Portland is the destination for those who want a little more action from Maine’s Vacationland. The city itself has been firmly on the southern New England radar for its culinary and brewing cultures for years, but how many have taken the opportunity to hit the road and walk the cobbles of the Old Port? Portland’s location in southern Maine means it’s close enough to drive, but from its craggy coastline to modern, innovative entertainment housed within old New England architecture, it’s far from ordinary.
Families, couples, foodies, craft beer hunters, New England buffs, and lovers of local agriculture.
What to do:
Originally constructed in 1872 for coastal defense, Fort Williams Park offers beautiful strolls along Cape Elizabeth, and is the location of the iconic and hugely photogenic Portland Head Light.
Take a brewery tour. The East Bayside neighborhood has been nicknamed “Yeast Portland” for the tight cluster of breweries like Austin Street Brewery, Rising Tide, Lone Pine and others within a quick walk, while Bissell Brothers brewery and music fests draw crowds to Thompson’s Point to the west of town. Allagash, Maine’s most famous brewery, is a quick trip from downtown, and shares tiny Industrial Way with Foundation Brewing, Battery Steele and Definitive Brewing Company, all within a few yards.
No matter what the weather holds, a day spent at the Portland Museum of Art is an enriching experience. With exhibits this summer including a rethinking of American Arts and Crafts, classics by American artists, and films, the PMA is a sight to behold.
Where to eat:
A list of “Must Eats In Portland” may be impossible, but if it existed, Central Provisions would be near the top. The former East India Company building was redesigned by local artisans into a relaxed downstairs tavern below a nationally renowned dining room.
Luke’s Lobster on Portland Pier offers sustainably caught seafood, traceable from boat to plate, where you’ll enjoy some of the best views in the city. Try and snag a selfie with resident pinniped Sealy Dan if he swims by.
Feeling choosy? Eventide Oyster Co., Hugo’s and The Honey Paw all share the same lucky building on the corner of Middle and Franklin streets for seafood, fine dining or noodle slurping.
Where to stay:
The Portland Regency Hotel & Spa is housed in a 19th-century armory building just two blocks from the Old Port waterfront. Its in-house amenities and “walking distance to everywhere” location make it a prime attraction for overnight stays.
The Press Hotel extends the character of its roots as the former home of the Portland Press Herald newspaper to its new life as a boutique hotel. The in-house Union restaurant has generated local acclaim for its use of Maine-grown and -fished ingredients.
Literally hidden from view between Canal Plaza and Exchange Street, your first sight of Novare Res Bier Cafe is an outdoor deck enfolded within the heart of a block like a private reserve. Pass underneath a hop-wound trellis and enter the ground-floor abode of one of the best taprooms on the East Coast. Charcuterie plates and snacks like Landjäger sausage share menu space with plates like crab rangoon grilled cheese, while the real stars can be found on pages of an exquisitely curated tap and bottle list. Featuring outstanding local beers alongside options from some of the best breweries in the world, the program was a semifinalist for a 2020 James Beard Award.
On the way:
The River House is a relaxed lunch spot just off I-95 overlooking the Piscataqua River in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, with views of tugboats docked just across the way, and multiple outdoor decks and indoor rooms to choose from to suit your mood.
Get out and stretch your legs for your first views of the Maine coastline at the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve. Trails wind away from Laudholm Farm Road toward the sanctuary, through sandy wildlands and on wooden boardwalks over tidal wetlands to the beach. (Info and trail maps at wellsreserve.org.)
From Hartford: 3 hrs / 202 miles
From New Haven: 3 hrs, 40 min / 236 miles
From New London: 3 hrs, 15 min / 210 miles