Jones Landing on Peaks Island hosted its popular Reggae Sunday for the first time since 2019 on May 30 as Mainers and Memorial Day weekend visitors embraced the state's relaxed pandemic restrictions. (Portland Phoenix/Elizabeth Clemente)
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Live concerts, downtown art strolls, and professional baseball games are among the signs that life is returning to normal this summer in Portland, thanks to the way Mainers have embraced being vaccinated against COVID-19.

From family activities like catching a Portland Sea Dogs game or a movie at The Nickelodeon, to adult favorites like First Friday Art Walk, concerts at Thompson’s Point or Reggae Sunday on Peaks Island, many beloved Portland staples are officially back in business. 

There are new options to look forward to as well, including the reopening of The Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine in new digs at Thompson’s Point on June 24, and a new outdoor market at Congress Square Park featuring an alternating slate of local businesses.

It was rainy and cool throughout the Memorial Day weekend, but people still shopped in Portland’s Old Port, where some pandemic rituals like expanded outdoor dining remain, even after most restrictions have been lifted. (Portland Phoenix/Elizabeth Clemente)

Per Gov. Janet Mills’ May announcement, vaccinated Maine residents are no longer required to wear face coverings in most places – including willing indoor venues – which effectively puts an end to the year-long pandemic requirement. 

Still, some holdovers from earlier days of the pandemic remain, like more robust outdoor options at city restaurants. Portions of Old Port streets are closed to vehicle traffic like they were last summer, allowing people to enjoy al fresco dining.

Cary Tyson, executive director of Portland Downtown, said residents should strive to be “tourists in (their) own town” this summer.

Portland Downtown has launched a campaign called Mission 3/65, which challenges people to pick three local establishments they love and spend $65 at each one as a way to stimulate the local economy. If $65 is out of your budget, Tyson said, try spending $6.50 or even 65 cents. 

Tyson last week compared Portland to New Orleans in the sense that “you can’t find a bad place to eat.” He also pointed toward the city’s food trucks and outdoor space maintained by Portland Trails as good summer adventure options.

“There’s over 60 parklets as well as sidewalk dining. So I would say get out and pick one of those places,” he said. “Not all of them are downtown but the vast majority of them are. Get outside and enjoy street life.”

Concerts and more

Those craving live music again will be in luck this summer; outdoor concerts will return to Thompson’s Point, thanks to the partnership between the venue and the State Theatre.

Julia May, operations manager at Thompson’s Point, said some of the concerts that will be offered there are “rollovers from pre-pandemic times” and some are newly announced. They include Ghostland, Lake Street Dive, Wilco/Sleater-Kinney and 311. To follow the summer lineup as more shows are announced or buy tickets, visit the State Theatre website. 

Summer Sunsets at Thompsons Point offers live music, lawn games, a full bar and food trucks every Thursday and Friday from 4 p.m. until sunset all summer. (Portland Phoenix/Elizabeth Clemente)

In addition, the free Summer Sunsets series at Thompson’s Point has also returned and will be held most Thursdays and Fridays this summer beginning at 4 p.m. and ending at sunset. The Summer Sunsets series features a full bar, live music, and food trucks, is open to all ages and is dog friendly.

Thompson’s Point will also be hosting other events this summer, including shows before and after concerts and comedy nights. A full list of events is available on the Thompson’s Point website

May said Thompson’s Point will continue to follow guidelines from the state and U.S. Centers for Disease Control, and the organization’s staff hopes patrons will continue to get vaccinated “to safely return to these large-scale events.”

“The success of the vaccine rollout in the state prompted officials to drop the mandatory social distancing for vaccinated individuals, which absolutely changed the way we can do business this summer,” she said. 

Concerts are also planned at Congress Square Park this summer, according to C.J. Opperthauser, executive director of the nonprofit Friends of Congress Square Park. He added that other programming like outdoor movie screenings is in the works for later in the summer because there will be “more liberty” to accommodate crowds.

In the meantime, folks can join small-group activities in the park, including chess games, which are held every Saturday, or Tai Chi twice a week. More information about weekly events can be found on the Friends of Congress Square Park Instagram

Opperthauser said his organization is “politely asking” people to wear masks at their events, but is keeping an eye on the changing guidelines. 

Friends of Congress Square Park also hosted the first-ever Congress Square Park Market on May 23, which featured several local businesses and artists.

Many of the participating businesses, Opperthauser said, do not have a lot of space in their brick-and-mortar stores to accommodate customers and may be grappling with how to handle the loosened mask restrictions.

He added he hopes the market will be held monthly throughout the summer, and said the market illustrates how much of the park’s programming this summer will be built around partnerships with other organizations, including the Portland Public Library.

“(We’re partnering with) a whole crazy diversity of types of organizations,” Opperthauser said. “We’ll have a really good variety and are just trying to be a good community member and offer up our space to help people operate outside.”

Creative Portland’s First Friday Art Walk will also return July 1 after being on hold since the start of the pandemic last year. First Friday has celebrated arts and culture in Portland monthly, regardless of weather, for more than two decades and usually draws approximately 3,000 people to downtown galleries and exhibits.

The theme for the July exhibit is “2020 Vision: Past, Present and Future,” and more information can be found on the Creative Portland website. 

For those willing to take the ferry to Peaks Island, Jones Landing has restarted its popular Reggae Sunday events, which were not held last year. Reggae Sunday is for adults 21 and older, features live reggae music and food by island eatery Milly’s Skillet, and is dog friendly. Doors open at 11:30 a.m. every Sunday, and live music begins at 1 p.m.

Center Street rock club Aura also has a lineup of concerts planned for this summer, and will continue to announce dates on its website

Family fun

For those with children, The Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine plans to open June 24.

The new neighborhood exhibit at The Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine at Thompson’s Point is reminiscent of a similar exhibit at the old Free Street museum, but features all-new structures. (Courtesy Children’s Museum)

The new 30,000-square-foot building at Thompson’s Point includes a 100-seat theatre and 10,000-square-foot science center with seven aquarium tanks, among other features. 

The museum will adhere to COVID-19 protocols to keep visitors safe, including timed ticketing, capacity of less than 40 percent, and enhanced cleaning. Visitors 5 and older will also be required to wear masks.

The museum will also continue its access initiatives in its new space, and will not turn away any visitors for their inability to pay admission. For more information, visit the museum’s website

For movie fans, Nickelodeon Cinemas on Temple Street reopened May 27 after being dark for about eight months. The theater is kicking off the summer with “Cruella” and “A Quiet Place Part II.” For showtimes, visit the Nickelodeon website

The Portland Observatory on Congress Street offers another option. It will reopen on Saturday, June 5, and remain open Thursday-Monday from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. with the last entry time at 5 p.m. Access to the observatory will be granted only with pre-purchased, timed tickets for $10 each, limited to eight visitors at a time, who will have 45 minutes to explore the building. Tickets can be purchased online

The Portland Museum of Art is also open for visitors Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 10 a.m.-6 p.m., and timed entry is no longer required, according to the museum’s website. The museum is also open from 10 a.m.-8 p.m. on Fridays, and admission is free on that day. Masks are required for all patrons ages 5 and up.

Portland also has several rental opportunities to offer for those looking for an outdoor adventure.

Portland Paddle offers kayak and stand-up paddleboard rentals and tours, and Maine Island Kayak Co. on Peaks offers kayak tours. Also on Peaks is golf cart rental service Mike’s Carts and Brad’s Bike Rental & Repair.

Portland’s mainland also has bike rental services including The Encyclepedia on Commercial Street and Gorham Bike & Ski Congress Street. Some other Portland shops that typically rent bikes are currently not doing so due to COVID-19 or other reasons, so be sure to call or research online before visiting.

In accordance with updated health and safety protocols from the Centers for Disease Control and Major League Baseball, the Portland Sea Dogs returned to full capacity this month at Hadlock Field. (Courtesy Portland Sea Dogs)

Another great place to take the kids this summer is Hadlock Field, where the Sea Dogs returned to full capacity on June 1.

Chris Cameron, the team’s vice president for communications and fan experience, said the organization is “extremely excited” about playing in front of a full house, but will continue to heed state and CDC guidance and return to tighter restrictions if necessary. Tickets for home games can be purchased on the Sea Dogs website or by calling 207-879-9500.

Cameron said despite having a “strong start” with individual ticket sales, the organization is “well behind” where it usually would be with group sales, since it usually puts tickets on sale in November of the prior calendar year.

Some policies created in response to the pandemic remain, too, like the option to order food from your seat via a mobile phone, in addition to making a trip to the concession stands.

“The fans are loving that convenience where you don’t have to miss any of that game action any longer,” Cameron said. “You can just order right from your seat without missing a pitch.”

After going 610 days between the end of the 2019 season and the first game after the pandemic shutdown, Cameron said the Sea Dogs are thrilled baseball is back in Portland.

“We never expected we’d be at this point this early,” he said.