There’s a reason Maine is often called “Vacationland.” Though the winters are bitterly cold, during the summer and fall the state’s coastal cities buzz with tourists looking to make the most of the state’s beaches, harbours, and growing culinary scene.
Portland, especially, has become a destination for food-loving travellers, with innovative local restaurants like Eventide, with its 10 varieties of Maine oysters, and the wildly popular sandwich shop Duckfat.
Maine is an enormous state packed with towns worth visiting, but for the purpose of this story, we’re focusing on what you can get done in a late summer weekend in Portland, the state’s biggest city. Many say that September is the best time of year to visit.
Portland is about an hour-long flight away from New York City, or a two-and-a-half-hour train ride from Boston.
Much of the city's tourist activity is centered in the Old Port, which has plenty of boutiques, restaurants, and bars.
Commercial Street, which was built on old piers back in the 1850s, was named one of the best streets in America by the American Planning Association in 2008. It serves as the border between the working waterfront and the bustling tourist district.
But it's the back alleyways of the Old Port that carry the city's true charm. The district has a distinctly European feel to it, with cobblestone streets and brick buildings that date back centuries.
Portland has also gone through something of a culinary boom over the last decade. In August, Travel + Leisure placed it on its list of the top 10 cities for foodies in America. Though lobster does account for a big part of Portland's food culture, there's much more to it than that.
Central Provisions, for example, was a finalist for the James Beard Foundation's Best New Restaurant Award in 2015. Bon Appetit also named Central Provisions to its list of the hottest restaurants in America in 2014. The restaurant is known for its inventive small plates, like a bluefin tuna crudo served with mustard and sesame, and a seared foie gras with elderberry and millet granola.
New American restaurant Fore Street helped Portland to become a destination for food lovers when it was opened by chef and owner Sam Hayward in 1996. Hayward won the James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Northeast in 2011, and Fore Street has been nominated for the foundation's 'Outstanding Restaurant' award three times.
But there are also lots of more casual options like the harbour-facing Porthole, where you can nosh on a fisherman's breakfast while watching the boats come in.
And you'll be able to find lobster in pretty much every format, like this bacon-and-arugula-loaded lobster roll from The Blue Rooster in the Old Port. We got to try it as part of a lunchtime lobster crawl organised through Maine Foodie Tours.
We also guzzled down soda made with blueberries -- the official state fruit of Maine -- and enjoyed these fried dough balls at Liquid Riot, a nearby brewery, pub, and restaurant. The cinnamon sugar treats came with a mocha stout dipping sauce.
And if sweets are really your thing, you can join the line that typically stretches out the door for the Maine potato-based doughnuts at The Holy Doughnut, which has two locations in Portland.
If you're interested in learning more about the Maine lobster industry, consider booking a trip on the Lucky Catch, a commercial fishing boat that leaves Portland for an hour-long sail around Casco Bay.
The guides will have you put on lobstering overalls and practice every step of the process, from baiting the trap to measuring the catch. Maine has strict rules regarding lobstering -- each lobster's body must be between 3.25 and 5 inches in order to be viable, or else it will be thrown back into the ocean.
You'll also likely see a crab or two as you help the Lucky Catch's crew pull up their traps. The boat operates tours starting in May and running through the last weekend of October.
Another reason to visit Maine: it has a plethora of great craft breweries. Allagash is probably its most famous, and guests can enjoy free flights of house-brewed favourites at its Portland tasting room.
Though it's well outside walking distance of Portland's main tourist sites, Allagash's outdoor sitting area is often busy with beer lovers.
It seemed like many businesses -- even those that aren't breweries -- are playing to a beer-loving crowd.
But even if food and drink isn't your priority on vacation, Portland makes for a beautiful getaway. The bay is busy with sailboats and tourist ferries, and the coast is lined with amazing vacation homes to gawk at.
Also well worth a visit is the Victoria Mansion, a former family home that was built in the 1860s for Ruggles Sylvester Morse, a wealthy hotelier. The Portland Museum of Arts, in the city's Arts District, is another great way to pass a few hours.
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