The quintessential New England coastal town of Portland, Maine, really comes alive for the winter holidays.
Many special Christmas decorations and festivities dress up Portland’s historic buildings and cobblestone streets. It all creates a cozy atmosphere to warm up visitors on even the coldest days.
Many of Portland’s annual traditions include lights, such as the Monument Square tree lighting in the heart of downtown. It will take place from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Nov. 29. It also features live music and Santa Claus.
Also from Monument Square, the city offers free horse-drawn carriage rides through downtown on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from Nov. 29 through Dec. 22.
You can’t miss the Harbor Christmas Boat Parade of Lights in Portland Harbor on Dec. 14. You can watch the festivities from Fort Allen Park or elsewhere along the Portland waterfront as decorated boats sail by. You also can be amid the boats, with a specialty cruise with Casco Bay Lines for $12.50.
In addition, much of downtown is lit up all winter. Stroll along the bustling streets and vote for your favorite window display as part of the city’s Holiday Window Display Contest from Nov. 29 through Dec. 25.
On Shop for a Cause Dayon Nov. 30 – the day after Black Friday — purchases made at participating outlets will benefit a local charity. On Dec. 5, stores participating in Merry Madness will remain open until 10 p.m. for holiday shopping.
Visitors who tour the Wadsworth Longfellow House this holiday season will learn about the friendship between poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Charles Dickens, author of A Christmas Carol. Dickens reportedly performed a public reading of his holiday ghost story at Portland City Hall in 1868. The Maine Historical Society will offer tours of the house where Longfellow grew up on Dec. 16-23.
During Christmas at Victoria Mansion, its 19th-century interior is filled with decorations from local artists, designers and florists over six weeks from Dec. 22 to Jan. 5, 2020. Visitors can take a tour or attend one of several holiday programs and events. Built in the mid-1800s, the mansion boasted hot and cold running water, flush toilets, central heat, gas lights, wall-to-wall carpeting and a 25-foot long stained-glass skylight. Admission prices vary.
Holiday not required
There’s more to Portland than Christmas. Dating to 1632, the city was once Maine’s capital. Its compact size makes it easy to walk to museums, performing arts, quaint shops and plenty of good restaurants, cafes and craft breweries any time of year.
Many of those sights are downtown or in the Old Port District, which also offers beautiful water views. The Arts District west of downtown is home to the Portland Museum of Art (designed by I.M. Pei, its collection includes works by Monet, Renoir and Winslow Homer) and the free downtown Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art. Here is where you’ll also find Portland Stage and the State Theatre.
Maine has more than 100 craft breweries, and more than a few call Portland home. There’s Allagash Brewing Co., Liquid Riot Bottling Co., Rising Tide Brewing Co. and Shipyard Brewing Co. to name a few. Don’t want to drink and drive? Hop on The Maine Brew Bus to tour some of the local watering holes.
Note: The featured photo at top is by Kristel Hayes on Unsplash.
Despite higher prices at the gas pumps this summer, the classic American road trip remains one of the most popular travel options.
At $2.86, average U.S. gasoline prices are at their highest level in about four years. Though the price for regular unleaded gasoline on July 8 was up 60 cents from a year ago, it was down 7 cents from a month ago, according to AAA. Gas prices were highest in the West ($3.66 in California) and lowest in the South ($2.53 in Alabama).
However, AAA spokeswoman Jeanette Casselano said “elevated crude oil prices and other geopolitical concerns could tilt gas prices more expensive in the early fall despite an expected increase in global crude production from OPEC.” If U.S. demand remains strong, inventories rise and oil continue to sell at over $70 a barrel, drivers could see average gas prices hit nearly $3 a gallon in the coming months, she said.
In the meantime, families are hitting the road.
Nearly two-thirds of the 88 million Americans planning to take a family vacation this year expect to hit the road, according to AAA. About three-quarters seek a destination they’ve never been to before. Families also seek attractions, such as beaches and mountains (61 percent), sightseeing (59 percent) and relaxation (56 percent).
If you’re thinking about a road trip this summer or fall, here are some favorite road trips I’ve taken over the years:
Pacific Coast Highway: Fort Bragg to Los Angeles
This cliff-top, panoramic 123-mile drive on Highway 1 along much of California’s coast will leave you breathless. Start near Fort Bragg and drive south along rugged coastline. Build in time to explore the cities of San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Monterey and Los Angeles. Don’t miss Bodega Head, Old Mission San Juan Bautista, Carmel-by-the-Sea’s 17-mile Drive (see featured photo at top), Big Sur’s Pfeiffer Beach, elephant seals at Piedras Blancas, Hearst Castle and Venice Beach.
Oregon Highway 101: Near Portland to Cape Perpetua
This drive is similar to California’s Highway 1, but I think the Oregon coast is wilder and more lonesome. There are plenty of beaches, trails, state parks and small towns. Don’t miss Cannon Beach and its 235-foot Haystack Rock, Devils Punchbowl near Newport and Cape Perpetua Headland, which is the highest viewpoint accessible by car on the Oregon Coast. If you have time, drive farther south to Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, with sand dunes up to 500 feet high. Combine this with the Pacific Coast Highway for a longer adventure.
The Road to Hana: Maui, Hawaii
This famous 64-mile road on the island’s western coast features too-many-to-count ess curves and single-lane bridges. Start in the small beachy town of Paia. Watch the surfers at Ho’okipa Beach Park, stop at as many plunging waterfalls and walking trails as you like, sample banana bread and fresh coconut milk at roadside fruit stands, enjoy the view from check out Pua’a Kaa State Wayside Park’s waterfall and natural swimming hole, Hana Lava Tube and Black Sand Beach at Waianapanapa State Park.
San Juan Skyway: Southwestern Colorado
This 200-mile loop goes through some of the prettiest country in Colorado, a must-see national park, hot springs, an old railroad and lots of great hiking. Start in Durango: Take Highway 160 West, take 145 North, cut across on 62 and then head south on 550. Your first stop should be Mesa Verde National Park. After that, you’ll pass through beautiful meadows, see jaw-dropping mountain views in the ski town of Telluride, relax in the Ouray hot-spring pools, ride the train on narrow-gauge rails originally laid in 1882 in the mining town of Silverton and end with a nice meal in Durango.
The Blue Ridge Parkway: North Carolina
The Blue Ridge Parkway winds through the Appalachian Mountains in Virginia and North Carolina for 469 miles. Whether you like to hike, bike, swim or go antiquing in quaint little towns, there’s something for you. The velvety green valleys and the Blue Ridge Mountains often are shrouded in heavy mist. In North Carolina, stop at Grandfather Mountain State Park, 6,684-foot Mount Mitchell (the highest peak in the eastern United States), Linville Gorge and Asheville, N.C. before heading into the Great Smoky Mountains.
Highway 1A: Coastal Maine
Coastal Maine offers many quaint old fishing villages, historic downtowns, beaches and lighthouses. Head north on U.S. Highway 1A (later take smaller routes 9 and 77), stopping in York (the cliff walk near Stage Neck and Nubble Lighthouse), Ogunquit (walk on the beach or Marginal Way), Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, Kennebunkport Lower Village (shopping and scenic waterways) and the Cape Elizabeth Lighthouse. Don’t miss the city of Portland, which offers good food, craft beer and history. Just a bit beyond Portland is Freeport, home to L.L. Bean’s headquarters and the giant boot. I blogged here about my visit to L.L. Bean in November 2017.
Route 66: Tulsa, Okla., to Arizona
You can’t talk about road trips without mentioning Historic Route 66, one of the nation’s original highways built in 1926. The iconic route originally stretched for nearly 2,500 miles from Chicago through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona to end in Santa Monica, Calif. Today, you’ll find lots of Americana in the form of landmarks, kitschy statues and vintage diners and motels. Drive this coast-to-coast route in sections. In Oklahoma, don’t miss the Blue Whale of Catoosa, Tulsa’s Art Deco architecture, Sandhills Curiosity Shop in Erick, Lucille’s Gas station in Hydro, Route 66 Museum in Clinton, Coleman Theatre in Miami, Tower Theatre in Oklahoma City. In Texas, stop at Cadillac Ranch, Palo Duro Canyon State Park and the MidPiont Café and sign. New Mexico offers Acoma Pueblo and old town Albuquerque. The grand finale is Arizona’s Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Park and the Grand Canyon.
Route 50: Colorado and Utah
This 3,000-mile route stretches from Ocean City, Maryland, to Sacramento, Calif., passing through a dozen states and following the same route as the Overland Stagecoach and the Pony Express. One of the prettiest sections goes through the mountains and canyons of Colorado and Utah. After picking up Route 50 outside of Colorado Springs, you’ll go through lots of mountainous national park land (check out Gunnison Gorge National Recreation area). Route 50 follows Interstate 70 for a while through Utah, passing near several outstanding national parks (Arches, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef ) before living up to its name as “Loneliest Road in America” as it heads into Nevada.
Of course, there are too many road trips to mention in this blog post. One that tops my list to do is the Alaska Highway.
Next Wednesday, look here for my post on what mobile apps to download for your road trip.
You can’t miss the 16-foot tall boot in the center of Freeport, Maine.
It’s why many people visit the town, which is home to L.L. Bean, the long-time retailer of all types of outdoor products.
The giant “duck boot” stands in front of the company’s flagship store. is amazingly similar to the real deal. Confession: I owned a pair of duck boots as a teenager.
The story goes that Leon Leonwood Bean created the Maine hunting boot with a rubber bottom and leather upper in 1911. They were perfect for traipsing through the state’s boggy land to hunt and fish.
The following year, Bean sold the boots by mail order, with scant success at first. Ninety of the first 100 pairs were flawed. But by the 1920s, he was still selling the boots plus other outdoor products.
The duck boot has gone through popularity ups and downs through the years, but it’s been trendy for the last few years. In fact, L.L. Bean expects record holiday sales this year, according to a recent Associated Press story.
The duck boot and the L.L. Bean flagship store in Freeport have become part of retail tourism lore.I’d been to Maine before, but not to the L.L. Bean store, so I had to go on my recent trip to the state.
Years before the on-demand culture, Bean opened the Freeport store — and kept it open 24 hours a day. That was 1951. His idea was to cater to visiting sportsmen who would drive through the night to get an early morning start.
Inside the store, one of the first products you’ll see is the duck boot — in many models today. Shopping becomes a bit surreal as you stroll by a trout pond, a large aquarium and dioramas of moose, musk ox, mountain lion and other animal taxidermy.
In addition to the boot in front of the Freeport site, the Bootmobile (a large upper part of a duck boot built on top of a pickup truck) was there the day I visited.