I looked out the rear window to see the tiny umbrella-ed buckets of the ferris wheel dip down out of sight into an electric haze of neon lights as we drove away from the Pier in Old Orchard Beach. The stench of cigarettes and fried food had finally faded giving way to delicious licks of crisp, salt air as we whipped up the New England coast toward Portland, Maine.
We were told Old Orchard was just a short trip away from Portland, our Memorial Day destination. We were told it was a nice, family beach.
It was not.
Now, I’m not a particularly domestic or maternal person and perhaps if I was A.) single B.) drunk C.) child-free I would have enjoyed hitting the steamy streets of Old Orchard packed with spray-tanned bros but my baby needs to be able to hang. (He’s with me.)
So, after traversing the seemingly endless racks of Ed Hardy shirts in search of Baby Sun Tan lotion, we made our way toward Portland, before the girl chain-smoking by the pool could even finish her pack. Red in tow.
Established as a fishing and trading village then famously surviving four fires, Portland is a city of craftsmanship and rebirth. You can see it in the architecture; cobble stone streets lined with revitalized warehouses and renovated commercial buildings. You can see it in their food with culinary breakthroughs continually topping national lists due to an ever-evolving restaurant scene including over 300 restaurants, food trucks, pop-up shops, and farmer’s markets. Everywhere bright, young things contrast the foundations of a hardworking New England seaport like a rose blooming from concrete.
As one Portlandian puts it; “I’ve never lived anywhere where people are more innovative. Everybody is so forward-thinking and always on to the next thing.” says Jacob Perry, Producer at WGME CBS 13 News. “I mean, they are about to ban plastic bags. They really care about the place where they live and everyone is constantly looking for ways to make it better.”
Like the storied “Hipster” of Millenial icons, a persona with which many of the tatted up, bespectacled locals bedraggled in their plaids can identify with, Portland is rugged yet designed, traditional yet cutting-edge. Or maybe, Portland is just HIP.
12pm. Brew Hop
I can’t think of a better way to end a long drive and kick off vacation than a cold beer overlooking the ocean.
Pick up a map from The Maine Brewer’s Guild here: http://www.portlandmaine.com/maps/beer-trails/.
3pm. Walk around the Old Port
This 3×5 block radius of historic downtown is now more shopping than shipping. Wander through the mix of old shipping offices and warehouses turned galleries, bookstores, craft shops and eateries.
5pm. Dinner and Drinks
Portland has earned major cred in the foodie world as being one of the top spots for local, simple, good food and drink. Kick cocktail hour off with a dozen from Eventide Oyster Co. paired with a mezcal Moscow Mule (mezcal, lime, gingerbeer). Then Portland Hunt and Alpine Club for a craft cocktail whose menu ranges from a classic restoration cocktail like the Final Word to the tiki- inspired Jungle Bird. Finish out with a late night snack from the basement beer cafe, Navare Res. Binge on tuna tartar and a cheese board like an adult.
8pm. Jam out.
Visit Portland’s Art District for a concert at either of Portland’s music halls One Longfellow Square or Port City Music Hall. These venues have hosted the Phish-y deep-funk duo, Soule Monde; the psychedelic folk artist Lisa/Liza and the bluesy soul sounds of Ray LaMontagne. Both offer performances and events most days of the week.
12am. (respectively) Rest those tired bones, we still have another day!
9am. Grab some breakfast.
For a savory, sit down brunch hit Hot Suppa, a creole joint on Congress St. known for their Bloody Mary’s and Mac and Cheese. Or grab and go at South Portland’s 186 Pickett Street a homey bagel shop with a backyard and nutella muffins.
10am. Spend the morning walking around Fort Williams Park.
Wander the 90-acre park checking out city landmarks like the Portland Head Light, the well-preserved Fort Williams and the former officers’ quarters at Goddard Mansion.
12pm. Head back into the city to the most popular lunch spot in Portland, Duckfat.
They had me at fries and milkshakes.
1pm. Spend the afternoon shopping:
Your heart will flutter down Exchange Street browsing handmade cards, boutique jerky (not a typo- JERKY) at Portland Trading Co., floral print wrap dresses and whimsy vintage novelties at Pinecone and Chickadee.
3pm. Don’t forget to stop by The Holy Donut for some tasty treats like Sweet Potato Ginger and Dark Chocolate Sea Salt donuts for the car ride home. Just don’t promise anyone donuts, they won’t last the whole car ride! (You know who you are… ;)
5pm. For dinner, go casual at Nosh Bar “where omnivores assemble”. The menu totes corn dog appetizers, fries with all the frills, and a French Dip that trades out the au jus for Pho broth.
And that concludes a successful weekend in Portland.