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CLOSE-UP ON PORTLAND, MAINE

What's old is new

Revived seaport city mixes its past with a vivacious present

close-up on portland, maine
The Portland Observatory is a popular destination. (Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Marie C. Franklin
Globe Staff / August 13, 2008

DISTANCE FROM BOSTON: 109 miles
POPULATION: 64,358
WEBSITES: www.visitportland.com, www.maineguide.com/portland
ODD FACT: In the mid-1870s, B&M Baked Beans became the world's first canned baked beans. Burnham & Morrill Co. of Portland produced them for use by men in its fishing fleet. The company began selling canned baked beans to the public in 1927.

Incorporated in 1786 as a trading and fishing settlement, Portland has become the largest and most visited city in Maine. An ambitious restoration of Old Port on the waterfront in the 1980s and '90s led to the opening of upscale boutiques, galleries, and restaurants along the district's cobblestone streets, as well as to an influx of tourists. Less than a tank of gas from Boston, Portland has a working waterfront, a lively arts scene, nightlife, and a compact design that makes it easy to walk around and discover the city's gems on your own. A plus: Old Port has generous street parking.

Play
The Portland Observatory (138 Congress St., www.portland landmarks.org, 207-774-5561; adults $7, ages 6-16 $4, under 6 free) offers daily tours, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. through Columbus Day. Built in 1807, the tower is the only maritime signal station in the country. If you have children in tow, the Children's Museum of Maine (142 Free St., 207-828-1234; www.childrensmuseumof me.org, $7 a person, under 1 free, Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. in summer) in the Arts District has a dress-up theater with a stage and costumes, a tide pool touch tank, and a veterinary clinic. Locals are proud to boast they knew Jacoby Ellsbury when the outfielder played at Hadlock Field for the Portland Sea Dogs (271 Park Ave., 207-879-9500, www.seadogs.com, tickets $4-$9), the Red Sox' Double-A affiliate.

Fuel
Portland's culinary scene rivals that of bigger cities. Last year, Food Network named it a finalist for the "most delicious destination" award, and with good reason. Stop at Becky's on Hobson's Wharf (390 Commercial St., 207-773-7070, www.beckysdiner .com, $3.75-$15.95) for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. For delicious fried seafood, try Benny's (199 West Commercial St., 207-774-2084, fried clams and scallops, burgers, chowder, $7-$15). In Old Port, Fore Street Restaurant (288 Fore St., 207-775-2717, www.forestreet.biz, dinners $18-$30) is a local favorite. Watch the chefs prepare your meal in the wood-burning oven and grill as they cook up a seasonal menu made from organically grown Maine food. Or you can feast as you float aboard DiMillo's Floating Restaurant (25 Long Wharf, 207-772-2216, www. dimillos.com, average dinner entree $25), a converted car ferry that serves seafood, beef, and chicken.

Rest
The Inn at St. John (939 Congress St., 207-773-6481, www.inn atstjohn.com, doubles $75-$225) is the longest continuously operating inn in Portland. It has European charm, 39 uniquely decorated rooms, and is pet-friendly. In Old Port, Portland Harbor Hotel (468 Fore St., 207-775-9090, www.portlandharborhotel .com, doubles $249-$379) is the only AAA Four Diamond rated hotel in the city. Portland Regency Hotel & Spa (20 Milk St., 207-774-4200, www.theregency.com, doubles $199-$279) downtown has a fitness center and spa and is housed in a neoclassic armory.

Do
Shop for fresh fruits and vegetables at the Portland Farmers Market Saturdays from 7 a.m.-3 p.m. at Deering Oaks Park at the intersection of Park Avenue and State Street. The 51-acre park also offers tennis courts, a playground, and a duck pond. A quick stroll gets you to the Arts District where a dizzying number of options await. The Portland Museum of Art (7 Congress Square, 207-775-6148, www.portlandmuseum.org, Tuesday-Sunday 10 a.m.-5 p.m., till 9 on Fridays, Mondays 10-5 until Columbus Day; adults $10, seniors and students $8, ages 6-17 $4, under 6 free, Fridays 5-9 free) has pieces by Winslow Homer, Rockwell Kent, and Andrew Wyeth. Until Sept. 7, "Georgia O'Keeffe and the Camera" pairs O'Keeffe's photos with her art. PCA Great Performances (477 Congress St., 207-773-3150, www.pca greatperformances.org) has live theater, music, opera, and dance. Catch "Stomp" (Sept. 26-28). Victoria Mansion (109 Danforth St., 207-772-4841, www.victoria mansion.org, May-October, Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Sunday 1-5, adults $12.50, seniors $12, students $3, under 6 free) is a spectacular 19th-century summer palace now open as a museum.

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