Travelers shooting up Route 1 from Camden  to Acadia  often miss the lovely little gem Belfast, which hugs the coast in a spot where the highway dives inland. Up until a few years ago, there was little reason to stop here anyway. Unlike the more touristy towns up the coast, Belfast was a working-class town with a gritty harbor full of fishing boats, and a few crunchy shops frequented by the back-to-the-landers who moved here to get away from it all in the 1970s. Something has happened here in the past few years, however, that has made the little town not only worth a look, but worth an overnight stay.
The renaissance began a few years ago when credit-card giant MBNA founded a branch on the outskirts of town, infusing needed capital into the sagging local economy. Since then, the town has taken a page from Rockland  by cleaning up the harbor and marketing the working waterfront as an attraction, not an eyesore. At the same time, the town has embraced the arts as a way to boost community pride. It placed painted bear statues around the main streets in 2001 and reprised the effort in 2005 by asking local sculptors to create whimsical birdhouses around town.
Local artists have responded to the overtures by inviting visitors into several quirky galleries on the main street leading up from the harbor, giving the town a lively, if unpolished, feel that’s a welcome antidote to too-cute Camden .
Up Route 1 from Belfast, the small town of Searsport boasts a prestigious pedigree of historic buildings and captain’s houses that hail from the era when it used to be a major shipbuilding center. Now the town’s main claim to fame is an inviting maritime museum complex that preserves that part of Maine  history. The stretch along Route 1 is also well-known for its profusion of antiques stores filled with the leavings from the attic of many a home here.