illustration by julia rothman
thoughts of maine bring to mind scenic lighthouse imagery and a fresh ocean breeze. although i have never been fortunate enough to travel there, i can certainly imagine the beauty that surrounds the seaside city of portland. thankfully we have local artist karen gelardi and stationery maven maria vettese to show us around their lovely city and advise us on the best shops around the area. thank you ladies for the tour!—stephanie
CLICK HERE for the full portland, maine guide after the jump!
A beautiful space right in the heart of the arts district featuring many different mediums. There always seems to be a buzz about this gallery and the work is definitely worth a stop.
Institute of Contemporary Art and Maine College of Art
This space is associated with the College and usually has interesting shows hanging. Again it is in a great string of galleries which makes it an easy stop for all art-wanderers.
A simple space featuring art, film and music. Space is part of the heart of the artistic scene here in Portland. Definitely check in with their schedule if you are visiting because they will likely have a day-time or evening-time event not to be missed.
A very nice stop for a short museum visit, the Portland Museum is free on Fridays and has a beautiful show space in the front that rotates work in and out. They also host weekend movies (this is the spot for foreign and art films in town), lectures, children’s activities and special events. Certainly this is a stop for any art-lover.
SALT Institute for Documentary Studies
Hosting an array of public events (audio, visual, and textual experiences, gallery openings, movie nights, guest lecturers, book clubs) this new space is a great stop along the way.
Public Market House
The Market House is an in-town public market providing a community gathering place that celebrates Maine people, food and agricultural traditions. Just outside the Public Market door you will find a Farmer’s Market on Wednesdays from May through October.
One of the best slice joints in town. Open late. A recent customer said, “I know it’s just pizza but it was probably one of the best things I had in Portland, Maine.” Don’t miss this spot.
One of Portland’s claims-to-fame! angela adams is always stocked with beautiful, inspiring goods reflecting the natural surroundings here in Maine. They recently opened a showroom in the back of the retail shop where they feature their couture one-of-a-kind rugs and handcrafted furniture; these beauties are not to be missed!
Built in 1807, this tower is a very special Portland landmark. In the Summer you can take a 45 minute tour most days and learn all about the sea captain-turned-entrepreneur who ordered it built and get a great view of the city. This spot is tucked into the East End so you can take a peek at some beautiful old houses on the promenade just down the way.
East End Beach
Just beyond the Portland Observatory, if you are taking that walking tour, don’t miss the East End Beach and walking path. You can walk right along the ocean on the edge of the peninsula and feel the ocean breeze in your hair; it’s wonderful!
Carlson & Turner
A very unique shop filled with treasures for all book and art-lovers. You could get lost in here for quite some time.
Certainly this is the flagship shop in this East End area of special little shops … Diane has great taste and has supported the craft/art movement for ages. This is a perfect place to stop to pick up treats for your friends, family and of course yourself. Schedule your time on the East End around Ferdinand’s hours so you can make sure to get in and peek around.
This new shop/gallery houses work from many wonderful artists and craftspersons. Along this end of Congress, just down the street from angela adams, there are so many great little finds like this one.
Tons of amazing yarns and knitting supplies. Need we say more?! A lovely shop with helpful staff and plenty of goodness for any knitting soul.
Katie Made Bakery
A somewhat new addition to the East End and a sweet spot to be sure. Good sandwiches, treats and more from this NYC & grandmother trained baker.
Homegrown Herb & Tea
Just a few paces up the street from these East End shops, this tea shop is one-of-a-kind in Portland. The owner makes all of the blends while you wait and you can even have a little something to snack on as well. This is a great spot to sit and rest your feet and recharge your soul after an afternoon of wandering.
A precious little fabric shop which will only take a moment to stop in (it’s so tiny and adorable).
Right next door to More, field always has something extraordinary to look at. This small space, run by two artists who do just about everything, features installation art rotating in and out every few months.
Two Fat Cats
Cupcakes, cupcakes, cupcakes!!! … from scratch.
A must for any food and book lover! This independent bookshop is delightful and so are its owners. Not only do they carry any and all books about food that you might want, they also have arts events and usually have a show hanging in their shop. Really, this is a shop not to be missed.
A food-loving market full of goodies to take away for lunch or to create your dinner. The Rosemont is a nice stop along the way if you are walking the East End.
Just give yourself an hour to wander this neighborhood and enjoy the quiet beautiful streets and cobblestone paths. It’s especially lovely in the Spring and Fall when you can see the trees either going to sleep for the Winter or coming out for the party in the Spring. Take your time and enjoy this part of town for all its worth.
After you walk around the West End you can pop into Bonobo for an afternoon slice. They are a wonderful neighborhood spot with wonderful pizza and great beers on tap.
They say it’s “beautiful food for busy people” and we think it’s one of the best cappucinos in town. Stop by this spot, pick up a snack and wander the West End.
OLD PORT / WATERFRONT
Casco Bay Lines
It’s very important to take a boat trip if you’re visiting Portland. Going out on the water shows a great view of Casco Bay and helps you understand the town and what it’s all about. A favorite is the evening Sunset Cruise or the morning Mail Boat Run. On a beautiful day you can’t beat the ferry!
Right down on the water/docks you will find the offices of Sea Bags tucked away. These bags, made of old sails, are sewn right out of their Old Port space and are each one-of-a kind.
Just seeing the inside of this beautiful space is worth the trip down Wharf Street. Handling mainly men’s clothing, Rogues Gallery has always been a Portland darling with great t-shirts and hip casual clothing. Even though the space is small you could get lost in here looking at all the nooks and crannies so give yourself some time to take it all in.
Sustainable and locally-made clothing this is a little shop/studio front right in the heart of the Old Port.
A new gallery hosting some of the best art shows and events in town. A strong neighbor to Rogues Gallery and a perfect spot along the way.
A very stylish boutique for men and women carrying many small-label designers such as Mociun, Rachel Comey and Assembly of New York.
Standard Baking Co.
Bread, baked goods, coffee and tea … this is a great place to stop in to replenish down in the Old Port. The croissants are out of this world!
Seriously the best of the cold stuff in town! Using all natural ingredients really makes the difference and the homemade waffle cones are unreal.
Another of the local independent bookshops with a great magazine section! Longfellow has lots of readings and signings so it’s good to keep an eye on their schedule or just pop in and see what you find.
Harbor Fish Market
Your classic waterfront experience near Sea Bags. Order up a lobster and get it steamed right there, packaged to go home or shipped to your doorstep.
Specializing in hand-crafted women and children’s clothing, this is a gorgeous space that celebrates strong aesthetics and the integrity of production.
CAPE ELIZABETH / SOUTH PORTLAND
Front Room Gallery
A cultural outpost on the way to some serious coastal hotspots (like the Portland Headlight and Crescent Beach State Park). Exhibits by Maine artists (like Patrick Corrigan and Greta Bank) mix in with Odd Inq’s pottery by Jon White. The matte green glazes of the ceramic vases are just amazing and so are the one-of-a-kind Beeswax Lamps.
Scratch Baking Company
Their bagels are amazing and it’s the perfect place to pull together a picnic before heading around the corner to Willard Beach.
158 Pickett Street Cafe
Also near Willard Beach, this is a popular, very casual spot for breakfast. Equally delicious bagels and a place to read the paper on a Sunday morning (although it is much quieter on other days!). With a charming backyard to sit in what more does one need in the Summer?
Portland Head Light
Rumor has it that this is the most photographed lighthouse in the state. Or maybe the world!??? Portland Head Light is located at Fort Williams Park which is a one-stop destination for all things associated with coastal fun times. Walking paths, picnic spots with grills and tables, swimming, fort structures, a little museum, little gift shop, spectacular views, crashing waves, wide open spaces.
Crescent Beach State Park
This beach is so serene and wonderful. Special features—the classic state park entry gate and the snack shack (which does not interfere with a very pure ocean beach experience believe it or not).
Willard Scoops + Red’s Dairy Freeze + Beals
Drive over the bridge and hit the beach while making the rounds to these three amazing ice cream spots. Stop at Willard Scoops for Mount Desert Island ice cream; stop at Red’s for frozen chocolate covered bananas or soft serve cones “with eyes” (just ask, trust us); stop at Beals for a kick-ass lobster roll.
In search of studio space, creative Portlanders have migrated to Westbrook where a Fourth Friday Art Walk is just starting to take shape. Celebrate and support the pioneers!!
Westbrook has its Dana Warp Mill and Brunswick has the beloved Fort Andross Mill, home to Frontier. An essential gathering place for the area as well as a spot to eat great food and be challenged by provocative films.
Whatnot Gallery at Spindleworks
Spindelworks is a non-profit art center for adults with disabilities. They produce some amazing goods and have a very creative way of helping those in need.