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October 6, 2011 1:33 PM   Subscribe

Road tripping through VT and NH to Portland, Maine between Sunday and Tuesday, with a pretty open schedule. What should I do and see?

I want to check out Portland for a day, and wander through VT and NH. Lots of time and no plan. What do I absolutely need to do/eat/drink in Portland? What towns should I see along the way? Should I venture more into northern Maine and check out Bar Harbor, etc?

(I'm a Mass. native who's been away for a decade, and trying to rediscover New England without ending up at the normal touristy places.)
posted by hanoixan to Travel & Transportation around Portland, ME (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Don't do the dorky route that is all highways between Maine and Vermont. There's no need to. Even though the Google Maps will tell you to highway it all the way, seriously consider getting on 202 or 302 or 4 or one of the other E/W connectors. It's not speedy but it's a lot more lovely. You've seen highways, try to avoid them as much as possible. Every big interstate in Vermont has a smaller road next to it [with 89, it's 2 a lot of the way and then 7, with 91 it's 5/10] and those have more neat stuff to see.

Bar Harbor is a really great place to see, but it's a commitment and it's pretty far from a lot of the stuff you might want to see in NH/VT. People suggest the Kangamagus in NH which is lovelyamazing but likely to be crowded on the weekends and likely even into the week. Make sure you check roads in VT, even though most of them are getting repaired pretty speedily [100 is a great lovely drive and is open its entire length now, the same can not be said for 107] there are still some gaps. I'd suggest airbnb for some nice places to stay [let me know if you need a place in Central VT] that are likely to be more off the beaten beaten path and somewhat cheaper than your standard B&B.

As much as I love Vermont, you could really spend your whole time in Maine and have a pretty amazing time and spend more time checking things out and less time driving.
posted by jessamyn at 1:59 PM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'd go through route 2 in NH for the scenery if possible - southern NH is much less interesting in that regard. As far as Portland goes for food and drink there are so many options it is impossible to narrow down without some specific interests from you. My personal favs for food are Street & Company (mediterranean seafood) and Caiola's.
posted by mbatch at 1:59 PM on October 6, 2011

The weather is supposed to be spectacular during that time period...sunny and warm and dry with light winds. You might want to drive the Kancamagus Highway in NH. The foliage is probably peaking up there and the mountain scenery is lovely. If you have time to hike, pick a peak and go for it. A relatively short vigorous hike with beautiful bare rock exposure at the top is Mount Chocorua.

In Portland there are lots of good restaurants in the "Old Port" part of town. I was there briefly last winter and I had THE BEST GELATTO EVER in Old Port. It was truly awesome...I never thought it could be that good. The shop is owned by some new arrivals from Milan. And they know what they are doing. I live 3 hours south of Portland and I have been thinking about driving the 6 hours round trip just for another taste!

If you have the time, take the back roads from Portland to Bar Harbor along the coast. You will pass through many quaint New England coastal towns. And that part of the Maine coast is very rocky/scenic.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 2:00 PM on October 6, 2011

I was just in Acadia for the first time recently- it's gorgeous! Highly recommend it.
posted by abirdinthehand at 2:16 PM on October 6, 2011

Between Portland and Bar Harbor is the Boothbay Harbor area, which is worth a visit. It's a quaint, working port town. It has a touristy shop or two, but is low-key enough to be enjoyable. Enjoy walking around town and maybe some Candlepin Bowling.

You'll pass through Wiscasset on your way there, which is a nice drive through town. Continuing up Rt. 1, just before Damariscotta, you can head south to Pemaquid Point Lighthouse in Bristol. This is one of my favorite spots in Maine, with a picturesque lighthouse and great rocky coast to hike along.

If you have the time, by all means, visit Acadia. It is the location of one of my favorite vacations ever. Get out on a hike. Their trails are very accessible and the summitts are very rewarding. Bar Harbor is a fun town, but a bit busy for my taste. That being said, I enjoyed hopping in and out while I was in Acadia for a week.

Oh, and make sure you have a Moxie while you're up there.
posted by bwilms at 3:46 PM on October 6, 2011

As a former resident of MDI, Acadia is beautiful, but save it for a time when you can enjoy it - it needs more than a 5 minute visit to do it any form of justice. With the amount of driving you have listed (and the desire to see other places), it is a sub-optimal extension - unless you have more time than what you have indicated. Also, this is Triathlon weekend, meaning that traffic to the island will be greater than normal for this time of year. If you do insist on going all the way to MDI, take a quick run to the quiet side and visit Little Notch Bakery in Southwest for a sandwich.

For a short extension though, I would recommend extending your Portland run up to Freeport and getting a bowl of chowder at The Muddy Rudder (its on Route 1, just south of Freeport).
posted by Nanukthedog at 3:55 PM on October 6, 2011

If you're interested in seafood, I recently had a great meal at J's Oyster in Portland.
posted by lillygog at 4:36 PM on October 6, 2011

Definitely stop in Portsmouth, NH on your way up to Portland. Eat some delicious greasy food at the Friendly Toast, and enjoy their extensive collection of hilariously crappy art. Drink a beer at the Coat of Arms, or coffee at Cafe Kilim. Lots of good stuff to do around town.
posted by SpiralT at 4:58 PM on October 6, 2011

Nthing the Kancamangus Hwy and then 302 or 113 to Portland. Save Acadia for another trip.

Explore the Eastern Prom in Portland and then the Western Prom for the views.

What kind of food do you like? Sushi, Yosaku is good. They have an awesome ginger martini. Fuji on Exchange St. is good too.

Italian? Vignola.

I'd go for Street & Company over J's Oyster Bar any day. Jay's is more like a hangout and well, a bar, but it is on the water.

Quirky with awesome food, Silly's. Great Panini's and mouthwatering French fries, Duckfat.

You can drive up Rte. 1 toward Falmouth and stop at MackWorth Island for a nice easy hike (the turnoff is not that far after the causeway). Tell the guard that you're going for a hike and he'll tell you if the parking lot has any spaces. If they're full, keep driving north past the strip malls in Falmouth, going through Yarmouth and into Freeport.

There is nothing wrong with the Muddy Rudder, but I think of it as an old people's place (my folks used to go there for dinner all the time). I prefer Jameson's Tavern in Freeport, just a few more minutes up the road in downtown Freeport. Stop at Cold River Vodka on the way and grab some mini bottles for souvenirs. LL Bean is right next to Jameson's, wander over there and take your picture next to the big boot. Yeah it's touristy, but when's the next time you will be standing next to a giant boot?

If you like clothes but hate high prices, try the resale shop in Freeport. My husband got a like new pair of Red Wing hiking shoes there for $5. It also supports the community center. Be sure to go downstairs to check out the stuff they have down there.

Don't like all the hoopla of the outlet stores? Drive down Bow Street, straight across from Beans off Rte. 1, and keep going till you get to Litchfield Road. Turn left and go another 1/2 mile to get to Bessie's Farm Goods. A dog might come out to greet you, but he just wants you to play fetch. They have hand spun yarns, turned wood bowls, and awesome giant chocolate chip cookies.

If you want another hiking option, Bradbury Mountain State Park is in nearby Pownal, with a choice of easy or difficult trails. You can see Casco Bay from the bald top.

Then head back down to Portland for a meal at The Grill Room or Cinque Terre (same owners as Vignola, slightly pricier).

There's a whole bunch of other stuff, Portland Head Light and Two Lights State Park are great for water views, as well as Bug Light and the Naval yard monument. But if you want to see trees and stuff, I'd stick with MackWorth and Bradbury Mtn.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 5:53 PM on October 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Thanks everyone for your pointers. I'm going to try and follow as many of them as possible, since I'm kind of restless and love driving when I get the chance. From what I can tell so far, I'm going to eat realllllly well in Portland (Gellato for sure!), drive the Maine coast up to Acadia and BH, and take the slow drive back through NH (Kangamaga looks awesome) and VT, avoiding the highways, and doing some hikes where I can.

If I had more time I'd like to drive all the way to Halifax, but tisk, jobs don't work themselves.
posted by hanoixan at 9:31 PM on October 6, 2011

Then may I recommend Cafe This Way in Bar Harbor?

Also, along the way, in Ellsworth, there is Cleonice and Simone's, on Franklin Street, about a block off Main Street.

On the way to Bar Harbor, Atlantic Brewing Company offers short tours and tastings. You can't get the beer shipped, so be sure to buy some if you want to take any home with you.

If you don't want to do that, Lompoc Cafe in Bar Harbor has the local brews and some great food.

Another great side jaunt is to take Route 1 from Ellsworth to the Schoodic Peninsula. Stop and see Tidal Falls along the way (as you are leaving Hancock, there is a sign to the right), it's just a couple of minutes off the road. Bring some snacks and some bottled water if you go to Schoodic.

Not to be missed in Acadia is Cadillac Mountain, Thunder Hole, and Jordan Pond.

Have a great time and wave as you come through Ellsworth!
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 5:18 AM on October 7, 2011

If you've only got three days, skip Acadia. It's a 7-8-hour roundtrip from Portland if you don't get out of your car. If you absolutely must drive north, Camden is a little closer and the park there is lovely, Belfast is a cool town, or you can spend much more time in southern Maine -- Portland could keep you occupied for the whole time, Nubble Light in York is spectacular.

Food: The edgiest sushi place in town is called Miyake, but I don't know if you can get in on short notice. They also run a noodle shop on Congress and State. Whoopie pies at Two Fat Cats in Portland are the only ones worth eating. Avoid the oysters at J's Oyster. Get the steamers. Otto has spectacular pizza. There's also a Korean taco joint on Congress that I've been meaning to check out for months; if you've been on the west coast it's probably no big thing. If you are vegetarian, Local Sprouts or Green Elephant are both great.
posted by mneekadon at 6:54 AM on October 7, 2011

The Fryeburg Fair will ending on the 9th, if you can wake up early enough on Sunday. It's a pretty darned rootin' tootin' time to be had by all.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:27 AM on October 7, 2011

Mmmmmmmmmmmm Duckfat. Try Bintliff's for brunch...kick ass morning stuff!
posted by littleredwagon at 4:52 PM on October 7, 2011 Portland...
posted by littleredwagon at 4:53 PM on October 7, 2011

Ok, so my vacation ended up being more mild-mannered than I thought. Highlights: Novare Res Bier Cafe, Bard's Coffee, Bintliff's for breakfast (killer corned beef hash), sunrise at Fort Williams Park, the Kancamagus highway, Hanover, NH; and the entirety of Northern Vermont.
posted by hanoixan at 11:13 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

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