History, culture, and a wealth of restaurants make Maine's largest city a hot ticket

The official start of summer is still a few weeks away, but the weekend has begun with the blue sky and green grass of early summertime. From the Portland Harbor Hotel, photographer Peter Frank Edwards and I make our way westward along Commercial Street past the Portland Fish Pier to Becky’s Diner. In the morning buzz of customers, two seats open up right away at the front corner of the counter, and the coffee being poured into thick mugs is hot. I’m soon sliding my fork into one of the plate-sized blueberry pancakes and a side of cheesy scrambled eggs. We’d stay awhile, but a line-up is waiting. What’s next?

Along the way to buy some whole-bean Peruvian coffee from Speckled Ax we take a path from Congress Street to a tucked-away garden that dates back to 1785. It’s next to the Wadsworth-Longfellow House, where the poet, Portland native Henry Wadsworth Longfellow grew up. The pocket of urban quiet and green feels like a beautiful secret. For several minutes we’re the only people walking among the deep purple tulips and past the gurgling lion-head fountain. Another walk-to destination is Print: A Bookstore, which was opened by Emily Russo, daughter of Pulitzer Prize– winning author Richard Russo. As soon as we walk in, I already like the looks of this stand-alone, independent bookstore on Congress Street and I quickly choose two books to buy.

We do a little more retail browsing and shopping, including along Middle Street at Ramblers Way (clothing of thin, soft wool and cotton), at the airy Judith where a pair of lilac-hued leather flats are beautifully tempting, and at the Simon Pearce showroom of glass, pottery, and tableware. I’m thinking about Italy, so at Maine and Loire I ask about wines from Puglia and Umbria. Owners Peter and Orenda Hale are happy to oblige us with ideas.

We end this mini-vacation with a final stop a couple miles from the waterfront for an easygoing Sunday brunch at Woodford Food and Beverage, owned by husband and wife Birch Shambaugh and Fayth Preyer. Peter Frank and I are about to taste a couple of Winnegance oysters on the half-shell, and Shambaugh explains that these Maine oysters grow slowly in the cold water of a tidal river near Bath, and aren’t harvested until the fourth year. (I tip one back and it has an ocean-washed sweetness that I’d say is worth the wait.) Meanwhile, Peter Frank is sipping a Bloody Caesar cocktail garnished with enough celery, pepperoncini, and green olives that when I go for a sip it tastes like bright green health—a happy finish to the blossoming, almost-summer Portland weekend.

Did you know
Before the Great Fire of 1866 destroyed much of the city, Portland Harbor, which was a day’s sail closer to Europe than Boston, was the busiest port in the northeast.
Annual event
As Maine’s largest city, Portland plays hosts to many events, and the Old Port Festival in early June is especially memorable because it kicks off summer. Organized by Portland Downtown since 1973, the festivities include a puppet parade, arts and crafts, and entertainment for all ages.