Search any “best of” travel lists and Portland, Maine is likely to appear. The coastal city is home to scenic community parks, a working waterfront, museums, enviable historic homes and a thriving creative community. You’ll also find diverse independent shops throughout town who loyally support Maine artisans and purveyors.
In addition to all of these benefits, Portland is one of the top food destinations in the country (once again topping those “best of” lists). You’ll discover craft breweries and distilleries, locally roasted coffee, artisan breads and pastries, woodfired pizza, fresh fish and the finest locally sourced cuisine.
Where to Eat & Drink: A Few Favorites
Tandem Bakery: Located in Portland’s historic West End, Tandem is one of those places you want to hang your hat for awhile. The clean, modern vibe, the house-roasted coffee and the assortment of sweet and savory baked goods by Briana Holt make it a morning favorite.
Flying Fox Juice Bar: My daughter is vegan, so the two of us regularly find ourselves at this sunny and cheerful juice bar (I love that their menu board is made up of vintage, Fisher-Price alphabet letters). The creamy and caffeine-fueled Banana, Cacao Cold Brew is a favorite of mine, and my daughter adores the refreshing Mango, Carrot and Coconut smoothie.
Dutch’s: If you’re searching for a comfort food fix, Dutch’s is the ideal place for a satisfying weekend brunch. A blackboard menu displays a list of serious breakfast sandwiches, such as fried chicken with gravy in a buttery, homemade biscuit, loaded hash browns with cheese, bacon and scallion or a thick cut avocado toast. If you have room, splurge on one of their wildly decadent donuts for dessert.
ISA Bistro: There’s so much to love about this cozy, neighborhood bistro and bar where the lunch and dinner menu changes seasonally. Located near sprawling Deering Oaks Park, ISA prides itself in expertly prepared international cuisine sourced from local farms and purveyors. During the summer months, ask to sit in the outdoor patio, which is adorned with colorful potted plants and vintage-inspired lights.
Maine Craft Distilling: For pre-dinner drinks or appetizers, you can’t beat this thoughtfully-designed eastside bar and kitchen. Maine Craft Distilling is best known for their unique spirits made of ingredients sourced directly from Maine farms, such as wild blueberries and maple syrup for their Blueshine Blueberry Liquor. During a recent visit, my husband and I enjoyed signature cocktails and devoured two plates of deviled eggs topped with bacon and sea salt.
Bao Bao Dumpling House: The convivial and bustling atmosphere at Bao Bao makes it a great place to visit with friends. Award-winning chef Cara Stadler makes flavorful dumplings and inventive Asian dishes with local ingredients (you’ll definitely want to order a few options for sharing). Bao Bao also regularly teams up with local breweries for a tap take-over and menu pairing, which makes for a fun evening out.
The Corner Room Italian Kitchen & Bar: This longtime favorite for consistently good Italian food is located in the Old Port. My family are fans of the melt-in-your-mouth housemade pastas and create your own pizzas. The open-kitchen restaurant is also beloved for its weeknight happy hour (4-6 p.m.) for well-priced drinks and free appetizers.
Things to Do: See Portland
Portland Farmers’ Market: Visit the downtown market on Wednesdays in Monument Square or on Saturdays from 7 a.m. -1 p.m. in Deering Oaks Park. You’ll find gorgeous seasonal fruits and vegetables, flowers, grass-fed meats, organic eggs, honey and cheeses from some of Maine’s best farms.
Longfellow Garden: Located within walking distance of the Wednesday farmers’ market, you’ll find this stunning, tucked away Colonial Revival garden. At the gate of the historic Longfellow House— the childhood home of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow— a narrow path will take you to a garden of perennials, flowering trees and a fountain. Wrought-iron chairs and benches are placed throughout the garden, so you can sit and enjoy its quiet beauty.
Folly 101: It’s impossible to shop Folly 101 and leave empty-handed. The beautifully-designed shop is full of well-priced gifts for the home. It’s my go-to shop for letterpress cards, soaps and gorgeous table linens, but you’ll also find the sweetest baby gifts and books, basket totes, jewelry and linen scarves.
Portland Flea-for-All: This downtown market is the place to go for vintage and antique furniture, home goods, clothing and albums. To keep things fresh, the Flea offers new vendors and goods each week. If you plan to go, the shop is open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Eastern Promenade Trail: Follow the Eastern Promenade (the Prom) on Portland’s East Side and you’ll be treated to views of boats sailing Casco Bay (you may want to bring a picnic). Just below the Prom is the Cutter Street parking lot, which will take you to a portion of the trail at East End Beach. Follow this section along the water’s edge to Tukey’s Bridge, where you can turn back or continue on the Bayside Trail to the Back Cove Trail, which is beloved by runners, dog walkers and cyclists.
Portland Schooner Co.: Book time to take a memorable, two-hour sail on a 1920’s vessel. You’ll sail Casco Bay, past Peaks Island, historic Fort Gorges—a 19th century fort designed to protect Portland Harbor in the Civil War—and Bug Light Park, which is home to lighthouse known for its diminutive size and Greek-inspired design.
Portland Museum of Art: Many will be surprised to find this modestly-sized museum is home to works from Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Jasper Johns, Mary Cassatt and Winslow Homer, to name a few. You’ll also find special exhibitions, a lively film series, family-friendly events and an outdoor garden and sculpture park to enjoy.
A Few Other Recommendations from Fresh New England
Standard Baking Co.: What can we say? This is a Portland classic with delicious breads and pastries to eat on the patio or take-out.
Harbor Fish Market: This fish market has been in buisness since the 1800’s and has an amazing assortment of fresh fish right off the boat. They also ship!
Duck Fat: Is a small and popular sandwich shop that takes local ingredients seriously. We recommend the milkshakes!
Central Provisions: Busy restaurant but they pride themselves on local ingredients. And, you can watch the action at the chef bar.
Fore Street: Named one of Gourmet Magazine’s Top 50 Restaurants, it’s the go-to for a locally sourced menu.
Did we miss any of your favorites? Let us know in the comment section below.
Jennifer Hazard is a writer and photographer who lives in Cumberland, Maine with her husband and two children. Her book, “The Maine Play Book: A Four-Season Guide to Family Fun and Adventure,” highlights family-friendly farms, trails and events throughout the state.