For the food
Portland, a harbor town of petite brick warehouses turned into chic shops and restaurants, resembles one of those miniature Christmas villages grandmothers like to perch on their mantels: It’s a tiny, happy harbor town that’s not very far from Kennebunkport, but has an utterly different vibe. Residents brim with health as they cycle past on mountain bikes or amble along in their Teva sandals (over socks!). Shops are full of Barbour jackets, gardens are filled with hydrangeas, and everywhere in the Old Port area (a waterfront neighborhood roughly the size of Philly’s Old City) there’s the briny scent of the sea. Of course, there’s also the fragrance of steamed clams and lobsters, though Portland’s sophisticated dining scene offers much more than two-pounders with melted butter: Tattooed young chefs have made an exodus from Boston and New York to this idyllic city, and they’ve brought with them an insistence on locally sourced, inventive dishes. —A.K.
BEDDING DOWN: The Portland Harbor Hotel (468 Fore Street, 207-775-9090; from $269 a night) sits in the center of the Old Port neighborhood, within yards of some of the city’s best restaurants and shops. All warm dark woods and sunny yellow fabrics, the 101-room hotel has the clubby feeling of a manor house, and features an English garden filled with Russian sage, purple salvia and climbing ivy. There’s a comfortable bar, and breakfast in the garden means lobster omelets and pancakes made with wild Maine blueberries: “The best pancakes ever,” declared my husband.
DINING: If you’re in Portland, you’re here to eat, so have at it. Paciarino (470 Fore Street, 207-774-3500) is owned by a couple who moved from Milan to Maine in 2008; all the pasta is handmade, and there are Italian wines and Peroni beer to accompany the pillowy gnocchi and rigatoni. Women toting Goyard bags and men in Gucci loafers throng to Fore Street Grill (288 Fore Street, 207-775-2717), a chic, spare space that is Portland’s most sought-after reservation. Local farmers and fishermen grow and harvest ingredients for dishes such as Atlantic halibut with lobster stock, scapes and parsley-tarragon gremolata. Grace (15 Chestnut Street, 207-828-4422) is in a simply beautiful deconsecrated church, with soaring beams and an open kitchen where the altar once stood (a metaphor for the hallowed status of foodie-ism here?). A jazz combo plays most nights. The Salt Exchange (245 Commercial Street, 207-347-5687) is minimal and cool, with seating in a lime-green room across from the wharf, and a “curated” menu of chicken-leg confit and fresh Jonah crab. A local favorite for its roaring open kitchen, dark walls and “badass grill,” as one diner put it, the Grill Room (84 Exchange Street, 207-774-2333) chars everything from scallops to duck breast with finesse. The almost-burnt french fries are delicious.
STATE FARE: Lobster—in a salad, on a roll, as a chowder—is king. Get it at down-home food shack J’s Oyster (5 Portland Pier, 207-772-4828).
PASTIMES: Shop, of course, at Nicola’s Home (215 Commercial Street, 207-899-3218), an adorable warehouse full of overstuffed furniture and irresistible ikat pillows. Joseph’s (410 Fore Street, 207-773-1274) has Frye lace-ups and nubby tweed jackets for guys. Then take a culinary tour or cooking class at a local farmers’ market, organized by Mainefoodietours.com.
DAY TRIP: You don’t need a car in Portland, but if you have one, point it to Rockland, on Penobscot Bay an hour and a half north, and visit the Farnsworth Art Museum (16 Museum Street, Rockland, 207-596-6457). Much of its collection is works by the Wyeth family, which has long summered on a Maine island; through October 30th, Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World and other works are exhibited.
GETTING THERE: The flight from Philadelphia into Portland is just over an hour.