Portland, ME: Guide to the City

No lie, the only reason why I wanted to go here is because I wanted to go to Lobsterfest. I don’t even like lobster all that much, but Lobsterfest just sounded like such a cool idea that I figured it’d be a fun last stop for my East Coast Adventures. Portland was very relaxing and had a much slower pace than the last couple of cities I visited. It’s definitely a summer vacation destination, as mostly everyone I met there was on vacation.

Was the trip worth it? Yes! I thoroughly enjoyed this last bit of my trip. It was a great low-key part of the trip after 4 weeks of travel.

All About Portland, ME!

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Weather

I got really lucky because the weather was incredibly pleasant when I came to visit Portland! The whole week registered at about mid-70s with a nice breezy, so it never got very hot. Great weather to walk around and explore in! I wore t-shirts and shorts all week.

Where I stayed

Airbnb again! I will say that summer time is definitely tourist season, so prices are predictably higher for lodging. However, I would say Portland is significantly more expensive in comparison to other cities. I generally aim for $30-50 a night for Airbnbs, but for Portland, most lodging was $90/night and higher. I got lucky with my Airbnb, so hopefully you’ll be able to snag a deal too. Otherwise, lodging here can be pretty pricey in Portland.

Transportation

Arrival and departure

I arrived in Portland from Boston via Megabus. Megabus sells the ticket, but the actual carrier is Concord Coach Lines. If you’re traveling somewhere from the East Coast to get to Portland, I would definitely recommend this method opposed to flying because it’s just so inexpensive. I spent a total of $3 to go from Boston to Portland, and that’s including my booking fee. That’s right–my ticket to ride was only $1. The ride itself was just about 2 hours, and I’ve found these buses to be very punctual. They’re clean, air-conditioned, and the drivers have always been super nice to me. This specific trip to Maine didn’t have too many people, but generally, I’ve found the crowds to be fine; no one’s ever bothered me. That being said, make sure you remain vigilante if you’re traveling by yourself.

I flew out of the Portland International Jetport, and the place is expectedly small. Southwest Airlines is the only one out of the budget airlines that flies out of the Portland International Jetport; there are only 6 airlines that operate here. Due to that, flights to and from Portland can be a little bit on the higher end because there is lower demand to fly here. I had a rental car on the last day, so I found it to be pretty easy to navigate into the airport. I didn’t run into anything fussy while at this airport. I do know that Portland, ME is very proud of this specific airport because they do mention a bunch that the Airports Council International (ACI) named Portland International Jetport 2015’s Best Airport in North America. Not sure if that means anything to you, but I thought it was interesting.

Getting Around the city

Like the other cities I visited, there are 3 methods of transportation that you can use: bike, public transit (bus), and rideshare/taxi.

Portland is pretty flat, so biking definitely would be an option here. However, there is no bike share program like many of the larger cities, so you’d have to either find an Airbnb that also offers a bike that you can borrow or you can rent from a place downtown. From my research, there are 2 bike rental places you can choose from: Gorham Bike and Ski and Cyclemania. I ended up not biking in Portland because the weekly rentals ran up around $150 and higher, so I opted for less expensive option.

That meant taking the bus a lot! Buses here are relatively reliable, and they do have a site where you can track the bus along its route on your phone. Fares are pretty cheap: $1.50/single ride with free transfers (you’ll have to ask the driver for a paper transfer if you need to transfer). If you’re staying longer than 3 days or anticipate using the buses frequently, I would recommend getting the Ten-Ride Ticket since it’s discounted at $13.50 for 10 rides. You can get one of these guys at the METRO office downtown (METRO Pulse at Elm Street).

Last but not least is Lyft! Lyft is present in Portland, and rides will take a little longer than other cities, but they’re here and just as good as everywhere else.

Attractions/sights

Maine Brew Bus

Beer tours is a must in Portland. Portland (like its sister, Portland in Oregon) has a booming craft brewery scene, and there are some great tasting beers being brewed here that are starting to emerge on the national market. There are two companies that run the beer tours: Maine Beer Tours and the Maine Brew Bus. I believe the Brew Bus is the more popular one, but I ended up booking with Maine Beer Tours (mainly because I found it before Brew Bus). Since I was last there, the two companies have merged since Brew Bus bought out Beer Tours. This makes it easier for ya since you don’t have to choose! These brewery tours are a great way to meet fun people if you’re traveling by yourself because you’re hanging out with like-minded people and swigging some delicious brews. Cheers!

Sunset Lighthouse Cruise

Cruise tours! If I had to suggest one touristy tour, I would highly recommend the Sunset Lighthouse Cruise. Don’t go for the city/land tours–I found that tour to be pretty bland and uninteresting. The Lighthouse Lovers Cruise is probably interesting as well, but there’s just something gorgeous about seeing those lighthouses at sunset. For $28, you get 105 minutes of someone telling you about lighthouses while you sip on booze (not included in ticket price). Pretty great way to spend an evening, if you ask me.

Lighthouses are definitely the thing to see here, but if you’re not into cruises, you can definitely still see these lighthouses up close to snap a couple of photos by taking a ferry over. Casco Bay Lines is the company that runs the ferries, and tickets range from $8-12 during peak season for a round trip. You can check here for more details on rates. I wanted to see a lot of lighthouses in one go, which is why I took the cruise. If you want to just check out one or two, I think this is the best option to do that. I believe Peaks Island is the largest and most popular of the islands.

Lobster Fest

Soooo this isn’t exactly in Portland; it’s actually held in Rockland, ME but don’t let that deter you from going! There are shuttle buses that you can pay to be driven to and from the festival from Portland. Lobster Fest won’t be the best festival you’ve gone to, but it’s certainly a fun activity for 2-3 hours. This was the one aspect of my trip to Portland that I was most excited about, but I had high expectations (after being spoiled at California festivals) so I was a little disappointed. That being said, I did have fun time stuffing my face with seafood.

Depending on when you go, admission tickets range from $5 to $10. Weekdays are cheaper and weekends are a little more pricey. With admission, you can check out the cooking competitions (which I never found) and browse through all the different food stands. There were some carnival games and rides but I figured those were just for the little kids of families. Foodwise, check out their prices here. I think the best deal is the Maine Shore Dinner, where you get a 1.25-lb Maine lobster, a small bag of steamed clams, corn on the cob, and cole slaw for $24. There are a lot of fried stuff too if that’s your thing, but I felt like the best way to enjoy the seafood was steamed. I also had a bunch of chowders–stuff that I felt was much tastier than the chowders I found in Portland.

If you bring are car to Lobster Fest (I did!), park in Rockland District Middle School parking lot and take the shuttle over to the festival. It’s free and much less of a hassle than parking closer. Parking closer doesn’t give you any advantages, and frankly, I think it’s more of a headache to deal with. You can read more about parking information for the festival here.

If you don’t want to drive, there are those shuttle buses I mentioned earlier called Rally Bus. It’s $25 for a round trip ticket from Portland, but do note that you’re on their schedule. You leave a little before 9AM in the morning and don’t return until 10PM at night. If you feel like exploring the rest of Rockland or REALLY want to eat lobster all day, this would be a good option, but I really can’t imagine spending more than a couple hours at Lobster Fest.

Acadia National Park

This gorgeous national park in Bar Harbor was the true gem of this trip. Because I had rented a car to drive up to Rockland for Lobster Fest, I decided to check out this national park as well. Let me tell you now, it’s not a short trip. It’s a 3-hour drive from Portland. That being said, it’s a gorgeous road trip the entire way. You’ll be driving close by to the water a lot, so you’ll get a beautiful view of the waterfront and cross some lovely bridges. Acadia itself is beautiful, and the best place to watch a sunrise. If you get a chance to sit atop Cadillac Mountain as the sun rises, you’ll be one of the first people that morning to see the sun’s rays reach the United States coast. Pretty cool, right? If you need some great hiking guides, I highly recommend checking out Joe’s Guide.

Eateries

To be honest, eating made up probably about 85-90% of what I did while I was in Maine. Here are some places I ate at and really enjoyed.

OTTO

Mashed potato pizza. Need I say more?

The Holy Donut

If you haven’t figured out by now, I’m all about potatoes. Maine, apparently, is also all about potatoes, and this place makes donuts from mashed potatoes, so obviously I had to try it. Super popular place, and I can see why! Delicious fluffy donuts with some pretty unique flavors. The flavor everyone raves about is Allen’s Coffee Brandy, since that’s a Portland, Maine staple. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to try it because I didn’t realize the cashier grabbed the wrong donut flavor for me. Blast! Anyway, YOU can try it for me and let me know how it is. I tried 6 donuts (yes, by myself) and all of them were delicious.

 

Duckfat

Duckfat is headed by Chef Rob Evans, a James Beard award winner and one of Food Network’s Chopped champions. Obviously with those credentials and an affordable price point, I had to check it out. While I don’t think their poutine isn’t as good as Canadian poutine, I will say those fries are absolutely delicious. All the food here is very decadent, but well-thought out. They have some interesting housemade sodas–I got the All Maine Tonic which is REALLY weird tasting but also strangely enjoyable. I’d recommend the fries here (plain, not with poutine), and the duck salad if you’re looking for some greens.

Eventide Oyster Co

Let me first start out with, make sure you want to splurge a bit before coming here. Eventide Oyster Co makes some delectable bites so you’ll want to keep ordering, but careful because your wallet will hurt. Everyone will tell you to get the Eventide Brown Butter Lobster Roll here–they’re absolutely right. By far, the lobster roll is the best thing on the menu. Served on pillowy bao-type bun, the chunks of lobster mixed in brown butter is tasty deviation from your traditional lobster roll. While everything else on the menu is good, but I recommend sticking to the lobster roll and the oysters.

Blue Rooster Food

This casual eatery tastes your humble hot dog and elevates it with various ingredients to make unique combinations. I like this place because it’s casual and inexpensive–great place if you’re on a budget but still want delicious food. While the hot dogs are pretty good, the star of this place is definitely their taters tots. Little bites of shredded potato are fried to a crispy perfection. They have a cute interpretation on poutine here called “tot-tine”, which I liked a lot (possibly better than Duckfat’s poutine). I would probably just recommend you get the regular tots though, just so you can appreciate the delicious crunch of the tater tots here. For the hot dog, I got the Das Boot, which was nice with the mustard and sauerkraut combo.

3Buoys Seafood Shanty & Grille

This place was pretty affordable in comparison to some other places, so I got my fill of lobster items here. Great traditional Connecticut-style lobster roll here, and while my lobster stew was a little lukewarm, I enjoyed it. The atmosphere was more casual here, which is good if you’re not feeling particularly fancy at the moment.

Street & Co.

I just ate appetizers here because I wasn’t super hungry when I went. Their Mussels Provencal with garlic, white wine and butter was a pretty decent size to fill me up. I had a couple of their Tastes, which is basically an amuse bouche, and those tasted rather good. I’m not sure how their entrees are, but I found it to be a great place to enjoy some bites if you’re not super hungry. Beautiful space with well-prepared food!