Rocky coasts. Charming villages. Picturesque harbors. White-steepled churches. Meandering through Rhode Island, Maine and Connecticut, we paused to admire compelling views at every turn. From rumpled docks in Maine to swanky towns in Connecticut, we traced the Atlantic coastline in a Yukon SUV rented from Hertz. In last month's issue, we took a look at Rhode Island. Here's a glimpse of Maine and Connecticut.
Lobster. Lobster. Did we say lobster? Mainers celebrate the ubiquitous crustacean, hauled from their backyard, the Atlantic Ocean, in every way they can imagine – from refined cuisine to downhome festivals. But that's not the half of it.
Maine's largest city has way more to offer than delectable seafood. Rough-hewn yet boutique-y Down East charm, a walkable city center and a flourishing restaurant scene blend with rugged seascapes, windswept beaches and bluff-side trails to create a must-see spot.
Over the past decade or so, there has been a sea change in easygoing Portland. Its 70,000 hardy locals are justifiably proud of the salty origins of this once-sleepy industrial town. Situated on a mile-wide peninsula that juts into Casco Bay, the city is now a destination with a distinct personality.
Portland is counted among "America's Best Cities for Hipsters" (Travel and Leisure magazine) but also ranks as the "Top City for Empty Nesters" (Kiplinger's), "America's Foodiest Small Town" (Bon Appétit) and "America's Most Livable City" (Forbes).
What to See?
Check out antique shops, yacht basins, fishing piers, vintage houses, funky craft stores, historic churches, coastal museums and locavore eateries.
Discover greater Portland and its islands via charter boat. Or ship out to enjoy kayaking, whitewater rafting or sailing. Take a walking tour. Explore the working harbor. Venture out to the railroad museum. Catch a glimpse of buildings in a catalog of architectural genres.
Simplicity and sophistication coexist in the area's stroll-worthy neighborhoods. We easily navigated Portland's pleasantly compact downtown, which is bursting with independent shops, galleries, restaurants, bars, clubs and coffee houses.
Our major focus was Old Port, a revitalized commercial district marked by cobblestone streets and brick warehouses. This center of tourism features both the boat-filled harbor and docks on Commercial Street as well as the handmade vibe of shops on Exchange, Market and Temple streets.
The vibrant Arts District, a few blocks from the waterfront, is home to the Portland Museum of Art (designed by famed architect I.M. Pei). We spent a lovely afternoon browsing a fine collection of French Impressionists and American landscapes. In addition, the museum operates the two-story clapboard studio where Winslow Homer lived and painted.
The West End boasts some of the maritime city's biggest historic houses. The most eye-catching is the opulent Victoria Mansion, constructed in 1859 for a native of Maine who made his fortune in New Orleans hotels. The stately Italian-style villa, complete with its original furnishings, is a national historic landmark.
We drove across a bridge to take in the drama of the craggy coastline on the beaches of South Portland and Cape Elizabeth, a hamlet that's home to two lighthouses. The sound of fog horns and the sight of seagulls greeted us during visits to the lighthouses: Maine's oldest, Portland Head Light (built in 1791) in 90-acre Fort Williams Park and Two Lights (1874) in a 41-acre state park that's named for it.
Within an hour's drive of Portland, we admired traditional fishing villages as well as high-gloss tourist towns. A midnight run to the cavernous home of L.L. Bean, which never closes, took us to Freeport, where outlets rule. And we got a daylong kick out of Old Orchard Beach Amusement Park, which happily retains the feel of a midcentury pier and arcade with rides, carnival food and a broad stretch of sand.
Where to Stay?
As one of Maine's top lodging destinations, Inn by the Sea in Cape Elizabeth is true to its name. We couldn't have slept closer to the water unless we had pitched a tent on the beach.
The 5-acre, eco-friendly lodge is small enough (just 61 guest rooms) to provide individualized service. Highlights include a swimming pool that's solar heated; a clubby lobby lounge; farm-to-fork Sea Glass restaurant; and a state-of-the-art spa.
The inn has rightfully received many accolades.It was voted one of the World's Best by Travel + Leisure and one of the top 20 resorts in the Northeast by Condé Nast Traveler.
Our luxe suite lived like the beach house of our dreams: a transitional one-bedroom that contained a well-appointed living room with a glass door out to a large seaside porch; a kitchen with a bar and dining table; a generous bathroom with walk-in shower and soaking tub; even a fireplace.
We didn't bring our dogs to the spacious accommodations. But Fido is allowed – even encouraged with pet-pampering amenities.
Early one morning, we woke while it was still dark, slipped on flip-flops and sauntered along the private boardwalk and trail to Crescent Beach, where we threw down a towel in time to watch the sun rise.
The Portland Harbor Hotel, centrally located a block from the waterfront in the Old Port district, blends old-world charm with modern amenities. It's home to Eve's at the Garden, a restaurant that offers fresh, local ingredients.
The pet-friendly hotel has more than 100 posh guest rooms and suites. Our garden-view retreat, which looked into the courtyard below, boasted a granite walk-in shower, a hardwood floor and a fireplace.
Confirmation of just how upscale this place is: Free car service is offered to all downtown restaurants and attractions.
The contemporary Westin Portland Harborview, in the Arts District, opened last year after a $50 million renovation of the nearly century-old Eastland Hotel.
With almost 300 rooms, the Westin houses the city's newest day spa, Akari, as well as a gym and C2, a restaurant named for its Congress Square location.
After a full day of Portland-mania, we enjoyed panoramic views of the harbor and downtown in the Westin's Top of the East rooftop lounge before calling it a night in our corner deluxe king with walls of glass overlooking the city.
What to Eat?
Portland's love of good chow is evident from brew masters to cheese makers, bakers to wine makers. With close to 250 eateries, the culinary mecca is believed to have the most restaurants per capita of any city in the United States.
Yes, we ate our way across the region. We couldn't help but indulge in Maine's stalwarts, such as wild blueberry desserts and whoppie pies. But we also found time to dig into the innovations served in Portland's abundance of chef-owned spots with bright, open kitchens.
Foodies have long venerated Hugo's, at the edge of the Old Port, which was one of the first hot spots to present tasting menus. The chef/owner has expanded with the opening of neighboring Eventide Oyster Bar.
The James Beard Award-winning executive chef and co-owner of Fore Street, a powerhouse built around a massive wood-burning brick oven, cooks with an approach that lets the ingredients shine.
While retaining an emphasis on products sourced from local farms, dairies, smokehouses and fishing grounds, young chefs prepare artful fare from all corners of the globe. Their menus are typically drawn up according to what's available that day.
Native seafood appears in original preparations on the menu at cutting-edge places. Meanwhile, Maine classics, such as chock-full stews and chowders and lightly fried clams with whole juicy bellies, are still everywhere.
In Two Lights State Park, we grabbed a picnic table outside the rustic Lobster Shack high on a peak overlooking the lapping waves. Then, we tucked into no-frills steamed crustaceans before traipsing down to the beach. In Fort Williams Park, we devoured lobster rolls from a food truck.
To see how the 1 percent lives. The sparkling waterfront is awash with yachts while the tony downtown is ringed by magnificent estates.
What to See?
Bellevue Avenue, known as "the Rodeo Drive of the East Coast," has 600 swish stores, such as the jeweler Tiffany & Co. We consumed an entire day windowshopping on "the Avenue."
Browsing the posh shops felt like being Julia Roberts in "Pretty Woman"...except without the credit card. Sigh.
Where to Stay?
The Delamar Greenwich Harbor Hotel boasts luxurious rooms with lovely balconies overlooking a private pier that offers accommodations for sail and motorboats.
We arrived in a Hertz rental, but guests who breeze in by watercraft can employ the services of full-time dock attendants. A spa offers every fabulous treatment under the sun.
What to Eat?
Anything your palate desires. Connecticut is one of the New England states, so specialties of the region, such as clam chowder, are easy finds.
But so are French and Italian cuisine as well as the latest dishes from the Big Apple. After all, New York City is just 45 minutes away on a Metro North train.
The cobblestone streets of this waterfront enclave are flush with Georgian, Greek Revival, Victorian and Federal mansions that were once home to sea captains. Yet, somehow, the town of just 3-1/2 square miles maintains a laid-back ambience.
What to See?
The sidewalks of historic Southport as well as its postage-stamp village center are worthy of a Norman Rockwell painting.
Parks, beaches and other cute towns in Fairfield County deserve a look. Venturing farther, we drove a half-hour north to New Haven and were rewarded with Yale University's fine-art museums and ivy-covered buildings.
Where to Stay?
The Delamar Southport is a boutique hotel offering first-class comfort with just 44 rooms and suites. The spacious guestrooms feature beautiful furniture and Italian linens.
We were offered complimentary champagne upon arrival. Also free are bicycles, breakfast and additional niceties. The spa provides the best in massages, facials and other body treatments.
What to Eat?
The Grey Goose, a tavern across the street from the Delamar, is locally loved for burgers as well as hearty mains, such as beef Wellington and a 16-ounce, center-cut pork chop.
Although we stopped by the hotel's Artisan restaurant just as it was closing, we were graciously escorted to the bar area. A thick, rich seafood chowder was presented tableside with the shellfish in one bowl and the liquid elixir in a second. The waiter skillfully poured one into the other. In a region of primo chowders, it was matchless.