Foodies are flocking to Portland, Maine in the US -- here's why

Portland maineMadeline Stone / Business InsiderA sailboat on Casco Bay in Portland, Maine.

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 12 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 summer weekend in Portland, the state’s biggest city.

Portland is a city of roughly 65,000 people on the southern coast of the state.

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Portland is about an hour-long flight away from New York City, or a two-and-a-half-hour train ride from Boston.

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Much of the city's tourist activity is centered in the Old Port, which has plenty of boutiques, restaurants, and bars.

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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.

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Source: American Planning Association

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.

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Portland has also gone through something of a culinary boom over the last decade. Though lobster does account for a big part of Portland's food culture, there's much more to it than that.

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Central Provisions, for example, was a finalist for the James Beard Foundation's Best New Restaurant award in 2015. 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.

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Source: Bon Appetit, Portland Press Herald

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 several times.

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Source: Fore Street

Drifters Wife, a wine bar with a daily changing menu, was a semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation's Best New Restaurant award this year.

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.

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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.

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Click here to learn more about 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.

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And if sweets are really your thing, you can join the line that typically stretches out the door for The Holy Doughnut, which has two locations in Portland.

The Holy Doughnut uses a not-so secret ingredient -- fresh Maine potatoes -- and comes in outrageous flavours like Maple Bacon and Chai Glazed.

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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.

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Click here to learn more about Lucky Catch »

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.

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Source: Maine.gov

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.

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Another reason to visit Maine: it has a plethora of great craft breweries. Allagash is probably its most famous. Guests can enjoy free flights of house-brewed favourites at its Portland tasting room.

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Though it's well outside walking distance of Portland's main tourist sites, Allagash's outdoor sitting area is often busy with beer lovers.

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Back in town, Shipyard is another favourite brewery.

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It seemed like many businesses -- even those that aren't breweries -- are playing to a beer-loving crowd.

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But even if food and drink aren't your priorities 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.

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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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And should you be there on a nice day in the summer, try lounging in the sun on East End beach.

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If you have the time, drive 20 minutes south to Cape Elizabeth to catch a glimpse of the Portland Head Light, the oldest lighthouse in Maine.

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