My plan for an end of summer escape was focused on finding a nice mix of culture, coastal countryside and cooler temps. I was excited…no ecstatic…to exchange Florida’s steamy hot and humid weather for New England’s seaside charm and ocean breezes. Maine made the cut this go round meeting my trip criteria and travel timeline over other Northeast destinations.
First stop of my five day adventure was Portland, Maine’s largest city and a historic harbor town nestled on the edge of Casco Bay. At first glance, the city is a dichotomy – eclectic, urban and edgy with a youthful artistic vibe. But turn a corner or walk the working waterfront and you will see building facades, faces and landscapes that tell a much different story. Visitors get a glimpse into the humble beginnings of Portland rooted in nature’s gifts from the sea. One discovers architectural treasures and remnants of an active trading and fishing port dating back to the early 1600s.
The life of a lobsterman and the importance of the lobster industry are brought to light. Lobster fishing continues to be the backbone of coastal Maine’s economy. In 2013, Maine’s lobster catch was 126 million pounds with an estimated value of $23 million. Very little has changed except for technology over the centuries. The privilege to fish the waters continues to be handed down from generation to generation.
Lobstermen creatively use uniquely colored buoys to identify and track their traps. Common respect and a code of ethics prevail.
Currently, Maine has approximately 6,000 licenses and is steadfast with strict regulations in place related to season and sizes to prevent overfishing.
The pristine beauty of the coast imprints a lasting first impression that is calming and captivating. The echos of seagulls sing out. Salt and fresh catch scent the air. Lighthouses, passenger ferries and lobster boats speckle the bay as sailboats circle an archipelago of islands. These Casco Bay islands are better known as the Calendar Islands, a name bestowed to them by an early explorer. It is said that there is nearly an island for every day of the year. Experts strongly contest, citing the claim as only a myth. In truth, there are not so many – roughly only 200 – but each is an eco-paradise that is home to seals, cormorants and other marine wildlife. Casco Bay Lines, an island ferry service, offers visitors an affordable and fun way to experience island living. Enjoy on-and-off privileges at Peaks Island or opt to simply take in the magnificent views of the coastline and the many stately waterfront homes from the ferry deck. Casco Bay Lines are open year round.
If a land adventure is more to your liking, Portland will not disappoint. In addition to unlimited outdoor recreation opportunities, there is a plethora of delightful diversions to fill your days and nights – city walking tours, boutique shops, craft breweries, music venues, museums and galleries.
Portland’s restaurant to resident ratio, 300+ restaurants to 66,000 persons, combined with the area’s farm-to-table philosophy provides an enlightened perspective to what it truly means to be a “foodie”.
Be forewarned, Portland may be small in size but delivers a big travel experience on every level. From world-class cuisine to historic charm, Portland is sure to excite your spirit of adventure and capture your heart.
Where to Stay: The Westin Portland Harborview, formerly The Eastland Park Hotel, is centrally located in the heart of Portland’s arts district and within walking distance to the Old Port.
The Eastland Park, when it opened in 1927, gained fame as the largest hotel in New England. Aviator Charles Lindbergh stayed in it after returning from the solo non-stop flight across the Atlantic Ocean. In 1946, it gained notoriety again when it refused to allow former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt to stay with her dog for the night. Over the years, the hotel has seen its share of society weddings, cultural events, celebrities and political icons.
The historic and newly renovated property features 289 guest rooms and more than 15,000 square feet of function and meeting space. All guest rooms feature Westin’s trademark Heavenly Bed® and Heavenly Bath® design elements and furnishings . The hotel’s Top of the East, Portland’s only rooftop bar/lounge, offers panoramic views of the city and Casco Bay. The menu features fine wines, local craft beers, signature cocktails and locally sourced small plate dishes. And, on a clear day, guests can see Mt. Washington, New Hampshire.
Historians are in for a special treat: Ask the front desk for a peek of the hotel’s original boiler room. The boilers are the same make and model of those on the Titanic.
Location: 157 High Street, Portland, ME 14101 (3 miles from Amtrak Train Station/ 2 miles from Portland International Jetport)
The hotel offers a complimentary airport shuttle for guests.
Room Rates: Seasonal. $299-$499
For special promotions and reservations, visit the Westin Portland Harborview website or call 800-937-8461.
Portland Land & Sea Tours: A top pick is the Lighthouse Lovers Tour. This 90-minute narrated cruise of Casco Bay offers easy access to spectacular scenery and an informative introduction to the city. Catch close-ups of lighthouses, military forts, lobster boats, island homes and marine wildlife. Open early May through late October.
Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth: Maine’s oldest and most photographed lighthouse. The lighthouse is adjacent to Fort Williams Park. Free Admission.
Portland Art Museum: Founded in late 1892, it is the seventh oldest museum in the nation. Maine’s natural beauty has inspired artists for centuries. Not to miss – an impressive American Art Collection showcasing the rise of landscape painting with featured works by Frederic Edwin Church and Winslow Homer. Opening January 2015 – The Coast & the Sea: Maritime Art in America.
Shipyard Brewery: Maine’s largest brewery and the 14th largest craft brewery in the United States. Shipyard Brewing Company produces 20 varieties of award-winning English style and seasonal beers and a full line of Capt’n Eli’s Soda. Free daily tours and tastings. Don’t forget to look up; Shipyard flies a beer keg not a flag.
The Holy Donut– 2 Portland Locations: These heaven-sent donuts are not just for breakfast. Made with Maine’s finest potatoes, quality natural ingredients (no high fructose corn syrups and hydrogenated oils) and coated with yummy glazes like Dark Chocolate Sea Salt, one will simply not suffice!
Maine Foodie Tours: Sample and savor local fare in the Old Port area. Morning and afternoon walking tour include stops at popular local haunts and history highlights.
Old Port Wool and Textile Company: Small Portland based family-run company offering high quality woolen blankets, capes, shawls and hats. Located a short walk from Portland Art Museum. Open Tuesday through Friday.
Cabot Farmer’s Annex: Cabot Cheeses, specialty foods and gifts from farmer owned cooperative. Store is in the heart of the Old Port on Commercial Street.
Gritty’s: A popular watering-hole serving handcrafted ales and traditional pub fare. Maine’s first brew pub since prohibition and a leader in the state’s microbrew revolution.
Maine Mead Works: Producer of award-winning wines made from honey and other Maine grown ingredients. Complimentary tours and tastings.
Architectural Walking Tours: Self-guided tour of Portland’s four historic neighborhoods – Congress Street, State Street, Western Promenade and the Old Fort.
Two Fat Cats Bakery: American home-style desserts, cakes and Portland’s favorite whoopie pies.
Dimillo’s on the Water: A car ferry that was converted to a beautiful floating restaurant. Spectacular views and fresh local seafood dishes. Located on Long Wharf in the Old Port.
Street and Company: Fine dining and seafood in an intimate bistro setting. The menu is amazing garnering a 4.4+ rating/review from Open Table and Yelp. The Sea Scallops in Pernod and Cream is absolutely divine.
Public Market House: The market is located in the Haymarket building on Monument Square. the site of Portland’s original public market. The market offers local specialty foods, cheeses, soups, breads, coffee and more. A favorite with locals for lunch.
SeaBags: Maine-based retailer that creates fashion-forward nautical themed tote bags from recycled sails. Recycle & Receive: Trade in a sail and receive a custom bag as a “thank you” gift.
Freeport Day Trip: Freeport is Maine’s epicenter for outlet shopping and home of the L.L. Bean Flagship Store . L.L. Bean’s expansive retail campus is open 24 hours/365 days a year. A short 20-25 minute drive from downtown Portland.