September 19, 2023

In and Around Portland, Maine - The Most Photogenic Lighthouse Award

Having arrived in Freeport on the Wednesday after Memorial Day, Alan and I were enjoying our waterfront campsite at Winslow Memorial Park and Campground.  With such a gorgeous view out our big back window, it was really hard to tear ourselves away from the campsite, but we put on our big kid pants and headed out to explore Portland.

When we’re on the road, traveling in an area that’s unfamiliar to us, we often rely on our Garmin 890 to get us where we want to go.  The 890 is designed specifically for use with RVs and, in theory, should prevent us from disastrous occurrences like getting wedged underneath a bridge or taking a dead-end road into a small, residential cul-de-sac with no room to turn around in the northeast corner of Massachusetts.  Oh, wait!  It did direct us to turn into a small, residential cul-de-sac with no room to turn around in the northeast corner of Massachusetts!  Luckily, we were one step ahead of “Zoe” that day, and her advice remains suspect.

What has proved to be extremely useful in numerous instances is Google Maps.  When we’re towing a 32’ box behind us, it’s terrific for scoping out parking near a restaurant we’re considering patronizing and taking a good look at the way a campground is set up.  It’s also helpful when we’re trying to find access points with parking (with or without the trailer) for many of the bike trails we come across in our travels.  In Portland, Maine, Google Maps helped us find what turned out to be excellent access to the Eastern Promenade Trail from the Food Truck Park off Cutter Street.  The Food Truck Park is more of a parking area for the trucks than an actual park park.  It’s situated on a hill just above the trail with views of Casco Bay.

Food Truck Park

The Cutter Street Parking Lot is located at the bottom of the hill, adjacent to the trail.  But, at the time of our visit, the Cutter Street lot was being used as a staging area for construction equipment that was being loaded onto a ferry, destined for parts unknown.  Actually, as Alan and I watched four dump trucks and an excavator being carefully positioned on the ferry, we figured that the destination was probably one of the inhabited islands along the coast.  That led to a discussion about the cost of island living when everything you need must be transported by public ferry or private boat.  I was envisioning a whole parade of dollar signs and didn’t even want to think about the prohibitive cost of construction on those outlying islands.  If you remember that it doesn’t take much to amuse us, then you won’t be surprised to learn that we stayed at the Cutter Street ferry landing until the last piece of equipment was loaded, and the ferry began chugging its way slowly across the bay.  It was actually pretty intriguing because, as each piece of equipment was loaded, trucks already on the ferry needed to continually shift their positions to keep the ferry from capsizing.  It was a carefully choreographed dance, and one that was quite fascinating to watch.

When they had finished loading, the excavator was at the front and two dump trucks were on each side.

The Eastern Promenade was designed by the Olmstead brothers in 1905.  (Think Central Park in New York and Forsyth Park in Savannah.)  It’s a large and lovely park on the east end of the Portland peninsula with gorgeous views of the Portland Harbor and Casco Bay.  The Eastern Promenade Trail runs for nearly two miles along the shoreline, and it connects to both the Back Cove Trail and the Bayside Trail.  With a number of other stops on the day’s itinerary, we agreed to bike just the Eastern Promenade section.  I believe that it’s possible to make a loop if you connect to the other trails, but we left that longer ride for another visit.  The tracks for the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad run parallel to the trail, and we passed the railroad station (and the train!) along the way.  Those tracks look way too narrow to support such tall and heavy train cars, but what do I know?

It even had a caboose!

The Eastern Promenade Trail was delightful to ride, and Alan and I enjoyed the views of Casco Bay immensely.  The park itself is extremely popular with both residents and visitors.  With a beach, a boat launch, public restrooms, playing fields, a playground, multi-use trails and plenty of benches, that comes as no surprise at all.  Thanks to the vision of the city officials from more than one hundred years ago, and their dedication to bringing their plans for a magnificent green space for Portland residents to fruition, the Eastern Promenade continues to provide countless opportunities for relaxation and recreation.  Nicely done!

Oh, yeah, we'll be back!

A drive of twenty miles farther south along the coast (or would that be west?), brought us to an old family favorite – the Goldenrod in York Beach.  Talk about stepping back in time, the Goldenrod first opened its doors in 1896.  It’s a quaint combination of a candy shop, a soda fountain and a restaurant, and we’ve been stopping at the Goldenrod since our first visit to Maine when Ryan was just two years old.  This beloved family tradition endures, as Alan and I planned our arrival in time for lunch.  Our club sandwiches were fabulous; my only disappointment was that the soda fountain no longer served authentic vanilla cokes.  I don’t drink much soda, but the Goldenrod’s hand-mixed combination of Coke and vanilla syrup was a treat I always anticipated.  The candy shop is still churning out gazillions of the taffy “Kisses” for which the establishment is famous.  Although I no longer succumb to the taffy temptation, a visit to the Goldenrod wouldn’t be complete without stopping to watch those Kisses roll off the production line.

With lunch under our belts, it was time to begin the afternoon “Lighthouse Tour.”  In the area in which Alan and I grew up, lighthouses are common along the river.  They’ve been restored and maintained, protecting important pieces of the region’s maritime history.  With a lifelong affinity for lighthouses, I’m always on the lookout for “lights” we can visit on our travels.  Coastal Maine provides a plethora of opportunities, and our first stop of the day was the Cape Neddick Light in York.  Congress appropriated $15,000 to build the Cape Neddick Light in 1876, and it was illuminated for the first time in 1879.  The 41’ tall tower is made of cast iron lined with brick.  Because it's situated on a small, rocky island known as the Nubble, this lighthouse is often referred to as the Nubble Light.

The Cape Neddick Lighthouse - also known as the Nubble Light - York, Maine

If you want to horrify Coast Guard officials, there’s a quick and easy way to do it.  Let’s say you’re David Winchester, the Coastguardsman stationed at Nubble Light.  And let’s say that you have a seven year-old son, Rickie, who needs to attend school.  Let's also say that you know how dangerous boating back and forth across the 200 yard stretch of water between the lighthouse and the mainland could be due to the swells and the rocks.  So, let’s say that you designed a clever trolley system using pulleys and, every school day, you bundled up your son, put him in a basket 50'  above the water and worked the pulley system to transport him from the island to the mainland.  In 1967, when a (now well-known) AP photo of little Rickie Winchester and this ingenious idea hit the press (link HERE to see it), his Daddy’s bosses were duly horrified.  The Coast Guard quickly ruled that no families with school-aged children would ever be stationed on the Nubble again.  The Cape Neddick Lighthouse is an iconic coastal lighthouse and a popular stop for tourists.  But, as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t win the Most Photogenic Lighthouse Award.

Our next stop was at Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth to see the Portland Head Lighthouse.  In 1787, George Washington commissioned two stone masons to build a lighthouse on Portland Head.  (A “head” – or headland – is a piece of land that sticks out into the sea.  It’s often rocky and high above the water.  It may also be called a point or a promontory.)  The masons were informed that the colonial government was poor, and materials for the lighthouse should be natural, taken from the fields and shores.  The lighthouse was built of rubble stone and lined with brick.  Construction was completed in 1790, and it was first illuminated in January of 1791.  Its original lens (dating to 1855) was a fourth order Fresnel.  Because raids on shipping were common during the Civil War, making it even more important for mariners to see the Portland Head Light as soon as possible, the lighthouse was actually raised eight feet.  Today, the lighthouse tower stands 80’ above the ground and 101’ above the water.  Its second order electric light is visible for 16 miles, and its horn blasts every 20 seconds for four seconds when the coast is foggy.  The Portland Head Light is charming, but I don’t think it wins the award for the Most Photogenic Lighthouse.

The Portland Head Lighthouse in Fort Williams Park - Cape Elizabeth, Maine

All of this sightseeing required a break for ice cream.  I have to admit that I’ve developed the very bad habit of searching for the “best homemade ice cream” in various locations when we travel.  Today’s search led us to Willard Scoops in South Portland.  I will say that the small batch ice cream was delicious.  But I’ll also say that I wasn’t a fan.  Because it’s a small shop, there's not much seating, and Alan and I found ourselves sitting outdoors, right at the edge of the sidewalk as we enjoyed our ice cream.  While the ice cream itself was excellent and definitely deserved a premium price, I wasn’t impressed with the size of our servings for that particular premium price.  We ordered smalls, and they really were.  (For those of you old enough to remember, the experience brought to mind Clara Peller asking, “Where’s the beef?!”)  Maybe we were just spoiled by our wonderful experience at Morton's Moo in Ellsworth.  Not every at bat results in a home run, and we reluctantly dropped Willard Scoops in our “one and done” file and moved on.

I think that's a pretty small "small."

Our last stop of the day was the Portland Breakwater Light in South Portland.  THIS is the winner of my Most Photogenic Lighthouse Award!  In 1831, a terrible storm hit Portland harbor, destroying wharves and buildings.  In response to that storm, an 1,800’ breakwater was built on the south side of the harbor entrance.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is that the breakwater itself was nearly underwater at high tide, becoming more of a hindrance than a help to mariners who now had to pass through a narrow channel between the edge of the breakwater and an underwater obstruction known as the Hog Island Ledge.  With no lighthouse positioned at the end of it, the breakwater became a problem that was solved with the construction of the Portland Breakwater Light.  The light, a small wooden tower, was illuminated for the first time in 1855.  Not surprisingly, the wood didn’t last long, and the current light was put into service in 1875.  The new lighthouse is a 24’ tall cast iron tower surrounded by six fluted cylinders; it’s lit with a sixth order Fresnel lens.  Due to its diminutive size, the new Portland Breakwater Light is affectionately known as the “Bug Light,” and I have to say that it’s both majestic and absolutely adorable.

The Portland Breakwater Light - also known as the Bug Light - South Portland, Maine

Not only is it adorable, but it’s easily accessible, too.  You can walk right up to and around the lighthouse.  It quickly became my favorite lighthouse because it’s an impressive piece of architecture and exceptionally photogenic.  Not only can you get magnificent close ups of the Bug Light, but there is so much boat traffic constantly running in and out of the Portland harbor, that you can get all kinds of background in your photos including ferries, pleasure boats and sailboats.  The Portland Breakwater Light is located in Bug Light Park.  Alan and I spent quite a bit of time there, photographing the lighthouse in the changing light with an ever-changing backdrop, as well as watching the boat traffic plying the waters around Portland.  Unlike Willard Scoops, the Bug Light is most definitely on our “return to” list.  If one can fall in love with a lighthouse, I just did.


Our final day in Maine would be spent wandering around Georgetown Island and the Phippsburg Peninsula.  High on my list was visiting a lobster shack in the Five Islands area of Georgetown reputed to have “some of the prettiest views” around.  Yes, indeed!  I’m looking forward to that lunch!



  1. A cornucopia of adventuresome things probably oblivious to the unobservant. The Bug lighthouse would pique your interest, as it does mine. So unexpected. I hope Maine works out for us next summer. We will certainly know whom to call: Mary’s Center for Everything Whimsical!

    1. Mike, you are always guaranteed a seat on my Whimsical Adventures Tour!

  2. Janis @ RetirementallyChallenged.com9/20/2023 8:39 PM

    Second test with my name. Fingers crossed.

    1. Yay! You made it! Your first comment came through, also, as "unknown." Mike commented on my last post using his full name. I think sometimes he just comments without being signed in. Happy to have you back, Janis!

    2. Janis @ RetirementallyChallenged.com9/21/2023 9:17 PM

      Fabulous! Now, if I can just remember what steps I took and in what order... :) I love the lighthouses and boo to the micro-scoop of ice cream. It seems that most of the time when I order a "small" I'm glad I did. That looks more like a "taste test." :)

    3. I have complete faith in you, Janis - you've got this now! As for Willard Scoops, I read the owner's response to a review that mentioned that portions were small. He said it's costly to make small batch ice cream with top quality ingredients. And I get that. But, personally speaking, I'd rather pay a dollar more and get a reasonably sized serving. At least the owner responded to the review which says a lot about the company's position on customer service.

  3. Mary, I agree that "Bug Light" wins the prize for the most adorable lighthouse we've ever seen! We were fortunate to visit with a good friend who is retired a Coast Guard Captain and he took us on a tour, including inside the tiny lighthouse. You're making me want to plan a return trip to Maine! :-)

    1. You lucky ducks! It must have been quite a treat to visit the interior of Bug Light! Every time we visit Maine, it makes me wonder what took us so long to return! It's the kind of place that gets under your skin and remains in your heart.

  4. Mary,
    I would love to see a list of your favorite ice cream shops, in order of preference. I'll trade you for my list of Craft Beer Pubs, (tongue in cheek, LOL). Loved your lighthouse pics and your travels through Maine. Such a lovely state. Thanks, and have a great weekend! Joe

    1. Joe, I don't think I could come up with that list for you. I have such a soft spot in my heart for good ice cream that ALL ice cream shops are my friends. I couldn't possibly choose a bestie. I can tell you that my favorite flavors have been Nana's Ginger (just recently at Morton's Moo in Ellsworth, Maine) and Nectarine & Sage (at Ampersand in Fresno, California). But you're going to have to come up with something else to trade - I don't drink beer. 😁

  5. Thanks for reminding us of our Maine adventures...

    1. My pleasure, John! Adventures in Maine do create some wonderful memories.


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