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Learn about Portland, Maine, by reading The Maine Attraction by Charlie Spence, WTA Member and Travel Writer. It features a mini, but thorough tour of the destination, plus all you'll need to know to plan your trip including getting there, objective information on places to stay and eat, and things to do. At the end of the article, we've provided a summary of the contact information for your easy reference. Enjoy

The Maine Attraction

by Charlie Spence, Travel Writer and WTA Member

The state of Maine has so many things to offer a visitor that it is difficult to know where to start. But decisions must be made and we’ll begin our Maine adventure in the Casco Bay/Portland area, the state’s largest city and where within a few miles there are samplings of much of everything offered in the rest of the state.

Portland lies between the forest-covered mountains and the sea, jutting out into Casco Bay and surrounded by water on three sides. That water off the Maine coast provides some of the finest eating to be found. My introduction to this fascinating state was years ago when I did publicity for the state’s sardine industry, which leads the world in production of these flat tins of young herring, producing more than 75 million cans a year. Even then, however, before checking into a hotel I would find the nearest restaurant and savor a Maine lobster dinner. Maine lobster men land around 50 million pounds of these crustaceans annually from the cold, clean waters off the rocky coast. Drop in to almost any restaurant and you can find lobster on the menu. If you are lucky enough to be with a large group, a variety of caterers will set up an authentic Downeast lobster bake.

A look at a typical lobster bake.

But I digress. Fine eating is but one of the attractions of the Portland area. The 18th century poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who spent his childhood in Portland, called it "a jewel by the sea." The Calendar Islands—365 in all—dot Casco Bay and some of the larger inhabited ones can be visited by ferry from Portland. The islands were named by Captain John Smith of Mayflower fame who said there is "one for every day of the year." (Actually there are 785 if you include ledges that remain exposed during high tide.) On the islands you will find a slower pace and an opportunity to wander them on foot or by bicycle. For a real treat, dine at one of the spots near the dock on one of these islands, enjoying lobsters and clams dipped in melted butter.

But I digress again. Take a tour boat to explore the bay and see the seals, admire the lighthouses (Seven of Maine’s sixty lighthouses are right here near Portland), perhaps even have an at-sea lobster bake on one of the tour boats. Or, try a kayak excursion for a more intimate exploration of the area. Go after striped bass yourself in the shallow waters. Captain John Ford knows where they can be hooked. The water has always been an integral part of Maine. In early years tall ships plied Casco Bay and the many lighthouses shined welcoming guidance.

Landlubbers still can get a great view of the waterfront by taking a ride aboard the narrow gauge railroad. An authentic 2-foot gauge railroad chugs along a 30-minute, 3-mile journey beside Portland’s waterfront that also offers an opportunity to visit the railroad museum.

The season of the year you visit will dictate much of your activity. Fortunately, Maine has four distinct seasons that offers a variety. Summer finds the sandy beaches that line the shores of South Portland, Scarborough, and Cape Elizabeth welcoming visitors to this area that contrasts so sharply with Maine’s rugged coast. Neatly manicured golf courses beckon, and trails for walking, rollerblading, or jogging take you along the waterfront.

Winter brings it own unique outdoor activities. Downhill and cross-country skiing are available, usually until late spring. Cross-country skiers will particularly enjoy the quiet and isolation and the experience of skiing next to the ocean. Spring provides it own unique pleasures and, of course, fall in Maine is breathtaking in its glorious foliage.

Portland is the largest city in the state and has a staggering number of restaurants, and even if you are not particularly fond of fresh lobster and other seafood, your choice of eating places ranges from Afghan to Cajun, from casual to elegant. But the lobsters are available in many different menus. Once again, because of lobsters I digress.

First Friday art walk shares the art of the area.

Shopping must be on your schedule, if nothing more than to visit the world famous L.L. Bean store in nearby Freeport. Whether you want to take a leisurely hike through the woods or sign on for one of the trips or tours, you will find this a Mecca for lovers of outdoors activities. If you have the time, attend one of the outdoor discovery schools to learn kayaking, fly casting, outdoor photography or another of the several quick courses.

Portland’s waterfront is alive with restaurants, shops, pleasure boats, sight-seeing cruises. But while you are taking in all these sights and attractions, take some time to soak up the history and culture of this area. Visit Fort Preble, which was once used to guard the approach to the Portland Harbor. Another is Fort Scammel, a Civil War Fort on House Island. This island at the turn of the last century served as an immigration hospital for thousands of immigrants entering America. The Portland Museum of Art displays three centuries of art and architecture, including collections of Maine artists Winslow Homer and Andrew Wyeth. Right next-door is the Children’s Museum.

In years past tall ships plied the waters of the harbor and today the area remains steeped in history. Through downtown admire the Victorian architecture and cobblestone streets amid the modern office buildings. Portland has numerous galleries offering everything from fine paintings and prints to sculpture, art glass, ceramics and jewelry. If you are visiting on the first Friday of any month, take the self-guided tour through the Arts District.

Stay on land or venture on to the bay, the fresh salt air reminds you that you are in a unique spot where you can enjoy, relax, venture forth, or soak up culture. You’re in a Maine attraction.


How to Get There

  • The Portland International Jetport is within two miles of the city. Several trunk and regional airlines serve the area with at least 50 non-stop flights daily to a number of locations.
  • Amtrak’s DOWNEASTER is the way to come from Boston. There are four round-trips daily.
  • By auto, Interstate 95 brings you direct. Maine is the only state in the United States that is touched by only one other state.

Where to Stay

In and around Portland there is a wide variety of places to stay with rates ranging from about $90 to more than $250 per night. A few examples:

  • Double Tree Hotel - two miles from International Airport, has restaurant and lounge, weekend entertainment, indoor pool. Rates: $159 - $209.
  • Embassy Suites - one mile south of the airport, restaurant and lounge. Rates $169 - $189.
  • Holiday Inn West - three miles south of the airport, rates $120 to $169.
  • Portland Harbor Hotel - five miles south of the airport, restaurant and lounge with entertainment. Rates: $249 - $289.
  • Victorian Terrace on the Prom - on the waterfront, 13 miles from the airport, restaurants nearby. Rates: $200 - $325.

Indicated rates intended to show approximate range and may differ by seasons or other influences.

WTA’s Travel Access Discount Program serves up deeper discounts on hotels, car rentals, flights, and activities all over the world. Most of our travel deals are not available to the public, which means rates are much lower than what the average consumer can find online. Click here to start accessing for free today.

Where to Eat

Restaurants are plentiful in the area offering a variety of cuisines, many of them, of course, leaning toward the seafood specialties. A few to get you started:

  • Audubon Room at Inn By The Bay - American cuisine, ocean view, lobster dinner; dinner entree prices range from $19 to $29.
  • Bando - French Prix Fixe. Five course menu, nine course degustation menu, open dinner only, closed Sunday and Monday. Entree price: $74.
  • Cook’s Lobster House - Variety of seafood dishes. Dinner entree $12 – 46.
  • Gilbert’s Chowder House - Award winning chowders, outside dining lunch and dinner, local brews. Entree $10 - $25.
  • Governor’s Restaurant - Home cooked style meals, breakfast menu all day. Dinner entree $8 -$17.
  • Pepperclub Restaurant - Specializing in vegetarian dishes, Dinner entree $8.95 - $14.95.

The listed restaurants are just a random sampling of the many fine eating establishments in and around Portland. Prices are general and may vary.

For additional information about the Portland area, additional restaurants, hotels, activities visit their web site:

Notice: This information is current as of May 2005. It is recommended that you contact the numbers, and/or visit the web sites above to determine any changes to the information.