After living in New England for 6 years and never visiting Portland, ME, my husband and I decided we’d better check it out. Our 3-day weekend in March made us both wonder why we’d waited so long! November through April is Portland’s off season, but there’s still a lot to do. Despite temperatures in the 30s, and a few snowflakes, we found a lot to keep us busy, happy, and – let’s face it – full during Portland’s “down time.” Here are some of the highlights:
Lunch and brews at Gritty’s: Sit at a gnarly pub table with a water view, enjoy excellent house-brewed beer on tap, and munch on a turkey club that rivaled Grandma’s Thanksgiving dinner – with bacon and cranberry mayo to boot! Enough said.
Sweetgrass Farm Winery and Distillery for gin and wine tasting: This Union, ME, winery and distillery has a tasting room on Fore Street in Portland, where you choose 4 of their signature wine, gin, and bitters samples for $5. Plus you get to keep the cute little tasting glass. Buy a bottle to enjoy on your next stop, the…
Casco Bay Lines Sunset Cruise: Take the 2.5-hour “cruise” – really the last ferry loop of the day to the most inhabited Casco Bay Islands – to get a sense of Maine island life. It's cold, but beautiful, and you can always step inside the ferry when you get chilly.
Dinner at Fore Street: Fore Street is the top-ranked restaurant in Portland for good reason. (Make. A. Reservation. Now.) The brick and wood interior, copper tabletops, and open kitchen and hearth give it a warm, homey atmosphere, and the food is amazing. Try the wood-fired mussels appetizer. You can watch as they roast in the hearth first, and scrape up the garlic and almond butter at the end. Order a hand-crafted cocktail or non-alcoholic concoction to get the full experience.
|Coffee in Bed at the Portland Regency|
Work it out and relax at the Portland Regency: Our AAA discount made the stay a bit more reasonable, and we soon discovered that it was worth every penny! Take advantage of the deck rooms with water views, complimentary coffee and tea service delivered to your door, and access to the fitness center. The on-site spa’s posh locker rooms, steam room, sauna, and Jacuzzi are all included in your stay.
Creative brunch at Ri Ra Irish Pub: Okay, it’s a chain, but the brunch was so good we ate there twice! We couldn’t resist specials with local flare, like the chicken and sweet potato biscuits with maple gravy and the fresh crab and veggie egg skillet.
Walk and window shop (then repeat): Follow Portland’s Old Port streets through a cobbled zig-zag of shops, galleries, cafes and restaurants, all leading toward the port wharfs. We spent hours just strolling and browsing. A few of our favorite stops: Edgecomb Potters, Sea Bags - love their stylish totes from repurposed sails, and the lobster traps.
Grab an afternoon “mocktail” at Vena’s FizzHouse: The highlight of Vena’s is the back soda counter, where their mixologist serves up old fashioned sodas with a modern Maine twist (think maple syrup and Thai ghost pepper) and “mocktails” in fancy glasses.
Popcorn tasting at Coastal Maine Popcorn Co.: I love popcorn, so I stepped up to the counter for samples of their top savories. My favorite: rosemary & sea salt. (I was so excited to find a snack that fits my new dairy-free diet that I bought two large bags!).
Stroll the Eastern Promenade: The paved “Eastern Prom” runs along the water and the Narrow Gauge Railroad, with beaches and great views along the way. Yes, it was a cold walk, but we seemed to be the only ones bundled up!
Twin Lobsters at DeMillo’s: Board this former car ferry to take in the sea-faring kitsch and fill up on seafood. I took the twin lobster special on as a challenge, and finished both!
Late-night dessert and drinks at The Bar of Chocolate: Their enormous dessert drinks were intimidating, but the flourless dark chocolate torte with bourbon was just right with a generous pour of red wine. Beware: If you dare to try Hemingway’s fave, "Death in the Afternoon", it may be near-death in the evening (and the next day) for you, as it was for my husband!
There are still a few more weeks to take advantage of Portland’s off-season rates. If you’re an urbanite, you may be surprised how far your dollar stretches on food and entertainment in this beautiful small city. And don’t worry about your diet – with all the walking you’ll do, those chocolate torte calories don’t stand a chance!
Becky, thanks for sharing your trip. I can't wait to get up to Portland with Neal... maybe next weekend!