November 23, 2014

Old Port Festival, Portland, Maine

Portland, Maine, still has a very vibrant and active working waterfront.  Until the 1970′s, when local developers saw the neighborhood abutting the waterfront as a retail and entertainment goldmine, it was not a safe place even to take a walk. Now, this neighborhood — known as the Old Port or Old Port Exchange –  is a focal point for tourists and locals alike. It’s 19th century buildings and cobblestone roads support many boutiques and shops, restaurants, galleries, and bars and clubs. Partially because Portland is now a port of call for several cruises a summer, and the Old Port is the first thing tourists see when they debark, it is become a very popular and well-known area in the tourist industry.

In 1973 — in celebration of the salvaging, development and repurposing of the Old Port — the Old Port Festival was born.  This one-day family affair is the second Sunday in June from about 11 a.m. to about 5 p.m. The cars are off the streets of the Old Port. The stores’ doors are opened and many bring some of their wares outside.  It is a great way to kick off summer and the tourist season and draws thousands of visitors a year.

Perennial entertainment includes many distractions for children.  The Children’s Museum of Maine and the Shoestring Theatre are two groups that are always represented. There are children’s amusement rides, as well. And  kick-off parade that starts at the top of Exchange St.  and which inevitably includes festival goers and children.

There are several stages set up throughout the Old Port area, and dozens of bands across many music genres to fill them. Dancing is encouraged, and more kids than grown-ups indulge in that pleasure. Local artisans and craftsmen also are part of this celebration.

The other big thing is the food.  Portland has an amazingly prolific culinary community for a city its size, and many of them are represented at the Old Port Festival. Everything from Crab Cakes to Pad Thai can be found.  Barbecue and grilled specialties are there, too.  Country fair standards like funnel cakes and sausage and pepper sandwiches are standard at this festival. And dessert!  In addition to stores in the Old Port that sell remarkable baked goods, candies and ice cream, other Portland purveyors of sweet treats spend this day in the Old Port.

If you are anywhere near Portland the second Sunday in June, be sure to put a visit to the Old Port Festival on your agenda for the day.

Photo credit Philip C.