Maine’s biggest city might be known for its relaxing lifestyle that offers community, quiet and access to beaches and schools, but it’s also a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, foodies, and art lovers. From lighthouse exploring to museums, art galleries, and festivals, you’ll never be short of things to do.
Being located right down the street, here are five of our favorite things to do in Portland during the spring.
Explore the Lighthouses
Portland might be referred to as “Forest City”, but it should really be renamed Lighthouse City, thanks to all the picturesque lighthouses nearby.
The city holds the distinction of housing the state’s oldest lighthouse, Portland Head Light. The original tower was first constructed in 1791 and commissioned by George Washington, although the current buildings, including the Keepers’ Quarters, date from the late 19th century. Overlooking Casco Bay, you can bring a picnic here and enjoy views of other lighthouses, including the caisson-style Spring Point Ledge Light, the solar-powered Ram Island Ledge Light, and one you might catch on a good day, Halfway Rock Light Station.
If you’re headed south, you can also explore Cape Elizabeth Light. There are actually two lights, and while both are still standing, only the eastern tower is still active and can be explored as part of Two Lights State Park.
As you head further down into South Portland, you’ll also be able to visit Portland Breakwater Lighthouse, which is sometimes known as Bug Light thanks to its small size. Designed by architect Thomas U. Walter, who was also responsible for part of the U.S Capital, the current building dates back to 1875.
Eat Your Way Through Town
Making Travel + Leisure magazine’s top 10 list of America’s best cities for foodies last year, Portland has a lot to offer, and it’s more than just lobster.
Make your first stop at Central Provisions, a double award-winning restaurant housed in a historic two-story brick building. The food is influenced by American, Asian and European flavors, and the small, tapas-style plates may seem simple but will surprise you with creativity.
If you do have a sweet tooth, we recommend The Holy Donut, a—you guessed it—donut place that uses locally grown potatoes to add depth to their imaginative flavors that run from classic vanilla to fruity pomegranate and coffee brandy, inspired by the locals’ favorite liquor. Celiacs will rejoice at their gluten-free range, which is small but no less delectable.
If you have come for the lobster, though, you won’t be disappointed. Local oyster favorite Eventide Oyster Co. serve theirs in a pillowy roll inspired by Chinese steamed buns with browned butter vinaigrette; while food truck Bite Into Maine, parked at Fort Williams Park, serves fresh lobster with untraditional twists such as curry or wasabi. Purists will find the quintessential lobster experience at the Lobster Shack inside Two Lights State Park, where they’ll be able to tuck into a roll of fresh, mayonnaise-brushed lobster, with the Atlantic Ocean salt spraying their face and an unhindered lighthouse view.
Go for a Boat Ride
If you’d like to know more about where your food comes from, then you might enjoy a lobster tour of Casco Bay. Tours will take you out, dress you up in lobster overalls and explain every part of the lobster-catching process, from the traps that sit on the ocean floor to how they conserve the catchment.
Since the boats trawl more than just lobster in their traps, the tour is perfect for kids too, as they will have a chance to see wildlife such as crabs, sea urchins, and starfish. If you haven’t eaten enough yet, you can take your catch to the Portland Lobster Company nearby and they’ll be happy to cook the lobster for you—with the fixings too.
Find an Event
Portland comes alive in spring, and there are plenty of festivals and events to keep you busy.
Florists will enjoy the Maine Flower Show, which might only be in its first year but is already promising to be New England’s biggest flower show. Thrown by the Maine Landscape & Nursery Association, it celebrates the beautiful plant and garden displays by the local landscaping and nursery community.
Wind lovers will enjoy the Bug Light Kite Festival, held at the lighthouse. With a barbecue, plenty of giant inflatable kites in the sky and free entrance to the Cushing’s Point Museum for the day so you can learn about shipbuilding and local Civil War history, it’s perfect for the family.
You can also join one of the many tours exploring Portland’s booming craft brewery scene. Some are walking tours that explore a few bars near to each other, while others will include transport and take you to discover smaller, newer breweries that you might not know about. Each place has its own specialty, whether it’s European-style beers or small batch brews fermented in oak barrels, so it’s definitely worth checking out a few.
Explore the City’s Art Scene
The best way to explore Portland’s thriving creativity is to join the First Friday Art Walk, when local galleries are open late on the first Friday of every month, and the Portland Museum of Art, the oldest public art institution in the state and which focuses on 19th century American art, is free on these nights.
Otherwise, Portland’s Downtown Arts District is home to a number of small galleries, each with a unique focus. Greenhut Galleries is the city’s oldest gallery, and its owner, who also curates the bi-annual Portland Show, has a fine eye on the local scene, while Portland Art Gallery showcases the work of artists from both the city and the state. For more experimental, cutting-edge pieces, both SPACE Gallery and the Maine College of Art’s own Institute of Contemporary Art are sure to impress.
If you’re looking for a place with a great feel, and convenient access to everything a family might need and with plenty of activities, then look no further than Portland.
About the Guest Author:
Chestnut Portland is a quiet community of one, two and three bedroom townhomes in Portland and Scarborough, Maine that is perfect for anyone looking for easy access to day-to-day life, but also a little fresh air and breathing room.