Portland, Maine, located a little more than 2 hours north of Boston, is known for its beautiful waterfront views and delicious food. However, Portland Maine is also a kid-friendly destination, with museums, waterfront activities, and other things that kids will enjoy. Because of its proximity to our home, we typically visit Portland once or twice a year and always find so many things to do. Here are some things to do in Portland Maine with kids.
Disclosure: I had the opportunity to experience a few of these things at no cost as part of the Women in Travel Summit. We’ve also been to Portland numerous times and paid our own way. All opinions are my own.
Things to Do in Portland Maine with Kids
Portland Museum of Art
I probably wouldn’t visit with very little kids, but the Portland Museum of Art is a wonderful place to visit with older kids. This museum, located right in the Arts District of Portland, showcases artwork from notable artists such as Monet, Winslow Homer, Renoir, and Degas. The museum offers a gift shop, cafe, kids’ activities, and a separate tour of the Winslow Homer studio.
Every Friday evening, from 4-8pm, the museum offers free admission. This would be a great way to check out the museum without spending anything. That way, if your kids don’t love it, you’ll be able to leave.
Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine
This museum, which is locating soon, is the perfect place to visit with little kids. I checked out the original location adjacent to the Portland Museum of Art, and was impressed with all of the hands-on exhibits. There’s plenty to keep kids occupied, and I know my kids would have loved it when they were younger.
It’s definitely best for younger kids. Exhibits include a 25 foot fire truck, a car repair shop, a lobster boat, and the discovery woods (sponsored by LL Bean). The museum also offers a theater on the lower level, with regular scheduled shows. While I was there, the museum was offering a cute puppet show.
The museum recommends that you consider bringing along a second set of clothes during your visit, because there are plenty of opportunities to get wet and messy. If you are staying in a nearby Portland Maine hotel, you can probably just go back to your room to change, however.
Casco Bay Lines
Casco Bay Lines operates ferries 365 days a year, so you can ride even if visiting Portland in the winter. There are a lot of tour/ferry options from the Portland harbor, including the following:
- Mailboat runs (Little Diamond, Great Diamond, Long, Cliff and Chebeague Islands)
- Sunrise/sunset tours
- Bailey Island cruise (runs seasonally)
- Ferry to Peaks Island
- Little Diamond Island/Great Diamond Island ferry
Make reservations in advance by checking out their website.
Lucky Catch Cruises
Looking for a quintessential Maine experience? Lucky Catch cruises operate on Casco Bay, where you can go on a lobster boat for 80-90 minutes and learn how the process works. These cruises are kid-friendly, and lobsters caught on the boat can be purchased at the wholesale rate. If you aren’t local, these lobsters can be brought to the nearby Portland Lobster Company located on Commercial Street.
Learn more at the Lucky Catch Cruises website.
Portland Head Light
Located at Fort Williams Park on Cape Elizabeth, the Portland Head Light is the most popular icon of the town. The beautiful lighthouse is definitely worth the drive from downtown Portland – with gorgeous views that you won’t want to miss.
The lighthouse’s museum, located in the former Keepers’ Quarter, has a few things of interest to lighthouse enthusiasts. We typically visit when the museum is closed, but still enjoy taking photos around the fort and of the lighthouse. You can visit in all four seasons – around Christmas, the lighthouse is decorated with a wreath, like in my photo above.
Peaks Island is a quiet island located off the coast of Portland. Guests can visit via Casco Bay Cruises passenger ferry. While there, you’ll see both rocky and sandy beaches, although only three are open to the public. It’s also a great place for walking and kayaking. From the island, you’ll have a great views of Portland.
Plan ahead because it’s a quiet island, with a few restaurants and only one public restroom. This page on the Peaks Island website offers insider information about what you can expect to do and see there.
This unique, lighthouse-looking tower is the last standing maritime signal tower in the United States. It’s open seasonally, and guests can enter and get a tour. It’s operated by Greater Portland Landmarks, who have other tours as well as a family walking tour appropriate for those age 8 and up. You can purchase a map of the tour online, or in person.
Portland Sea Dogs
Love baseball? Visit the Boston Red Sox AA affiliate, the Portland Sea Dogs, right in town. Like other minor league affiliate games, tickets for the Portland Sea Dogs are extremely affordable – averaging about $13 per ticket for great seats. Seeing a minor league game can be an affordable way to introduce your kids to the game of baseball without the major league ticket prices.
The season usually runs from April to the beginning of September, and tickets can be purchased online. The park also offers concessions including craft beer and lobster popcorn so you can eat while you watch the game. I’d love to visit this season just for the lobster popcorn!
In season, Duck Tours can be a great way to experience Portland by land and sea. These popular tours run about 60 minutes and do sell out in advance. Seating is first-come, first-served, so you’ll want to arrive at your specific time early.
In addition to a standard land-sea historic tour of the city, there’s another option, the Duck and Dogs tour. This tour departs and arrives at Hadlock Field, home of the Portland Sea Dogs. The tour includes a ticket to the game, so after the Duck Tour, you’ll be able to watch a minor league baseball game. For this tour, you’ll want to park at the field (or plan to take a cab or ride-sharing service both ways).
My daughter and I love shopping when we travel, and there are lots of options within the city. We like walking along Fore Street and Commercial Street, where there are a number of fun shops including the Black Dog, Cool as a Moose, the Cabot Cheese store, and many individual boutiques.
Portland is known for its delicious food – from lobster rolls to potato donuts. There are very few chain restaurants in town (and those mostly are local chains), but you’ll find tons of fantastic restaurants. It’s worth doing some research in advance and making reservations where possible, because many of these restaurants are popular, with limited seating.
Popular restaurants include:
- The Holy Donut (where you can get delicious donuts made with potatoes)
- HiFi (another delicious donut option with more traditional donuts)
- Highroller Lobster (get those aforementioned lobster rolls, plus lobster tacos, crabmeat rolls, and more)
- Duckfat (Belgian style fries, sandwiches, donut holes, milkshakes)
- Eventide Oyster
- Public Market House (food stalls over two floors)
- Otto pizza
- Slab pizzeria
- Flatbread Pizza Company
- Portland Lobster Company
- Paciarino (no children’s menu)
- Taco Escobarr
- UNION (in the Press Hotel, delicious breakfast)
Road Trips from Portland
Right near Portland, you’ll find a number of fabulous locations for a quick road trip.
Freeport, Maine: The home of LL Bean offers numerous outlets, the LL Bean flagship store (open 24×7), and Wolfe’s Neck Farm and State Park. We typically stay in Portland and then drive into Freeport for the day.
Old Orchard Beach, Maine: This beach town is home to the Palace Playland waterfront park, the Old Orchard Beach Pier, and the actual beach. It’s located about a half hour of Portland.
Kittery, Maine: This town over the New Hampshire border offers outlet shopping, an adventure park, a popular bulk candy shop, and more.
Portsmouth, NH: Right over the border from Kittery Maine is Portsmouth New Hampshire. There you’ll find a charming waterfront town and Water Country water park. It’s about an hour from Portland.
Wells, Maine: In Wells, you’ll find Funtown USA and Splashtown USA, an amusement park and water park. Funtown is home to Maine’s only wooden roller coaster, as well as the largest flume ride in New England. The parks are open seasonally, starting in mid-May for Funtown, and mid-June for Splashtown.
Gray, Maine: Visit the Maine Wildlife Park in Gray, Maine, about 40 minutes from Portland. This park, operated by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, is home to wild animals who can’t be returned to the wild for various reasons. Some of the wildlife here include coyotes, bald eagles, gray fox, bobcats, and moose. Bring along quarters so you can purchase food to feed some of the animals.