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Visitors often come to Portland, Maine, for the primary time because they need to spend a summer weekend in a quaint city by the water, or because they’ve heard in regards to the city’s superlative seafood (80 percent of the United States’ lobster comes from Maine). Seduced by the quick access to nature and relative affordability, many return for longer stays and even for good. Between 2020 and 2022, Maine’s population had the best percentage increase of any New England state.
But Maine’s desirability is nothing latest. Artists, artisans and writers have long gravitated to the state; they established an art colony with two schools of painting in Ogunquit, on Maine’s southern coast, in the primary half of the twentieth century, and the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts on Deer Isle, which was founded in 1950, continues to attract instructors and students from world wide. More recently, the state’s creative spirit has resulted in a dynamic food scene. Turn down any certainly one of certainly one of Portland’s cobblestone streets and also you’ll find more quality restaurants and bakeries (of each the old- and new-guard varieties) than you may expect in a spot with just 68,000 year-round residents. The same is true just northeast of the town, within the mid-coast region, especially within the town of Rockland — a simple and scenic 90-minute drive away — which has a burgeoning food and art scene on course to rival Portland’s.
Kazeem Lawal, the owner of the clothes and accessories store Portland Trading Co., moved from New Jersey to Portland 14 years ago, and has witnessed its stratospheric growth from a small port town to a destination city. “It’s a bit just like the Brooklyn of 20 years ago, with old and latest coexisting,” he says. “and it’s continuing to grow and evolve, as all cities should and do.”
Here, Lawal and three other Mainers share their favorite spots in and across the state’s largest city.
Alex Day, a co-owner of Death & Co. cocktail bars (with locations in New York City, Los Angeles, Denver and Washington, D.C.), moved to Portland in 2019.
Lily King, the novelist, has lived in Portland since 2002.
Kazeem Lawal, the creative director of the clothes and accessories store Portland Trading Co., moved to Maine in 2009.
Toshiko Mori, the architect and principal at Toshiko Mori Architect, divides her time between New York City and a house on an island in Maine’s Penobscot Bay.
“Before my husband and I moved to Maine, we tested out all of the lodging options in Portland. I just like the AirBnBs in Munjoy Hill, but when going the hotel route, The Francis is my favorite spot — comfortable, centrally situated, tastefully curated, and the house of certainly one of Portland’s coziest restaurants, Wayside Tavern.” (Rooms from $129 an evening) — Alex Day
“Best Bower is a recent guesthouse at the highest of Munjoy Hill with six warm, lovely rooms and rotating artworks by artists-in-residence. Blind Tiger within the West End, whose billiards room was once a prohibition speakeasy, offers more luxury; and out on Chebeague Island there’s the magical Chebeague Island Inn, where drinks and dinner are served on its wraparound porch.” (Rooms at Best Bower from $165 an evening, two-night minimum; Blind Tiger, from $259 an evening; Chebeague Island Inn, from $219 an evening) — Lily King
“I prefer latest hotels, and the Canopy Portland Waterfront is 2 blocks from downtown. Spring for a room with a view of the water, and plan on a drink on the rooftop bar.” (Rooms from $199 an evening) — Kazeem Lawal
“In Rockland, 250 Main is incredibly pet-friendly. The hotel provides dog treats from Loyal Biscuit Co., a fantastic pet supply store that’s just down the road. Rooms are easy and cozy, with harbor views and excellent coffee from its neighbor Rock City Coffee Roasters.” (Rooms from $169 an evening) — Toshiko Mori
“Smalls, a tiny neighborhood cafe-bar and provide store within the West End, cranks out a few of the very best coffee and small plates around. On lazy Sundays, I cruise by for a cappuccino, then walk as much as Zu Bakery for a textbook croissant. And J’s Oyster is the right combination of old-school charm, a fun team and delicious seafood that couldn’t be brisker.” — A.D.
“It’s hard to eat a foul meal in Portland. Dok Mali is my current favorite restaurant. Opened lower than a 12 months ago by the chef and owner Nonglack Thanephonesy, [this Thai restaurant] is latest enough that you may still get a table in high season. I’m utterly hooked on her drunken noodles.” — L.K.
“If you would like the Ferrari of lobster rolls, go to Eventide. The buns are steamed, the lobster meat is doused with brown butter, reservations are extremely limited and after they inform you how long the wait for a table is, you’ll probably pass out. Go early, put your name in after which spend the hourslong wait exploring. If lobster’s not your thing, the fish and chicken sandwiches listed here are also poppin’.” — K.L.
“Leeward, a restaurant with Italian-style seasonal food, focuses on pasta, however the menu also highlights local seafood, akin to Maine bluefin tuna crudo with pickled rhubarb, or a cucumber salad with smoked eel, sumac and fried capers that’s fresh and earthy.” — T.M.
“A brief walk from our house, the Fore River Sanctuary, a series of mountaineering trails meandering through forests and marshland, is a beautiful retreat from the hustle of town. I like ranging from Jewell Falls and wandering toward the Fore River. The deep banks as you near the tip are the remnants of an 1800s canal that connected Portland to Sebago Lake.” — A.D.
“Board a ferry on Commercial Street and visit any of the Casco Bay islands. Or, if you should see all of them, book a ticket on the mail boat. It runs 3 times a day (at 10 a.m., 12 p.m. and three p.m.) and the ride takes two and a half to 3 hours. Absorb all of it: the teams working on the boat, the fisherman navigating their boats in Portland’s harbor, the great thing about Maine’s rocky coast.” — K.L.
“The Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland has an in-depth collection of works by [19th- and 20th-century] Maine artists, including Winslow Homer, Andrew Wyeth and Louise Nevelson, in addition to the work of young contemporary artists. Across the road (behind Atlantic Baking Company, which makes a wonderful apricot-pistachio cookie) is the Center for Maine Contemporary Art, housed in a constructing I designed. It has temporary shows of labor by artists living or connected to Maine, including Reggie Burrows Hodges and Lois Dodd.” — T.M.
“I can lose an hour on the knife and kitchenwares store Strata flipping through books, admiring delicate Japanese glassware far too thin for my clumsiness or — as one should do here — talking with the fantastically knowledgeable and friendly staff in regards to the shop’s huge collection of culinary knives, largely crafted by Japanese smiths. I’ve yet to persuade my husband that a knife-sharpening workshop is a suitable date night.” — A.D.
“For antiques, drive 20 minutes north to Cabot Mill Antiques in Brunswick, which is a multidealer antiques mall in an old mill constructing. Or drive out to Arundel, to the Arundel Antique Village. At each places, you’ll find things which are hard to return across in most big cities.” — K.L.
“I consulted the shopping expert in my life, my daughter Eloise King-Clements. She says Blanche + Mimi has the very best quilts ever, just like the block-printed ones constituted of soft cotton.”
“In Rockland, Trillium Soaps is a family-owned small-batch producer of handmade soaps subtly imbued with the fragrance of nature present in Maine. My favorites are the pine, Maine seaweed, black rosemary and orange calendula soaps, and I can’t live without Trillium’s gardener’s soap, which has poppy seeds and cornmeal as an exfoliant, calendula petals, geranium and cedar oil to maintain your hands soft after gardening. The store also carries antique farm baskets, ceramics and linens.” — T.M.
“One of the explanations I moved to Portland is the convenience of our little airport. It rarely has a T.S.A. line of greater than a pair people. But within the busy summer months, when flights get atrociously expensive, I fly out and in of Boston’s Logan airport. I’m generally pretty skeptical of taking a bus, however the Concord Coach arrives right outside baggage claim and heads on to Portland [a two-hour trip], and on the best way back, it drops you right in front of security. It’s low cost, clean and has very friendly drivers and Wi-Fi.” — A.D.
“Bring a book. At some point, even on probably the most dazzling summer day, you’re going to want to curve up on a hammock or porch swing or window seat and skim. I don’t know if that feeling is within the water or the air, but it’s going to overtake you. If you get a foggy day or two, you may need several books. Be prepared.” — L.K.
“The best times to go to are June and September. June is verdant, with amazing flowers, including lupine and lilacs, and it’s strawberry season. The air is evident and funky and also you’ll be here before the tourists hit in July and August. In September, there’s the most important organic farming fair, the Common Ground Country Fair, and the Camden International Film Festival, the very best documentary film festival — and it’s less crowded, and the weather is great for sailing.” — T.M.