I learned the hard way that Portland, Maine, is not the easiest city to get to from Richmond, Va. A few weeks ago, some friends and I planned to head to Boothbay Harbor, ME, on a Friday evening. Several severe storms and mechanical problems later, my friend Jeff and I arrived in Portland around noon on Saturday. Our other friends left Richmond at 6 a.m. Saturday and didn’t make it in until around 6 p.m.
Boothbay Harbor is a little over an hour from the Portland airport, so Jeff and I wanted to wait for our friends. This meant we had an afternoon to spend in Portland. As we headed toward the Old Port district where tourists often hang, our Lyft driver mentioned that we also might want to visit Washington Avenue for a lower key vibe. After seeing the crowds lining the Old Port streets, we took our driver’s advice and hopped a ride about a mile away to Washington Avenue.
On Washington Avenue, we found a very walkable street lined with shops, restaurants and breweries. In fact, as we headed to meet our friends when they finally made it into Portland, I told Jeff, “They have been in airports for over 12 hours. We have to downplay how much fun we had.” Jeff’s reply: “Nope! I can’t do it. This has been a great day.”
With that vibe in mind, I bring you our Washington Avenue, Portland crawl with all the things you need to do to have an equally great afternoon.
7 Awesome Things to Do on Washington Avenue in Portland, Maine
1. Eat the Best Oysters at The Shop By Island Creek Oysters
The Shop sells the same oysters that Island Creek ships across the nation as well as other snacks, beer and wine. It has a relaxed, welcoming vibe and the prices are more affordable than the local seafood restaurants since this is also a wholesale spot.
I suggest starting your day with one of each raw oyster so you can taste them all, along with the clam dip. I’d never tried a cold clam dip, but The Shop By Island Creek Oysters’ rendition was cool and creamy with a satisfying hint of Old Bay. It was served with thin, crunchy, salty kettle chips I thought were made in house, but learned they were locally made Fox Family Potato Chips (can we get a store to carry these in RVA?). Add a glass of the house bubbly and life is grand.
2. Sip a Frozen Cocktail at Maine Craft Distilling
Right behind The Shop By Island Creek Oysters is Maine Craft Distilling, a distillery that partners with local farmers to produce over 12 different liquors. The Public House offers up a full menu, liquor flights, inventive cocktails, plus beer and wine.
If it’s a nice day, you should grab the $5 frozen cocktail of the day. Take it out to the spacious patio, grab an Adirondack chair, and sip to your heart’s content. You also might want to grab some of the distillery’s canned cocktails to-go. Options like Maine Mule or Italiano Orange Spritz are also available in local grocery stores.
3. Shop in Shipping Containers, a Portland First on Washington Avenue
As you wander down Washington Avenue, at number 93 you’ll stumble upon The Black Box, Portland’s first retail space constructed from shipping containers. The five-unit space is an incubator that enables tenants to test their products without committing to a long-term lease. I snagged a pair of earrings in a shop that combined Campfire Studio’s Pottery with Mulxiply fair-trade leather goods, jewelry and felted animals.
4. Browse Handmade and Small Batch at Venn + Maker
Speaking of shopping, you also don’t want to miss Venn + Maker, a spacious shop that’s focused on small-batch and unique handmade products. Browse beautiful glassware, furniture, leather goods, knickknacks, bags, jewelry, and other gifts. The selection is impressive.
5. Try Natural Wine on Washington Avenue at Drifter’s Wife
It can be tough to get a dinner reservation at Drifter’s Wife. However, the bar opens at 3 p.m. and it’s worth dropping in for the restaurant’s selection of natural wines. You can choose from a few selected $7 pours during happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m. Jeff and I both went for glasses of a fruity, cloudy orange wine.
Before you leave, you also might want to mosy through the restaurant’s wine shop, Maine & Loire, that focuses on hand-harvested organic wines made with native yeasts. It was here that I scored a bottle of the very funky and distinctive Oyster River Winegrowers Morphos pet nat (naturally fermented wine) I was hoping to sample while in Maine.
6. Indulge in Craft Beer & Gourmet Fries
Oxbow Blending and Bottling is the Newcastle, ME-based brewery’s Portland outpost with a focus on mixed fermentation and sour beers that require extended aging and conditioning. Inside the warehouse, there’s a bar and event space with Oxbow brews and other carefully selected beers alongside wines and amaros. Outside, there’s a small beer garden that just happens to be shared with Duckfat restaurant, which is known for stellar bar food.
If you go, don’t think and just order the poutine. Hand-cut Belgian-style fries come topped with locally sourced cheese curds, duck gravy, and fresh chives. The addition of slow-cooked duck confit makes for a meaty, cheesy, crunchy, creamy dish. Pair it with an Oxbow Magenta stainless-steel-aged farmhouse ale with grape juice.
7. Eat Whole Clams and a Fried Lobster Tail at Bob’s Clam Hut at Cumberland and Washington Avenues
Bob’s Clam Hut may have been in business since 1956. Today the restaurant has a second location on Washington Ave., and both are solar powered! While many restaurants serve clam strips, at Bob’s you can get fried whole clams. I found the whole clam to be more tender and flavorful. Yes please.
I’d suggest getting a basket to share, then adding a fried lobster tail to your meal for $5.95. I had never tried fried lobster and wondered how it would taste. Bob’s fried lobster is lightly breaded and cooked quickly enough to retain a succulent texture. Want a drink? Bob’s also serves beer and canned wine!