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Portland, Maine: Art and foodie heaven

Popular with professionals and entrepreneurs eager to escape East Coast metroplexes, Portland is a lively, sophisticated city with both historical and contemporary vibes.
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A compact city enjoying the rugged beauty of Maine’s Atlantic coast, Portland revels in providing all the attractions of its larger cousins to the south, but in a more relaxed, approachable and affordable setting.

The Old Port district was once the heart of this seafaring town. While nautical activity still defines much of Portland, this once-derelict neighborhood is now the trendy hub of the city. Most of its shops, restaurants, bakeries and specialty stores are independently owned.

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The arts are also well represented. On the monthly First Friday Art Walk, galleries stay open late to host artist receptions and special events. The compact but thorough Portland Museum of Art displays American paintings, sculpture and media from Colonial times through the mid-20th century. It’s known for its exhibitions of postwar and contemporary art, and is the only museum in northern New England with a significant European collection. Check the schedule for lectures and screenings of indie films.

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The Museum of African Art & Culture is the only gallery in New England presenting the art, culture and traditions of Sub-Saharan Africa. The permanent collection features work from African-American artists living in Maine and other artists inspired by the African Diaspora. A separate gallery explains iconic traditional spirit masks.

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For families, the Portland Children’s Museum is a must. It’s all about imagination and learning through play in age-specific areas. There’s a kids’ “circus” where they can try juggling, dress up like clowns and swing on a trapeze. The outdoor adventure area has trails and activities even in winter.

Portland is foodie heaven, boasting more restaurants per capita than San Francisco. Every cuisine and style is there and innovation is easy to find — as are celebrity chefs and up-and-coming ones too. The microbrew scene is equally lively. Check out www.portlandfoodmap.com, an amazingly comprehensive interactive map searchable by cuisine, location and reviews, with links to restaurant websites.

Outdoor lovers can enjoy cross-country skiing along the oceanfront, ice skating on Sebago Lake and sledding in the city’s parks. For more information, visit www.portlandmaine.com.

Don’t miss

• Eat a whoopie pie, the official state treat of Maine.

• Food and brew tours, from a few hours to all-day trips. Try Maine Foodie Tours (www.mainefoodietours.com) or Maine Beer Tours (www.mainebeertours.com).

• Portland Head Light, the most photographed lighthouse in Maine.

• Harbor Fish Market, a waterfront landmark. They’ll pack and ship lobster and fish to your door.

• Freeport, Maine: 20 minutes north of the city and home to L.L. Bean.

For more Maine travel tips, go to www.insightguides.com.

 
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