Day Trippers: 12 Hours in Portland, ME

Spend an afternoon exploring Maine’s rocky shore…

Not everyone is so quick to count the briny smell of clam flats among their favorite scents. Salt water, low tide…the smell immediately brings me back to riding in the back of my mother’s VW as we made the 45-minute drive from southwestern Maine to the coast, to her hometown of Portland. As a kid, this was the big city, in my mind as metropolitan as NYC and, to this day, Portland tops my list of favorite places. Unpretentious and laid-back, a mecca for artists, craftspeople and fisherman alike.

I recently made my way home for a weekend, and spent an afternoon rediscovering this coastal town along with a close friend who just happened to have moved north from Philadelphia. If you’re thinking of paying a visit, there’s no time like the present — foliage is at its peak and, as we’ve already discussed, autumn in New England is not to be missed!

Where to eat:

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Tandem Coffee, 742 Congress St.: Start your day by fueling up at this cafe/roastery, housed in a rehabbed 1960’s gas station. Bright and cheerful with a staff to match, Tandem boasts the most incredible house-made almond milk (excellent in a latte) and a full array of sandwiches, snacks and treats. Since it would be sacrilege to visit Maine and not enjoy a slice of blueberry pie — it is the official Maine state dessert, after all — I recommend grabbing a slice along with an expertly-crafted coffee and cozying up in a corner with a book before going on your way. Take home a bag of roasted beans to bring Tandem’s good vibes back with you.

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Dobra Tea, 89 Upper Exchange Street: If tea is more your thing or, if you’re on the hunt for vegetarian or vegan fare, Dobra Tea might be your jam. With a variety of teas on the menu and a warm and welcoming atmosphere, Dobra is the perfect spot to warm up between activities on a cold autumn afternoon.

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Eventide Oyster Bar, 86 Middle Street: Even if you don’t eat fish or shellfish, the cocktails alone are reason enough to pay Eventide a visit. However, there’s enough on the menu to tempt all palettes. Try the kimchi and, for those who partake, the lobster roll. It’s the most popular item on the menu, a fact made evident when we approached Eventide and noticed that every single person sitting in the window was enjoying one. And if you’re curious about oysters, there’s no better place to try them considering their source is less than a mile away.

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A few more favorites:

Silly’s, 40 Washington Ave: Silly name, amazing food. Great for all diets, Silly’s boasts some pretty spectacular milkshakes (available with soy and ricemilk for the lactose-free), along with breakfast, brunch and everything in between.

Becky’s, 390 Commercial St: A personal favorite and a favorite among locals, Becky’s is a mainstay and quickly fills up, regardless of what day of the week it is. Go here if you’re a fan of standard diner fare or are on the hunt for a true Maine accent. The waitresses will treat you right and your coffee cup will never be empty.

Standard Baking Co., 75 Commercial St: Pick up a loaf of artisan bread to bring back to your Airbnb or grab some bread for an island picnic. Whatever you choose from this bakery, which uses 100% Maine-grown and milled whole grains, is sure to be incredible.

Fore Street, 288 Fore St.: For something a bit more special, Fore Street is not to be missed. Perfect for a date or special dinner, Fore Street, which has been voted among the top 50 resturants in the United States, uses all locally-sourced and crafted ingredients.

The Holy Donut, 194 Park Avenue & 7 Exchange St.: The closest you’ll get to a “healthy” donut, The Holy Donut uses local, natural ingredients, including Maine’s other famous export, the potato, in the form of the flour these treats are crafted with.

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Where to shop:

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Portland Architectural Salvage, 131 Preble St: If you didn’t drive to Maine, PAS will make you wish you did…with a flatbed truck. With plenty of small antiques to choose from as well as larger artifacts, you’re sure to find something memorable to add to your home.

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Portland Flea-for-All, 125 Kennebec St (located next to PAS): One more shop to make you wish you brought a bigger suitcase. The Flea-for-All is one-stop-shopping: gifts, home decor, clothes, things-you-didn’t-know-you-needed. I always walk away with something amazing, and always regret not buying one or two pieces, too.

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Find, 16 Free Street: Another destination for secondhand heaven, hit up Find for vintage and consignment treasures. Who knows, you might even end up on their Tumblr!

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A few more favorites:

Judith, 3 Market St.: Stop by Judith to pick up something special before grabbing dinner at Fore Street. This minimal shop stocks gorgeous clothing, accessories and objects sure to add the final touch to your wardrobe or home.

Encore, 521 Congress St.: If vintage is more your thing, Encore just might be heaven on earth. Stocked — and I mean stocked — with vintage clothing dating from the 1900’s through the 1990’s, Encore is an incredible resource for your next one-of-a-kind piece.

Longfellow Books, One Monument Way: Grab a book or two before heading out on the ferry or sipping a coffee at Tandem. While you’re there, be sure to give the latest store cat a pat. A Portland mainstay, Longfellow partners with the Animal Refuge League of Portland to foster animals in need of a home within the store, finding their forever homes in the process.


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What to do:

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Casco Bay Lines, 56 Commercial St.: Maine has more coastline than the state of California. See it for yourself by taking one of the many ferries out on the bay for an afternoon. Be sure to bundle up and pack a picnic, and choose one of the many islands, easily accessible by boat, to explore for the day.


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A few more favorites:

Portland Museum of Art, 7 Congress Square: Maine has long been a mecca for artists — Winslow Homer, Andrew Wyeth, Robert Indiana, Louise Nevelson to name a few — see their works in person at PMA, a small but mighty museum perfect for a rainy day.

Maine College of Art Galleries, 522 Congress St.: Another destination for art on a hyperlocal and international scale, MECA hosts artists in residence as well as featuring art created within the school.

Space Gallery, 538 Congress St.: A non-profit contemporary space, Space Gallery features art and performances. Catch a live show or take part in an art-making night and get your hands dirty.

Drive the coast: Portland isn’t the only thing to love about Maine. Hop on Route 1 to explore the towns and villages sitting just north and south of the seaport. Kittery, Kennebunk, York, Freeport, Belfast, Camden…each one unique and worth exploring.

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+ Do you have your own Vacationland recommendations to add to the list? Please share in the comments!

Follow FPJulie on FP Me and Instagram

Portraits of me taken by Ashley Ording. Follow her on Instagram and be sure to check out her blog!

Vintage postcards scanned from personal collection.


  1. For amazing fries and milkshakes, don’t miss Duck Fat (right down the street from Eventide)! The wait can be crazy, so get the fries to go and eat them overlooking the water.

  2. Although Dobra is great, it’s a chain.
    I’d like to vouch instead for the local, independent Homegrown Herb and Tea at 195 Congress Street. The owner and tea magician is Sarah- let her woo you with a steaming cup of hand-crafted tea. I only spent one afternoon there but left with several new friends and a renewed appreciation for tea. Cannot recommend Homegrown Herb and Tea enough!

  3. the official maine state desert is a whoopie pie! arabica and creama sometimes have pumpkin ones in the fall with local maple filling – definitely worth a try!

  4. Court – haha, technically the Maine state treat is the whoopie pie and the official dessert is still the blueberry pie… but I think both are delicious and worth indulging in regardless of distinction :) I’ll definitely give Arabica and Crema a try – Pumpkin sounds amazing!

  5. If you ever want to take a tour of Portland, try the Portland Fire Engine Company. It’s a really great overview of the Portland area…very inexpensive and only 45 minutes long. Plus how cool is it to ride around on a vintage fire truck :)

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