Though COVID-19 has stalled many travel plans, we hope our stories can offer inspiration for your current—and future—adventures.
The solace of nature is never far away in Portland, Maine. More maritime sanctuary than urban getaway, you only need take a bracing whiff of the salty air to be reminded that this seaside city, which once served as the largest port hub in 17th-century New England, is home to more than 70 miles of serene waterside walking trails, centuries-old lighthouses positioned on majestic bluffs, and some of the best whale watching in the state. Venture a little further and you’ll discover the quiet healing power of wide-open spaces in some of the state’s diverse landscapes, from the tallest point on the eastern seaboard and fields of wildflowers in the ever-popular Acadia National Park to hidden gems like Ogunquit’s idyllic, sandy beach and Wolfe’s Neck Woods. But the restorative journey doesn’t stop there. Experience deeper, more mindful travel through immersive activities along the way that allow you to be truly present and relax, such as catching your own lobster dinner, meeting Portland’s contemporary artists, and sampling regional ingredients for an authentic (and delicious) taste of local culture.
Kick off your trip and energize your senses in Portland
With cobblestone streets, 19th-century brick buildings, and a nearby wharf, Old Port lies at the center of quintessential Portland. This vibrant historic district is where you’ll discover your base, The Press Hotel. Thoughtfully designed to evoke the city’s past and present—think decorative typewriters and a gallery featuring Portland artists—the hotel repurposes the Gannett Building, the former headquarters of the Portland Press Herald, and gives visitors who stay here a grounding sense of place.
Once you’ve settled in, hop aboard a ferry for a 30-minute round-trip ride from Old Port to Peaks Island to get your first big dose of the uplifting feelings and sense of altruism that awe-inspiring experiences inspire. Casco Bay Ferries—the only line to shuttle back and forth regularly—has docked there since the 1880s. The colorful boats are packed with more locals than popular tourist schooner tours and during the short, scenic trip, you’ll still be able to spot the major sites of the bay, such as Fort Gorges, Bug Light Park Lighthouse, and of course, the playful, resident harbor seals.
Back at The Press Hotel’s restaurant UNION, have a taste of farm-to-table, socially conscious ingredients, like sustainably caught salmon and honey harvested directly on the hotel’s rooftop. After lunch, take a short walk over to the neighboring Arts District, where galleries such as SPACE host a nighttime art walk on the first Friday of every month. At the center of the neighborhood, the Portland Museum of Art’s collection includes a significant number of paintings by Andrew Wyeth and Winslow Homer, artists who both lived in Maine and were known for their sublime meditations on nature.
Come sunset, there’s no beating the spectacular ocean views you’ll see during a leisurely stroll along the Eastern Promenade for another fix of good vibes. (If you’re looking for something more strenuous, bike or walk around the connecting Back Cove Trail first.) For dinner, indulge in towering sandwiches and hand-cut Belgian fries made with Maine-grown potatoes at Duckfat. Afterall, pleasing your tastebuds is an important part of mental health, too.
Dive into the invigorating effects of one of Maine’s best beaches
Known for its romantic, rocky coastline, Maine also boasts some pristine sandy beaches like Ogunquit, which translates to “beautiful place by the sea” in the Algonquin language. Before leaving on the 45-minute drive, fuel up at Tandem Coffee, a coffee shop and bakery housed in a retro 1960s gas station.
At Ogunquit Beach, you’ll find a dazzling 3.5-mile stretch of soft sand and gentle surf that’s made for swimming and lazing on Adirondack chairs. Better still, there are no high-rises in sight. Active visitors can try sea kayaking or sailing, and in June, July, August, and from mid-April to October, there’s prime whale watching for animal lovers. If you’re feeling good vibes here, it’s not your imagination. Moving water creates abundant negative ions that many believe can increase our brain’s level of the chemical serotonin, relieving stress and boosting energy.
Come lunch time, take the hop-on, hop-off Ogunquit Trolley over to M.C. Perkins Cove, a sustainable restaurant set in a restored 18th-century farmhouse. The ambitious, James Beard Award-winning chefs even grow and forage their crops and cure their own meat. When you finish eating, wander along Marginal Way, a cliff walk with jaw-dropping views of the Atlantic’s swelling waves. Make sure to pause and appreciate the various tidepools teeming with sea life like starfish, urchins, crabs, and other creatures.
On your way back to Portland, make a pit stop at Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth. Dating back to 1791, it’s Maine’s oldest (and most iconic) lighthouse, perched over jagged layers of quartzite and phyllite. For dinner, head to the city’s East End and take your pick of the area’s many up-and-coming restaurants and bars. Terlingua offers house-smoked BBQ with a Latin American twist while The Shop by Island Creek Oysters serves up some of the freshest oysters in the country.
Go forest bathing in the crown jewel of the East Coast
No trip to Maine’s coast is complete without a visit to Acadia National Park, a 47,000-acre national treasure with stunning fall foliage and a plethora of diverse, dramatic landscapes such as verdant forests, rugged shores, and towering, granite peaks. Here, it’s easy to forget the outside world, making it an ideal location for forest bathing, a meditative activity that’s less about exercise and more about improving your state of mind. It can also do wonders for your health, from lowering your blood pressure and heart rate to reducing cortisol, the harmful stress hormone.
Wake up extra early for the three-hour drive, especially if you want to take in a magnificent sunrise from Cadillac Mountain, the highest point within 25 miles of the Eastern Seaboard. (It’s a great spot for sunset as well if you can’t quite drag yourself out of bed or want to avoid the crowds.) For the day’s activities, you’ll have your pick of 158 miles of hiking trails that suit every speed and mood, including the gloriously quiet waterside Ship Harbor Trail, wildflower-filled Penobscot Ridge Trail, and the Beehive Loop—a challenging rung-and-ladder trail (meaning it’s supported by rungs, ladders, and railings) that rewards you with panoramic views over the Gulf of Maine stretching to the horizon. Here, it’s almost impossible to forget to take a few deep breaths and live in the moment.
After you’ve worked up an appetite, stop at Jordan Pond House for relaxing afternoon tea with popovers and strawberry jam overlooking the water. End the excursion with a boat tour of the park’s striking coast and major sites, like Otter Cliff, Sand Beach, and Thunder Hole, a naturally formed inlet where the waves crash into a semi-submerged cave with incredible force, causing its namesake sound to ring out at high tide. On your drive back to Portland, stop at The Red Barn Restaurant in Augusta for filling fried haddock, seafood stew, and old-fashioned whoopie pies.
Inspire awe and goodwill at these coastal treasures
Today you’ll venture into Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park, a tranquil and often overlooked piece of land set on a wooded peninsula between the rocky shorelines of Casco Bay and the Harraseeket River. It’s just a 30-minute drive from Portland. While many visitors come for the secluded walking trails, the calm waters are also ideal for kayaking around nearby Goggins Island, a protected osprey habitat. Keep a lookout for bald eagles, great blue heron, and dolphins, too. Witnessing these wonders of nature will help spark even more feelings of benevolence and positivity. So don’t be surprised if you leave Maine and its majestic, open spaces with a new, refreshing outlook.
Come lunchtime, move over to Maine Beer Company, an eco-conscious local brewery, and lounge on the sunny patio while sipping a draft and snacking on pizza. Next, drive 20 minutes to Bradbury Mountain State Park to enjoy some of the state’s best mountain biking trails for newcomers and advanced riders alike. If you didn’t bring your own bike, you can rent your gear at Cyclemania in Portland.
Make it back to the city in time for a tour on Lucky Catch Cruises. During this hands-on journey, you’ll get an up-close look at an important part of Maine culture, learn about marine life and lobster conservation efforts, and—if you like—have the chance to haul in your own extra fresh dinner.
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