Our city guide series continues today with Portland, Maine, a magical place known for wild blueberries, pine forests and rocky coasts speckled with lighthouses. We enlisted Maria Alexandra Vettese (known as MAV), who runs the creative goods shop More & Co., to give us a tour of her favorite places…
MAV: I moved to Portland, Maine, back in 2004. When I came, I thought I would stay a year. Well, here I am, 13 years later! I love the deep and rugged seasons. I love the ocean! I love that people work hard and chill hard, too. Maine offers a lifestyle that can be close to nature — it’s humbling and grounding. Plus, it’s a beautiful place to spend a long weekend.
WHERE TO EAT
Drifters Wife is a newer spot in the Munjoy Hill neighborhood. It’s a wine shop and New American café, which has a lovely small menu that changes daily. Chef Ben Jackson puts care into everything he does, and the rest of the team makes you feel at home with their good vibes. Don’t miss the olives (warmed and perfectly herb-soaked) or their natural wines (buy a bottle for home, too).
Blue Spoon (Munjoy Hill) is a true neighborhood spot. It’s not trying to keep up with trends, but rather just wants you to come in for a cozy Italian meal. They’re known for their daily pastas made in a braising pot, delicious burgers (the Bistro Burger is served with smoked onions, thick-cut bacon and a fried farm egg) and their happy hour — “Wine Time” — which runs from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Make a reservation because it’s on the smaller side.
There’s a reason why the award-winning downtown restaurant Fore Street has been around for 20 years. Sitting at the bar is a true joy, and their every-changing seasonal menu always feels fresh. Everyone loves the mussels, and the cast-iron fish dishes are special, too. If you’re on a budget, slip in for their dreamy desserts with Maine’s famous berries and orchard fruits.
The Lobster Shack at Two Lights
And if you want the true Maine seafood experience, stop by J’s Oyster (an easygoing spot for beer and seafood), The Lobster Shack at Two Lights (sit at picnic tables overlooking the rocky coast — there’s nothing better) and Eventide Oyster Co. (a town favorite).
Although it’s a 20-minute drive from Portland, Palace Diner (Biddeford) is on my must-see list. Located in an old diner car, they serve breakfast and lunch all day, every day. It’s simple food at its best. Everyone goes on about the tuna melt, but the fried chicken sandwich and the Lumberjack Breakfast (silver dollar flapjacks, eggs, potatoes and bacon) have my heart. Don’t be discouraged if the wait is long. It goes fast — and is always worth it.
WHERE TO HANG
From the city, you’re a short drive to so many relaxed beaches. Plus, the salt and sea are the best ways to really take in Maine. A few on our list: Popham, Crescent, Scarborough and Ferry — and we especially love Willard Beach. When we go, we grab Scratch Baking Co. bagels (from up the street) and spend the day by the water.
Take a ferry ride! You don’t even need a destination. Our favorite is the Mailboat Run. It’s a three-hour ride around Casco Bay. You’ll see so many beautiful islands and get a real sense of the area. Pack drinks and snacks (and a sweatshirt!) and just cruise. In the summer months, this ride is offered at 10 a.m. and 2:15 p.m., but also love the sunrise (5:05 a.m.) and sunset (5:45 p.m.) runs. A ferry ride will be the best $16 you spend here.
Spend a morning at the Portland Museum of Art (Downtown) — Maine’s oldest (founded in 1882!) and largest art institution. You’ll find a wonderful collection of American, European and contemporary art, as well as beloved Maine works, like Winslow Homer paintings. It’s a small museum, so you can do the whole thing in an hour or two.
More & Co.
WHERE TO SHOP
At my shop, More & Co. (Downtown), we believe everyday objects — the ones we reach for again and again — should also bring beauty into our homes. Our shop is in constant motion, and every season has a theme. We select goods based on our love of art and design, and on our desire to keep the things in our homes to a thoughtful minimum. Every product in the shop is something we already use, wear, treasure and love.
Blanche + Mimi (Downtown) has a great mix of antique and new goods for home and baby. We always go in when we’re looking for a sweet, one-of-a-kind gift.
If you’re shopping for men and women, stop by Portland Dry Goods (a clothing store) and Portland Trading Co. (a general store), both downtown. They are always well curated and staffed by friendly people.
Judith (Downtown) is a stunning women’s clothing shop full of the loveliest brands, like Maryam Nassir Zadeh and Land of Women. It just makes you feel good to go in and see what’s in stock. (You’ll probably find yourself going twice while you’re in town!)
WHERE TO STAY
If you’re looking to rent a house, stay in Portland’s West End or East End. Then do yourself a favor and park your car for the duration of your visit. Portland is a bustling city with lots of hidden gems; walk around and just see what you come upon! It’s a wonderful way to get a real feel for Portland. After all, the peninsula is just three miles long. You can easily walk from end to end.
What was once the Portland Press Herald building — Maine’s largest newspaper — is now The Press Hotel. It’s right in the middle of town, and the rooms are inspired by 1920s writer’s offices. It’s refreshing to have a hotel with a sense of character. My sweetheart and I like hanging out with a cocktail at Inkwell in the lobby; and the restaurant serves a delicious cheese board with honey and a stone fruit chutney.
If you’re in the mood for a treat, head to Cape Elizabeth for a night at the Inn by the Sea. This property is right on the water and is next to a few of the best beaches in the area (the area is known for its lighthouses, too, including the Two Lights lighthouse featured in Edward Hopper’s painting Lighthouse Hill). You’ll get the classic Maine experience there.
Take advantage of Maine’s delicious produce. The seasons vary but there’s plenty of time for picking blueberries, strawberries and apples at local farms. If you can’t go picking, stock up at the farmers markets, where you’ll find some of the best cheeses, meats, fruits, yogurts, sweets and veggies in the country.
Thank you so much, MAV! Have you been to Portland (or do you live there)? What else would you add?
(Graphic design by Miss Moss. Photos of Drifters Wife via their Instagram. Lobster roll photo by Rita Sengupta. More & Co. photo by Erin Little via Racked. All other photos from Instagram via 3191 Miles Apart and More & Co. This series is edited by Stella Blackmon.)