Arts and Culture District
From the wharfs, we wandered into the handsome Old Port area, with its red brick sidewalks, 19th-century buildings and cobblestone streets. Over the course of our stay, we got to know every inch of Fore Street, one of the Old Port area’s main thoroughfares.
It’s where we found Gorgeous Gelato, a gelateria specializing in intriguing, intense flavors. (Chocolate and fig, anyone? Yes!) And Vena’s Fizz House, a combination bitters boutique and bar that offers alcoholic and nonalcoholic cocktails and concoctions — liquid alchemy, they call it. The aptly named Meadow drink special included gin, basil, grapefruit and lavender. Around the corner on Exchange Street is The Holy Donut, whose not-so-secret ingredient is real Maine mashed potatoes. Go ahead and try the doughnut stuffed with bacon and cheddar.
From the Old Port area, it’s a short stroll to Congress Street, the spine of the downtown arts and culture district in the city’s West End. We spent a pleasant morning in the Portland Museum of Art where we caught the Biennial exhibition, which included more than 25 contemporary artists with special connections to Maine. The museum also owns permanent works by Winslow Homer and Andrew Wyeth.
That night, a First Friday of the month, hundreds of people crowded Congress Street, checking out the galleries, artists and vendors who set up makeshift tables on the sidewalks. Seemingly impromptu performances from street musicians entertained the crowd. Even a troupe of preteen and teenage girls showed off their hip-hop moves. It was a high-spirited street party, perhaps made even more festive by the long sunny evening and balmy (for Maine) temperatures. It felt great to be outside.
In fact, Portland is a fantastic city for being outside and walking during nice weather. We had panoramic vistas of the ocean and harbor — as well as old mansions with their widows’ walks — along the Eastern Promenade park. At the nearby Fort Allen steps, we headed down to a waterfront trail built along an old rail corridor, even passing the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad.