48 Hours in Cape Elizabeth, South Portland, + Scarborough

Dotted with beaches and saltwater inlets, these coastal communities may be best known for their summertime vistas, but their shops, restaurants, and family-friendly activities make them year-round destinations.

Local brews and ocean views

After crossing the Casco Bay Bridge from Portland, my husband, Hugh, and I stop at Foulmouthed Brewing in South Portland. We sample some of the six beers available and try a beer-infused cocktail. The brewpub’s beer cheese soup and poutine are tempting, but we resist, knowing cocktails and a full dinner lie ahead.

We arrive at the luxurious oceanfront Inn by the Sea in Cape Elizabeth and kick-start the weekend with a massage at the inn’s spa—one of the most relaxing and revitalizing massages I’ve ever received. We enjoy a quiet predinner cocktail at the bar at Sea Glass, the inn’s restaurant, and order a lobster taco trio.

The view from our two-bedroom ocean-side suite is spectacular; it feels like a gorgeous penthouse apartment. With a full kitchen, eight-person dining room, and living room, we could easily spend the whole weekend here listening to the waves from Crescent Beach.

We have a dinner reservation at the modern North 43 Bistro in South Portland, which looks out to Portland across Casco Bay, the lights of the city reflecting off the water. During the summer months, diners sit on a large deck overlooking the crowded marina. We start with pulled pork egg rolls and split a horseradish-crusted steak and ginger-molasses salmon topped with crumbled pumpkin seeds.

We end the night stargazing on the empty beach and listening to the gently breaking waves.

Ice-skating and sandy dogs

Our young daughters join us for the rest of the weekend. Our breakfast at Sea Glass consists of fluffy blueberry pancakes topped with blueberry butter, a cured salmon dish, and classic eggs Benedict.

It’s cold enough for pond skating, so we walk across the street to Great Pond. The ice is like glass, and a few people are already skating. We test the ice with a cordless drill before lacing up our skates.

Even though it’s cold, we stop for ice cream at the Busy Bee, a new cafe in Cape Elizabeth offering a mix of breakfast and light lunch. There is a play space for kids and a small gift section. Next door is Hive Photo Factory, which creates custom art and decor from photos.

The sun is shining as we head to Higgins Beach to watch surfers brave the cold. We are greeted by dozens of dogs running free along the sand.

Cheese and surf shops

Inside El Rayo Taqueria in Scarborough it is warm, bright, and welcoming. The restaurant offers classic Mexican food made from fresh local products. Our favorite dish is the grilled pineapple with chili powder, and we love the Bloody Maria, a Bloody Mary made with tequila.

The Cheese Iron is a gourmet grocery store in Sacrborough featuring over 200 domestic and international cheeses. The shop is crowded with meat, fresh-baked breads, wines, chocolates, and other delicacies. The staff is very knowledgeable and helps us pick out some delicious cheese.

Our next stop is Blackpoint Surf Shop, a hip store that offers surfboard rentals, lessons, and wetsuits. They also sell custom surfboards and stand-up paddleboards made in-house by McDermott Shapes.

Late-night s’mores

We are able to relax on the deck of Inn by the Sea and watch our kids as they play games, fly kites, and run through the gardens and the large lawn overlooking the ocean. The fire pit is always open, with fixings for s’mores. We roast marshmallows over the fire before heading back to our suite.


Our big suite contains many great hiding spots, and we play a long game of hide-and-seek to start our morning. When we’re done playing, we order room service and enjoy the sunrise from our expansive deck.

History along the coast

During the drive from Cape Elizabeth to South Portland, we visit a few scenic spots. We start with sea glass hunting at Kettle Cove and collect handfuls of glass and shells. Next, we climb the rocks at Two Lights State Park and discover a “Little Free Library”: a house-shaped box that encourages people to take a book and leave another.

We pull up to Portland Head Light and Fort Williams Park. The lighthouse has been called the most photographed lighthouse in the country, so we take the requisite shot and explore the winding paths of the Children’s Garden and Goddard Mansion. The mansion was designed by architect Charles Alexander and built from Maine stone in 1858 for John Goddard, a lumberman and volunteer army colonel. Its ruins have a mystical, spooky feel, and our children tell scary stories while exploring the old remains.

Our final destination is Mill Creek Park in Knightville, a South Portland neighborhood with a variety of restaurants and shops, including Nonesuch Books and Cards, Cia Cafe, The Snow Squall Restaurant, and The Farm Stand. We end our weekend skating under the bright, colorful lights on Mill Creek Pond.