Even though he’s From Away, my Blue-Eyed Yankees Fan fancies himself a member of the Greater Portland Welcome Wagon.
“Yeah, my girl lives up in Portland,” he’ll say whenever Maine is mentioned, regardless of the context. “She’s like a restaurant and bar freak. When wees (we) go out, she can’t go to just one place. She has to go to at least tree (three) places in one night.”
Upon finding out the other person is planning a Portland trip, he’s unable to refrain from offering my assistance. “I’ll ask her to make a list to help wit (with) places yoose (you) guys might like to go,” he says in his native tongue.
Normally, a request like this would be a pleasure, but here’s the rub: I don’t know “them guys,” what they like to eat, or what their interests are. “Just tro (throw) a list together,” my Yankees Fan says, “Oh, and Toots, they have a 7-year-old kid.”
Unable to send a 7-year-old to Howie’s Pub, much less out on the Casablanca dinner and party boat, I immediately ditched my go-to roster. In my mind, the suggestions needed to be close to Portland, tolerable for the parents, and, of course, semi-affordable. The beach and lakes are local vacation givens, so these suggestions exclude water excursions and are indigenous to Maine.
My “List of 5 Tings (Things) for Kids From Away To Do:”
1 — Maine Wildlife Park in Gray. Known to Mainers as Gray Animal Farm, this natural setting is run by the state and is a half-day trip. Walk at your own pace using their self-guided tour via a QR code on your smartphone. See bears, coyotes, fish, birds and moose, among other animals who need medical attention, recuperation or help.
2) Len Libby. Located on Route 1 in Scarborough, the homemade candy and ice cream alone would be enough to thrill any kid. But this is Maine, so I‘m throwing in another moose. According to the website, Lenny, the 1,700-pound solid chocolate, life-size moose “was the only indoor attraction that made The Weather Channel’s list of “20 Of America’s Oddest and Most Amazing Roadside Attractions and Landmarks.”
3) Bradbury Mountain State Park in Pownal. One of Maine’s five original state parks, this place is so family-friendly that even the youngest of kids can hike to the summit, or hitch a ride on Mom’s or Dad’s back. Pick an easy trail, pack a picnic and take a lot of pictures. It’s just northwest of Freeport, so hike early when it’s cooler and stop at L.L. Bean on the way back for a look at the giant Bean boot.
4) The Saco Drive-In. This gem is one of Honda Motor Co.’s five Project Drive-In winners. The 2013 fan-driven contest awarded new digital projectors to replace obsolete film reels, enabling the winners to show new movies. The snack bar is a bit pricey and the mosquitoes still rule, but who cares when for $20 you can cram as many people as possible into a car, not including the trunk? NOTE: Keeping it classy. there is always a PG or PG-13 choice.
5) First Friday. Held the first Friday of each month, Portland’s Congress Street Arts District and beyond turns into a street fair. Art galleries and merchants throw open their doors, many offering free wine and snacks. The event has an array of street entertainers, including busking musicians, fire-tossers, jugglers, stilt-walkers and more.
My Yankees Fan-turned-travel-agent lives close to Boston, but rarely gets into the city, saying he doesn’t have the time. The same goes for one of my friends in New York City, who has never seen the Statue of Liberty up close. Relating, I’m feeling a bit hypocritical, so my go-to list is staying on-hold. Instead, I’m channeling my inner 7-year-old and visiting the Gray Animal Farm wicked soon.
Next week: Where to send the 7-year-old kid From Away to eat. Reader suggestions (and why) encouraged.
Many of you know where my new restaurant job is, and others have made wishful guesses (as in, I wish I worked on a private yacht named “Promised Land”). So keep guessing. All correct submissions will be thrown into a hat for a $10 gift certificate to the mystery place, to be drawn July 31. Email me your name, phone number and guess. No cheating.
Natalie Ladd lives in Portland. When not pecking away, she can be found serving the masses at a busy eatery, or tirelessly conducting happy-hour field research. Hospitality questions or comments should be sent to email@example.com, and may be featured in a future column. Follow Natalie on Twitter: @natalieladd.