When people hear Portland, they usually think of that famous Oregonian town on the East Coast—bicycles, roses, and rain. Little do most know that on the opposite side of the United States, there exists a small New England town that goes by the same name: Portland, Maine. Portland is where my parents first came when they emigrated from China to America in 1992. 22 years later, in the summer of 2013, I got to travel to a home I had never been to, yet was still intrinsically a part of.
Portland is known as Maine’s culinary capital, but what most wouldn’t expect is that the coffee here is just as good as its famous lobsters. Visit Crema Coffee Company in Portland’s Old Port district for an energetic start to a great day. Baristas steam up cup after cup of café au laits and soy espressos at the counters of this revamped, hip warehouse. Settle into an overstuffed leather chair right next to the vintage Roland upright and the bike rack, and enjoy your breakfast.
The Arts District of downtown Portland comes alive as the sun rises and mom-and-pop stores open their doors. Wandering down the cobbled sidewalks, you are sure to come across a variety of shops that suit your tastes, from used bookstores to secondhand clothing boutiques to modern art galleries. Flip through noir fiction at The Green Hand, browse peter pan-collared frocks at Encore, or admire Middle Eastern sculptures at the Portland Museum of Art.
After soaking in so much culture, you’re ready for some of the stunning natural vistas that Maine is so famed for. A 18-minute car ride southeast will bring you to Two Lights State Park in Cape Elizabeth. Here, the solitary lighthouse that inspired painter Edward Hopper stands guard over Two Lights’ textured quartzite coasts. Quick! Did you catch that flash of movement underfoot? These rocks are home to tidal pools teeming with ocean life. Watch children giggle as they try to scoop up sea snails or miniature green crabs—or, better yet, join in yourself!
What trip to Maine is complete without seafood? Luckily, Two Lights is famed for its eponymous lobster shack, located a little ways above the rock shore. Be sure to order the Maine lobster roll–or, if you’re feeling brave, a whole lobster. Sit down at a picnic table overlooking the coasts, and watch ferries sail back and forth the Atlantic vista as you eat.
When you drive back to the inner city of Portland, the sun is creeping lower upon the horizon—but the day is not over yet. From July to August, Portland hosts a free Summer in the Park concert series in Western Promenade Park. Grab a picnic basket and blanket, and sit down to listen local bands perform on the hillside. With the final strum of the last song, the red sun disappears into the trees, and the crowd bursts into applause.
Settled in the grass and surrounded by great music and people at the end of a long, beautiful day, it’s here that I realize how truly lucky I am to call Portland the home that I’ve never been to. Portland’s New England charm, gorgeous scenery, and rich cultural scene make it one of the best quiet summer getaways in America, no matter your age or background. I inhale, tasting the traces of my family’s first memories of America in the salt breeze, and smile. I can see it clearly now. From the very first moment I stepped off the airport into this town, I was home.
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