I live in Old Orchard Beach. If it’s not June, July, or August, it’s a ghost town. Therefore, I have the right to regard Portland as “the big bustling city” it feels like, even though it’s only home to around 60,000 people and is the second most famous Portland in the country.
Ask anyone what to do in Portland and you’ll hear all about the great restaurants. It’s a “foodie’s paradise” I’m told, whatever that means. There’s even some debate that Portland has more restaurant’s per capita than any other city, except possibly San Francisco, a claim analyzed by MaineBiz and found to be kind of true.
But here’s the thing. I’m broke. I go out to eat about as often as there’s a full moon. And when I do, it’s usually not to try a new “Thai Street Food” joint, it’s to get some delicious food I know I’ll enjoy. Not to bash Thai Street Food, I bet it’s great. But my adventurous streak does not extend into my food.
With three or four colleges in the area, Portland sees a lot of students coming around, not to mention all the recently graduated folks that migrate here from all over the region. So it’s safe to say there’s plenty of folks in my situation. Worry not friends with no disposable income. Livin’ Deliberately has a great list of things to do in the Portland area that don’t involve spending $40 for a plate of veggie skewers.
If it’s a beautiful day, and you’re in the mood for a bike ride, look no further. For under $10 a person, you can catch a 10-minute ferry ride to beautiful Peaks Island. Colleen and I visited last spring and it was one of my favorite things. We rented bikes from a local shop for a few bucks and took our time meandering around the little island. With miles of picturesque coastline and a generally flat terrain, I don’t know many other bike rides in Maine that can challenge the Peaks Island loop. Grab lunch at the Peaks Cafe located right by the ferry port, or at any of the other little cafes huddled around the port. Shop in the dozens of souvenir shops littered around the island, be sure to check out the old Battery Steele (it’s super spooky), and the Fifth Maine Regiment Museum. Torrington Point is littered with sea glass if you look hard enough. All together, all these things can be done in a few hours, letting you jump back on the ferry in time to be home for dinner!
The Old Port
The Old Port? We know about the Old Port, Tyler. Yes, I know you do. But here’s the part you didn’t know. You don’t really have to spend any money in the Old Port to have a good time. I know a lot of people that go screaming into the Old Port during the weekends and run up triple-digit bar tabs, a couple of Uber rides, and an expensive late night snack. You know what another option is? Go during the day. It’s almost never busy, seven days a week. Park at the bank for free (but don’t tell them I sent you), window shop, stop at a local bookstore and find books to go buy off Amazon for cheaper later (be sure to buy a book sometimes, though), and just mosey without a goal. Flip through old records at BullMoose’s basement shop, people watch, try to spot the out-of-towners, the list goes on and on.
And here’s the best part. The Cabot store. Cabot makes the finest cheeses in New England, and they have a shop in the Old Port where you can sample dozens of flavors of cheese for free. Even if you stick around for way too long and eat way more then the appropriate amount of sample-cheese, they won’t even tell you to scram. Don’t ask me how I know, I just know.
The Old Port is beautiful, unlike any other spot in New England. It’s well worth a trip just to admire it and mosey around for a while. How about instead of the hour and a half of Netflix you had planned for this afternoon, you just go walk around?
The Portland Museum of Art
Now here’s the best tip of all. On Friday nights, between 4 pm and 8 pm, you can just walk into the stunning Portland Museum of Art for free. You can see Georgia O’Keefes, Winslow Homers, Renoirs, the list goes on and on. For free. Date nights, something to do when the weather’s bad, or just a great way to look super sophisticated on Instagram, the Portland Museum of Art is worth a visit. Plus, they’ve been closed all of January. They’re having a grand re-opening on February 3rd, which I’m sure will be a spectacle.
There you have it. Three free things to do in Portland that don’t include the words “foodie” or “money” (at least not a lot) that are easy to access and fun for everyone. Something for every kind of weather and mood, something for everyone.
I hope this list helps and provides a little inspiration for you the next time you’re looking for something to do in Portland.
Until next time..