymore. And when you're with a company for that long, you start to write your own Exit Plan.
When I was working in Maine, but still with LDPR, I had heard a rumor that a hotel was going to open at the top of Exchange Street and Congress. I said to my boss, I know we don't ever cold call or anything like that but if I could find out who's responsible for this - would you let me just dig around a little bit on it? And the next thing I know I find myself in Jim Brady's office giving him a PowerPoint presentation about why he should hire LDPR because we're a New York agency but I live right here in Portland and I understand everything local. We won the business. I remember it was December 5th. We started January 1st and the hotel opened May 2015. A year later in July 2016, Laura Davidson was incredibly generous and suggested to the Press Hotel team that they go with me when I leave LDPR and start freelancing on my own - so it was the push I really needed and I’ve been their PR partner ever since.
And also I realized that I really like specializing in New England. I found that there was definitely a need for smaller businesses that can't afford the often expensive monthly retainer of agencies - but that have a really cool story to tell. And so I started taking more of these smaller clients and it's just been great. I love it.
I also think there's a trust factor with having a niche. Like, oh, Carla’s the person to go through for Maine things because I really do pride myself on only recommending things that I've either done or I've heard are really great - but the trust also comes because I don’t only recommend my clients. If it's not the right fit for the writer, I’ll say you should contact so and so, she’s the PR person to go through.
What does your typical work day look like?
CARLA: Generally speaking, my typical work day has a couple of conference calls with clients to do some PR updates. I use my calendar as a time management tool so, I’ll say, okay I’ve got this number of hours per week - here's what's on deck for some clients and I block out chunks of time to pitch per client. So, if I'm working with Luke's Lobster, or Vertical Harvest, Tops’l Farm - I'll plug in hours that I'm pitching those clients. And that's the most fun part of the day – the pitching, talking with the media and brainstorming with them.
That’s what I think separates people who move here from New York – they’re bringing those contacts and relationships with them. And especially in COVID – because you can't go out and have lunch and coffee with people. I still go to New York, Boston and other cities to meet with people once or twice a year normally and I had actually just done that in January of 2020 - so I had just come off this amazing media desk-side appointment week in January and then the world shut down in March. But I still had all of these fresh conversations, I knew what people were up to and that’s the only way to really build that relationship - because you can’t just do that on email. You can a little, but I wouldn't call it a relationship. So, that’s really the best part of any day.
So! A lot of pitching, a lot of planning, ideation and brainstorming.
I really appreciate your transparency, advocacy and openness on instagram. I think it’s easy, especially when you are responsible for cultivating your own client list, to try to appeal to everyone. I never get the sense that you censor yourself or remain silent on crucial, important topics - and frankly, it’s refreshing. That’s really more of a comment, but welcome your thoughts.
CARLA: I just want to say thank you. Social media is still a thing that can make me nervous because you never know how something is going to be perceived. So, I appreciate that.
I sat in on a workshop you hosted (“How to Make Your Business Media Friendly”) through CEI Maine and you were so generous with all of the practical tips you gave everyone in attendance. If you had to boil some of that great info down into one major tip or practice a business could take tomorrow to make them more media friendly - what would it be?
CARLA: I think the essential thing is to make sure you have a good website. Which doesn't always feel like a PR thing, however, let's say you didn't have a public relations person or even a communications person - anybody can find you. So when they do find you, make sure that they can get the information that they're after. You'd be surprised by how many websites do not have a clear email address to contact or someone who's not monitoring that email. It's definitely hard to boil it down to one thing because there's a lot someone could do, but like you said, if you could only do one thing: it’s make sure you have a good website.
Your client list is basically my dream collection of places to stay, eat and adventure in Maine. What would you say is the coolest part about working with these Maine gems? Favorite perks of the job?
CARLA: It’s the people. And that's the beauty of working for yourself is you can really decide is this a person I like and want to work with and are they open to learning how PR works.
A lot of times when a PR relationship doesn't work it's because people think oh, I've hired my PR person, they are a vendor, I can go away for a little bit now. And in fact when you hire a PR person you are going to spend more time on PR yourself because there are a lot of things that we need from you. Interviews, photos, to host someone. Someone who understands that is just the best. And also just the joy of seeing the results for clients where I know that PR has moved the needle in some way for them either sales-wise directly in revenue or helped change a perception of something that they wanted to change.
And then the perk of the job is I'm a traveler. So, in my agency days, I would go to Africa, China and Australia and all over the US and the Caribbean. I actually led the Caribbean team at one time for the agency - we had so many amazing clients there; some of my best travel memories are with my colleagues from those days.
But Maine travel is just amazing. And I've only just scratched the surface of it.
I imagine this is an impossible question - but, I am going to ask anyway. What would your perfect day in Maine look like? Or, what’s the last family adventure you had that was just pure perfection?
CARLA: I love all the seasons for different reasons, but summer in Maine, there’s just nothing like it. I refuse to travel outside of the state in the summer. But a perfect day for me in Maine - probably has some type of water adventure like going out on a boat to an island, having some really good food, and always, I would have my kids in tow.
One really good day was when I introduced my boys to oysters for the first time. Ben Hamilton was a new oyster grower at the time for Love Point Oysters and we were one of the first people to take his oyster tour. They had this great boat and it was just a picture perfect day. We went to The Goslings and I'm always learning something new about the geography of Maine and my kids are like slurping oysters and throwing the shells off his boat, and we’re just learning a ton about the oyster business.
I would also say we just love to go to the midcoast and do even a one or two night stay. We’re going to Tops’l Farm this weekend and we're renting one of the Cottages and doing their winter picnic. My kids talk about Tops’l Farm like it’s this faraway magical place - and really it’s like an hour and a half from Portland. That’s what I love about living here.
What would your last meal on earth be?
CARLA: The first thing that came to mind is the Spicy Night Market soup at Long Grain in Camden. I got introduced to it by Joe Ricchio and he was like, trust me on this, you’ve just gotta do it. And now my mouth is watering just even talking about.
Location: Cape Elizabeth, Maine
Parking: Extremely Limited (3-4 spots)
Dogs: Permitted October-March
Family Friendly: Yes
This. Is. My. Spot.
Great day? I head here. Annoying/frustrating day? I head here. Some of my best ideas and some of my greatest frustrations get worked out on my walk to this beach. Once I arrive, no matter if it's the summer or dead of winter, this view has a magical way of helping me sort through whatever it is that is occupying my head space.
Cliff House Beach is tucked into a residential neighborhood in Cape Elizabeth. If you didn't know it was there, you never would be able to find it. It has extremely limited parking and is a true locals beach. Unless the tide is super low, this beach is comprised of rocks - which, honestly, I love as it limits the amount of people who visit.
I've probably been to this beach well over 100 times at this point. And this is the total truth: I have never arrived and not audibly gasped or muttered something under my breath about how remarkably stunning it is.
Need some time to yourself to collect your thoughts, connect with nature and watch some boats pass by? Take my advice: grab a rock at Cliff House Beach and breathe deeply, my friend.
Mr. Tuna was on my radar well before we moved to Maine. But my first official Mr. Tuna experience was at Thompson's Point during a Lake Street Dive concert. I don't know if I was more excited to finally get to try a handroll or see my favorite band live.
These perfectly sized hand rolls make for the perfect snack or lunch. The flavor combos are spot on, it's impeccably fresh and they are constantly coming up with new offerings. My personal fav hand rolls are the Tuna Tataki, Spicy Hamachi and the Spicy Crunchy Shrimp. But wait - I also love pretty much all of their maki rolls. And the miso soup. Oh, and the Sashimi Tasting. Crap, wait, also whatever is on special. Ordering online is IMPOSSIBLE because I want EVERYTHING.
Mr. Tuna can be found all over Portland and beyond - they pop up at breweries, Thompson's Point, etc. - so it's best to always check their insta to see where they are in any given week. They have a permanent brick and mortar inside the Portland Public Market in Monument Square so you never have to go without. But chances are, you haven't scrolled through instagram without seeing the iconic Mr. Tuna Hand Roll pic at the Eastern Promenade, which is my personal favorite place to spot the truck. I have about 4.2 billion snaps on my phone holding up a handroll with the water in the background. The ultimate FOMO pic.
My perfect Summer Saturday includes: packing up the fam, loading up the car with blankets and heading straight to the Eastern Prom to setup shop to people watch all afternoon. With some Mr. Tuna hand rolls secured - that's really all you need to be one happy human.
Open Year Round for Takeout
Location: Portland, Maine
Parking: Metered parking on Washington Ave
Family Friendly: Yes
Ramonas arrived just when we needed them most. They opened during the peak of the pandemic and as soon as they did, like the bright ray of sunshine that they are, it became almost impossible to get your hands on one of their sandwiches. As soon as they would open online for ordering in any given day, they would sell out almost immediately. I was never quick enough on the draw to get my hands on one in the beginning.
But the day came when I was successful. And then I proceeded to order lunch from them 3 days in that same week. My husband is a sandwich guy - constantly on the hunt for the best of the best - and once we ate one of Ramona's Italian Hoagies, we found it. With a mouth full of meat and cheese, he said: "This is it." The dreamiest of dreamy, nap inducing, totally killer go-to lunch time sammie.
They are massive. We always order one and split it and even then I am deliriously, happily full. The bread is what truly makes these our favorite sandwiches in Portland - but then again, any hoagie connoisseur knows that without killer bread, you really don't have anything at all. I also find their online ordering really seamless - it's quick, easy, efficient and it's also ready exactly when they say it will be. Picking up through their takeout window is a cinch and everyone is always super friendly and upbeat. We also frequent Ramona's for their breakfast sandwiches. Exhibit A:
While they are new to town, they have already made an indelible mark on Portland's food scene. I love them so much, we dedicated a card to them:
When I mentioned to some friends that I was interviewing the woman behind SoPo Cottage, I was unanimously met with: “Ugh, that’s my dream job!” But, let’s just say, none of them are in the business of renovating and restoring old homes in South Portland and if I am being honest, probably won’t ever be. And I’d be lying if I said I don’t bookmark and ogle over Sopo Cottage’s instagram page and think... what if?
On paper, HOW FUN! In reality, I imagine, holy smokes. Because what Laurel LaBauve does isn’t flipper-style, cheap, flimsy makeovers. She’s going ground up and transforming these homes by fixing deep, major issues. She focuses on making the homes more energy efficient by finding better solutions for the insulation, heating, plumbing, electrical, etc. And then, of course, she decorates them and enhances them to make them completely and utterly stunning. But a lot of the work is what we don’t see and that’s the work that keeps the dreamers like myself at bay.
On top of the renovation of these homes, Laurel updates and maintains a very detailed blog and social media. Her blog is chocked full of before and after pics, but also insightful, truly in depth information on how she actually completed the renovations step by step. It’s obvious to me that she cares not just about the finished project, but also transparency. Her blog reads like a diary entry and you feel the blood, sweat and tears that goes into her projects. She has (rightfully) created this sensational buzz that follows every project she works on.
I live diagonal from one of her recent homes. Watching the work unfold from my backyard felt like I was getting the show of a lifetime. I’d silently cheer once they completed siding or when the landscaping went in. The completed home is remarkable but somehow, miraculously, feels like it’s always been there in a way. Which is ultimately the real beauty of what Laurel does: she seamlessly adds updated refinement to our neighborhood without sacrificing any of the charm.
She’s also kind and super funny to boot.
Of course, this is easy for me to say since I live in SoPo, but as I know you’d probably agree, there’s just nothing better than living in this area. What made you originally make the decision to purposely and dutifully only renovate in the SoPo area?
LAUREL: Years ago now our realtor told us - not so subtlety - that you know, we really should only consider Falmouth or Cape Elizabeth. And we’re driving around, looking at areas and we just loved South Portland. We loved the proximity to the beach, we loved the style of housing that was there - these cute old houses - and, ultimately, we said no, we want to live in South Portland. And this is before places like Scratch Bakery was here - but I think, you know, it was inevitable for it to become what it is today because of it’s fabulous location, it’s great vibe.
I know they are all probably like your children - but if you had to choose a home, or a room, a kitchen, entryway, etc. - that still frequently enters your thoughts/made you super duper proud, what would it be?
LAUREL: It really is the children thing - I don’t think there is one that I can say I like the best! What I will say is what I think I found that I like are these ranchers - a 1960 or a 1950 rancher which is like the dullest, most architecturally boring thing you could find - you knock out some walls, you raise some ceilings and they become pretty amazing. So, that was kind of a surprise for me when we did the first one - it was like, wow! This is a really cool house! We just finished another one and I had the same type of experience.
Do you offer private design services? I ask this, of course, mostly selfishly. I bookmarked your “mudroom” from Romancing the Ranch and casually leave my phone open to that picture in the hopes my husband will take the hint.
LAUREL: I did a little bit of that at the beginning and I found it took me away from the focus I had on my own projects. I’ve done things for friends and my children are constantly bugging me to help them - but for the most part, I don’t see going down that road. Now again, the realities of the real estate market is I may still not be able to do this forever because the costs could get too crazy. And part of it is...me. The house I am getting ready to start work with - I’ve already been bugging the South Portland Historical Society, I’ve already been in touch with Portland Landmarks to try to find more information about this house and bungalows in general, doing the deed search for this house and we can’t quite figure out when it was built - I am doing all of this research and it’s probably not normal! This is not what normal people do! But I just love delving into that.
Do you have a go to group of craftspeople that you use for each project or does it vary?
LAUREL: My plumber, whom I dearly love, we’ve worked on 17 houses together, has announced that he’s retiring. So I’m now searching for a new plumber which is, you know, a tough thing to do. Because my projects aren’t simple, run of the mill kind of projects. I need someone who can be creative and help solve problems with me. Finding somebody that I really enjoy working with is always a challenge - but in general, I try to work with the same folks as much as possible. And once I develop a relationship I like to keep it for long term.
When you are not renovating, what is your favorite date night spot or activity in Maine?
LAUREL: I’ll tell you, COVID has really highlighted this for me. We love to go to restaurants. We love to have dinners just the two of us, my husband and I, and we love going and meeting friends for dinner. And the fact that we really haven’t been able to do that is something that just makes me really sad. It is probably the thing I will look forward to most when we reopen. We really love - and they opened right before the pandemic - Judy Gibson. They have just absolutely amazing, creative food. We order takeout from them and I’m hoping we’ll get to eat in there again sometime in the not too distant future.
And my favorite question for any and everyone: what would your last meal on earth be?
LAUREL: My husband is an amazing cook. I’m very lucky. He makes a cajun shepherd’s pie. He was born and raised in New Orleans and has a great appreciation for all New Orleans cuisine. And this shepherd’s pie - it takes hours to make. He has to julienne all of these vegetables, he’ll use ground pork and beef, I don’t know what else goes into it - but it is my favorite. He’ll make it a lot for my birthday because it really is a special thing.
Did I mention that after each renovation she hosts a fabulous open house? See you at the Bungalow when it's ready!
Location: New Gloucester, Maine
Parking: Plenty of Parking
Dogs: Not Permitted
Family Friendly: Yes
It's Holiday Break from School. Christmas has passed, along with all of my ideas to keep my little one busy. What do you do when you need some entertainment for a 4 year old but also really want some delicious cheese and to see some cute animals? Head on over to Pineland Farms.
The first thing you'll notice as you enter Pineland Farms is the pure magnitude of it. Their land is massive and houses many different companies and operations. As you drive past the adorable market where you know the best goodies are kept, head on up the hill until you reach the barns.
Once we arrived, we popped in to check in at The Smokehouse (their welcome center - you can make a 2 hour reservation online to have access to wander the farm on a self guided tour.) We were given a map (and an adorable kid's map as well) to help us chart our course.
We started at the various dairy and cow barns. We visited with the little calfs and eventually made our way over to the dairy barn - pretty fascinating stuff and woah those guys are huge! We ventured up to the poultry barn (where I made friends with one extra noisy chicken) and the goat/pig barn. Our little one got to feed the pigs and I contemplated whether or not I could have a pig as a pet.
After visiting with all of the farm friends, we drove back down to the market to grab lunch. Once we entered and I saw just how much deliciousness was surrounding me, I proceeded to buy MANY (many many many) things that I do not need. Except for this ridiculously delicious Chocolate Peanut Butter spread that was 100% necessary.
You can make your own sandwich (with their homemade cheese, of course) and stock up on groceries (or things you don't really need like I decided on.) We ordered some sandwiches and snacks and hopped back into the car for the new normal during COVID times: car lunch.
You can make an entire day out of your visit here. There is plenty of room for the littles to run, education to be had and plenty of unnecessary (necessary) treats for adults to purchase.
Location: Freeport, Maine
Parking; Large parking lot, plenty of spots.
Dogs: Permitted at Outside Seating areas.
Family Friendly: Yes
I debated which category to place this post under - drinks or eats. As the name suggests, Maine Beer Co is celebrated for their craft brews, but I often choose to head there for their wood fired pizzas. Give me one of their Lunch IPA's and a Bacon Sprout pie and... leave me alone to enjoy.
Their brewery and tasting room in Freeport is...massive. Truly, it's so spacious, but somehow remains extremely welcoming. They upped their game as well in their patio seating during COVID and the flow indoors and outdoors is top notch.
I also usually leave muttering to my husband about how kind and awesome the waitstaff was. Seriously, every time. They are unwaveringly friendly and helpful, even during the most trying year of them all (peace out, 2020!) It's easy to make an online reservation and the speed at which they get your food/beer on your table after ordering is some sort of magic. Speedy magicians, I tell ya.
Location: Georgetown Island, Maine
Parking: Dedicated parking lot with plenty of spots.
Dogs: Permitted October-March
Family Friendly: Yes
Ooooooo, guys. This place takes my breath away. Every. Single. Time.
While this is a state park, you (and everyone else) are coming here for the extensive and wide sandy beaches - which is super rare in Maine. We aren't lacking for rocky coastlines and adorable tucked in coves, but large beaches like the ones at Reid State Park cannot be found everywhere in our great state. Taking advantage of Mile Beach & Half Mile Beach are families, groups of friends and surfers. Lots of surfers flock here for some pretty fantastic waves.
The trails are open year round and dogs are allowed in off season (October-March.) Head to the top of Griffith Head (a rocky headland at the end of the beach) to take in views of lighthouses on Seguin Island, a scattering of islands and a general sweeping, gorgeous view of the beach and beyond.
We easily could have spent an entire day here with our family. Our kiddo was happily occupied by some fairy houses that were built on the beach and I stole a golden 10 minutes perched on Griffith Head to breathe the ocean air. Bring lunch, bring the family and watch the surfers catch some waves.
Location: New Gloucester, Maine
Parking: Plenty of spots along the road at the start of the trail.
Family Friendly: Yes
A 1.7 mile trail loop along a stream that ends at a waterfall? Oh, and a 1947 Plymouth along the route? Sign me up.
We explored on a cold January afternoon. I can't imagine what this would look like on a beautiful summer day - we shall be back. It's a moderate walk/hike that is both dog and kiddo friendly, and there is plenty to keep the little ones entertained. We threw rocks along the frozen stream and marveled at them gliding across the ice and sat for a few (welcomed) peaceful moments at the waterfall that came crashing down amongst the icicles that had formed. The trail is filled with a mix of hemlock, pine and beech and it's remarkably quiet. It's an excellent place to catch your breath and reflect.
And when the land was donated - so was the 1947 Plymouth parked towards the beginning of the trail. What an exciting find for a 4 year old. And let's be honest, her parents too.
Hey! I'm Chelsea.