For as long as I can remember Maine has been at the top of my U.S. travel bucket list. There’s something about the way this area of the U.S. is portrayed in books and on television. In my mind, it’s as if this area is like living in a fairytale. A bit extreme, I know, but something I have never been able to get past when thinking of Maine. When I got the opportunity to visit the Portland area last summer I was ecstatic. I could finally see for myself the magic of Maine and of course enjoy a proper ‘Lob-stah’ roll.
There’s so much to do in Portland and the next time I return I plan on spending more time in the downtown area. I’m told the food scene is one of the most popular in the United States. There’s activities for all ages, families, couples, and individuals. With a husband and three children, things are always busy, and a solo weekend getaway was just what I needed. I don’t think there’s really a bad time of year to visit and I can’t wait to return with my husband.
So, if you are in Portland, where should you stay, what should you do , and most importantly what should you eat? Here are some of the things I enjoyed during my recent visit.
Where to Stay:
Higgins Beach Inn:
Located less than 10 miles outside of Portland, is the adorable area of Scarborough and Higgins Beach. My first couple of nights in Maine, I stayed at the Higgins Beach Inn. This is the perfect place for solo travelers or couples. It’s super charming and extremely quiet, just like my storybook dreams, and is walking distance from the beach. I can picture myself staying here for a writing weekend. It’s a very peaceful place.
The onsite restaurant seemed to be a popular place among locals, especially those who only return during the summer. I witnessed many reunions while enjoying dinner.
Higgins Beach Inn
34 Ocean Avenue
Scarborough, Maine 04074
Reservations: (207) 883-6684
Inn by the Sea:
Located 7 miles south of Portland is the stunning Inn by the Sea which was selected as the Best Hotel in Maine by Travel & Leisure in 2017. While I have not stayed here over night, I have toured the hotel and enjoyed an incredible dinner here.
Inn by the Sea won me over for many reasons. They have so much to offer their guests all while giving back to the local community. While staying here, you can join a local naturalist for a beach ecology walk, take classes and garden tours, and even join the crew of an authentic lobster boat. That’s on my list for my next visit!
One of my favorite programs at the Inn by the Sea, and probably one of the most unique, is their foster dog program. Staff care for foster dogs from the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland. Inn by the Sea becomes a temporary home for the dog and guests are able to play with the dogs and even take them for walks. The goal of the program is to of course find new homes for these dogs and so far 140 dogs have been adopted by guests. That’s incredible!
Photo Credit: Inn by the Sea
Inn by the Sea
40 Bowery Beach Road
Cape Elizabeth ME 04107
Higgins Beach Market:
When I arrived to Maine, I couldn’t wait to grab a lobster roll. I like to support the local community and was delighted to find a locally owned seasonal shop near my hotel called the Higgins Beach Market. You can purchase produce, dairy products, small grocery items, homemade pastries, wine and craft beer, New England made gifts, among other things. It seemed to be packed so I stopped in to give it a try. I didn’t even wait until I got to my hotel. I ate the lobster roll sitting in the parking lot of the market! I hope no one caught that on camera but I just couldn’t wait. Looks delicious doesn’t it? It was! So-if you are in the area and need a quick bite this is the place. Not to mention, the staff were super friendly!
As mentioned above, Higgins Beach Inn has an onsite restaurant called Shade. If staying at the hotel, this is the only place to dine without having to drive. Not to worry, the food is delicious and the staff is superb. My meal consisted of Lobster Risotto served with green beans, squash and corn, oyster mushrooms, and cherry tomatoes. I’ve thought of recreating this dish at home but I don’t think I can make it quite like the Chef at Shade.
I also enjoyed sitting at the bar for a night cap. The customers were mostly those who were originally from the area and only returned for the summer. It was fun getting to know ‘the locals’ and learning more of why people love returning to Maine.
Sea Glass at Inn by the Sea:
Sea Glass located in the Inn by the Sea offers beautiful oceanfront views and an incredible dining experience. Chef Andrew Chadwick works to identify fish from the Gulf of Maine that are ‘under-appreciated’. He pairs the fish with other local ingredients with a focus on health. Sea Glass prides themselves on their vegan menu options.
Chef Chadwick and Executive Sous Chef Greg Hill are members of the Out of the Blue Sustainable Seafood Program and Gulf of Maine Research Institute.
I had to order two of the items I was told would never the leave the menu due to their popularity. Lobster Tacos with local lobster, radish, sweet chili, and avocado mousse and New England Clam Chowder. I can certainly see why these are favorites among guests.
You can not go on a weekend getaway to Portland, Maine without having an oyster tour with Nonesuch Oysters. Founder Abigail Carroll has quite the story to tell with an incredible business that helps the environment. Who doesn’t want to go on a boat tour with the sun setting and eating oysters right out of the sea? Remember the magic I talked about earlier? Here it is! Abigail’s team is friendly and will make sure your time out on the water is a great one. It’s also BYOB so feel free to bring wine or beer to enjoy with your oysters. Since this was a solo trip, I was able to join another group of locals who uses the tours as a way to spend time with their friends. I think this could be a unique date idea as well!
The Holy Donut:
Ok, so I’m going back to food, but I have to share the goodness of The Holy Donut. I had never heard of this place until I arrived to Maine. Absolutely everyone asked me if The Holy Donut was on my agenda so I knew I must make a stop there. They make donuts out of potatoes! The Holy Donut opened in 2012 with just three people. They’ve grown so much that they now produce over two million donuts per year. That’s a lot of donuts. Every time I drove past one of the locations, people would be lined up out the door. It turns out, that once the donuts sell out, the shop closes for the day.
They also work hard to give back to their community and encourage their employees to do the same. If an employee lends a hand to someone in need, The Holy Donut grants them paid time off hour for hour. That’s amazing!
So, how are the donuts? I ordered the Maple Bacon. I don’t typically eat pork but this stood out to me. It was heavenly, very sweet, but delicious. I can see how this a growing, and extremely popular, donut shop.
Maine Huts and Trails
Finally, hop in your rental from the airport, and drive to Kingfield, Maine to visit Maine Huts and Trails. It’s an easy 1.5 hour drive and so worth it. Maine Huts and Trails is a non profit whose mission is to create and operate a system of backcountry trails and eco-lodges. I had the opportunity to spend some time hiking, paddling, and just enjoying the beauty of Maine. You can read more about the experience here -> Backcountry Experiences with Maine Huts and Trails.
This organization offers so many activities and I definitely want to return especially during the winter. Can you believe I’ve never been skiing or participated in any other winter activity? Now’s the time!
This is at the top of my list of favorite activities in the U.S. I think everyone should add Maine Huts and Trails to their ‘travel bucket list’.
Have you been to Portland? What’s your favorite thing to do?
Grew,up in Portland, yet taking the ferry ride known as “the mail boat cruise” each summer shows me something new like a tourist while making me smile about my local roots.