If you would like to visit a unique place in the northeastern U.S., look no further than Portland, Maine. This city has many unique features and attractions that provide lots to do. Even though Portland is a “small city”, there is something here for everyone. Lovers of good, local food and craft beer will definitely want to make Portland a “must visit” city.
Portland, Maine is the largest city in the state. It is on the Atlantic Coast and is situated at the mouth of the Fore River, which empties into the Portland Harbor and makes up the larger Casco Bay. Portland is approximately two hours north of Boston and two hours south of Bangor, Maine. Its location right off of I-95 makes it a perfect place to plan a long weekend trip. If you plan on visiting, here are a few things you can plan to do.
A narrated Portland Harbor cruise is a great way to experience Casco Bay, the surrounding islands, and to learn some history. The narrators are experienced and knowledgeable and explain the history of Portland Harbor while pointing out sites of interest from the boat. From the boat, you can see numerous lighthouses, including Portland’s most famous lighthouse - Portland Head Light. Bring a sweater with you because, as the boat picks up a little speed, the breeze can get chilly. There are a lot of different companies that offer tours; just head down to the water in the Old Port area, and find a cruise that meets your requirements.
When you think of quintessential food from Maine, you probably think of lobster, which is in abundance in the state and the local waters. Lobster is a common item on many menus and if you are interested, try a lobster roll. While you can get lobster rolls at many restaurants, the lobster rolls at The Farmer’s Table are amazing. The Farmer’s Table is a great restaurant in the Old Port area that offers delicious food. The meat is butchered in-house and the veggies and dairy are locally sourced. The menu is “Mediterranean comfort food” and there are two outdoor seating areas that offer a fantastic al fresco experience in warm weather.
If you are looking for a more upscale dinner experience, then Fore Street is the place for you. The menu changes daily, based on ingredients available locally and what is in season. This allows the restaurant to be very flexible and creative with each day’s menu. Also, for those that are concerned about eating local, Fore Street identifies the area that all of the offerings are sourced from. The wait staff is excellent and is very good at offering suggestions for food and drink pairings, as well as accompaniments. The ambiance of the restaurant is warm and friendly and also includes an open kitchen and prep area, thus signifying the restaurants confidence in its food preparation and cleanliness. The restaurant also has a wood-burning oven, grill and turnspit, which is visible for almost all tables.
Portland is home to a number of microbreweries, which are typically open for tastings or beer flights. Some of the more popular breweries include DL Geary, Gritty McDuff’s, Shipyard, Sea Dog, Casco Bay, Sebago, and Allagash. The microbrewery culture has flourished in Portland and ties back to the belief in consuming food and drink that is locally produced, and supporting local businesses. Some of the above breweries’ beer is available outside of the Portland area, but a trip to the brewery to learn about the beer and how it is produced is a fantastic experience if you are interested in beer or learning the process of how it’s made.
If you have the time, take a trip up to the LL Bean store in Freeport, Maine (approximately 20 minutes North on I-295). The LL Bean store is the company’s flagship store and is open 24 hours a day and is huge! The main store and the hunting and fishing store are combined into the biggest building, the home goods store is across a park, and the bike, boat, and ski store is located next to the main building. The stores offer shoppers the ability to see and feel the catalog’s offerings, and are staffed by very friendly and knowledgeable people. You can spend a few hours just walking around and taking in the sights. If you get famished, you can stop down at the café in the main building, Coffee By Design. Coffee By Design is a local coffee shop that has 4 locations (the other three are in Portland) and a micro roastery. The coffee and food is tasty and you are truly supporting a local Maine business.
Desert of Maine
When you are in Freeport to visit LL Bean, take a side trip to the Desert of Maine. The Desert of Maine is a local attraction that features land that is covered in exposed glacial silt that was left when a glacier moved through the area thousands of years ago. The silt is not sand but gives the appearance of sand. The “Desert” today was ultimately the result of poor land management and over farming. The Tuttle family purchased the land in 1797, and they successfully farmed it for many years, but destiny and the “desert” caught up with them, and they eventually left the property. In 1919 the property was sold, and in 1925 the Desert of Maine was opened as a tourist attraction. Today, you can take a motorized tour of the land by a knowledgeable tour guide who will stop a few times throughout the tour and let you get out and walk around. You can also take a hike around the property, explore a barn on the property that has authentic, old-fashioned farm tools, and a butterfly room.
Portland, Maine is a very unique place, for very good reasons. It offers something for everyone, from lovers of the outdoors to lovers of good food and beer. It is a beautiful place that is very accessible from most locations in the northeastern U.S. and eastern Canada. Maine’s nickname is “Vacationland”; why not take your next vacation to Portland, Maine?
***For another great vacation destination in the northeast check out Mont Tremblant, Canada.