Help plan our vacation to Maine
May 27, 2009 8:44 AM   Subscribe

My spouse and I are planning to travel to Portland, Maine for a one-week vacation this summer. Will we have a good time? Is our planned route insane?

We are in our late 20s-early 30s, but not really into beaches, partying, etc. We enjoy visiting historic sites, museums, good restaurants, shopping, etc. We'd also be interested in seeing shows (music, comedy, theater, or other performance art). However, outdoor activities like hiking, sailing, rock climbing, etc. are all out. I have some literature someone picked up for me during their trip to Portland last year, and it looks nice, but will there be enough for us to do for a week, or will be be getting bored and thinking of heading home early?

We're planning to be there August 16-21, plus all or part of the weekend either before or after this week. I've tried looking at events calendars, but either nothing is going on that week, or it hasn't been listed yet. Do you know of anything that might be happening that week? It also looks like we'll be missing the Lobster Festival, but I assume in Maine, it's a lobster festival pretty much year-round compared to most places.

I found a couple previous posts (1, 2) with lots of recommendations for restaurants and activities, but they're a couple years old, so maybe there's some new places or maybe some of these don't exist anymore. Recommendations for specific places to stay, eat, and visit are greatly appreciated!

To add another bit of interest to the trip, we plan to take US Route 202 from our home in southeastern Pennsylvania all the way to Portland. Coming home I'm sure we'll take a more reasonable route (e.g. I-95), but we thought it would be fun to be able to say we've driven almost the entire length of Rt. 202 (no, we will not be driving to its terminus in Bangor, ME). Is this totally nuts? Is it worth it, or is it mostly going to be annoying local driving?

Sorry for asking anonymously, but I have had issues in the past with people from the internet tracking me down while on vacation, so I'm paranoid now about posting my plans and whereabouts.

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posted by anonymous to Travel & Transportation around Maine (15 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Use Portland as a base to explore up and down the coast of Maine and New Hampshire. Check out Ogunquet, and the Playhouse. Check out Strawberry bank in Portsmouth NH.
posted by Gungho at 9:11 AM on May 27, 2009

Portland's a great city, but it's still a small one. The longest I've spent there was three days, and I felt like that was plenty. A week might be pushing it (especially since you're not interested in outdoor activities).

There are no shortage of great restaurants there--here are two of my favorites:
Pepperclub serves great, reasonably priced meals featuring local ingredients.

Duck Fat serves deliciously artery-clogging food (as you might guess from the name). Try the french fries!
posted by frogpondian at 9:13 AM on May 27, 2009

Novare Res is where we're having the MeFi 10th Anniversary meetup for Portland. The Portland Museum of Art is quite good - good for half a day's browsing, if you like art. Seconding Duckfat, as well. Since you like good restaurants (both Novare Res and Duckfat are casual) you would probably like the really high quality, seasonal food at Hugo's or Fore Street. For amazing breads stop at Standard Baking Co.

I agree that a week in Portland would be a bit much, especially for people of your tastes. I absolutely love Portland, but it really is a city that works best as a home base for outdoorsy activities peppered with a few cultural experiences. You can walk/shop the Old Port for a half day or afternoon and evening. You can do the Art Museum and Historical Society for half days each. You can catch some live music and art openings most nights, especially in summer. I would recommend going out to Peaks Island for a day, but really, all you do there is walk around, sit on the beach, and maybe eat at one of the restaurants - if you don't like the beach you might not be into this idea. If you don't want to get out on the water, or do some hiking in the region, you will probably start feeling like you'd run out of things to do. Driving up the coast on Route 1 is a great idea - you'll experience the classic summer Maine roadside attraction thing. It's nice. There are any number of crafty places you can find to see pottery and fiber arts for sale. There are flea markets and antiques stores aplenty.

Some ways to add to your trip would definitely be to stop in Portsmouth NH for a day (and yes, go to Strawbery Banke - I can get you passes if you want, MeMail me). You could also stop in Salem, MA, for the PEM and the downtown. Portland makes a great home base for exploratory side trips. If you really do like shopping you'd probably want to go to Freeport for the LL Bean flagship store and the other outlets.
posted by Miko at 9:46 AM on May 27, 2009

I think you can keep from getting bored easily enough, if you use are willing to make use of the "Greater Portland Area" and go up and down the coast a bit. I'll try to group things into days:
  • Portland downtown/arts distict: Portland Museum of Art, SPACE Gallery, ICA at MECA, see for a list of more galleries. Then go down to the Old Port section, visit some shops, watch boats. Get some sushi for dinner. There's also a Narrow Gauge Railroad museum (and you can ride the train if you like).
  • Drive 20 minutes to Freeport and shop at the LL Bean campus (regular store, bike store, hunting/fishing store, home store, etc.). They do free concerts in the summer, so you could try to coordinate with that. The Wallflowers Aug 15, Maine Songwriters Aug 22. There are a lot of other shops around there, including a whole new area opening up this week. Just south of there on Route 1 is the HQ of DeLorme, including the world's largest globe. Good food at The Muddy Rudder, also on Rte 1.
  • Go about 30 minutes south to Kennebunkport and walk around and get some great food, then down to the Ongunquit Playhouse to catch a show (Singin' in the Rain). You could mix this day up with either going further south to York Beach and playing some arcade games on the Boardwalk, or going to the Seashore Trolley Museum and the Brick Store Museum in Kennebunk.
  • Visit the Portland Head Light/Ft. Williams, Two Lights and various other lighthouses. You can eat outside at a lobster shack near Two Lights. These are a short drive from Portland.
  • If you like pottery/sculpture you can drive up to Edgecomb Pottery (in Edgecomb), about 45 minutes north of Portland. If you are ok with going just a bit farther north, you can continue up to Boothbay/Boothbay Harbor. Or, you can stop on the way to Edgecomb in Wiscasset, walk around a bit, and eat at Red's.
  • Just an hour south of Portland is Portsmouth, NH, which is lots of fun to explore. There is also the Strawberry Banke museum/village which is worth checking out. You combine this with shopping the outlets in Kittery and/or stopping at York Beach if you didn't do that the other day and/or the Nubble Lighthouse.
You'll also find various fairs, festivals and other events going on all over the area that time of year. Feel free to email me if you have any questions!
posted by mikepop at 10:08 AM on May 27, 2009

Oh, I just saw that you can actually drive one of the steam locomotives if you want to.
posted by mikepop at 10:13 AM on May 27, 2009

Go to Granny's Burritos for lunch. So many good memories.
posted by dunkadunc at 10:52 AM on May 27, 2009

Take the Casco Bay Ferry for a tour of the Islands..they have a number of different trips..see Peaks, Chebeage, Big and Little Diamond Island.
posted by AuntieRuth at 11:20 AM on May 27, 2009

I could spend a week just at Duck Fat. There is a BBQ-ish place right next door that was good, too, and a quirky, nice breakfast place across the street on the corner.

(dunkadunc, what did I miss at Granny's Burritos? We went there and watched a kid dump corn chips out of a bag and nuke them with some nacho toppings . . . I was surprised after so many raves online.)
posted by theredpen at 1:04 PM on May 27, 2009

Rte 202 from SE Pennsylvania to Portland, Maine will definitely wear you out. Narrow roads, local traffic, stop signs and stop lights are bearable when one of these little towns is your destination. But you just want to drive this route to say you did. I think you're looking at two days of driving if you don't stop for anything more than food and fuel. Add a few stops here and there for museums, farm stands, craft stores, scenic vistas, historic markers, and wildlife viewing and you could use your whole week just getting to Maine. That wouldn't be an entirely wasted trip. And it won't take you 48 hours to "do" Portland.

Why not see how the first day goes. If you're tired of traveling at 45 mph get on Interstate 84 (which I predict will be nearby) and head east to the Mass Turnpike to I-495 around Boston to I-95. You'll be in Portland by lunch time on day 2. Otherwise, stick to your plan. Who knows, you may be the only people in the new millennia who can claim to have driven that route. We'll expect a follow-up report.
posted by birdwatcher at 1:07 PM on May 27, 2009

I live a mile from 202, in Windham. Lived in Portland 30 years or so. Spend a day on Peaks Island, bicycling, walking, umbrella cover museum, restaurants. Portland has a number of island in the city limits, and the ferry ride is fun, and the ambiance is nice. Peaks has the largest population, easiest amenities.

The Old Port has lots of shops, interesting architecture and history, and is walkable. There's a Freedom Trail. There can be interesting night life in the Old Port; sometimes a troupe of jugglers and street performers sets up on weekend evenings. There's often a good exhibit at the Portland Museum of Art, small but worthwhile. If you're in Portland on the 1st Friday of the month, there's an Art Walk. Very lively, all sorts of galleries and studios open and serve wine and snacks. Portland has an unusually high number of excellent restaurants for such a small town.

LL Bean, in Freeport, is worth a visit. Open 24x7x365. The store has a trout pond, and they offer lots of workshops, as well as concerts. Freeport is also full of outlet shops, including an LL Bean Outlet.

Meetups are welcome, if you want to drink some good beers with fellow MeFites. Portland is home to a brewery or 2, and the Great Lost Bear is a micro-beer destination. Mefi or Gmail me for more info.
posted by theora55 at 2:53 PM on May 27, 2009

If you like beer, I remember greatly enjoying The Great Lost Bear when passing through Portland about 2 years ago. More information on Portland-area beerthings here.

If you're amenable to leaving the city during your stay, I highly suggest the Musical Wonder House in Wiscasset.
posted by quatsch at 3:00 PM on May 27, 2009

Sadly, Granny's Burrito's is no longer.

There are some great ideas here. I'd also recommend heading inland, for a different "Maine" experience. North Conway, Bethel, Hallowell are all great destinations.

Have fun - Maine summers are heavenly!
posted by suki at 7:52 AM on May 28, 2009

Oh, I missed this yesterday!

I grew up in Portland!

A week may be a bit much if you're not into beaches, etc.

Things I recommend:

Definitely check out Ft Williams and Portland Head and have a picnic at Two Lights! At sunset! You won't regret it!

If you like historical sites, check out the Tate House and the Victorian Mansion. If you like literary history, you'll probably like the Longfellow House.

If you're into historical reenactment type things, you might like Norlands Farm. It's about an hours drive from Portland, so that might eat up a good part of a day. It's similar to Plimouth Plantation in Mass.

Do you like sports? Catch a Sea Dogs game! You can get tickets the day of, and it will be a lot of fun --- it's much lower key than major league baseball. There are goofy in-between inning competitions for kids and what not.

The Portland Museum of Art is just the right size for an afternoon.

For evening, the Comedy Connection down on the wharfs is a lot of fun.

Consider a walking tour or an observatory tour:

Anyway, just a few ideas.

If you change your mind on the beaches, I'd recommend having some fun either at Old Orchard or Crescent (in Cape Elizabeth). Crescent will likely be less busy and certainly less touristy. If you're not interested in a beach, then Sebago Lake is a fabulous alternative and one of my favorite places --- water is much less cold, too. If you wanted, you can even rent a cabin in the state park.
posted by zizzle at 12:15 PM on May 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Breakfast at Bintliff's! You won't be disappointed...
posted by littleredwagon at 1:09 PM on May 28, 2009

OP here, crawling out of anonymity to follow up and give a quick thank you to everyone who replied here (as well as in the previous posts on Portland) and e-mailed me. We had a lovely week in Maine (despite being there during a heat wave!), and really didn't run out of things to do as I'd feared. If anything, we had too much to do. We did not end up driving 202 at all, which was probably a good thing because the drive was long enough as it was. Since some had asked me to report back, here's where we went (most of which were suggested here):
  • Meals:
    • Pepperclub
    • Bintliff's (twice!)
    • Portland Lobster Co.
    • Coffee By Design
    • Duck Fat (good thing we live 450 miles away from this place, or we'd be dead of heart attacks in a week!)
    • The Inn on Peaks Island
    • Dry Dock
    • Lobster Cooker (Freeport)
    • The Farmer's Table

  • Stuff we did:
    • Walked around the Old Port (a lot!)
    • Walked around the Monument Square area
    • Toured Strawberry Banke (Portsmouth, NH)
    • Visited the Portland Museum of Art
    • Attended a Portland Sea Dogs minor league baseball game
    • Took the ferry to Peaks Island, where we went on a tour and had lunch
    • Drove to Freeport to check out the L.L. Bean store and the other outlets

Thanks again for all your advice, we didn't even do half the stuff that was on our list, so a return trip is a definite possiblity :o)
posted by LolaGeek at 4:40 PM on August 22, 2009

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