What to eat, see and do in the "other" Portland
August 17, 2015 7:17 AM   Subscribe

We will be spending a few days in Portland, Maine, at the end of August. What should we do? Where should we eat? What shouldn't we miss?

"We" is my wife and myself. We live in Portland, Oregon, and tend to enjoy fairly stereotypically "Portland-y" things: hiking, local food, good beer, books, etc. We also enjoy what my wife likes to call "olden times," so interesting historical sites, museums, etc. are on the table. So, uh, help?
posted by dersins to Travel & Transportation around Portland, ME (29 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: (And I should add that we are open both to off-the-beaten-path suggestions AND super touristy stuff.)
posted by dersins at 7:20 AM on August 17, 2015

Best answer: Go to Duckfat for lunch and get the fries.

I really enjoy the Narrow Gauge Railway Museum, but it's definitely geared towards kids. You can buy a ticket to ride a working train; it's about a 20-30 minute ride.

If you like being on the water, you can buy tickets for the harbor ferries. Several of them have trails you can walk around on, or you can buy a ticket on the mail boat and spend about four hours on the water as it makes its rounds to the inhabited islands and drops off supplies.

The Portland Head Light on Cape Elizabeth is probably the iconic thing to in the area, very typical New England. The park surrounding it is also very nice.

I'm sure you meant to type "the 'original' Portland which the west coast imitator ripped off the name from" - it's an easy typo to make.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:27 AM on August 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Well, the good news is that Portland has tons of good restaurants and good beer. I've heard good things about Rising Tide's tasting room and they seem to have a lot of events. The "hot" brewer in Portland at the moment seems to be Bissell Brothers. It's hard to get at times but does seem to be worth the effort, or at least I think they make great stuff.

I will leave restaurant recommendations mostly to others since I don't get out as much these days. If you like beer The Great Lost Bear has somewhat standard pub food but a great tap selection. Salvage has good taps, good BBQ and has been the host for at least 2 meetups.

In terms of books, if you like used books I would check out Yes Books and the Green Hand. Longfellow Books is a mix of new/used books.

For green space around Portland check out Portland Trails.

For olden time stuff, you might check out Spirits Alive, who do tours of the Eastern Cemetary (founded in 1668). While you're up in that area you could also go up the Naval Observatory.
posted by selfnoise at 7:28 AM on August 17, 2015

Best answer: I'm personally a huge fan of Gritty's, and would go to Portland just to drink a pint of their Best Brown.
posted by General Malaise at 7:32 AM on August 17, 2015

Best answer: Seconding Duckfat and the Portland Head Light. If you're into libraries (and who isn't?), the main branch of the Portland Public Library is absolutely gorgeous. A glance at their website states that their current gallery exhibit is photographs of historic Portland and alongside that, their Portland Room of rare books and documents relating to the area is also rather incredible.
posted by lunch at 7:33 AM on August 17, 2015

Best answer: it's definitely geared towards kids.

Bah. It's really neat for adults, if you're a history and/or train buff. In addition to the train ride, they have a couple of cars in the museum, as well as a good exhibit on the history of narrow gauge in Maine.
posted by Melismata at 7:36 AM on August 17, 2015

Best answer: I am not ashamed to say that I ate lobster rolls at Eventide three meals in a row.
posted by tavegyl at 8:05 AM on August 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For fine dining: Fore Street. Can be hard to get a reservation but you can usually line up before opening and get a table.

Are you willing/able to venture outside of the city? If so, there are loads of of options. For example, 40 min north is the Maine Maritime Museum that rates well and offers trolley tours of Bath Iron Works (I haven't been).
posted by JackBurden at 8:09 AM on August 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Having grown up in Portland, Oregon, then moving to Portland Maine (and back again), my experience is that, if you're not careful, you are probably going to be shocked at how much money you're going to spend on lackluster (and straight shitty) food and drink. There are plenty of exceptions, but they're somewhat difficult to reliably identify since PTLD relies so much on tourist traffic…and that tourist traffic is from places that don't have very good food. There's alot of chaff, and alot of good press about that chaff. Steer clear of yelp at all costs; functionally useless and borderline criminal in that town…uhhhhg. BUT! There are good joints and you're obviously doing your homework.

If you like coffees and snacks; Tandem Coffee Roasters is probably one of the best coffee companies north of NYC. Their 'Little' shop is their roastery, and is super cozy, and really really neat, but a bit stripped down menu-wise from their bakery locale. Both are great and the staff is pretty goddamn nice. They've been blowing up lately, and been featured in a bunch of national media. Good stuff, and good people. Standard Baking Co is also super high quality, but not quite as inventive and fun as Tandem (and their coffee is not nearly as good).

For beer; Bunker, Oxbow and Maine Beer Co are probably the most easily accessed, and better of beers.

For food, Miyake (both locales) & Duckfat are mos def going to make the cut. Most Indian joints in PTLD are pretty great too, with the abysmal exception of Haggarty's.

But. One thing PTLD excels at in a beautiful, beautiful way is sandwiches. Shitty, gut-bomb-amazing-love-letter-worthy sandwiches. Get drunk one night with full intention of being hungover the next morning. Then trek out to Punky's for their breakfast sandwich. Cheap, greazy, so amazing. I wake up in fever dreams about a punky's sandwich from time to time. Its just something that the west coast just doesn't really do well.

Also, even shitty looking, mini-chain bagel joints do better bagels than your baseline out in PDX. Gobble that shit up.
posted by furnace.heart at 8:15 AM on August 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You should also consider checking out the East Ender (right near Duckfat, incidentally). The hot bar is the Hunt and Alpine Club. I'd second the recommendations for Eventide and Salvage, and add Emilitsa. Plus 555 and Fore St. (the classic recommendation from before there were 500 restaurants to choose from). There really are a ridiculous number of restaurants - walk around and read menus and you'll be fine!

For beer, Novare Res has about 1,000 to choose from, and Bunker Brewing does tastings on Thursday and Friday evenings. There's also Shipyard, Sea Dog, and Alagash all in Portland or very nearby. I'm not a fan of the Great Lost Bear (weird location & atmosphere, IMO, but people swear by it).

There are some walking tours of Portland, maybe all self-guided? There's the Longfellow House (he spent a bunch of his childhood there), which is next to the Portland Historical Society. There are other little museums in town, including the Portland Fire Museum, that might be fun to check out.

There are some nice little local beaches, including Willard Beach in South Portland and Kettle Cove in Cape Elizabeth. Bradbury Mountain (about half hour away) barely deserves the name, but it's got miles of trails and a nice little view at the top.

Enjoy your visit! It's really nice here!
posted by that's candlepin at 8:16 AM on August 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The bagel note reminds me. Make a point to come over to South Portland and get a couple bagels at Scratch Baking Company, but do it on a weekday morning. Weekends are a fucking madhouse shitshow in this little bakery, but the bagels are delicious. You can take a walk on Willard Beach right after, since it's right around the corner.
posted by that's candlepin at 8:18 AM on August 17, 2015

Best answer: Even though Portland is great and worthy of a few days by itself, heading down to Portsmouth, NH less than a hour way (if timed right) might be in order. It has a living history museum, Strawberry banke. Portsmouth is awesome little town and Strawberry Banke is unique. Instead of one history era, it is several eras from 1695-1954 in that location. The gardens are terrific. Walking into the reproduced store from WWII was worth an hour drive for me.

There is a impressive mansion "Victoria House" in Portland.
posted by ReluctantViking at 8:43 AM on August 17, 2015

Best answer: International Cryptozoology Museum!
posted by usonian at 9:05 AM on August 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Beware that you can't so much as peer through the door of the International Cryptozoology Museum without paying admission!

Seconding Miyake.

If you like oysters, you can have an amazing (but expensive!) night at Eventide pairing beers and cocktails with oysters and small plates.
posted by lukez at 9:55 AM on August 17, 2015

Best answer: Moe's BBQ! Definitely try the "white sauce" ... it's unusual and sooooo good.
posted by mccxxiii at 10:07 AM on August 17, 2015

Best answer: Last year I had a terrific time on the Wicked Walking Tour led by Gordon.

I'll also second the notion of considering a side trip to Portsmouth, NH if you are around for a while. It is worth at least a full day itself. At least half a day just for Strawbery Banke.
posted by meinvt at 10:16 AM on August 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You'll have a car? Portland Head Light is one of, if not the, most-photographed places in the US. I was there yesterday, the park was busy, walking paths well-populated, but still very pleasant. There are food trucks now. Continue on to the Lobster Shack where you can get lobster and eat at a picnic table on the coast with crashing waves and fabulous view. Crescent Beach State Park is a lovely sandy beach.

Just south of Portland, Old Orchard Beach is a quintessential tourist joint, with rides and fried dough. It's beloved of Quebecois. Joseph's By The Sea has excellent food and is right on the beach, but out of the thick of the tourist crowds.

Portland has islands in the city limits. Enjoy a 20 min. ferry ride to Peaks Island, take a nice walk, have drinks. Not sure about current restaurants. There are other islands with restaurants, Peaks has the most frequent ferry service.

Wolfs Neck State Park and Bradbury Mtn. State Park have pleasant, moderate hiking.
10 easy Maine hikes anyone can do: Great views for the casual hiker - mainetoday
Lesser-known Maine hikes (that are awesome!)
LL Bean in Freeport is worth visiting - open 24x7, trout pond, outdoor stuff.
Portland's on a peninsula. Take a walk on the Western Prom for a nice sunset, and also nice old houses in the area. There's a paved walking trail from Commercial Street at the bottom of the Old Port to the Eastern Prom.

Portland's Old Port was the area where lots of banking, trading and commerce went on way back when. Pretty architecture, cute shops, restaurants, more restaurants, many bars. Find Jay's Oyster and have a drink and some seafood on a wharf. Breakfast at Becky's Diner is de riguer, though the food is standard. There's a bookstore on Exchange Street, and Longfellow Books is in Monument Sq. Letterpress Books is out of the way, small but nice. Carlson-Turner Antiquarian Books on Congress Street just east of Marginal Way is worth a visit, and there's a lively mix of small shops there. Thank you for supporting independent booksellers.

I'm way out of touch with the restaurant scene except to say that Portland has far more serious, fantastic restaurants than you would ever guess from its size.

Should you have any interest, we're overdue for a meetup.
posted by theora55 at 10:25 AM on August 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: If you are interested in maps, the Osher Map Library is worth visiting.
posted by theora55 at 10:26 AM on August 17, 2015

Best answer: If you’re interested in large maps (and driving around the area), Eartha is a 41.5-foot rotating globe. In a map store about a dozen miles north of town.
posted by LeLiLo at 10:54 AM on August 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Really need to second Miyake. If you like sushi you cannot miss it! It's exceptionally good. (They also have another location that is a noodle bar (Pai Mein Miyake) which isn't nearly as good, but does have the most amazing pork buns in the world. The things I would do for those pork buns)

For brunch make sure you don't miss Hot Suppa. Best brunch in Portland! And if you're lucky you can get a table out back.

Not a huge fan of lobster, but my understanding is Portland Lobster Company has the best around town. And it's normally right around market price. Location is great as well, since it's outdoors on a dock. Normally has a live band happening too.

As others have mentioned, pretty much everything is great and not terribly expensive. You really can't go wrong. Here's a quick list of terrible tourist places you want to AVOID:

Dimillo's - Yeah, it's on a boat but they are crazy expensive and it's terrible food.
Becky's - I have no clue why it's so popular. I think it's because there's not really a diner scene in Maine. It's like a false nostalgia. (It's not bad for diner food, but it's diner food.)
3 Dollar Deweys - Terrible food. Not bad to drink at though, and free popcorn!
posted by mayonnaises at 11:38 AM on August 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've been to Fore Street, and it's excellent, but I really want to go to Grace. It's in an old church, and word of warning: while looking up reviews on Yelp, one couple went to Grace because Fore Street was fully booked, so if you should have a list of alternative and be flexible about seating times (or make reservations).

Here's a list of some good restaurants. I like Vignola, and if you go there, ask for a seat near the left (as you walk in), that section seems quieter then the back wall on the right. Also, you can people watch.

Nthing Miyake. That man is a wizard. We were there for a birthday dinner and did the chef tasting menu, and then his other place, either one is good.

Should you eat early or have later dinner plans, go to Standpipe Park on North Street and check out the sunset. Or, the Western Prom, which has a little park and tons of gorgeous old mansions. If it's clear, you can see all the way to the White Mountains in New Hampshire.

For fine sea views, go to the Eastern Prom. There is a little park (Fort Allen park, recently renovated and music concerts this Thursday and August 27th) at the top with a gazebo, and some benches. You can take in Casco Bay and the islands. Then drive down to the water. There is a little beach there (there is overflow parking above, if the one at the bottom is full). There is a walking/bike trail next to the beach.

If you go to Duckfat, be prepared for a wait. Not a lot of seating. So they might give you a pager, but the fries are super delicious.

Another choice for hangover food or sandwiches is the Salvadorian place, Tu Casa. It's not fancy, but the burritos are huge.

Another trail with fantastic views is the Back Cove. Park across the street from the big Hannaford grocery store, and take a stroll. If you head to the left, along Baxter Blvd., you might see some egrets in the shallows. Baxter Blvd. is closed on Sundays for a kind of street fair, so that might be fun to check out if you're there on a Sunday.

Traffic on Commercial Street, along the water, is insane in the summer. You'll want to see the Old Port area, so find a parking garage, put on some comfy shoes, and walk around. You can start at Coffee By Design on India Street (my husband likes the everything bagel), then mosey over to Middle Street to Tommy's Park, where there is also an information booth (The Grill Room and Bard Coffee are adjacent, both excellent places for bookending your day, I recommend the Irish Breakfast Tea at Bard). Go down Exchange Street and poke around the shops. That will take you to Fore Street (the street, also the same name as the restaurant). You can go left or right, and take any of the cross streets down one more block to Commercial Street. Wander around, go onto the piers and take pictures of boats, get some ice cream at Mt. Desert on Exchange Street.

Another choice for beer is Novare Res, they have a nice outdoor seating area tucked away off the street.

If you want to see the city lit up at night, check out the Top of the East lounge at the Westin.

Nthing Portland Head Light, it's worth the drive to see the ocean views and the light house. You can get some good walking in there if you park at the lower lot on the way in (near the horseshoe cove), then take the trail up to the light house. Or park at the top and walk down.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 11:45 AM on August 17, 2015

Best answer: Oh, I forgot bar listings too!

Fun hipster bars: LFK (good food too), Licoln's (Shhh it's a "secret" speakeasy. Everything is five dollars - cash.), Maps, & The Bearded Lady.

Fun cocktail spots: Sonny's (great food as well), Hunt & Alpine Club, Central Provisions

"Local" bars: The Snug (one of the few bars near the east end), Amigo's, Down Town Lounge.
posted by mayonnaises at 11:47 AM on August 17, 2015

Best answer: Oh yeah! There is a list called Eat, Drink, Lucky. If you sign up now, you will get a daily blurb about a place to eat, a place to drink, and something to do. That's about 2 weeks worth of places, and you can make a list of the ones that sound interesting. They also do it for several other cities.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 11:57 AM on August 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The former Bintliff's, now Bayside American Cafe is a very tasty, little brunch spot, but it gets crowded on the weekends. And 3 Buoys does a very decent lobster roll if you're not after the seaside shack experience, since this place is definitely more of a local urban dive. The portions are HUGE, so order accordingly.

Oh, and for the ultra-touristy experience, head up to nearby Freeport for the L.L. Bean flagship store and other outlets. The L.L. Bean stores have a bunch of crazy stuffed animals and even a trout pond inside them and are open 24/7, which is sort of a novelty in and of itself, because where else can you buy a canoe, rubber boots, duck call, and a metric ton of flannel shirts at 3 in the morning?
posted by Diagonalize at 1:22 PM on August 17, 2015

Best answer: Go out for a half-day or full-day kayak trip on Peaks Island! We went with Maine Island Kayak Co. and had an awesome time. Plus it was pleasant to ride the ferry to get out there.
posted by aka burlap at 2:11 PM on August 17, 2015

Response by poster: Metafilter, you guys are amazing. If we were in town longer I'd push for a meetup, but our time is relatively limited, so I don't think I'd be able to sell my wife on it.

But anyway, thank you for all the awesome suggestions. Best answers for all!
posted by dersins at 3:00 PM on August 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Observatory on the top of Munjoy Hill is a great way to spend an hour or two learning about Portland's shipping history and getting 360 degree views.

The Portland Museum of Art is a small treasure.
posted by Sukey Says at 4:20 PM on August 17, 2015

Everybody else pretty much has it covered. I'll only add that Portland Food Map is pretty much THE comprehensive listing of everywhere there is to eat in Portland. Independently run, and not Yelp-y, it can help you find hidden gems.

Also, take the mailboat run and see the islands.

History things? Longfellow house is nice. Tate House is cooler and less touristy. Eastern Cemetery Tours are also great (and support a great cause).

If you can get tickets, the Winslow Homer Studio is pretty amazing.
posted by anastasiav at 6:21 PM on August 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm heading in to Portland in a few hours and I am so excited for The Holy Donut.
posted by mskyle at 4:11 AM on August 18, 2015

« Older How can I print and bind a document in a way that...   |   What was that 1980s TV movie/show with an alien... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.