Portland continually receives accolades for being such a hip and vibrant town. They have capitalized on their natural port city beauty and move to the beat of a progressive spirit that still celebrates the past. Cobblestone streets are lined with Victorian buildings housing galleries, boutiques, and restaurants while the harbor is a myriad of wandering tourists shadowed by a bustling working waterfront. The food scene is one that the city has become known for. Grey flannel shirts and L.L. Bean boots are perfect attire for eating at one of Portland's chicest restaurants permeating the city.
You guessed it, we came to Portland to eat. Portland has a “small town” feel while actually being a “big city” in Maine. We parked the RV at Bayley’s Camping Resort in Scarborough – a bedroom community of Portland. The campground is in a good location – just 20 minutes from downtown Portland with hiking/biking trails and only a mile from the beach (which is dog-friendly during certain times of the year). The campground is HUGE with hundreds of sites and a list of amenities that is four pages long. There are four pools (including one that is adult only), numerous hot tubs, bar and grille, complimentary shuttle to the beach, arcade, mini golf, golf cart rentals, three fishing ponds, kayak launch, and more. Plus, all the scheduled activities, playgrounds, ball courts, store, and other common campground amenities. And then there is Bayley’s Lobster Pound just down the road so now you know the real reason why we camp there. Needless to say, it's one of Betsy's favorite campgrounds!
The culinary scene in Maine has emerged in recent years. For years, Mainers have dined quietly under the quiet cloak of delicious creative eateries while the rest of the country focused on New Orleans, Charleston, San Francisco, and other well-established food towns. But now, Maine (especially Portland) has been heralded as a food-lovers destination peppered with James Beard Award winners. We went down the extensive list of restaurants and carefully selected a few as our time there was short and wanted every meal to count. Eventide Oyster Company is known for their briny fresh oysters and seafood selection that produced a memorable lunch.
On my list for a long time was Duckfat (because any thing with “fat” in the name must be good.) We tried to go there a year ago but they were closed due to remodeling. They are known for their life-changing poutine that starts with Handcut Belgian-style fries dropped in hot duckfat and topped with cheese curds, duck gravy, fresh chives and an optional fried egg for those wanting to seriously indulge. The fries alone are delicious as we tasted them with some of their homemade sauces like truffle ketchup and garlic mayo. Beyond the fries are succulent pannis filled with creative combinations like duck confit, kimchi, and cilantro-lime mayo. Should I mention they also have crazy good milkshakes and donut holes? Trust us, it’s good!
Up next was a spot a coworker told me about this summer that is known for their hamburgers – Nosh Kitchen Bar. Lunch at a hyped-up burger joint was a no-brainer for us. Nosh produces a list of burgers that makes decisions hard, like one topped with pork belly or another using fried mac and cheese as the buns. We settled on the traditional “Big Mack” and tempura battered pickles. We split the lunch and were glad we did. Nosh encourages bad behavior and offers additional patties making it a double, triple or quadruple!
As great as the Portland food scene is we can’t forget to mention its bustling beer scene. There are sixteen breweries in Portland and another half dozen nearby. They range from the large Shipyard and Sebago to the small new budding breweries like Liquid Riot Bottling Co. and Bunker Brewing Co. Over 40 breweries and tasting rooms are scattered across the state and make up the Maine Beer Trail with many being right there in the Portland area.
On our way downtown, we stopped at the Saturday farmer’s market which was a wonderful surprise. Booths lined with fall produce begged me to start cooking. The market was much larger than the small ones we were used to in Bar Harbor and took us quite some time to get through. With leeks, butternut squash and a tasty rosemary bread in our bag we headed for our next destination, the Portland Art Museum. The museum displays significant holdings of American, European, and contemporary art, as well as iconic works from Maine and highlights the rich artistic tradition of the state and its artists.
One interesting place to visit in Portland is the “Locks of Love” fence along the waterfront. The fence was erected as a safety barrier to keep people away from a storm water run-off valve. But soon it became a place for people to attach locks as a show of everlasting love for someone (you know its legit when it has its own Facebook page). The weight of all the locks – and there are a lot of locks! – has jeopardized the structural integrity of the fence which means it will be replaced with one that locks can not be attached to. Most of the fence will be moved down the road to a parking lot and still on display.
On our last day in Portland, we decided to take a ferry ride to Peaks Island to experience the wet side of Portland. The short 20-minute ferry ride was beautiful as the sun was shinning and there were calm seas. The island is home to just under 1,000 people and the most populous island in Casco Bay. Peaks Island was once known as the Coney Island of Maine and later an important WWII outpost. Today, it is a neighborhood within the city of Portland and home to artists, retirees, commuters of all sorts and a substantial summer population. The ocean views and access to Portland are amazing and we loved walking around the island. The ferry is pet-friendly which meant that Spirit was in tow.
Just south of Portland in the beautiful town of Cape Elizabeth is one of the most visited lighthouses in Maine – the Portland Head Light. Set majestically towering over the rocky coast of Portland Harbor the landmark structure has guided mariners since it was first lit in 1791. The Museum at Portland Head Light is contained within the former Keepers' Quarters and contains a number of lighthouse lenses and interpretive displays. The adjacent ninety acre Fort Williams Park offers picnic facilities, hiking opportunities, sports and recreation areas, historic fort structures, and unlimited ocean views.
Portland has a diversity of things to offer for all interested. Whether you like to shop, eat, take in cultural activities, go for a hike, or spend time on the water, Portland has a lot to offer. Seems we always go back.
Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.