Not to be confused with the other Portland on the West Coast, Portland, Maine is a city of 67,000 — the state’s largest. It’s lauded not only for its hip, seaside vibe and vibrant art, music, and cultural scene, but its nationally-renowned restaurants, distilleries, food markets, and breweries.
It’s a great getaway, any time of year.
Start by checking into one of the city’s many hotels or B&Bs. The Francis, a Victorian mansion that’s now a boutique hotel in Portland’s quiet West End, is a welcome respite.
The hotel’s 15 guest rooms combine comfortable midcentury furnishings and modern conveniences with historic details like polished woodwork, tall doorways and tiled fireplaces.
The rooms and public spaces feature original works by Maine artists. In-room mini-bars feature local food and drinks, and the first-floor parlor is a great place to enjoy a game over a glass of wine by the fireplace. Amiable front desk staff are happy to help you plan your visit.
Art and culture are among Portland’s many attractions. A memorable way to enjoy the city’s dynamic fine art community is during First Friday Art Walk, a monthly self-guided walking tour from 5-8 pm through the city’s art galleries, studios, and museums (The Francis happens to be a stop on the tour).
If you’re interested in a full-day art immersion, mosey down Congress Street, through the city’s arts district, to The Portland Museum of Art, a contemporary space boasting rich holdings of American, European, and contemporary art, as well as works by iconic Maine artists like Winslow Homer, Fitz Henry Lane, and Louise Nevelson. The museum also operates seasonal tours of Winslow Homer’s home and studio on Prout’s Neck.
Portland has some of the best shopping in New England, from quaint stores to hip boutiques and fun vintage shops. One of the most intriguing is Portland Flea for All, a multi-vendor collection of vintage and antique finds on Congress Street.
Vintage clothes and furniture to classic vinyl and handmade jewelry, the space is fun to browse. New vendors and merchandise every week make this a repeat destination for many.
Longfellow Books in Monument Square is Portland’s largest independent bookstore. Pick up bestsellers as well as books about Maine and more. It’s a short walk from Longfellow Square to the cobblestone streets of the Old Port, Portland’s historic waterfront and the city’s economic engine for 300 years. Still a working port, with fishing piers, passenger ferries and cruise ships, the Old Port, with its 19th century brick buildings, is also a shopper’s paradise. Here you can find a store for every need, from kitchen gadgets and gourmet goodies at LeRoux Kitchen, funky Maine souvenirs at Cool As a Moose, housewares and unique jewelry at Abacus, to items for your favorite pet at Fish & Bone.
Artemisia is a laidback spot for breakfast or lunch. Terlingua, on Munjoy Hill, features inventive BBQ and Southwestern dishes.
There’s also Little Giant, a fun, contemporary café and wine bar tucked into a West End neighborhood. And no visit to the Old Port is complete without a visit to Standard Baking Co., offering the best homemade pastries and breads in town.
Portland has an interesting relationship with alcohol. Mayor Neal Dow, a former mayor, almost single-handedly passed Prohibition in Maine in the 1850s. The current center of the city’s cocktail community is the Portland Hunt and Alpine Club, in the Old Port. Grab a seat at its expansive bar for a hand-crafted cocktail and some great people-watching.
East Bayside has made a name for itself as Portland’s hot new maker neighborhood with several breweries and distilleries. Stop by the tasting room at Rising Tide Brewing Company (they also have an outdoor patio and food trucks) or sample gruits (hops-free beer), cider and kombucha down the street at Urban Farm Fermentory, or kombucha from Root Wild Kombucha on Washington Street.
On Diamond Street, you can sip a latte at Coffee by Design, which operates four coffee shops in Portland, while sitting at their coffee bar and watch coffee roasting in progress in their roasting room. There’s also Tandem Coffee Roasters, a wholesale coffee roaster and café marked by the tandem bicycle sculpture in front of its small 1930s brick building (they have a second location in the West End in a former gas station).
Up on Munjoy Hill, Maine Craft Distilling has a bar, tasting area and tours of its distillery, where you can learn more about their hand-crafted spirits made with ingredients farmed in Maine. Offerings include Chesuncook Spirit (made with carrots), Queequeg Spiced Rum, Blueshine Blueberry Liquor, Blackcap Vodka, and 50 Stone Whiskey.
Whether it’s strolling through the Old Port, grabbing a beer in East Bayside or viewing art in a gallery or museum, Portland is a vibrant city waiting to be explored.