Summer in Maine reminds us how good it is to be alive.
Our state is peppered with beautiful lakes, miles of epic coastline, and gorgeous mountain trails that when witnessed, makes us appreciate our paltry existence. Here, seemingly sheltered from the world and its myriad problems, many of us are lucky to breathe fresh air, drink clean water, and exist a short ways away from natural marvels. As cliche as our state motto is, life really is good here.
That’s why with our 2017 Summer Guide, the Phoenix aims to highlight the best ways to spend our three-month stint in full sun. While we’re pretty good at comprehensively covering food, art, and music events (see our other sections for the lowdown), we’re also featuring happenings that don’t fit neatly into those categories. That’s why this space is dedicated to revealing opportunities you might never have heard of, or ones that have simply fallen through the cracks, like secret summer swimming holes, road trip destinations, nautical adventures, fight clubs, athletic events, and festivals. There are more exciting ways to soak in culture and community in Vacationland than your standard backyard barbecue.
Happy summer. Spend it wisely.
Sail off into the sunset, wine bottle in hand
This summer you could literally sail off into the sunset with Wine Wise.
At 3,500 miles, Maine’s coastline is literally longer than the rest of America’s Eastern seaboard. You deserve to tour your own personal slice of it with an Italian wine in hand. And because we’re assuming Phoenix readers aren’t sailboat owners — the cheapest one we could find in the area is going for $20,000 and costs over $400 a month in upkeep — we thought you, and your wallet, would enjoy Jack Sparrowing it on someone else’s vessel.
Portland’s vineyard Wine Wise is offering Sunset Sailboat Cruises all summer long aboard their squeaky clean Windjammer. The main deck will double as a wine tasting class where sommelier Erica Archer will call to attention just how little you know about the world’s oldest libation. Attendees report walking away from this floating crash course on wine with stronger, more sensitive taste buds, and a newfound appreciation for the many islands, lighthouses, and historical sites around Casco Bay. This might be the most romantic event on our list, so if you’re significant other deserves some appreciation, dish out the cash for this allegedly unforgettable experience.
| Most Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays throughout the summer | $75 to $95 | http://www.winewiseevents.com/
Or take the cheaper tour of Casco Bay
We recommend Casco Bay Lines because tickets are cheap, there's plenty of space onboard, and it's an effortless way to see our nearby islands, many of which have excellent restaurants on them.
If the previous event proves too pricey, there’s a cheaper and much more laid back alternative that offers just as many sight-seeing opportunities.
In our eyes, boarding the Casco Bay Ferry for a blissful cruise around Chebeague, Great Diamond, and Peaks Island is the quintessential summer in Portland experience, even if you’re a longtime local. Fun fact, there are over 130 islands in Casco Bay! It’s a whole 'nother world out there.
Another perk of the ferry you’d be chillin’ on: it’s quite big, so if you’re looking to gaze out into the blue expanse of the ocean in solitude, chances are you’ll find a quiet spot to do so.
Cruises typically last 2-3 hours and are with a variety of themes, times and durations — like sunrise, sunset, and moonlight. If you want to get your party on, music cruises are planned throughout the summer with floating concerts featuring original and cover acts. And yes, there’s a cash bar on board, just in case the tunes start to grate on you.
| $16 | 56 Commercial St., Portland | https://www.cascobaylines.com/
In troubled times, become a ninja
The instructors at Discovery Martial Arts have made so many realize that their bodies are powerful. Courtesy of Discovery Martial Arts.
Maybe lounging around under the sun feeding ducks in Deering Oaks Park won’t cut the mustard for you this summer. Maybe you’re too concerned with alt-right groups mobilizing across the country, or online trolls fueling real acts of violence to get lost in carefree days of cheerful laziness. Maybe, in these heated times, you’re in need of a radical way to take control of your body and reap the psychological rewards of protection and self-empowerment.
Perhaps it’s time you learned how to kick some ass? Or rather, protect your own?
Instructors at Discovery Martial Arts are offering accessible self-defense classes for beginners (both youngsters and adults). Don’t be nervous, coaches here are very welcoming and work with you and the limited skills you walk in with. If you’re driven and dedicated enough, you’ll walk away from these classes a veritable warrior. They’ll teach you the powerful art of taijitsu and Hakken Budo Ninjitsu and strengthen your balance and physical endurance in the meantime.
If you want to feel safe walking down the street, and imbue your personality with some discipline (which seems to be in short supply nowadays), this may be the way to do it. And with the studio offering a free two-week trial for interested fighters, it’s a chance to seize the skills necessary to refuse backing down from intimidating jerks.
| PRICES VARY | 3:30 pm to 7 pm | 34 Rainmaker Dr., Portland | http://discoverymartialarts.net/
Portland’s forts are underappreciated treasures
You've seen it plenty of times from a distance, but maybe it's time you ventured inside this decrepit monolith. But we're hope you're ready for a mini adventure, because Fort Gorges is only accessible by small boat.
Chances are you’re only familiar with Portland’s historic fortifications from a distance. Take the prominent Fort Gorges built in 1858 and jutting out of the bay from its own little island; it’s impossible to miss when walking down the Eastern Promenade. What’s it like over there, anyway? We encourage you to indulge your curiosity and venture out to it, before the site falls into such disrepair that visitors are prohibited.
The eerie looking relic from the Civil War is only accessible by small boat, so your best bet of getting there is through Portland Paddle, who’s offering a 3 hour sea kayak excursion out there. Tickets costs $52 and the guides meet every Thursday and Friday on the East End Beach.
Other forts worth exploring in the area include Battery Steele (a World War II military outpost) on Peaks Island which proves perfect for moody Instagram shots, and Fort Williams (once part of Portland’s harbor defenses in 1872), which is free, and delightfully creepy inside — we recommend sneaking inside Fort Williams’ long narrow corridor and scaring the living hell out of unsuspecting tourists; it’s quite fun!
| FREE | Fort Williams Park, 1000 Shore Rd., Cape Elizabeth | https://fortwilliams.org/ |
The Portland Public Library's not just for summer reading
Summer reading lists are one habit we hope has stuck with you since childhood. But there's also much more to do at Portland's Public Library.
If you just need a quick reprieve from the hot sun (and the tourists that think Lady Monument is the most interesting thing to photograph), don’t forget that the Portland Public Library is a cool hideaway smack in the middle of town. With comfy chairs, air conditioning, and free wifi, an afternoon can easily slip away here.
Because apart from enough DVDs to fuel 3,000 summer movie nights and countless books to swing in a hammock with, the Portland Public Library also offers a number of interesting cultural happenings on an almost weekly basis. We recommend you keep their Spanish guitar concerts (first one, Torres meets Tarrega, coming up on July 11), "death cafes" (where you’ll sip tea and discuss the nature of grief the second Wednesday of every month), teen art exhibits (there’s one called Paint Your Story on July 7), and lectures on immigration and social issues, on your radar this summer.
| FREE | 10 am to 5 pm | Portland Public Library, 5 Monument Sq., Portland | http://www.portlandlibrary.com/
Delightfully deplorable headliners at the 2nd Portland Comedy Festival
What are the chances cult comedian Doug Stanhope won't break Empire's no smoking policy? Slim.
If you’re a gut needs a good busting, Empire’s a reliable place to go for laughs this summer. On the weekend of July 7th, the venue’s booked three nights worth of impressive comedic acts for their 2nd Annual Comedy Festival.
Things kick off Friday with local acts Kyle Ruse, Connor McGrath, Dennis Fogg, Casey Crawford, Nick Lavalee, and Ian Stuart taking the stage and exposing their vulnerabilities. Stick around that night until 11, for the Adam & Eve show, where performers will start to shed their clothing — no word yet on what exactly will provoke the state of undress, but we’re anxious to find out!
On Saturday, the Women of New England Comedy show takes over the 7:00 pm slot with Jess Millier, Sarah Martin, and Rachel Gendron. At 9, national opener Dan Boulger will work the crowd alongside Colby Bradshaw. The night closes with Tales of Debauchery, featuring local storytellers Mark Curdo, Peter Bissell, Spencer Albee, and Joe Ricchio.
And lastly, the biggest attraction for this comedy fest arrives on Sunday night to perform a painfully self-deprecating set. Somehow the folks at Empire managed to book Doug Stanhope (a notoriously picky comedian with a cult-like following) for a night we’re certainly not going to miss. There’s something about Stanhope’s comedy that makes you feel joyous, confused, and miserable all at the same time. However, don’t think we’re selling this act short, Stanhope’s 100 percent hilarious slinging those extremely clever, edgy, admittedly depressing jokes. Catch one of these shows for $10, or get a weekend pass for $30.
| Empire, 575 Congress St., Portland | https://venue.portlandempire.com/
Sort the winners and the losers at these athletic pride events
Runners at last year's Shipyard Maine Coast Marathon. Courtesy of Shipyard.
If you’re among the group of people of that this writer will never quite understand fully — 5K competitors — don’t think you’re underserved by our righteous indignation of paying money to run. We’re here to serve you too and highlight the endurance challenges you crave to be a part of. Feel the burn!
Meet at Liquid Riot at 6 pm on June 29 for the Old Port Pub Run, which will have you asking, Can I really run five miles with this much beer in my belly?
The first big running event of the season kicks off on July 1, with Rise Up 5K, part of a string of nationwide races benefiting organizations working with immigrants. On July 8th, the 7th annual Shipyard Marathon and 5K invites Portlanders to compete for beer, swag, sweat, and glory. Gather on Thames Street at 7 am for this competitive tradition. On July 22, the sports club Runaways hosts Take the Night 5K, where runners navigate the hills of the East End and Munjoy neighborhoods in the dark. This one will be grueling, but there’s a free milkshake for those that finish. This race starts on the Eastern Prom at 145 Cutter St. at 9:30 pm. And finally, rounding out these cultural artifacts doubling as symbolic tests of social class and physical ability is the Questival Portland on August 18, billed as a race unlike any you’ve ever experienced. Placed on a team of 3-5 strangers, you’ll work with them against other teams racing through obstacles and challenges across Thompson’s Point. What’s in store for the runners is secret, but the whole shebang is meant to last 24 hours, so expect a real bid for survival. Each race offers up to $10,000 in prizes. More information at https://www.cotopaxi.com/.
Dance in the streets at on Washington Ave. and in East Bayside
Participating organizations who plan on getting down at the Washington Ave. Block Party.
Shop, drink, eat, dance, repeat. Street festivals are synonymous with summer. And in Portland, there are two new ones to welcome. July 1 marks the inaugural Inner Washington Ave. Block Party. The simple pleasures of life — music, booze, and food — will converge for an indulgent night of community building — and, if you want, straight-up debauchery. Participating vendors are basically the innovators helping to make the neighborhood so vibrant and lovely: Oxbow, Maine Mead Works, Hardshore Distilling, Terlingua, Izikaya Minato, Drifters Wife, Silly's, Cong Tu Bot, Coffee by Design, Flying Fox, Venn + Maker, Fiore Home, Portland Gear Hub, Portland Pottery, Starry Eyes, Root Cellar, Weather Furniture, Dale Rand Printing, and PhoPa Gallery.
Bayside's joining hundreds of communities across America for a multicultural street fest dubbed National Night Out. Courtesy of Mayo Street Arts.
Later in the season — August 2 to be exact — Portland joins a coalition of cities across America participating in National Night Out, a series of neighborhood festivals aimed at boosting camaraderie and trust between the community at large and the police that serve them. Our version takes place in East Bayside and starts with a parade from Mayo Street Arts. Mayor Ethan Strimling and Police Chief Michael Sauschuck invite Portlanders to gather anywhere between Kennedy Park and Peppermint Park for an afternoon of barbecues, music by Matt Meyer and Gumption Junction, and honest conversations. More information can be found at https://natw.org/.
Wanted: hard workers, history buffs, and reminders of mortality
We swear, restoring historic gravestones can be a rather cathartic experience. Courtesy of Spirits Alive.
There’s got to be a thoughtful human out there reading this that would get some kind of melancholic kick out of spending a hot afternoon cleaning historic gravestones. Someone that fancies a time spent thinking about those whose last summers are long behind them. If that sounds like you, consider joining the Spirits Alive group; they’re looking for volunteers to tag along and photograph, clean, and generally help restore the gravestones in the sprawling Eastern Cemetery and discuss the lives of the Mainers rotting beneath them. Their conservation workdays are held every Saturday 8:30 am to 12:30 pm, and it’s suggested you wear long pants to them.
| FREE | Eastern Cemetery, Quebec St., Portland | http://www.spiritsalive.org/ |
Mingle with the misunderstood: Pagan Picnic
A legitimate High Priest of Pan — the half man, half goat trickster from Greek mythology — will descend from Millinocket with his followers for the Pagan Picnic in Deering Oaks Park on July 9 when the sun is highest in the sky. The high priest is actually a dude named Phelan, and he's quite a friendly fellow!
This event’s probably a gamble, but we say go for it. Outcasts tell the best stories, and Maine’s wilderness hides some colorful characters. In all seriousness, Maine’s pagans just want to promote harmony and build bridges between communities, and we think that’s an admirable goal in 2017. Why not learn what this highly misrepresented group actually believes in and practices? Their philosophy extends far deeper than the nature-loving, horn-wearing hippie aesthetic trope you probably picture in your head. And they’ve been organized online since 1989 on the Earth Tides Pagan Network, so it’s high time you’ve said hello. Dance, hit the drum circle, and feast on fruit. The hosts promise not to proselytize, but guidance is given if asked. Pentagrams are welcome but leave your ram's head at home.
Rooftop movies at Bayside Bowl
At sunset, the view from Bayside's Rooftop Bar is even prettier. Highly recommended chill spot. Courtesy of Bayside.
After a $3 million expansion, Bayside Bowl with its 12 bowling lanes, Airstream trailer taco truck, and new scenic rooftop bar, has cemented itself as the place to hang out this summer.
The rooftop deck opens at 4 pm on weekdays and can seat up to 200 taco eaters and sunset watchers. No lie, it’s really pretty up there! It’s so picturesque that the owners have launched a series of free rooftop movie screenings all summer long. Here’s what flicks they’ve got lined up: Talking Heads documentary Stop Making Sense (June 28), Dog Day Afternoon (July 5), What We Do In The Shadows (July 12), Cool Hand Luke (July 19), The Grand Budapest Hotel (July 26), Idiocracy (August 2), Get Out (August 9), Alien (August 16), Hairspray (August 23), and O Brother, Where Art Thou (August 30).
Get out of town with the windows down: best road trips
Calling all able bodies! Hiking Mount Katahdin is basically a Maine rite of passage. Conquer the Abhol Trail this summer.
We’d be wrong not to offer you any activities outside of Portland. As nice at is here, we wouldn’t wish anybody to be stuck on the peninsula all summer. If you’re fortunate enough to have access to four wheels, these are the roadtrip experiences most Mainers cherish as honored pastimes.
The quintessential Maine roadtrip is the 223-mile drive to Baxter State Park, our summer paradise. True Mainers conquer the mile high peak of Mt. Katahdin at least once (I’ve done it three times — catch up), and the boldest among them push themselves to creep through the dangerously narrow Knife’s Edge. Not up for an adrenaline-draining hike? There’s plenty else to do, from moose-watching, swimming, fishing, rafting, and camping. This 200,000-acre wilderness park is literally in the middle of nowhere, and we love that. Drive time: four hours.
Joining the Society of Creative Anachronisms for their annual battle, the Great Northeastern War, always proves a surreal and fantastic experience.
If you drive to Western Maine sometime between July 6 and 9, and squint your eyes across the Hebron Pines Campground, you’ll think you stepped into 500 years into the past. Hundreds of ancient and medieval reenactors will be there setting up old-timey war tents, and beating each other senseless with swords and spears for the annual Great Northeastern War. It’s quite a sight to behold in 2017. For the uninitiated that can’t take part in the war games, it’s so worth the roadtrip to just watch the clash while gulping down period-appropriate mead and feasting on turkey legs. Please note, you do have to make some attempt at pre-17th-century dress in order to get in, but the hosts do accept basic tunics crudely fashioned from bed sheets. Admission is $10. Drive time: 58 minutes.
Maine’s got a lot of lakes to swim in, but if you’re concerned about leeches, ticks, and questionable water quality, then many of them prove suspect. Luckily Sebago Lake is super clean, very safe, quite warm, and an absolute delight to dive into. Open sunrise to sunset. Admission is $6. Drive time: 45 minutes.
People suck sometimes, right? If you want to spend an afternoon away from mouth-breathing humans, and instead want to share air with iconic Maine creatures like the lynx, raccoon, black bear, moose, and deer, then head over the Gray Wildlife Park. Bring some food and charcoals to start a barbecue amidst adorable critters you may have never seen so close up before. Open daily 9:30 am to 6 pm. Admission is $7.50. Drive time: 30 minutes.
The biggest festival in the state is a heaping pile of Maine stereotypes. It's also a lot of fun. Courtesy of the Maine Lobster Festival.
One big event that most tourists and longtime locals can get easily drum up excitement for is the 70th annual Maine Lobster Festival in Rockland. About 30,000 people attend each year! This five-day extravaganza goes from August 2nd to the 6th and celebrates all things lobster with a carnival, a parade, seafood cookouts, hundreds of arts vendors, costumes, a lobster crate race, and a sea goddess beauty contest. It’s so Maine, it’s almost lame. Expect to consume massive portions of the sweet red meat that put Maine on the map. There’s also live music by way of Smashmouth, a rock band I thought only existed inside Shrek movies.
For this roadtrip, we recommend you take Route 1 North, so you’re able to soak in miles of that beautiful coastal scenery. Drive time: 1 hour and 45 minutes.
Summer nights in Longfellow’s Garden
The Longfellow Garden behind the Maine Historical Society is a beautiful and quiet refuge from any Congress St. disturbances. It's also a fantastic place to crack open a beer and talk about history.
Ducking into Longfellow’s Garden on Congress Street to escape the sun, sounds, and other annoyances on Monument Square is another time-honored Portland tradition. There amidst the chirping birds, bubbling fountains, and myriad of the poet’s beloved plants, one can find peace, even if it’s only for a minute. But what does the secret enclave look like at night? Even more beautiful? The folks at the Maine Historical Society invite you to find out during their monthly Beer In The Garden series which combines drinks, snacks, and historical artifacts (that’s got a nice ring to it eh?) for a night of smart conversation. Monthly themes and dates are as follows: July 18 – The Founding Fathers; August 15th – Botanical History; and September 19 – Historic Firearms.
| $5 | 4:30 pm to 6:30 pm | Maine Historical Society, 489 Congress St., Portland | https://www.mainehistory.org/ |
Life Happens Outside Festival
Where can you go white water rafting in Maine? Find out at the Life Happens Outside Festival.
We dig the central theme of this festival: life happens outside. It’s easy to forget in our screen-obsessed world, but it’s probably (and ironically) the one collective message we all had hammered into our heads as children growing up in Maine. Back when we played sports more and avoided digital distractions, simply being outside was our entertainment. This two-day Life Happens Outside Festival from Trails and Teens encourages today’s youth to play like we did: with rope swings, bicycles, and paddleboards. Adults can wander around the grounds enjoying live music, craft beer, food trucks, an L.L.Bean presentation, and over 40 vendors selling quality sports, fitness and outdoor adventure equipment.
| August 25-26 | $30 | Thompson’s Pt., Portland | https://www.lifehappensoutside.org/
Don’t pay for beaches, go here instead
Colony Beach in Kennebunk at sunset.
And because enjoying nature is such an integral part of summer, how could we end this feature without mentioning the best beaches to wiggle our toes into? Sadly, many of the biggest beaches with the best waves (like Popham, Old Orchard, and Scarborough) are also plagued with huge crowds, limited parking, and gate fees. But if you’re after swaths of sandy coast that are just as beautiful but free and twice as accessible, consult this list:
Willard Beach - 30 Willow St., South Portland
Pine Point Beach - Pine Point Road and East Grand Avenue, Scarborough
East End Beach - Eastern Promenade, Portland
Fortune Rock’s Beach - Biddeford
Colony Beach - Kennebunk