Stadium Journey Destinations – Portland, Maine
For many sports travelers, the local ballpark, stadium or arena is not the sole factor in choosing a destination. Equally as important for some are other factors, including (but certainly not limited to) the local food or arts scene, historic landmarks, or other attractions, such as accessibility to beaches, ski slopes or amusement parks.
When naming favorite destinations, major league cities will obviously top many lists. However, there are hidden gems from coast to coast that warrant inclusion among the big cities. I would like to introduce you to one of my favorite places to visit, Portland, Maine.
Portland is Maine’s most populous city, with just over 67,000 residents. Located about a two hour drive northeast of Boston, the city contains New England’s largest seaport. It’s a popular destination for Quebecois, as the area offers the closest ocean access from many points in Quebec. High temperatures during the summer average in the 70s, with high temperatures in the winter averaging around the freezing mark. Portland’s location on the water means that it gets less snow than you might expect, while extremely hot days are rare during the summer.
Most visitors to Portland will certainly spend some time in the Old Port section of the city. This is where the majority of the city’s restaurants and bars are located. It’s a walkable area compete with cobblestone streets, salty air and touristy shops. In recent years Portland has developed a well-deserved reputation as a terrific foodie destination. In 2009 Portland was named the “foodiest small town in America” by Bon Appetit Magazine, and has been featured in the New York Times as a food destination. There are close to 400 restaurants within city limits.
As you may imagine, a city with a thriving seaport such as Portland is a great place to get some seafood. Maine’s cool waters and craggy coastline are perfect breeding ground for the legendary Maine lobster. Seafood practically goes straight from the ocean to your plate in establishments throughout town. Maine Today offers a comprehensive listing on all the options throughout the city.
The Portland Farmers Market has been in continuous operation since 1768. It takes place on Wednesdays and Saturdays downtown at Monument Park from May to November. Fresh fish and seafood can be purchased along Commercial Street at several waterfront markets along the Old Port’s many wharves. Check out Maine Today’s Ultimate Seafood Guide for more info. B&M Baked Beans still operates a plant on the waterfront.
Portland is the birthplace of the Italian sandwich, called simply “an Italian” locally. Amato’s delicatessen claims to be the originator of this sandwich.
If seafood isn’t your thing, no worries. Portland has the greatest concentration of vegan and vegetarian-friendly restaurants in the state. In 2016 VegNews magazine listed Portland among its 12 best towns for Vegan living.
In addition to the vibrant food scene in Portland, the city has a reputation as a craft brewing paradise, with a number of microbreweries and brewpubs around the city. Travel and Leisure ranked Portland 14th on its list of “America’s Best Cities for Beer Lovers.” Some notable breweries include the D.L. Geary Brewing Company, Shipyard Brewing Company, Casco Bay Brewing Company and Allagash Brewing Company. Many breweries offer tours of their facilities, with obligatory samples at the conclusion. With the variety and quality of brews available in Portland, you’ll want to eschew the big brands and sample the local flavor.
Portland has a thriving arts district, with some world class museums centered on Congress Street less than a mile uphill from the Old Port. The Portland Museum of Art, Maine Historical Society & Museum, Portland Stage Company, SPACE Gallery and Portland Symphony Orchestra can all be found downtown. If visiting with children, the Children’s Museum of Maine may be on your itinerary.
If planning to visit Portland during the summer, a cruise of Casco Bay is a must. Several companies offer tours of the Bay. Among the many choices, I recommend the Mailboat Run. It’s a working boat that carries mail and passengers to the many islands of Casco Bay, and is a great way to see the sights of the Bay and the Portland skyline. For sweeping views of the Bay from the mainland, be sure to head to the Portland Observatory or Fort Allen Park. If shopping is more your thing, the legendary L.L. Bean Outlet is less than a half hour away in Freeport. It’s a popular destination around the holidays. The Boardwalk of Old Orchard Beach is just a half hour south of Portland.
While Portland does not have any Division One collegiate sports in the area, they offer several options for the sporting fan. The Portland Sea Dogs, the AA affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, play at Hadlock Field. The Maine Red Claws, the NBA G-League affiliate of the Boston Celtics, play next door at the Portland Exposition Building. The Maine Mariners, the ECHL affiliate of the New York Rangers, start play in October at the Cross Insurance Arena, located right downtown. The National Arena League’s Maine Mammoths also began play this year at the Cross Insurance Arena. The Sanford Mainers of the New England Collegiate Baseball League play at nearby Goodall Park. In addition, the Greater Portland area has 11 golf courses, 124 tennis courts and 95 playgrounds. There are over 100 miles of nature trails around the Casco Bay region.
It’s no surprise that veteran minor league baseball and hockey travelers alike consistently rank Portland among their favorite cities to visit. Whether you head to Maine for sports, food, beer, shopping or sightseeing, Portland offers a little something for everyone. It’s truly a worthy destination for a Stadium Journey.
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