When thinking of travel in 2020 and most likely into 2021, staycations are becoming the way to vacation. With that, what is defined as a staycation has been changing, too. Now, staycations are not just staying in your town or the next one over, but has expanded to involve destinations within 350 miles from home. Fortunately for Instinct readers, we have writers across the country that will be able to highlight some staycation options for everyone in the United States. We’ll see what we can do for our international readers.
Southern Maine – One such place that is less than 350 miles from Boston and New York City is Southern Maine. Growing up in Maine, I may be a little biased when it comes to revisiting the Pine Tree State, but rightfully so. Whenever I get the chance to return to the most eastern state in the nation, I take it! This past September, I was able to spend some time in Portland where I stayed at the Portland Harbor Hotel and in Ogunquit, Maine where I stayed at the Nellie Littlefield Inn & Spa.
Portland – Just a short 45-minute drive into the state from its southern border, just under 2 hours from Boston and under 6 from NYC, you will find Portland, Maine. The largest city in a state of 1.3 million people boasts a population of roughly 66,000. Find your way to downtown Portland, park your car, and you’ll be ready to enjoy everything the city has to offer, and boy, does it offer a lot.
Portland continues to be recognized in national “best of” categories.
- Most Liveable City by Forbes.com
- America’s Best Town in the East by Outside Magazine
- A top Greenest City by Organic Gardening Magazine
- One of theCoolest Small Cities in America by GQ and #8 Gayest City in America by Advocate.com
- Top 20 best small cities for college students by the American Institute for Economic Research
- Kiplinger’s Best City for Mid-Level Professionals and #6 on Forbes Best Cities for Young Professionals.
This small city packs a punch when it comes to food and beverages. Portland hosts award-winning restaurants throughout the Old Port, Arts District, and outlying neighborhoods. From amazing ethnic foods to classic New England offerings, Portland teams with talented chefs and restaurants that are guaranteed to satisfy every palate.
- Food and Wine Magazine editors named Steve Corry of Five Fifty-Five one of the “The Best New Chefs in the U.S. in 2007” and Hugo’s Rob Evans won this award in 2004.
- Bon Apetitawarded Portland Americas Foodiest Small Town in 2009
- Portland was featured in the New York Times as a food destination, and Sperling’s Best Places listed Portland as a best city for foodies.
- Portland, Maine was named Number 1 on a list of the top cities in the world for craft beer by the website Matador Network.
Choosing a hotel to stay at was easy as we selected the Portland Harbor Hotel. With valet parking, a garage on site, an acclaimed restaurant, and arguably the most central location in the city, the PHH was the perfect place to rest our bones. I desired to explore Portland, but my Allagash beer, football, and the comfy blanket I wanted to put in my suitcase all called my name in unison. Sometimes you just need to listen to those voices in your head. The Portland Harbor Hotel was going to be my resting place for the night. I also took them up on their grab ‘n’ go offer for breakfast. Many hotels are doing this for morning service during COVID, which is a great option for guests to either take their breakfast back to their room, to take with them while walking around town, or to grab at early check out before picking the car up from attendant Gerry downstairs.
I would leave my room to meet up with a friend in the lobby, only to slightly persuade him to join me at the hotel’s restaurant, Bluefin North Atlantic Seafood Restaurant, Cocktails, & Raw Bar. It was a crisp fall night, perfect temperature to dine in the hotel’s inner courtyard, where tonight they presented guests with a fire pit, but in a few months it will be home to its annual Ice Bar. Being from Maine, I shock many when I say I am not a fan of Lobster, but when they offered Lobster Scargot, consisting of butter, garlic, bread crumbs, and lobster claws (the best part) presented in an escargot serving plate, they had to be had, only to be followed by Seared Scallops (butternut squash risotto, crispy prosciutto, aged balsamic), one of my top dishes ever eaten (picture at end of post). Dessert was great, too, a very moist lemon cake with lemon filling.
The Portland Harbor Hotel was just what I needed after spending a month with my parents in a cabin on a lake in Maine. It was a great reintroduction to travel, to see how states like Maine were dealing with tourists, and to experience a hotel I had heard so much about while living there, but now was staying as a guest.
I do need to add… thank you Brandi for Fed ex-ing my electronic toothbrush after I had forgotten it, case and all in my room. It was a simple gesture, offered at no charge to me, I will remember it always, and I thank you. Everyone was great, Brandi, Gerry, and William, our server at dinner. They’ve all seen changes in their schedules, lives, etc, because of COVID, but the hospitality and service was polished and appreciated.
Other Portland Places – There are so many places to check out in the greater Portland area. Many restaurants are nationally known, with multiple rewards, Chopped champions, and some are just doing what they do best with no accolades. Some of my simple pleasures that I must do when in town and you should check out are:
Otto Pizza – Early morning, after a late night at the bars, whenever they are open, whenever you are in town… those are the best times to visit Otto Pizza. With seven (7) locations in Southern Maine, you’ll have many opportunities to check out their taste-sational offerings like pulled pork & mango or butternut squash, ricotta, & cranberry.
The Lobster Shack at Two Lights – Perched on ledge rolling into the ocean with waves constantly crashing, the setting for what locals call simply Two Lights or The Lobster Shack is a major part of the Maine seafood eating experience. Another must, but you may need to wait in line to order the mostly fried seafood.
Blackstones – The only true gay bar left in the city, it will hopefully open back up soon when COVID regulations lessen. A cash only bar, this is a small place with big character. Keep checking up on them to see when they will reopen, state permitting.
Ogunquit, Maine is cute little gay gem in Southern Maine. With one of the best sandy beaches you will find, Ogunquit offers visitors a place to call home for as long as they want to stay. I settled myself into the heart of Ogunquit at the Nellie Littlefield Inn & Spa. Trends are that many are gravitating to Bed and Breakfasts vacations as they have less rooms leading to less people to be around while in COVID. I just love them as the rooms have more character, there is more of a personal touch, a feel of staying in a home.
The Nellie Littlefield Inn & Spa is a hard landmark to miss as its presence at the beginning of Shore Road, one of the three prominent roads in town. Gay owned and operated, this eight (8) room inn has been well maintained and furnished. The spacious rooms with high ceilings, all with their own generous en suite (bathroom), are the home away from home you will find hard to leave. Mark my words, you’ll want to take the sheets with you.
I was fortunate enough that the king suite (suite 8) was available for my mid-week 2-night stay. Having half of the third floor of this grand Victorian building, my room consisted of a large bedroom, ample en suite with claw-foot tub and stand up rain shower, sitting room, and private deck overlooking the property and with ocean views.
Some aspects have changed because of COVID. Breakfast at the bed and breakfast is no longer the spread of food or service in the dining room. Instead, owners Heath and Bryan offer their guests a breakfast basket that can be enjoyed at their leisure. With many rooms having their own private deck or the usage of two inn decks out front, breakfast to go was a great option. The other change is that spa service is currently on hold because of COVID.
Another major change made by the new owners, as of February of this year, was a return to the quaint feel of an inn with the replacement of some of the larger modern-ish furniture with more period pieces, transforming the inn into a more cozy and homey abode.
Speaking of cozy, each suite/room at the inn has their own gas fired stove, which would be wonderful for when you return from one of the many events the Ogunquit Chamber of Commerce is highlighting for the month of October. Fall is one of the best seasons in Maine, so be sure to check out the Nellie Littlefield and the great destination of Ogunquit.
Other Ogunquit Places – Besides the events listed on the Chamber of Commerce page, other places to check out while in Ogunquit are:
Marginal Way – With its ocean views, plentiful benches, and nearby downtown Ogunquit, the Marginal Way in Maine is one of New England’s most beloved scenic coastal walks. Walking is still a fine event across the country and this outdoors activity will have you wanting to stop and listen to the waves.
Roberto’s – If you are looking for Italian restaurants in York County, Maine, you will need to find your way to Roberto’s in Ogunquit. Just a short walk down shore road from Nellie Littfield’s, Roberto’s is a must. During COVID, and especially on Tuesday nights when many restaurants are closed in town that night this time of year, make a reservation as the owner Kathy and her staff provide a wonderful place and experience. Grab a drink, take your time, and enjoy a great Italian culinary escape. The bar is lively, the outdoor tents and seating is romantic and the dining rooms are warm and comfortable.
Mainestreet – As THE gay bar in town, Mainestreet has held its own this year. With the challenges put to them, they’ve moved their operations outside using their massive decks and other areas. We visited on a Wednesday night for their drag themed Family Feud. This year’s schedule will find Mainestreet locking up for the winter after October 11th, so no Halloween and most likely no New Year’s at the bar, but let’s keep our chin up for next year! If you want to help Mainestreet come back strong next year, check out its current GoFundMe page – Mainestreet Ogunquit Relief Fund.
The Front Porch – Always a great spot to find a libation and cuisine, this institution has gone through many upgrades, but is always at the top of Ogunquit’s offerings. My preference is to sit downstairs at the bar and spend time with one of my favorite persons out there who just happens to be a bartender. The entire staff is there to make sure you have a great experience, but if Matt is in the house, you will have a special evening and great service. If you are a piano bar fan or a show tune lover, watch the Front Porch’s website for when its shows are or just listen for the piano as it echoes through the town.
Maine is one of the safest places in the nation to be at this time. Its governor Janet Mills has kept regulations very strict to protect the state, lessening tourism for most of the year. Now, she has opened travel up to citizens from Massachusetts, months after all the other New England states and New York State. While I was there, many states were seen during the license plate game, but there were less than normal present. As the weather gets a little cooler, it’s the perfect time to go leaf peeping, stay at an exceptional bed and breakfast in a quaint beach town or find your way to the heart of a craft beer / foodie city that besides winning accolades, may win your vote for the best staycation city out there.
As always, I will finish this travel post with more pictures from the places visited.