We visited Portland in July 2022. Read about our first visit with Bugsy and the Airstream in 2019 here!
I feel like I’m cheating by writing an AirstreamDog post about a trip we took without either the Airstream or the Dog, but we wanted to update our previous Portland post because we were able to do so much more exploring this time. It’s a neat town loaded with history, a working waterfront, a great beer scene, yummy seafood, and some impressive cocktail bars. And it’s incredibly dog-friendly! Bugsy would have fit into our days perfectly and we missed having her with us (we did get her a couple presents at the adorable Fish and Bone shop). Here’s what we crammed into a busy two days in Portland:
Just kidding, we stayed at a hotel. It was overpriced and kind of crappy, but it’s downtown, and that was our only problem with our last visit to Portland: the campground was too far from downtown. I just did a quick Google and it doesn’t look like there are any new options closer in since our Airstream visit three years ago.
There are over fifteen breweries in Portland, giving it the highest number of breweries per capita in the US! (Although some articles say Asheville, and we can believe that too.) Last time in town we hit some of the best, but we missed out on several breweries that were closed (it was a Tuesday), so they were at the top of this trip’s to-do list: Goodfire (our friend Jenny’s favorite Portland brewery), Battery Steele, Foundation, and Allagash.
Our favorite breweries across the two visits are Bissell Brothers, Goodfire, and Battery Steele.
Four breweries–Allagash, Battery Steele, Foundation, and Definitive–are clustered together on Industrial Way, about a fifteen minute drive from downtown. It’s a fun spot to spend an afternoon brewery hopping, especially on a nice day when you can enjoy the shady patios.
Our first stop was Allagash. Long long ago we loved Belgian beers and my favorite beer was Allagash White, but our tastes have changed over the years, and the Belgian styles don’t do it for us anymore. I enjoyed the sour I tried, but J wasn’t particularly fond of anything he tasted. We weren’t hungry, but we were verrrry tempted to share a lobster roll from the Airstream food truck, Bite Into Maine!
Next door to Allagash, Battery Steele is smaller, quieter, and more IPA-focused, which is good for J. We liked all the beers we tasted, and the beertender was exceedingly pleasant and helpful. Their covered patio is out back with a view of trees, making it feel a bit less industrial.
Moving on to Foundation, we met another lovely beertender, and again enjoyed outdoor seating under a tent in the parking lot. I had a couple tasty sours and J had a fine IPA. We sadly skipped Definitive to go back downtown for dinner, but the Battery Steele beertender said they are known for sours. Next time!
On day two we had our favorite cousins to play with! Yes, the Atlanta cousins who let us camp in their driveway! We Ubered out to Goodfire, Jenny’s favorite, where we were big fans of the hazy IPA and sour. It was 10000 degrees out so we sat inside where we fell in love with Fiona the brewery dog.
From Goodfire we could walk to Belleflower, a small and busy brewery with a crowded taproom and no shade on the patio. The IPAs and sour were good, but not as good as at Goodfire. They also have a seltzer on the menu but it wasn’t my favorite.
Cocktails on the water
When in a town with a waterfront, you should have a drink with a water view! The best waterfront bar location that we experienced was another winning Jenny recommendation: Luke’s Lobster. The drinks weren’t terribly fancy, but the location on a pier overlooking the working lobster port is exactly what we were hoping for. The walls of the upstairs bar are all windows, so even on an unpleasant day you can get your waterfront cocktail fix.
We also checked out The Porthole on the pier next door. It’s a casual spot with picnic tables on a big deck and seems like a really fun place to see live music.
Liquid Riot is a waterfront brewery and distillery which we were excited about, but we didn’t like the drinks we ordered at all! Fortunately, we had a fantastic view of the water to distract us!
Cocktails off the water
The coolest cocktail bars in Portland are not on the waterfront. Well, one sort of is, but we couldn’t actually see the water from our seats, so I’m including it here.
Central Provisions was our favorite cocktail joint in Portland. The bar is tiny and cozy in the basement of a historic shipping storehouse, and the cocktails (and key lime pie tart! you know I love anything key lime!) were scrumptious. Their food is supposed to be outstanding, and based on that tart, we believe it.
Before dinner on our second day we hit Scales for a beverage and snack. Scales is on a pier, but from the bar area you can’t see any water, so I count these as off-the-water cocktails. The drinks were yummy, but the stars for us were the super oysters and ceviche.
If you ask the internet about the best cocktails in Portland, you’ll see Blyth and Burrows at the top of the list. We went there for a nightcap and we felt like we definitely were not hip enough to be hanging out there. The cocktails were good and it was entertaining watching the youngsters partying.
Portland Hunt + Alpine Club is another that we picked off the best-of lists. It’s an interesting, spartan, Scandinavian spot with an award-winning cocktail program. We crammed into a standing-only area and had fab drinks, but we weren’t sold on their tinned fish-heavy food menu.
Requiring caffeine to fuel our exploring, we looked for a popular local cafe. Coffee By Design roasts their own coffee from environmentally and socially sustainable beans, and they serve matcha, which is a requirement for non-coffee drinking J. The cafe is cute and busy, and also serves sweet treats and a few sandwiches–and they have a bowl of dog biscuits by the door, which is always a good sign.
Did I mention that it was 10000 degrees out when we visited? While waiting for a table at lobster roll heaven (see below) we took the host’s recommendation and sat in the A/C at the bar across the street, Black Cow. It’s a really neat old building that’s now kind of a burger bar/soda fountain, with a solid cocktail list complete with house-made sodas, which made for the perfect way to relax and wait for our table.
If you followed along with our Airstream trip to Acadia three years ago, you know that when we’re in New England, we try to eat lobster every day… preferable in the form of a lobster roll. We hit that goal on this trip with two lobster delights in Portland, followed by two when we continued down to Beverly, MA. I haven’t decided if I’ll write an update to our Beverly post–we do have a new favorite brewery there. But back to Portland food:
Good thing we’re earlybirds because our dinner target the first night didn’t take reservations. Everything about our meal at Pai Men was phenomenal. The Japanese menu has an array of sushi, ramen, bao, and unusual cocktails. The last time I had bao, in Florida in January, was still fresh on my mind and I was SO excited about the lobster buns. Oh my god. Best thing ever. The older sister restaurant Miyake is under renovations; I would love to try it next time.
The next day we found lobster roll heaven: Highroller Lobster Co. The former food truck is a famous tourist destination and for good reason: they have a big menu with all the usual New England seafood favorites, and the lobster rolls are out of this world.
Dinner the second night was at Union, where everything is fresh and local and absolutely delicious. The service was slow and a bit grouchy, which is to be expected while everyone is short staffed, I guess. But the food…. just wonderful.
We knew we wanted to get a healthy breakfast on our way out of town, so we returned to LB Kitchen, where J and I lunched last visit. The menu goes from smoothies to bowls to salads to sandwiches and all four of us were so happy with our orders. Right now they are carryout only, but have a few tables around back where they’ll deliver your food.
Our final stop in Portland: The Holy Donut, to take home to the children (not Bugsy). And also to snack on in the car. YUM. Their secret ingredient is riced potatoes, so they’re healthy, right?
I’m putting this last because it barely deserves mention: we got brunch sandwiches at Mr Bagel our first morning in town. The food was fine but the menu is very basic and the sandwiches took forevvvver.
Oh, one more food note: we didn’t eat there, but our dear cousin was very excited to see Otto Pizza and says it’s the best.
Our favorite way to get an overview of a city is to find a self-guided walking tour. Portland Downtown has several walking tours with lots of overlap, so we kind of smashed them all together:
- Do the first couple stops on the historical walk from Congress St down to the waterfront
- Then wander around the old shops and pubs just off the waterfront
- Then admire the architecture on the way back up to Congress St
- And finish with more cool old buildings on Congress St
Our favorite part was the Old Port, with quaint boutiques and restaurants and cobblestones.
Yes, it was 10000 degrees out, but since we were eating and drinking all weekend we wanted to get a calorie deficit Friday morning. We decided to run along the harbor on the Eastern Promenade, which connects to the Back Cove Trail if you want more distance. The Promenade is a wide multi-use trail which was pretty steamy even in the early-ish morning.
Things that were on the list but we didn’t get to do:
- Climb the tower at the Portland Observatory for a view of town: on Thursdays between 5 and 8pm you can sign up for self-guided tour
- Visit the Portland Head Lighthouse, but we’d need a car
- Drink sours at Definitive
- Eat dinner at one of the other restaurants we had flagged: Baharat or Central Provisions; farther down our list were Eventide Oyster and Terlingua
We’d love to return to Portland, but unless a new campground pops up, we’re unlikely to return with Bugsy and the Airstream!