Eat, Play, Love: Summertime in Maine and New Hampshire
Now that we’re back from our Yankee vacation, I thought I would share just a few of our favorite things to do, places to see, food to eat in the White Mountains and Greater Portland area.
Fort Williams Park, Cape Elizabeth, ME
It was in November of 1996. The California girl got off the plane in Boston and drove north through a winter wonderland. Fort Williams was their first stop in Maine – he took her out to the headlight, to the rocks where the shipwrecked Annie C. MacGuire washed up a century ago. Come back to Maine with me, he said. She looked around at the blue, blue sky and the blue, blue sea and she said yes.
This is truly one of my most beloved spots in all of New England – personal memories aside, the vintage lighthouse could not be more charming. With a history that makes the great state of California look infantile, this is one stop that any visitor to Maine should not miss.
Oh. My. Word. They call it flatbread, it’s really brick-oven pizza, but rocked out and kicked up. They are up to 10 locations so far, and I pitched a serious case for the Silicon Valley to the manager and site-developer that was working tables the night we visited. Everything served is fresh, organic, local, and prepared in enormous open clay ovens right on the dining room floor. We tried the house-made maple-fennel sausage with mozz, carmelized onions and sun-dried tomatoes, as well as a traditional pepperoni (also house made). They also served the best salad I’ve ever had outside of California. (Thanks to our new Boston transplant buddies for the tip!)
May Kelly’s Irish Pub and Restaurant, North Conway,NH.
Like many restaurants in the White Mountains and all over New England for that matter, May Kelly’s is in a vintage house, but even more fun, it’s filled stem-to-stern, nook=and-cranny with curiosities and antiques. From a closet-sized diorama of “It’s Wonderful Life,” to vintage prints, photos, ice skates and skis, and several large wooden contraptions that I think were turn-of-the-century stills. Or maybe they were clothes’ wranglers. Or both. The food was as good as the authentic and homey as the Irish brogue of our hostess. Gabe and I split a traditional pot roast and mashed potatoes – in a word, yummy.
Lucky Catch Cruises, Portland, ME
This was by far the coolest family excursion to date. The Lucky Catch is a working lobster boat from September through May, and runs cruises around Casco Bay in the summer months while still hauling traps. Guests are provided with waders and gloves, and get to experience all the tasks of lobstering – from sighting the buoys, hauling traps cleaning and re-baiting the traps, measuring the lobsters (not too small, not too big), and banding the claws. Our route took us past five or six lighthouses, out to the Portland Headlight, and back to the Portland harbor. Even better, any lobster caught that day was made available to passengers for below the daily market price at just $4/lb.
Fiesta Jalisco, North Conway,NH
I was skeptical. Very skeptical. I’m not sure we could be further from south of the border, and, well, New England isn’t exactly known for its ethnic cuisine. We were, however, pleasantly surprised by a varied and authentic central Mexican menu and an excellent meal! A little secret – you can often judge a kitchen by their cheese. Cheap cheese is tasteless, melted goo. Jalisco used a sharp, tangy authentic queso fresco to top their dishes. My chorizo and grilled chicken was wicked awesome.
Conway Scenic Railroad, North Conway, NH
Victorian railroading at its finest. Built in 1874 to tote the posh to and from the slopes, the Scenic now boasts gorgeously restored Pullmans in all their Victorian glory. First Class seating affords comfy wicker chairs, open windows, and a friendly and informative conductor. The 90 minute trip to and from the town of Bartlett passed through lush forests, back-country river banks and quaint New England villages. (Of note: West Wing Fans – Bartlett, NH is named for Dr. Josiah Bartlett (1729-1795), one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, founder of the state and governor from 1790-1794. Sound familiar?)
Storyland, Glenn, NH
This is a darling, not-so-little amusement park reminiscent of Happy Hollow (for the Silicon Valley locals). Built in the 50’s, but remarkably clean and updated, with new rides and attractions going in each year. My three boys loved this brand-new water ride – pirate ships sailing a curvaceous river, navigating water falls as they fired water cannons at each other and the onlookers on land. All arrived home soaked and happy. I hid behind a pillar to shoot a few photos and avoid being shot…
Jackson Covered Bridge, Jackson, NH
Built in 1876 and beautifully preserved, this vintage bridge is a perfect spot for a photo op. For us, it’s a family landmark – a childhood memory for Gabe of playing in the Ellis river (when not waiting tables at the family restaurant in Jackson Village). Now a traditional stop for The Gabes on every trip back east.
Saco River Motor Lodge and Suites, Center Conway, NH
Just two miles from Grammie and Grandpa’s house in Fryeburg, Maine, and a short ride to all the shops and restaurants on North Conway’s strip, this New England-style motor lodge is the perfect place for families. New additions include a pristine swimming pool and deck, gas BBQ’s, a fire pit, and an enormous redwood jungle gym/play set. The kids loved having a place to run, stretch their legs and play with other kids, and we loved having the three room suite! A great value for the price, this is definitely where we’ll stay again.