Maine attraction: an insider's guide to Portland

by Reb Stevenson

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.

Insider tip

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).


Reb Stevenson

I'm a Canadian travel writer who is influenced by Lonely Planet, Larry David and '80s movie montages. I'm also an unabashed Anglophile (pubs, TopShop and marmite - love the whole package) and aim to spend at least three months a year in Britain. You can check out my website, ( and I also make fun travel videos on YouTube ( TRAVEL PHILOSOPHY: I miss childhood. Santa still existed. An ice cream could make an entire day. And there were really cool lunchboxes. But furthermore, have you ever witnessed a kid get wide-eyed over a bug, a puddle, or dust hovering in a stream of sunlight and think to yourself: "wow, how did I go from being THAT lively creature to a cynical grump who needs a bottle of red wine and a Jude Law movie to even get a pulse happening?" I guess that's why I love to travel, because it takes me back to that state of wonder when every sight, taste and smell (good, bad, fish market in the sun, etc) is a feast for the imagination. Sometimes repetition tugs at us like a heavy, relentless anchor. And we might wonder whether our mental playroom is empty now. Heck, no! Just ask the kid you used to be. You can find him or her OUT THERE.