This Tiny City Has Big Flavor: Here's What to Do, Eat & Drink in Portland, Maine

This Tiny City Has Big Flavor: Here's What to Do, Eat & Drink in Portland, Maine

Lauren Kodiak
Jul 12, 2017
(Image credit: Erin Little)

Compared to other local cities like Boston and New York, Portland, Maine seems more like a close-knit town. But don't let its small size fool you — there's a seemingly endless list of things to do, see, and, most importantly, eat in this smart, sophisticated New England city. Beyond the charming lighthouses and overstuffed lobster rolls, this mini metropolis pulses with life and community.

My husband's family has a home in midcoast Maine, and from May to October we try to spend as much time there as possible. The little house has no internet or TV, and it sits on an island with only a small general store for food supplies. It's my favorite place in the world.

And while I cherish the peace and quiet found on the island, I inevitably get the itch for city life — to shop at a food co-op, to see live music, to eat a first-rate meal, and to sip a cold brew coffee.

Luckily Portland, which has all that and more, is just over an hour away. Whether I'm craving coffee or cocktails, or want to catch a ride on the ferry or a flick on the roof of a bowling alley, these are some of my favorite spots in this small-but-mighty city.

8 Things to Do, Eat & Drink in Portland, Maine

(Image credit: Erin Little)
(Image credit: Erin Little)

1. Grab a coffee and a treat at Tandem Coffee.

Start your day with some expertly roasted and brewed coffee at Tandem Coffee + Bakery. Not to be confused with their roastery in East Bayside, the bakery resides in a former gas station in the West End. There you'll find a rotating selection of baking wizard Briana Holt's delectable items like rhubarb-hibiscus pie, salted chocolate chip cookies, and, my favorite, the loaded biscuit, an impossibly flaky biscuit generously smeared with butter and seasonal jam.

(Image credit: Erin Little)

2. Try a Maine potato donut.

If donuts are more your thing, visit The Holy Donut in Old Port. Made with mashed Maine potatoes, these donuts are melt-in-your-mouth good — unlike any you've had before. The shop is stocked with the standard potato donuts, dark chocolate potato donuts, sweet potato donuts, gluten-free potato donuts, vegan potato donuts, and filled potato donuts. With flavors like maple, toasted coconut, chai, and Maine blueberry, these donuts sell out lightning-fast, so be sure to get there early if you want the best selection!

(Image credit: Erin Little)

3. Take the ferry to Peaks Island.

If you're looking for a little getaway from your getaway, a jaunt to Peaks Island — with its beautiful beaches, historic sites, museums and galleries, stores, and restaurants — is the perfect day trip. The island, which is part of the city of Portland, is only a 20-minute ferry ride from the mainland. (The ferry runs year-round; check the schedule for times.)

You can bring your car on board, but it costs significantly more and you really won't need it — once on the island, which is approximately two miles long and one mile wide, you can walk or rent bikes or ride golf carts for transportation.

(Image credit: Erin Little)
(Image credit: Erin Little)

4. Drink a cocktail at Portland Hunt & Alpine Club.

Portland Hunt & Alpine Club is the perfect place to sip a thoughtfully crafted cocktail and munch on some Scandinavian-style snacks (think: gravlax, Swedish meatballs, and cured venison). The cocktail menu is broken out into four categories — refreshing, adventurous, classics (and riffs), and wild card — so there's really something for everyone here.

The owners, Andrew and Briana Volk, also recently opened Little Giant in the West End. The space is broken out into two sections: market and restaurant. The market is a perfect place to pick up a bottle of wine and a sandwich for a picnic in the park; the restaurant (opening soon) will be a casual neighborhood spot to grab a full meal.

(Image credit: Erin Little)
(Image credit: Erin Little)

5. Get a green juice at LB Kitchen.

In between all the biscuits, donuts, beer, and cocktails, do yourself a favor and stop into LB Kitchen for a nourishing snack or meal. Whether you're looking for something lighter, like a smoothie or fresh-pressed juice, or something more substantial, like a grain bowl or sandwich, this healthy-ish cafe has everything you need to refuel. After you've had your bone broth, golden milk latte, and tofu banh mi bowl, don't sleep on a slice of the vegan chocolate cake — it might just be the best you've ever had, vegan or otherwise.

(Image credit: Erin Little)

6. Go bowling at Bayside Bowl.

Bayside Bowl in downtown Portland is the perfect place to hang out and have fun — no matter the weather. If it's raining, stay inside and bowl at one of the 20 lanes. If it's warm and sunny, head up to the rooftop, which boasts skyline views and plenty of seating. If you're hungry, you can grab some tacos and a cocktail on the rooftop deck or order from the menu inside. With dishes like a lobster roll on a brioche bun and tater tot poutine, this is not your average bowling alley food.

And if that wasn't enough to convince you, Bayside Bowl also hosts live music and, during the summer, screens movies on the roof. Check the events schedule to see what's happening while you're in town.

7. Try some kombucha at Urban Farm Fermentory.

If you're looking for something special that you might not be able to get at home, grab a kombucha at Urban Farm Fermentory's tasting room. With flavors like Chaga mushroom and chai, wild Maine blueberry, and toasted oak, you're in for a unique treat. Urban Farm also makes jun (a fermented tea similar to kombucha that uses honey instead of cane sugar), mead, cider, and gruit, "an old-style beer brewed using a variety of botanicals instead of hops."

(Image credit: Erin Little)

8. Check out the Portland Farmers Market.

The Portland Farmers Market is one of the longest-running farmers markets in the country (it traces back to 1768!). There are markets year-round, but perhaps the most impressive is the Saturday market at Deering Oaks Park, which runs from late-April to November.

With 42 grower-only vendors (read: each vendor has to grow/raise everything they sell) bringing everything from produce and flowers to cheese and sauerkraut, you'll certainly be able to while away a morning or afternoon at this eclectic market. It's also the perfect place to pick up a little taste of Maine to bring home with you.

A quick note: This isn't an exhaustive list, by any means. There's no shortage of restaurants, coffee shops, breweries, bars, stores, or activities in Portland, and we've tried to sprinkle our favorites throughout this guide. Our recipe portion, for instance, features dishes from some of my favorite restaurants like Central Provisions, Eventide Oyster Co., Duckfat, and Drifter's Wife, so you won't find them mentioned here. I encourage you to look through all the posts to get a more comprehensive guide to Portland. And please share your favorites in the comments!

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