The east coast’s Portland was my home for less than six months – four months while I studied at a documentary school and, later, less than two months when I jumped on a plane after college graduation.
The peninsula where the small city is situated had everything that I could ask for as a 22-year old Midwest transplant: locally-sourced food (often fresh from the sea), a handful of local bookstores and a writer’s scene, vibrant art walks with fortune tellers and street dancers, and a working waterfront where you could take your lunch and sit on the wharfs where the fishermen rested their boats.
It’s been less than a year since I last visited Portland, and the city still held all these qualities. I imagine the city still does. I hope you can experience some of my favorite qualities of the city for yourself.
Portland is credited in my mind as the first time I experienced good food. Simple but real ingredients from local farms or the local bay were introduced into the home by my roommates or offered in nearly every restaurant, coffee shop or quick eatery. It was said that a Wal Mart had never survived in the city, although I have no idea if this were true. My favorite places that I visited are listed below, but the list only touches the surface and truly doesn’t begin to capture the variety – or even the best – that the city offers. Each eatery featured is based on a tight budget as I lived frugally while in the city. Yet despite my tight budget, the food never let me down.
Okay, full disclosure: I’ve never actually eaten here. Mostly I’ve hung outside on the pier that’s situated across the eatery, and listened to the live music and eavesdropped on the tourists while reading on the pier’s ledge. But the place remains on the top of my bucket list as the tourist place to go for a lobster roll, so I figured it should be at the top of your list, too.
Typically, I’m not a superfan of thin crust, but Otto Pizza remains the go-to spot when you’re walking casually around the town, hanging out at one of the public plazas and doing homework, or craving a late-night snack. You can grab the pizza by the slice or order whole.
This worker-owned and operated spot serves as a cafe and bakery and offers the best salads, grass-fed burgers and vegan options. It’s a great place to get some work done, too – when I was there they had a fantastic playlist and featured live, chill music like piano-players and acoustic performances.
This place exists outside the city’s tourist & artistic hub (the Old Port), and seemed to be frequented by a bit more locals when I visited. Personally, I see little reason to leave the Old Port while visiting the city, but a stop at the Great Lost Bear would be a good reason to venture (slightly) off the beaten path. The place has a fantastic craft beer selection, and good greasy food.
This place is on the list not for its food options – which are probably great; I’ve never tried – but instead for its beer selection. Novare Res was always the cool place to go when I studied in Maine: it was an awesome hang-out spot with the German-style beer tables, an outdoor patio with bean bag tosses and a well-curated craft beer selection that featured both local and international brews.
Local Bookstores & Writers’ Scene
Portland is a town of 66,000 yet showcases an impressive literary scene. It’s not uncommon for writers from NYC and Boston to wind up in Portland or one of the islands or cities nearby. My favorite local bookstore is Longfellow Books which hosts local writers (like my writing teacher’s work), community nights and used books. You can check out readings at coffee shops and explore The Telling Room which supports young tellers.
Vibrant Art Walks
During the first Friday of every month, Portland features an art walk along its famed Congress Street in the middle of the city’s Old Port and Arts District. When I moved to the area for the first time, I met my first friends via the walk in September, and it’s still the event I keep at the top of my list when I go back to visit. Local artists and vendors line the sidewalks in front of the businesses, music venues and museums, fortune tellers and street dancers perform as well as the occasional fire dancer or photographer who sets up his antique equipment or artist who paints in front of the school. If you happen to visit Portland during the first week of the month, this event is a must-see.
The reason I fell in love with Portland the most was its working waterfront and the sea. You can probably throw in a guided tour here, but I think the best thing you could do is rent a bike and/or walk the waterfront where the fishermen keep their boats and traps, as well as venture to the eastern promenade where you can picnic on the hills and observe the sea and sailboats below. The coast is mostly rocky but there’s a sandy stretch hidden along the eastern prom. Both the working waterfront and the eastern promenade are my favorite places to relax in the city as I hang out with a book, snacks and some seagulls, and watch the waves roll in.
My friends (the husband-wife duo who run this blog) came to visit Portland during their summer on the east coast and it turns out they love Portland (almost) as much as me. What’s beautiful about Portland is that it’s a big city – with vibrant food, arts and nightlife culture – situated within a small town where access to nature is abundant and people become friends with each other on the streets. I’m a huge advocate for the east coast Portland, and whether you choose to explore the events and places featured here or take a choose-your-own adventure, Portland is guaranteed to have a little something for everybody.
Post by: Amber Morgan. While Amber considers her soul nomadic, she’s also a proud advocate for the North. When she’s not on the road or abroad, you can find her in Fargo, Minneapolis or Rochester, Minnesota. Connect with her on Instagram and Twitter.