PORTLAND, Maine - You can spend an entire weekend here walking, eating, and drinking and still feel like you have accomplished a lot. The sightseeing, food, and bars are that good. Portland resists the urge to trade its seafaring identity for waterfront condos; instead, the city has managed to merge its working port with visitor attractions. Commercial Street, the waterfront strand, was recently voted one of the country’s great streets by the American Planning Association. The red brick and cobblestone Old Port district dazzles sophisticated shoppers and gourmands alike. The Eastern Promenade offers spectacular views of the islands dotting Casco Bay. In short, it’s an ideal destination for singles or couples.
Less than a mile from the Old Port district, the Eastland Park Hotel
(157 High St., www.eastlandparkhotel.com
, 888-671-8008; rates start at $149) is comfortable, stylish, and quirky. Lovingly preserved details (our favorite: mother-of-pearl elevator buttons that no longer work) from the original 1920s design evoke a pleasant sense of mystery. Legend has it that the pool closed after Ozzy Osbourne trashed it. The Top of the East Lounge, with sweeping views of the bay and the Portland skyline, is the place to watch the sunset. If money is no object, stay at the Portland Regency Hotel & Spa
(20 Milk St., www.theregency.com
, 800-727-3436; we found rates as low as $269 on priceline.com
): lavish luxury in the heart of the Old Port.
How to choose in a town with so many options? That is simple: Fore Street
(288 Fore St., www.forestreet.biz, 207-775-2717; entrees start at $20) has to be one of the best restaurants in New England. The warm atmosphere is augmented by the open kitchen and the hearty fragrance of the wood-burning oven. Though the menu changes daily, you can count on any of the pan-cooked seafood dishes. Catch the wood-oven roasted Atlantic black sea bass if it’s there. Leave room for dessert. This menu also changes, but the locally produced cheeses and the handmade truffles are constants, and they are divine. The name may sound distasteful to some, but give Duck Fat
(43 Middle St., www.duckfat.com
, 207-774-8080) a chance. The Belgian fries dipped in duck fat are a unique, if indulgent, treat. Try them with the truffle ketchup. The panini start at $7.50, and though meat and duck rule here, the tuna melt and the eggplant parm are pretty good, too.
During the day
Take a walk. With the great dining here, you will need to work off those calories. Leave the car and head toward the Old Port
. Renovated warehouses bristle with shops and eateries. Explore the wharves of Commercial Street
. Not tired yet? Follow Fore Street east until you get to Eastern Promenade
and its splendid views of the bay. By the time you return you’ll be ready for Fore Street. Another great option beckons on the water. Whale watches and narrated bay cruises await the casual tourist, though to see how islanders live, take the Casco Bay Lines
(56 Commercial St., 207-774-7871, www.cascobaylines.com
) ferry out to Great Diamond Island
. The fresh, partially narrated half-hour voyage takes you past historic Fort George and stops at Little Diamond Island, where young people dive off the pier as ferries depart. Go all the way to Diamond Cove
, the second stop on the island. Here Diamond’s Edge Restaurant
) is the main event. Take the fragrant mile-long walk on the sole public road to the state pier, where you can be the one jumping off!
You can’t go to Portland without crawling the pubs. Start at Three Dollar Deweys (241 Commercial St., www.threedollardeweys.com
, 207-772-3310), with its ample selection of beers and ales, including numerous craft brews. Free popcorn keeps you coming back. As an Irish pub, Brian Ború (57 Center St., www.brianboruportland.com
, 207-780-1506) is an architectural oddity - the deep red building stands alone next to a parking lot. Never mind all that: ’tis a fine bar, with live Irish music 3 p.m.-6 p.m. on Sundays. Fore Street
has a unique, poured-concrete bar with a fine selection of wines, cocktails, liquors, and single-malt whiskeys. The baseball fanatics among us - as well as the more sober and vertically inclined - will want to catch the Portland Sea Dogs
(Hadlock Field, 271 Park Ave., www.portlandseadogs.com
, 207-879-9500). In the summer, see the next generation of Red Sox stars - Papelbon, Ellsbury, Pedroia, Lester, and Youkilis all played here not that long ago.
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