Posted on January 30, 2017 by Janet Steinberg
Portland: The Quintessential Main Coast

Surrounded by water, jutting out into an island-studded Casco Bay, Portland hosts a vibrant Maine coastline where arts meets adventure amidst a vibrant backdrop of stunning natural beauty.




Portland, nestled between Maine’s forest-covered mountains and spectacular rugged coast, is a rough-hewn gem of New England. In addition to its many attractions, and fabulous restaurants, it is also an excellent home base for day tours to surrounding resorts and attractions.

Having disembarked from a cruise ship, I embarked on a short waterfront walk before boarding a land tour Trolley for an informative, 90-minute narrated tour.  Lo and behold we spotted the Whaling Wall.  Yes, you heard me.  I said the Whaling Wall.  No, we weren’t in Israel.  We didn’t cross the Atlantic Ocean to get there, and my spell-check didn’t goof on the spelling of Whaling.



The Whaling Wall of which I speak is a 950-foot mural of life-size humpback whales located in Portland, Maine.  It is dedicated to the great whales in our oceans and is painted on the side of a building directly across from the Casco Bay Ferry Terminal on Commercial Street.   This ocean art is the work of the famed marine artist Wyland whose 80-plus Whaling Wall murals are seen by more than one billion people per year throughout the world.

In the Old Port we spied a small segment of the Berlin Wall on Long Wharf.  Among the words painted on the middle section were the following: “The Berlin Wall Aug. 13, 1961-Nov.9, 1989.  Forget not the tyranny of this wall… horrid place.  Nor the love of freedom that made it fall.”  Also on the wharf is a plaque proclaiming the universal wish for fishermen that reads as follows: “May you have fair winds and following seas”. 



Arriving at Long Wharf, I boarded a tour Trolley.  Among the landmarks to be seen were the bustling Old Port, the Victoria Mansion, the childhood home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and the Portland Observatory.



The Victoria Mansion is one of the most important historic house museums and collections of the mid-Victorian period anywhere in America.   Also known as the Morse-Libby House, it is the finest example of residential design from the pre-Civil War era in America. With superb architecture and well-preserved original interiors that were among the most lavish and sophisticated in their day, it is an unparalleled document of America’s highest aspirations in architecture, interior design, and the decorative arts.  The Wadsworth-Longfellow House has been faithfully restored.  Built in 1785-86 by the poet’s grandfather, General Peleg Wadsworth, the childhood home of America’s beloved poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, is one of the oldest brick structures on Portland’s peninsula.   



The Portland Observatory, built in 1807, is a maritime signal tower that will show you spectacular views of Portland and Casco Bay while learning the maritime history of Portland.  Named a National Historic Landmark in 2006, the Portland Observatory is the only known remaining historic maritime signal tower in the United States.

A short drive took us to The Portland Head Light, the oldest (and most photographed) lighthouse in Maine.  This famous lighthouse, situated on the grounds of Fort Williams Park, is perched on a craggy, rocky coastline in nearby Cape Elizabeth.   It was first illuminated in 1791.  The pathways, views, and museum in this 90-acre park make it well worth a visit.




No trip to Portland would be complete without a visit to the Portland Museum of Art, housed in an award-winning, architectural gem designed by I.M. Pei & Partners.  Its collection, that covers three centuries of art and architecture, includes works by such artists as Degas, Monet and Picasso as well as those of Maine artists Andrew Wyeth and Winslow Homer. 

Portland’s Public Market House is an in-town public market that celebrates Maine people, food and agricultural traditions.  It is located at 28 Monument Square, part of the old Haymarket Row buildings, and on the square that used to house Portland’s original public market.   We were overwhelmed by the array of Maine’s best foods, fresh from the producer.  You can eat right in the Market.



Shoppers take note!   L.L. Bean’s home, Freeport Maine, is only a 25-minute drive from Portland.  Freeport is a beautiful coastal Maine village with over 200 upscale outlets, designer shops and eclectic boutiques.  But the main event in Freeport is L.L. Bean, located in a town where the Harraseeket River flows. The name Harraseeket, given to that river in Freeport, is derived from an American Indian dialect meaning the “River of Many Fish”.  Little wonder that Leon Leonwood Bean (L. L. Bean) picked Freeport to establish his world famous fishing, hunting, and sporting business in 1912. 




By 1951, the expanded flagship store was seeing so many visitors that Bean decided to “throw away the key” and keep the doors open 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year.  The L.L. Bean Flagship store, located at 95 Main Street, is the company’s first and largest store.   The 103-year old Freeport store is visited by over 3-million people a year. 

Buy Buy! and Bye Bye!



JANET STEINBERG is an award-winning Travel Writer, International Travel Consultant, and winner of 41 national Travel Writing Awards.



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