Cobblestone streets give way to playfully decaying alleys, while a heady-looking group of drifters post up on a park bench. “Where you from and where you going to?” asks a curious local woman, who shyly slips them a couple bucks, cautiously examining their dreadlocks. In a nearby thrift store, a guitarist, nestled between a row of mannequins, sings into a microphone. And further downtown, the Atlantic Ocean expels a rugged salty scent, as a thousand-something-foot cruise ship pulls into Old Port. Across the harbor local fishermen untie their modest boat from a curbside dock. The surrounding buildings vary in shades of deep blue, orange, and pastel white. This is the small town charm of Portland—Maine’s biggest city—and there’s no escaping it, and that’s even before you’ve tried the seafood.
With a population of about 66,000, the history of Portland dates back to 11,000 BCE, when it was first settled by Native Americans. But by 1676, the village was raided and destroyed in King Phillip’s War, rebuilt, then destroyed again in the 1690 Battle of Fort Loyal (today the fort is located on India Street in the center of the city). Portland was then burnt to the ground in the Great Fire of July 4, 1866, shortly after the Civil War. Fast forward to WWII, though, and it had become a burgeoning Navy destroyer base. It is indeed a turbulent history, especially for such a small city, one that’s hidden behind the customary kindness of its present-day residents.
Today, Portland is an intimate, subtly-gritty town with a creative twist. It’s been called “the number one craft beer city in the world,” and is home to a thriving arts district, including Portland Museum of Art, Portland Stage Company, and Maine College of Art, to name a few. But despite some economic hurdles—Maine’s economy is reportedly ranked 47th in the nation as of 2015—Portland upholds a definitively proud culture, evidenced by simply wandering the streets and chatting up the locals.
I recently spent some time there testing Motorola’s new Hasselblad True Zoom modular camera for its Moto Z family of smartphones (read our full review here). So I put together a travel guide to exploring and photographing Portland. Here’s what I found.
PHOTOGRAPHY AND SIGHTS
Really, the photography opportunities in Portland and the surrounding areas are endless. You’ll find everything from historic lighthouses to dreamy beaches and quirky street photography. Although I was only in town for a short time, here are some of the things I came across along the way. But as with any travel adventure, it is highly encouraged to explore it for yourself, as there’s always something new and interesting happening on the streets of Portland.
This iconic lighthouse, located in Cape Elizabeth, sits on a small peninsula near the entrance of the primary shipping channel into Portland Harbor. As a part of Fort Williams Park, it is an ideal spot for compelling landscapes. You can show perspective by placing a subject at the foot of the beacon, or take a walk down a pathway and climb down to the rocks to capture and upward angle and the movement of the ocean. If you’re facing the lighthouse, the sun sets on the right-hand side, adding a captivating pink backdrop to your images.
Though the city is small, Portland is certainly made for walking, which is great for documentary or street-style photography. Here, you’ll find everything from pristine cobble stone streets to decrepit alleyways with an obscure cultural aesthetic. I began my walk after lunch at Eventide, headed Northwest through Eastern Cemetery, then cut through Lincoln Park as I wandered downtown to the harbor. Along the way I found a musician playing a set in a thrift shop, photographed a young group of drifters, and got lost in a maze of graffiti clad alleyways, all in just one hour.
A sailboat ride is bit of a stable in Portland’s thriving tourism industry, and for good measure. A tour with Portland Schooner will take you out of the harbor and through Cape Elizabeth for yet another view of the Portland Head Light. It is likely that you will be riding on one of their two windjammer sails—the Bagheera or Wendameen—which can hold between 40 and 50 passengers. Just be sure to pack some wine or locally brewed craft beer for your trip.
HOTELS AND ACCOMODATIONS
Although I can only speak on behalf of where I stayed, I see little reason why anyone would want to go elsewhere. Inn by the Sea is a quaint location offering a wide range of accommodations, from traditional rooms to beach suites and cottages. With a large backyard home to fire pits and a pool, a short walk down a peaceful wooded path brings you to a captivating private beach. Located in Cape Elizabeth, it’s about five miles from Portland, and surely the place for a true Maine experience.
Drink too much at the brewery? Well no doubt, Uber and Lyft have got you covered. From my experience, the fares are comparatively lower than most major cities and there’s an excess of available drivers, providing a very minimal wait time.
DINING AND CUISINE
There’s no question that you’ll be blown away by nearly every restaurant you come across in Portland. Of course, the city is known for its seafood, but it is important to note that dining can get pricey; perspectively, I overheard a waitress say that locals never eat seafood from a restaurant, given the average price of a single oyster is rarely lower that $2.25, unless you’re getting a happy hour special. Yet if there’s one thing I’d recommend blowing your budget on it’s eating. These are some of the best places I encountered.
The moment you enter this restaurant you’ll be in awe over its bright, kitschy atmosphere and massive shellfish display sunken into a granite bar. It’s also known specifically for its brown-butter lobster roll, which I can personally attest to. Though the portions are a bit small, the brown-butter makes it notably rich and savory, alongside the pork bun-esque roll that will, in fact, melt in your mouth. Just be forewarned: reservations are a must, especially in the evening, and orders aren’t timed (meaning dishes don’t all come out at once), so a family-style meal is highly recommended.
Don’t be turned off by the prices in this high-class Italian joint. The portions are generous and everything on the menu is cooked to perfection—our table collectively ordered an assortment of pasta, pizza, duck, lobster, and oysters, which left us in a total food coma. Tucked between two alleyways, the building is covered in rich green ivy, and the atmosphere inside is dark yet roomy. Oh, and if you ask nicely, try special ordering a lobster pizza. I would also recommend the Long Island Duck, as long you heed the waiter’s suggestion of medium-rare.
Scales (not pictured here)
Located along the Maine Wharf of Old Port, Scales offers a spacious atmosphere styled similarly to what you’d find in an expansive LA coffee shop, but with a subtle nautical decor. And if fish is your thing, this is certainly the place for you, given the giant barrels of whole fish cooling in the front of house. I ordered the Pan Roasted Halibut with hazelnuts, brown butter, and new potatoes, which the waitress said was the freshest on the menu. The portion wasn’t large by any means, but the brown butter and potatoes made for a filling, hearty entree.
There’s a reason why some call Portland the “number one craft beer city in the world.” It is home to number of notable breweries, all which offer excellent prices—a flight (four assorted 4-5 oz. glasses), for example, generally costs about $4. For starters, I recommend checking out the Allagash and Shipyard breweries. In addition, though not a brewery, Novare Res is an excellent tap house with a huge beer selection. Alongside a large outdoor space, the decor is perfectly grungy, and it is the ideal place for a true local experience.
See more photos from the trip below.
Check out Motorola for more on the Hasselblad True Zoom modular smartphone camera.