Portland Head Light at Casco Bay is worth a visit
We were standing on the cliffs, only a few yards from Portland Head, the little salient of land that marks the confluence of Casco Bay and the Gulf of Maine, and I knew I would need my thesaurus.
I’ve used “spectacular” and “stunning”, “magnificent” and “magnificent”, during this week of travel blogging in Maine. But I needed a new word after seeing the majesty of Portland Head Light.
Awesome looks the best. Not awesome as in, it’s an awesome lobster roll. Awesome as in “when I’m in awesome wonder”.
The setting of Maine’s oldest lighthouse is impressive. North Atlantic waves crashing on the rocky cliffs of the mainland, with Portland Head Lighthouse above, next to the charming lighthouse keeper’s house, now a small maritime museum.
Portland Head Light is Maine’s most iconic scene, and it’s breathtaking. Trish the Dish and I were there on a late Friday afternoon, having seen the lighthouse from the water on a boat tour of Casco Bay.
Tramel’s travel blog:Visiting Old Orchard Beach in Maine is like a time machine
And we capped off the evening with dinner a few miles from the coast at The Lobster Shack at Two Lights, a worthy complement to Portland Head Light. Two Lights State Park is named after two other lighthouses, which I had estimated to be a few hundred yards apart.
A strip of non-opulent houses lead to the edge of a cliff, where the lobster shack is located. The restaurant has 12 tables inside and 31 picnic tables on a small clearing adjacent to the cliff above the sea. I have eaten many dinners on the beach, a few times practically on the sand. But at Two Lights, you can literally dine on the edge of an Atlantic Ocean cliff.
What a day in Portland, one of America’s most underrated tourist meccas. Portland, Oregon is a distant No. 2 in our country’s Portland ranking.
What is the population of Portland, Maine?
Portland is the largest city in Maine, but with a population of just 68,408 as of the 2020 census. That’s about 56,000 people smaller than Norman. Portland’s metropolitan population is 556,000, making it about the size of Modesto, California, or Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Portland has experienced a downtown renaissance in recent decades, along with its waterfront. Portland has its own Bricktown story, the gentrification of downtown.
Businesses and retail fled downtown Portland in the 1970s, particularly with the construction of the Maine Mall in the southern suburbs of Portland. But downtown Portland rallied in the 1990s when the old seaport was revitalized with shops and tourists, building on Maine’s reputation as a vacation haven. Lobsters are the #2 industry in Maine. Tourism is number one.
Tramel’s travel blog:BLT lobster and leather shopping in the beautiful rainy town of Camden, Maine
Portland’s waterfront is notable for its brick buildings in a state where brick is rarely used in construction. Portland has been virtually destroyed by fire four times – once in conflicts with Native Americans in the 18e century, once in the French and Indian War in the 1760s, once in the War of 1812, and once in an 1866 fireworks to blame. After the latter, rebuilt not with the native wood products of the Maine, but with brick.
Today, the Bayside neighborhood of downtown Portland teems with ships and shops, restaurants, and tourists. Portland remains a busy seaport and the maritime theme attracts people from both sides of the globe.
The Dish and I walked through Commercial Street on a Friday morning and found all kinds of cool shops, many of them related to Maine history. One store had an amazing collection of kerosene lamps. I almost burned my hand.
We had a light lunch of chowder at the Dewey’s Lounge on Commercial Street, then walked across the street to the waterfront and checked in for our boat trip.
Portland Harbor contains 136 small islands, several of which have residents, some even year-round. The Casco Bay Ferry carries people back and forth on time, including children to and from school.
Our tour allowed us to see these islands up close, some military forts from the days before, and a variety of majestic lighthouses. It was one of the most scenic boat trips we’ve done, and we took a bunch.
Portland’s military history is extensive. The British attempted to enter Casco Bay during the American Revolution and were successful in the War of 1812. And as recently as World War II, the United States set up submarine nets under the water of island hopping, to keep the German submarines at bay.
Tramel’s travel blog:Blueberry Pop and Life-Size Rocking Horses in Bar Harbor, Maine
Portland Head Lighthouse History
And the best part of the visit was Portland Head Light, seeing the large lighthouse built in 1791, located at the entrance to the main shipping channel in Portland Harbour.
George Washington himself led the construction of Portland Head Light, with the US government donating $1,500 for the project. Even in 1791, this was not enough. The people of Maine gathered the resources needed to complete the lighthouse.
The lighthouse has been modified over the centuries; today it sits 80 feet above the ground 101 feet above the water (seems more).
Today, the land and the caretaker’s house are owned by the city of Cape Elizabeth, an affluent suburb of Portland. But the US Coast Guard owns and maintains the lighthouse, which still serves as a beacon for ships at sea.
After our ship returned to port, we returned to our hotel and watched our granddaughter Alcott Middle School’s softball game via GameChanger, which is a real game-changer. Thanks to live streaming via cell phone, we can watch her play softball from 1,800 miles away.
Then we headed to Portland Head Light via our rental car, about a 20 minute drive from downtown Portland.
The lighthouse is part of the 90-acre Fort Williams Park, owned by the City of Cape Elizabeth and also including the disused and somewhat demolished Fort Williams, which was operational during both World Wars. But a variety of buildings remain. The city has also built a one-mile walking path near the cliffs. A whole place.
Then came dinner at Two Lights. We had lobster rolls which were good – not the best of the week, but it was hard even to care about the food, the view was so spectacular. Beyond the picnic area, it is not cliffs but rock formations that allow a gradual descent to the sea. Not particularly dangerous for children.
Tramel’s travel blog:Maritime Villages of Maine’s Mid Coast
Visit LL Bean in Maine
It was sunset, which meant we only had time for one more activity. We went to Freeport, about 20 miles north of Portland, to shop at LL Bean.
I wrote about the famous Maine retailer when we visited two years ago. The Condensed History: Leon Leonwood Bean started a business in 1912, selling a single item, the Maine Hunting Shoe, what people today call duck boots.
From that humble beginning, LL Bean has grown into a global retailer. He started a national mail-order business. Sorry, Generation Z’ers, but Amazon didn’t invent the concept of door-to-door delivery for goods. The likes of the catalog Speegle, Sears & Roebuck and LL Bean pioneered the concept.
Today, LL Bean sells a variety of outdoor gear, ranging from hunting and fishing gear to clothing and boots, guns and tents. Over the years, LL Bean has opened retail stores and outlets in various locations, but its home base remains Freeport.
The massive complex is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It includes a housewares store; a bicycle, boat and ski shop; and a huge store that’s half outdoors, half clothing.
What place. We arrived around 8:30pm, spent about an hour and a half there and many shoppers stayed when we left. An employee told us that not many people shop in the middle of the night when the store is restocked and set up for the next day, but sometimes celebrities come shopping in the wee hours.
I bought a shirt and pants. I thought they would be great reminders of a special day in Maine, when I saw Portland Head Light from the cliffs and from the sea.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or [email protected] It can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40 p.m. to 5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.