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Greetings Internet Stranger! During the summer months, everyone and their grandmother wants to spend 24 hours in Portland Maine. In fact, the city is so busy that, according to one article I read, the hotels in Portland are the second most expensive in the country. (Only ultra-ritzy Martha’s Vineyard costs more.)
But what makes this smallish city in New England so fabulous? Why do the tourists come in lobster-crazed droves to spend 24 hours in Portland Maine? And what even is there to do in a city with fewer than 100,000 people? The answers all lie ahead in this blog post, Internet Stranger!
24 Hours in Portland Maine
Where to Stay?
Did I mention that Portland was the second most expensive hotel city in the United States? I think I did. So that means you really have to save your pennies if you want to afford a room in the city itself. Since I don’t drive, I really wanted a central location, and I also wanted a hotel that wouldn’t put me in the poorhouse.
That’s why I was thrilled to find the Portland Regency Hotel and Spa. Was it cheap? Absolutely not? Did it wipe out my travel budget so I could even afford one bite of lobster during my 24 hours in Portland Maine? No, no it did not. And it was within walking distance of pretty much everything in the city, so I could drink as much craft beer as I wanted and still get home safely. Can’t ask for more than that!
24 Hours in Portland Maine
What to Pack
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
If the weather is rainy or snowy, which happens quite often in New England, I recommend the Asgard Rain Boots. They are comfy/cozy and keep my feet dry all day. Plus they’re cute enough that I can wear them out without feeling like some gauche tourist with gross feet.
Finally, since we’re going to be out all day, you’ll want a battery for your cell phone. I always use the Anker charger. It’s light enough to fit in even a small purse. Plus the Anker lasts for several full charges of a phone, so I’ll never run out of juice!
24 Hours in Portland Maine
Morning: Old Port Culinary Walking Tour
Of course the most famous food in Maine is the lobster. During August, lobster eating is practically a religion there. In fact, I think they should change the name of the month to Lobster-gust. But Portland has become a sophisticated foodie scene, and not just for shellfish. No 24 hours in Portland Maine is complete without sampling all that the city has to offer, nourishment-wise.
That’s why I suggest starting your 24 hours in Portland Maine with the Old Port Culinary Walking Tour. Our guide, whom I shall call Wadsworth, knew seemingly everything about the food scene in the city. He not only gave us oodles of information; he helped many people on the tour make dinner reservations for that evening. I don’t want to tell all of Wadsworth’s secrets, so I’ll just get you curious with…
approximately top 5: portland maine food
Our first stop was at a fancy food store called Vervaceous that seems to sell everything a person might want to season their food. It was started by a local couple who quit their jobs to travel. That’s definitely the sort of business this blog wants to support!
We tried so many delectable things at this store in their special tasting area in the back. It was hard to keep in mind this was only the first stop on the tour. Your exact tastings might be different, but I hope you’ll get to sample the local mead made with honey and yeast. It was just the perfect amount of alcohol to start off the day.
We moved on to a snack, which was fresh fruit paired with Vervacious’s flavored vinegars. Wadsworth suggesting pairing the blueberry vinegar with pineapple and the chocolate balsamic with strawberries. In all things, Wadsworth’s judgment was impeccable.
But the Maine event here was the lobster mac and cheese. You could top it with some of Vervacious’s salts and spices: harissa, smoked salt, or jalapeno powder. Or you could do what I did, and season each bite with a different spice so you could try as many flavor combinations as possible. The smoked salt was my favorite, so I bought some to take home. It sure makes my daily turkey burger lunch more exciting!
2) craft beer + lobster = bliss
The only thing better than craft beer is getting craft beer at a brew pub that actually serves good food. Wadsworth in all his wisdom took us to Gritty’s. He explained that Gritty’s played a special role in bringing beer back to Maine. Many people know that the United States made alcohol illegal in the 1920s. But Maine actually had Prohibition back in the 1800s. Yikes! Hasn’t anyone told them that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy?
Fortunately for Mainers who like a cold one, brewing came back to Maine in the 1980s and Gritty’s led the charge. So I was excited to try some of their award winning beers. The beers change with the seasons, so you might not sample the refreshing summer IPA or the even more refreshing blueberry beer. But you’ll definitely get to sink your teeth into this toothsome lobster roll with fries. So I’m sure I’ll hear no complaints from you, Internet Stranger!
3) stonewall kitchen
In the mood for something sweet? Then you’ll be glad we’re heading to Stonewall Kitchen. This food company’s goods can now be found all over the country, but it was founded in Maine. (In York, though, not Portland.) However they now have a large store in Portland with all the artisanal jams and mustards a girl could desire.
We got a private tour of the store’s droolworthy test kitchen. The woman who worked there said that Stonewall Kitchen’s first product was just blueberry jam, which is about the most Maine thing there is. Everything in Maine during the summer is blueberries. And lobster. In fact, I think the mayor of Portland is a blueberry flavored lobster.
But no one wants to just read about the history of blueberry jam. You want to eat it! We got ours on top of freshly baked scones because eating jam with a spoon is just sad. And I like that the food tour was providing more value than just having us sample the jam because that’s available to anyone who shops at Stonewall Kitchen. In fact, everyone else in the store was looking at us with jealousy because we got scones and they didn’t. Suck on it, Other Tourists! You should have booked a food tour!
Our next stop was one of the best values I’ve ever gotten on a food tour. We stopped at a bakery/soup shop, and we were given the option of any pastry in the store to take with us. Yes, every single person on the tour got to pick their own pastry. I chose a blueberry turnover to save for my breakfast the next day. My 24 hours in Portland Maine had taken me over to the darkside, and now I could only eat blueberries and lobster. REDRUM! REDRUM!
But we didn’t only get the pastry for later. We also got to have some hot fresh soup. There were several choices but I selected the corn chowder because it was seasonally appropriate. I was amazed at how creamy the soup was considering it was vegan. My only complaint was that the soup didn’t have either lobsters or blueberries in it.
5) dean’s sweets
Our last stop on the tour was for a little dessert at Dean’s Sweets. Thoughtfully, it was another dessert you could take with you in case you were too stuffed from the rest of the food tour. I appreciate a food tour that lets you go at your own pace.
I hope you don’t need me to tell you that Dean’s Sweets is run by a man named Dean. He’s another career changer, as he used to be an architect but gave it all up to make chocolate. You know, if I meet one more architect turned chocolate maker, I swear I’ll scream from boredom.
Here we got two different chocolates: a normal sea salt and caramel and a freaky little number called a Needham. Needhams are traditional Mainer candies made with coconut, chocolate…and blueberry coated lobster pieces. (Just kidding, it’s actually potato.) Dean added vodka to the Needham which is certainly appropriate considering it’s made with potatoes.
Even though the combination sounds weird, I like all the component parts of the Needham, so I enjoyed the chocolate very much. More chocolate covered potato things, say I!
24 Hours in Portland Maine
Afternoon: Victoria Mansion
I had been chatting to Wadsworth, and I mentioned I was very interested in history. So he suggested that I visit the Victoria Mansion, which is the most impressive historic home in Portland. He might have been a little biased because his wife is a docent there. I never turn down the chance to go inside a mansion and pretend I am a fancy, fancy lady, so I said yes.
Once you get inside the Victoria Mansion, it’s a self-guided tour. However, there are plenty of docents hanging around in each room to answer your questions. Sadly, no picture taking is allowed inside the Victoria Mansion. So you’ll have to make do with some repetitive photos of the exterior as I share with you…
three fun facts: victoria mansion
1) who owned this house?
It was built for the Morse family, a couple named Olive and Ruggles Sylvester Morse. Ruggles Sylvester is the most amazing name I have ever heard. If I ever have a son, I’m naming him Ruggles Sylvester. He’ll get beat up every day at school, but it will be worth it.
The Morse family was from Maine originally, but they made their money in the hotel business in New Orleans. Well, if you want to make money in New Orleans, hotels are the way to do it. The entire economy of New Orleans is based on hotels, cocktails, and Mardi Gras beads. They built the Victoria Mansion to be their summer home. Ask 100 people whether they’d rather spend summer in Maine or New Orleans, and I guarantee 99 will say Maine. (The one who says New Orleans will turn out to be a lobster disguised as a person.)
2) why is the home historically important?
One reason is that it helps document life in Maine in the period before the Civil War. As the Morses had ties in both Maine and Louisiana, the Civil War was very painful to them. You can see the seals of both Maine and Louisiana inside. It’s easy to tell which is which because Louisiana’s seal has a pelican and Maine’s seal is a lobster wearing a blueberry as a hat while reading a Stephen King novel.
But even though Ruggles Sylvester had business in the South, he remained a supporter of the North and the Union cause. There’s a big painting of Columbia, the female symbol of the United States to show his Union affiliation. Maine in general was and is an extremely pro-Union state. In fact one of the greatest Civil War generals, Joshua Chamberlain, was a college professor from Maine. He played a major role in the victory at Gettysburg.
3) what are some cool features of the mansion?
I wish I could show you photos, Internet Stranger! But sadly the cruel laws of Maine will not allow it. But there’s so many cool knickknacks, geegaws, and doodads inside the Victoria Mansion. Ruggles Sylvester was a hotelier, and he brought loads of cool hotel tricks to the mansion, like mirrors that don’t need to be cleaned. Did he also have dishes that don’t need to be cleaned? My house could really use those.
Ruggles Sylvester also liked to entertain important gentlemen friends and clients. And naturally when important men are having important talks in the 19th century, they need to smoke important and manly cigars. So Ruggles Sylvester had his own smoking room with a special floor you could drop ash on. It was the first of its kind in the United States. But did the floor clean itself also? I feel like Ruggles Sylvester’s housekeeper might not have appreciated this innovation.
24 Hours in Portland Maine
Late Afternoon: Catch a Flick!
At this point in your 24 hours in Portland Maine, you’ll probably want to rest your feet. Why not do it while taking in a film at the Nickelodeon Cinemas? This place has an excellent choice of both big budget Hollywood films and smaller art house flicks, especially considering Portland is such a small city.
You’ll recognize the theater because there’s a big statue of Maine’s greatest hero outside: a dude catching a lobster. That’s not a joke. Lobster Man is very real.
24 Hours in Portland Maine
Evening: Dinner at Miyake
Interested in trying some seafood in Maine that doesn’t have claws? No, it’s not officially against state law to eat non-lobster seafood within Maine limits. So I’ll conclude our 24 hours in Portland Maine with dinner at Miyake, arguably the best Japanese restaurant in the state.
You can order dishes you like a la carte, but for the full experience, I recommend getting the chef’s choice omakase menu. You won’t get to choose what you eat, but you will experience whatever seafood is freshest that day. I hope I can convince you to give omakase a try with…
approximately top 5: miyake
1) sushi plate
This sumptuous platter featured all the fish that was fresh enough to turn into sushi today. There were common fish like salmon and tuna and more surprising choices as well…like lobster tail. Did I say there’d be no lobster at Miyake. I lied! This is Maine; there’s always lobster.
Some were served with seasoning on top, while some fish were served plain. You can use soy sauce and wasabi, but not too much or it will insult the sushi chef.
The next dish, chawanmushi, is a Japanese savory egg custard. You can put pretty much anything at the bottom of chawanmushi, but at Miyake they used crab. It was a good combination because the sweetness of the crab balanced the umami (savory) of the chawanmushi. Also I liked the gold leaf on top. It made it fancy enough even for Mr. Ruggles Sylvester.
3) arctic char
Back to the fish! The arctic char was served with mustard. A little zing from mustard is good with a fish this fatty and flavorful. But there wasn’t too much mustard, so you weren’t drowning the beautiful fishy-ness of the arctic char. Simplicity seemed to be a theme at Miyake, in keeping with its humble Mainer origins. After all, these are a people who think a potato is a candy.
4) unagi tempura
I’ve eaten unagi. I’ve eaten tempura. But this was the first time I had eaten unagi tempura. It was so light, you could hardly believe it was fried. The Japanese really are the best at frying things. Tempura has all of the fun of fried foods with half the guilt. I wish someone would use Japanese frying techniques on Mars Bars or turducken, just for fun.
5) duck (not turducken)
I’ve eaten duck. I’ve eaten shishito peppers. But this was the first time I’ve eaten duck WITH shishito peppers. But since both are so delicious separately, it’s obviously a great idea to bring them together. Like peanut butter and chocolate or Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. The duck was drizzled with balsamic vinegar. I’d like to believe it was that blueberry vinegar from Vervacious because that would tie this blog post together nicely. But I have no evidence to prove that is the case.
6) chocolate time!
Speaking of great flavor combinations, how about whiskey and chocolate? I personally never say no to either. Usually in a Japanese restaurant dessert is an afterthought, so it was exciting to get something so rich and luscious. It was the perfect end to the meal because so many of the earlier courses were light little bites. But by the time I finished dessert, I was definitely full. So that just proves the tasting menu has the perfect amount of food, even if there are no blueberries involved.
That’s a Perfect 24 Hours in Portland Maine!
What would you do with 24 hours in Portland Maine? Have you ever seen a lobster wearing a blueberry for a hat? And if I have two sons, can I name them both Ruggles Sylvester? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours in Portland Maine. If you have time for another 24 hours in Portland Maine, try this itinerary.