Drop your anchor in Portland, Maine – a docile New England hub where you can beam at the pretty lighthouses, bag a robot and crack a lobster or two
What to do
No visit to the East Coast of the US is complete without a photo-op-packed pilgrimage to Portland Head Lighthouse (admission: US$2; 1000 Shore Road, Cape Elizabeth; 207-799-2661), first lit in 1791. Exhaust rambunctious runts at The Children's Museum and Theatre of Maine (admission: US$8; 142 Free Street; 207-828-1234). Then shuffle your tootsies over to Soakology (30 City Center; 207-879-7625), a “foot sanctuary and teahouse,” where the extensive tea menu is eclipsed by the list of foot soaks (warning: confusing the two will result in untold trauma). Man in tow? Send him to a pampering session of his own up the street at Mensroom (8 City Center; 207-874-8080), a dudes-only salon that keeps machismo intact with a pool table, multiple TVs (tuned to ESPN and the stock market, of course) and an all-female, all-sexy staff.
Where to sleep
Like its fruity namesake, the Pomegranate Inn (from US$115 for a double room) is unusual, refreshing, and packed with juicy little nuggets. No two bedrooms are alike at this artsy guesthouse, which is tucked away on a residential street lined with proud Victorian homes. Eccentric antique furniture, sculptures scattered throughout and vividly painted walls create an elegant wow factor that you might call “drama queen meets dainty dame.”
Where to eat
Plenty of lobster houses would love to sink their claws into your tourist dollar, but locals swear by J’s Oyster (US$80 for two; 5 Portland Pier; 207-772-4828). The no-frills bar serves steamed clams by the bucket, stuffed oysters and chowder. If you must hit a crustacean station, make it a lobster bake (US$38), at DeMillo’s (25 Long Wharf; 207-772-2216), one of dem kitschy floating restaurants (oh, who am I kidding? I fell for it hook, line and sinker). For impulsive snackage, it’s got to be Duckfat (43 Middle Street; 207-774-8080), a chippy that fills its deep fryers with... well, it’s fairly self-explanatory, isn’t it? Fries (US$5.50) are served with hip dips (think truffle ketchup, curry mayo and garlic aioli), while Maine cheese curds with duck gravy make for a posh twist on poutine (US$8.50).
Where to shop
For one-of-a-kind finds in the handbag, jewellery and robot (yes, robot) domain, visit Abacus (44 Exchange Street; 207-772-4880) in the Old Port. Glass cases filled with unique baubles abound, and local artist Dana Heacock’s crisp giclée prints of Maine scenery make worthy souvenirs.
National Pie Day? You bet it exists, and it’s celebrated in earnest in Rockland, Maine, which lies some 125km north of Portland. Pies on Parade takes place each January, and consists of schlepping from one adorable historic inn to another, inhaling slices of raspberry, lemon meringue, etc, as you go. Spend the weekend at the Berry Manor Inn for US$315 to $605 (for a double room).