Sean and I didn’t originally plan on spending the 4th of July in Portland, Maine. Up until about a month ago, we were actually pretty convinced that we’d be celebrating Independence Day in Philadelphia. But then a little thing called Memorial Day in New York City happened. And while that trip was an absolute blast, it was also an absolute madhouse. We knew Philly would be similar in terms of crowds, and we just weren’t sure we were up for two crazy trips in a row.
So ultimately we decided on Maine. Not any city in particular — though we did choose Portland as our final destination — we were really more interested in the drive than where we ended up.
Friday: York, Kennebunkport, and Ogunquit
We took Highway 95 out of Massachusetts and through a sliver of New Hampshire, but as soon as we crossed into Maine we headed for the scenic route along the coast.
We’d only been in Maine for about 10 minutes before we decided that we should’ve moved to Maine instead of Mass. Maine is heart-achingly beautiful and a little bit mysterious. It’s quintessentially New England (lobster; lobster everywhere) but it’s also wild and remote. Maine makes up half of New England, but fewer than two million people live in the whole state. The rest is bears and trees. (And lobster.)
There’s a huge outdoor store just on the other side of the New Hampshire state line that lets you know you’ve arrived. “Welcome to Maine,” it says. “Take a look around — what business could you possibly have inside?”
True, the weather was not great for our drive, particularly along the water (thanks, Hurricane Arthur!) but there were outdoor sights to see and, by golly we were going to see them! We didn’t realize we were going to run into a lighthouse on our way up to Portland — until we watched the Nubble Lighthouse rise ethereally from the fog as we wound our way toward it. My gosh, you guys. That craggy coastline. The angry, hurricane ocean. And that lonely little house standing resolutely in the middle of it all. As far as first lighthouse experiences go, ours was pretty perfect.
My mantra for the weekend was “We need to become the sort of people who’d have a summer house so we can buy a summer house in Maine.” As we drove through Kennebunkport, Sean spotted the house he wanted. It was set off from the others and built right on the coastline. It was large and full of windows and surrounded on three sides by water. And it belongs to George H. W. Bush. Perhaps we should set our sights a tad lower. (Shout out to the prez for the Texas flag!)
Our last stop on the Tour de Maine Coast was in Ogunquit for — what else? — lobster. We split a lobster roll and a lobster grilled cheese (yes! One thousand times yes to that!) and then piddled around the cute shops until the sky really opened up. After that, there was nothing left on our agenda but to get to Portland.
Portland is the biggest city in Maine. It’s home to a whopping 66,000 people; it inspired Portland, Oregon; and, with more than 230 restaurants, it’s one of the foodiest small towns in America. Our foodie senses led us to Duckfat for dinner on Friday night.
French fries are to Duckfat what lobsters are to Maine. We ate buckets and buckets of French fries as poutine and dipped in — wait for it — truffle oil ketchup. (If you’re like me and have always pronounced “poutine” as “p%*#@$,” I can now assist. In the States it’s pronounced “poo-TEEN.” In Canada it’s pronounced correctly/differently, but who cares? This is America. We say what we want.)
If we didn’t get our potato fill on Friday night, we certainly took care of it on Saturday morning at the Holy Donut.
The donuts at Holy Donut are made from potatoes, and now that I’ve had them I don’t know why anyone makes donuts any other way. (Did you know that Maine is one of the top 10 state producers of potatoes? I’m a wealth of useless information.)
After breakfast we hoofed it to the International Cryptozoology Museum, which is dedicated to hidden or undiscovered animals like mermaids, Bigfoot, El Chupacabra, and so on. It was a teeny tiny museum, pretty heavy on the cheese, and absolutely crazy bananas, but it was a fun way to spend an hour. And, for all you aspiring cryptozoologists out there: it turns out that one of the largest Bigfoot conventions actually takes place in Texas! Don’t miss out, y’all!
With so many foodie places to enjoy in Portland, Portlandians were bound to get thirsty. So what did Portlandians do? They opened ALL THE BREWERIES. There are so many breweries in and around Portland that you can actually take a (bright green) tour bus to visit them all. We weren’t that thirsty, so we just opted for a tasting at the most popular one.
And it was…ok. The brewery’s most famous offering (Allagash White) was aggressively fine, and I could’ve taken or left the other three we tried as well.
After beering, we stopped into the Flatbread Company for wood-fired, pizza-y delights. Once we were properly fueled, we loaded into a 15-passenger van for a grand tour of Portland and Cape Elizabeth — home of the most expensive real estate in Maine AND the most photographed lighthouse in America: Portland Head Light.
The lighthouse was commissioned by George Washington and was twenty feet too short when it was finished. You can tell where the the masons added on to the top to make the lighthouse functional. (Sean and I took three hundred pictures in Maine, and around a third of them are of the Nubble Lighthouse and Portland Head Light. Because lighthouses are ridiculously gorgeous, obviously.)
After the tour wrapped, we put our name on the list at Portland’s hoppin’-est seafood restaurant (Street and Company) and then wandered around the historic Old Port district to work up an appetite — and get our hands on Moxie, the state drink of Maine.
Moxie tasted like a mix between root beer and Coke. I was not a fan. Clearly, this trip was bad for beverages. It was great for food though! The scallops I had at Street and Company were perfection. Sean tangled with his first whole lobster and won handily. (I’ve eaten a lot of rubbery lobster since moving up here — BLECH — but Sean’s Street and Company lobster was everything a lobster should be.)
Because Hurricane Arthur was bearing down on New England on Juth 4th, Portland moved its fireworks to the next night. We finished dinner about 30 minutes before they were scheduled to start and raced to the Eastern Promenade just in time to watch them go off over the harbor.
Sunday: Homeward bound
Sunday was more or less dedicated to the drive home. Though we did make a few detours along the way to do some of the things the weather prevented us from doing on the way up, including walking along Maine’s rocky coast and wading into the Atlantic.
One of our last stops was for lunch at a waterfront pub in our aspirational hometown of Kennebunkport. As a Texan, summer for me has always been about seeking out the strongest air conditioning possible and risking heatstroke by the pool. I never understood why it was a season people looked forward to. But as we sipped frilly drinks on the 75-degree patio and watched boats tootle around in the distance, I finally got it. Summer in Maine is fantastic!