By: Margie Hinckley
I spent the bulk of my childhood traveling back and forth to a lake in Maine, where my grandfather had purchased land and built three cottages in what felt like the middle of nowhere. Going to Maine for a long weekend meant packing three sisters and three Setters, along with our parents into the minivan and making the 4.5-hour trek during what my parents had deemed the off-peak travel times.
Today, things are a little different. Instead of my sisters and parents, I am traveling with my devoted boyfriend of many years, Jay, and our ever so adventurous Pointer Moose in the canine seat of our car. Together, the three of us drive from Boston to Maine in just under two hours. Rather than reaching Portland and heading another 30 miles to the Northwest, we usually make Portland’s Old Port our final destination.
Portland, Maine is one of the most dog friendly places that we have been to, which is why we love it so much. We continue to find dog friendly restaurants, shops and places each and every time we visit. I am excited to highlight for you a few of our favorites.
Places to See In Portland:
The Old Port is a fantastic place to explore. The cobblestone streets and brick architecture is magnificent. When walking around, you will be surprised at just how many dogs you pass and shops that welcome owners and their canine companions. You are never far from a pan of water outside a shopkeeper’s door. Here are just a couple of dog friendly things to do in Portland.
First and foremost, the Old Port is home to cobblestone streets, original brick architecture and of course a never ending fleet of stunning ships. Taking Fido on a walk down Portland’s Harborwalk will guarantee some spectacular sites. Make sure to stop at the beach along the Harborwalk – just as long as it is after 5:00 PM, your pooch is allowed to play on the beach and go for a swim.
Harbor Islands Ferry
If your have a few hours to kill and are interested in seeing some of the hundreds of harbor islands that make up Maine’s coast, hop aboard the Casco Bay Mailboat . The Mailboat departs twice daily (10:00 AM and 2:45 PM – schedule varies depending on the season), making stops at Little Diamond, Great Diamond, Long, Cliff, and Chebeague. Though passengers do not get off at the stops, this is a fantastic way to see several of the year-round islands from the water. In case you were wondering, yes, a well-behaved, leashed Fido is allowed on the boat free of charge. You will also find Casco Bay Lines offers sunset cruises and other on the water activities.
Portland Dog Friendly Shopping:
Even though we have yet to be turned away from any of the shops with our dog, we still ask at the door if it is ok to browse with Moose. Portland is loaded with Mom and Pop-type shops, which for us is much better than going to the mall. Here are a couple of places you should make sure you check out.
Fetch is hands down Moose’s favorite store in the Old Port. Situated on Commercial Street, right in the midst of the hustle and bustle of everything the Old Port has to offer, Moose knows the building. There, at the bottom steps waiting for him is always a huge doggie dish full of fresh water – perfect after our stroll along the Harborwalk. After rehydrating all 60 pounds of him, Moose knows as soon as he walks through the door, he will be greeted by muzzle-level buckets of balls, frisbees, fleece knots, squeaker toys and of course, bones.
In addition to a friendly and helpful staff, as soon as you become a customer at Fetch, you begin earning Fetch Points for anything you purchase and redeemable for whatever Fido desires down the road. Considering each trip to Portland means a trip to Fetch for Moose, this program is a huge bonus.
Last year during one of our trips to Portland, Jay, Moose and I were pulling out of the gorgeous Whole Foods (yes, it is the best one on the east coast), when I screamed for Jay to make an abrupt left. Right there on the corner was a THE Planet Dog company store!
We actually knew about Planet Dog’s Orbee toys before we knew Planet Dog was based out of Portland. Back when Moose was four months old and entering into what would become several months of teething hell, we picked up one of Planet Dog’s Orbee teething globes. These USA-made, eco-friendly toys are similar to Kong-like toys in a sense that you can stuff puppy-size treats in the small hole to keep Fido busy for longer than the usual five-minute attention span, though they do not contain some of the harmful chemicals that other rubber toys may contain. The mint scent helps with dog breath as well.
The Planet Dog company store has their entire line of eco-friendly toys, a variety of hard to find feeds, specialty treats, grooming, training classes and even puppy socialization hours on the weekend.
Dog Friendly Art Galleries
Believe it or not, Portland has an incredible art scene. In addition to the amazing Portland Museum of Art (sorry, Fido is not welcome here), there are countless galleries lining the cobblestone streets. One of my favorites (not just because Moose is welcome) is the Anderson Gallery. Based out of Rockport, Massachusetts and now with a second studio at 342 Fore Street in Portland, George Anderson’s paintings capture what living in a port city truly means.
Dog Friendly Places to Eat In Portland
It’s no wonder that Portland was just named Bon Appétit Magazine’s Foodiest Town in America, the food in this city of less than 250,000 people is spectacular. Below are some of our favorites and yes, they include Moose’s favorites.
Standard Baking Company
It is an understatement to say that I was spoiled growing up in my mom’s kitchen. Sundays in our house meant my mom was making bread from scratch, yes, scratch. The idea of a bread machine in my mom’s kitchen was a sin – still is today. I say this and laugh as before Jay and I were together, the only baking he had experienced was out of a box. You can only imagine what he thought of me. My sisters still remind him that as a kid over at a friend’s house for the day, I refused to eat lunch because the sandwich was made on “duck bread” – duck bread in our house was any bread bought from the grocery store. As you can imagine, finding something that compared to my mom’s homemade cakes, cookies, breads, cupcakes, shortcakes, scones, gingerbreads and brownies would prove to be difficult. Then came the Standard Baking Company find . . .
Walking into the Standard Baking Company, you are immediately greeted by the pleasant aroma of fresh baked treats and coffee. There, standing before you in a space that holds 15 people max is the daily display. The walls behind the friendly bakers are lined with the breads baked fresh that day . . . the bread at Standard Baking Company is not duck bread! My top five picks from Standard Baking Company include: the blueberry scones, the granola bars, the rosemary focaccia (the first purchase my mom and I ever made at Standard Baking Company), the chocolate cork and the country white bread (perfect for french toast).
During one of our last visits, we stopped at Standard Baking Company on our way up to Bar Harbor. I bought Jay his usual morning bun and two blueberry scones. I figured I would have one scone for my breakfast and save the other in case we were in need of a snack somewhere on our journey. Let us just say neither Jay nor I had a taste of that second blueberry scone as Moose decided the antioxidant-filled treat was his and his only. I guess we know his Standard Baking Company favorite!
Portland Lobster Company
I have to admit that when Jay first suggested we have lunch at the Portland Lobster Company, I was a little skeptical. From the outside, the legendary joint looks like a typical fried clam and french fry shack – my stomach cringed. At the same time, we were in search of a place that would allow Moose to sit outside with us on what shaped up to be one of the brightest days in early summer.
When we passed through the main gate, I immediately realized that the fried clam shack had totally fooled me. On the way to our bright red painted picnic table overlooking the harbor, we passed an outdoor bar and live music stage. We quickly found an open table, tied Moose’s leash to the leg, where shortly thereafter he decided he would clean up after the other guests – Moose fell in love with french fries.
I have to say, in all of my summers of having lobster rolls, I have never seen a lobster roll more stuffed with scrumptious, meaty lobster. If you love mayo-filled lobster rolls, this lobster roll is NOT for you, thank god.
By far my favorite restaurant of all (and I mean of ALL the restaurants we have visited) is located in Portland. Yes, Fore Street, located at 288 Fore Street knocks all other dinner spots out of the water. Although you cannot bring your dog into the restaurant there is parking directly across the street at the furniture store for $5.
Ed, the parking attendant of 10 years, keeps a watchful eye over the cars especially if you let him know your dog is in there taking a nap. The adjacent building blocks the setting sun, but do not make the mistake of leaving your dog in a hot car as Ed will speak up loudly. He genuinely cares about how people treat their dogs. Ed also asked us to remind people if they are going to clean trash from their cars, he has a garbage can for you. Do not throw it in the parking lot. Seriously… this is a great place to park a car with a sleeping dog as long as the temperature is below 70 degrees.
Fore Street Restaurant sits above Standard Baking Company (go figure two of our three favorites are literally right on top of one another). The kitchen is smack in the middle of the restaurant, so you get to watch all of the food from when your greens come out of the wood and glass walk-in, to your piece of meat, game or fish entering the wood-fired oven. Each course is guaranteed spectacular as the chef creates the menu each day based on what is available locally – talk about fresh. The desserts are made by Fore Street’s own dessert chef; however, all the bread served comes from Standard Baking Company – they are not serving up duck bread either!
Getting in can be tricky. Do not think that you can call the night before for a reservation. No, reservations are gone months in advance. Instead, make sure you are waiting in line at 5:00 on the dot to get your name placed on the walk-in list. The difference between joining the line at 5:15 rather than 5:00 could mean eating at 9:00 versus 7:00. It is that popular and the staff knows precisely how to time each seating. In the end, whether you are eating at 7:00, 8:00 or 9:00, it is well worth the wait. I should also mention that you can order from the full menu at the bar. We will often eat at the bar when we do not intend on a long evening. The bartender is friendly, knowledgeable and mixes a mean cocktail.
Where to Stay:
When we are in Portland for more than a quick day trip, we have found two hotels that go out of their way to cater to Fido.
Portland Harbor Hotel
Though we have not yet stayed at the Portland Harbor Hotel, I have dog friends who have and rave about the amenities catered toward their four-legged travel companions for $25 a night. Portland Harbor Hotel is located right in the midst of the Old Port, with its main entrance on Fore Street.
Even if you are not a guest at the Portland Harbor Hotel, you can still enjoy cocktails with Fido at your feet in their classy hotel lobby.
Inn By The Sea
The Inn By The Sea above Crescent Beach in Cape Elizabeth is the areas luxury hotel and spa which is also very dog friendly. Travel and Liesure named the Inn by the Sea one of the world’s best hotels. If you are looking for a luxurious get-away with your dog, look here.
The Eastland Park Hotel ( Update: 7/6/2012 -Closing for Renovation)
Located in the arts section of Portland, just blocks away from the Old Port, The Eastland is a classic example of Portland’s architecture. Though remodeled in recent years, the classic vibes of this hotel show through in both service and atmosphere.
Last November, Jay and I showed up with Moose and were immediately greeted with The Eastland’s doggie bag, which included a frisbee, sample Eukanuba dog food, poop bags, a Portland-area dog newspaper and a guide to dog parks. Very well done for $30 a night.
The rooms are much more spacious than the average hotel room these days. For me, it was like having four Manhattan hotel rooms just for the three of us. Moose loved romping around and playing with his new frisbee. We look forward to returning to the Eastland this fall.
Have you and Fido visited Portland lately? We would love to hear about your pet friendly discoveries in the place we call “the country’s best kept secret.” Please share your feedback in the comments section.
- Casco Bay Boat Lines
- Portland Harborwalk Trails
- Planet Dog
- Standard Baking Company
- The Portland Lobster Company
- Fore Street Restaurant
- The Eastland Park Hotel
- The Portland Harbor Hotel
- The Foodiest Town in America
Getting There & Parking:
Portland is closer to Boston than you might think. You can be there in about an hour and a half give or take a few traffic hiccups at the tollbooths along the way. Here is a link to a google map just add your starting point. You would be surprised how often we head up just for the day and return to Boston after dinner.
There always seems to be metered parking available. There is a parking garage on Fore Street in the center of the Old Port that is cheap compared to Boston.
Across the street from the Fore Street Restaurant is an attended lot where Ed keeps an eye on things during the evening. I will provide more detail in the Fore Street Restaurant review above.