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Wednesday, November 2, 2016

In and Around Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Portsmouth, New Hampshire is constantly being talked up and the "new" spot in New England. That new trendy city where 20 something and 30 something New Englanders are flocking to eat good food, drink local beer, and enjoy what city life has to offer. Well, city life in New Hampshire that is. 

Mid October was my first trip to Portsmouth (ever). Since returning from Salt Lake City in May, I have made my quest back east to really explore more of New England. When two good friends moved to Portsmouth and then bought a house, we had more of a reason to visit than ever. We cleared the weekend, sent the dog to Auntie Ashleys, and made the 2 hour trip north across Rhode Island and Massachusetts to the beautiful state of New Hampshire.

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Famous Tugboats of Portsmouth- Photo: Mr.TinDC
Portsmouth New Hampshire is only about 20-25 minutes north of the Massachusetts border, and sits on the Piscataqua River, serving as the border between New Hampshire and Maine. Just an hour north of Boston, and an hour south of Portland, you are between two amazing cities. At the mouth of the river, and on the Atlantic Ocean as far as location goes, Portsmouth has it all. This was the biggest selling point of the area for me- a hub of amazing places to visit? Yes, Please.  Awesome location with that New England small town feel. You can surf, and bike, hike and ski all in the same weekend. Watch out California... East Coast is the Best Coast. 

This trip to Portsmouth was one I was so excited to not have to plan. If you know me, I meticulously plan each trip with the sights I need to see, the food I must eat and how to fit it all into my budget and schedule.  Instead, we let the locals do the work and plan the weekend.  But, of course, I brought "The Bible" for reference.

 I only spent one weekend in this pretty little city, but we packed a lot of fun into one weekend, hosted by two friends. So here's some history, what we did, what we loved, and what we thought about Portsmouth, New Hampshire. 

Map of downtown Portsmouth
Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is one of the oldest working ports in the US.  This area is known for its historic attractions (founded in 1623 as a seaport community) and is a popular spot all year round, especially summer. This city offers small town charm with it's historic riverfront district while the port of Portsmouth offers the international shipping community "a dynamic deep water port facility located just 3 miles from the sea capable of accommodating the largest state of the art tankers and containerships". 

Moran has provided its tug services to the Port of Portsmouth since 1967. Since the 1930s, this famous pier on Ceres Street has been home to several 100-foot tugboats.  This tugboats have become a famous icon for Portsmouth and can be found on various touristy gifts, photographs and paintings.  These tugboats guide tankers and other large commercial vessels safely through the Piscataqua River channel, which has one of swiftest and most difficult currents in the country.  

The art and fishing scene has strong ties to the community and Portsmouth is home to Fisherman and Hipsters alike.  Portsmouth is keeping its history but transforming in the eyes of young professionals.  Portsmouth, as well as fun cities like Salt Lake City, Utah and Portland, Maine have made the list of  The Next Portland- 8 cities all the cool kids are moving to".

Drive from Connecticut to Portsmouth  
We left Stonington Friday after work and were instantly caught up in weekend traffic. While the traffic is usually the worst during New England summer weekends, New England sees another bout of traffic during "Leaf Peeping Season".  This is the time of year that everyone and their mother heads north to see the leaves in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. We sat in traffic and eventually stopped for dinner in Northampton, Massachusetts.  We arrived in Portsmouth late Friday night where we drank mojitos and local beer.  Eventually we headed to bed in their gorgeous new home in downtown Portsmouth with big plans for Saturday .

Applecrest Farm Bistro 
Applecrest Farm, Odiorne Point State Park, 
The Kitchen, North Country Hard Cider and Book and Bar.
Saturday we woke up and our guides informed us we were heading out for breakfast. We got in the car and headed 20 minutes south to Applecrest Farm and Orchard. I blogged all about this spot last week and you can read more about it here. After a divine breakfast of hearty biscuits and gravy (and bloody marys... and apple cider donuts...) we walked around the farm for a bit taking in the good ole' fashion New England fun.

Pumpkin Patch at Applecrest Farm 
Odiorne Point State Park
After breakfast, we headed to Odiorne Point State Park, just 10 minutes south of Portsmouth located right on the water. This was the perfect place to stretch our legs and walk off the heavy breakfast. We followed the paths along the water, taking in the views, the locals surfing, the changing leaves, and the beautiful sunny fall day. There isn't a ton of "hiking" right in Portsmouth, but this park offers a great getaway to stretch your legs and enjoy the outdoors with a view. Unfortunately, the park does not allow dogs which seems to be an upcoming theme for Portsmouth as it grows.

Odiorne Point State Park

Odiorne Point State Park

After Odiorne, it was time for more food and some good local booze. First, we stopped downtown to grab lunch to go.  Our hosts took us to The Kitchen which had a wall full of accolades.  Diners Drive Ins and Dives, Best of New Hampshire 2016, and something delicious called Spudsters.  The place was busy and everything on the menu looked delicious.  We got a few sandwiches and salads to go and headed to North Country Hard Cider. I blogged all about North Country Cider last week but in case you missed it, you can read it here.  We unpacked our lunch and tasted six local ciders, from slightly spicy to dry to fall flavors like cinnamon and squash.  Delicious food, local cider at an awesome spot on the river, New Hampshire I am starting to understand you a little more.

North Country Harrd Cider

The day kept moving along and it was time to actually see the city of Portsmouth itself. I was amazed when Amy and Luis informed us that many of the restaurants were "Sold Out" for the night. We only had a party of six and we are talking New Hampshire here. Not the hippest restaurant in Boston or New York, we are talking New Hampshire.  Apparently the food scene here is big and reservations well in advance are a must.  

What makes the food scene so popular, especially with 20 and 30 somethings is that Portsmouth is all about "Ecogastronomy" bringing farms to the dinner table and is right in line with the Farm to Table movement.  The nearby University of New Hampshire was a pioneer in organic farming and offered an Ecogastronomy major before any other school in the US.

In Portsmouth's defense, there was a lot going on this weekend between Trump's visit to Portsmouth (we avoided that like the plague) and a Film Festival downtown. Maybe this attributed to the difficulties in dinner restaurants but none the less, the city was busy and we finally settled into a table for dinner. Parking is usually an issue but we were able to walk downtown from their house. Amy and Luis found somewhere we could get a party of six in and we all walked downtown to Block Six

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Dining at Block Six- photo by HAIGH + MARTINO
Block Six turned out to be an awesome decision. Amazing local food at a grace price in a great space in Downtown Portsmouth. Set in an art space, the location is trendy and "The experience at Block Six is accessible, honest, functional, challenging, and affordable. As a restaurant, it complements and enhances the experience of the organization as a whole, serving as a meeting place for the arts community and the community at large; a place where ideas are born and shared. The food at 3S is contemporary and comforting, recognizable and innovative, with ingredients sourced primarily from local farmers and vendors. Dishes are affordable classics with unique twists. Sam Ostrow has designed the menu to be fun and seeks to put the guests at ease while providing them with exciting sensory experiences"

The waiter seemed a little distracted and out of it, but was very kind.  It took a little bit to place our order, and then one of our entrees came out much later than the others. Oh, and he forgot a side.  Some of the staff came over to apologize and to inform us that our drinks were on the house as an apology for the mistakes from the restaurant, blaming the chaotic evening on the Film Festival in town.  We loved that the restaurant took the initiative to make things right and devoured our appetizer and dinner.  The polenta tots were only $4 and were a fun and delicious spin on tater tots.  We ordered various things on the menu from the seasonal gnocchi to the local fish and mussels.  Everyone loved their meals and enjoyed their drinks on the house. And then, the waiter came over to bring us a free sampling of six of their new homemade icecreams.  Exotic and fun flavors like fennel, cherry chocolate and apple cider to name a few.  The ice creams were amazing and another lovely touch to the awesome customer service of the restaurant.  

Just when we thought it couldn't get any better, they informed us our entire meal was on the house.  Our drinks, our meals, our appetizers and then the ice cream all on the house.  An amazing dinner of locally sourced ingredients topped off with great drinks and homemade icecream. FOR FREE?  As far as customer service (and food, and atmosphere, and price) this place was awesome.  We begged them to let us pay for something, but instead ended up leaving a large tip for the waiter and kitchen staff.  Okay Portsmouth, you are showing off now.

Portsmouth Book and Bar
The night got even better when we arrived at my favorite stop in Portsmouth, Portsmouth Book and Bar.  This is just about the best place if you love coffee shops, local music, used books and booze.  It is basically a dream come true for anyone approaching 30 who's ideal evening revolves around a good wine and good read.  This place is literally a used book store, bar, cafe and local music venue all in one.  That's right, while enjoying a beer you can browse shelves of used books for sale, while enjoying live music and a pastry.  Why doesn't every town have this?  Could you imagine if the Book Barn had booze? I joke that you know you are getting old when you spend your Saturday night perusing through used books.  And couldn't be happier. 

Portsmouth Book and Bar
"Envisioned by three longtime booksellers and a creative chef, Portsmouth Book & Bar offers much more than select used books, great food, and beers; we offer a sense of place, a unique experience created through design, community events, and cultural events. We've restored one of the most historic spaces in downtown Portsmouth—the Custom House—and given it an old world, defiantly non-digital ambience—an old fashioned browser's bookshop offering espresso, craft beers, and lovely small plates. We built the shelves, the bar, and the kitchen ourselves, handpicked the titles and bake the croissants each morning. We offer a wide range of live music, readings, and happenings in a beautiful, intimate setting". Again I repeat, every town needs an establishment like this one. 

Books from Portsmouth Book and Bar
We took our new (used) books home, and I happily changed into PJs with a cup of tea, my stack of books and great company.  We were finally off to bed to spend the morning walking around Portsmouth, seeing the city during the day before heading back home to Stonington.

Coffee from Breaking New Grounds
Tugboat art and memorabilia seen throughout the city 

Walk around downtown Portsmouth including; Prescott Park, the waterfront, the tug boats and various shops
Sunday morning we decided to make breakfast at the house before walking around downtown Portsmouth. After breakfast, we stopped for a coffee at the quaint coffee shop in the central area of the city, Breaking New Grounds before walking around the city. We also made a trip to see the famous tug boats, walked through beautiful Prescott Park and stopped in a few stores.  I found the cutest stationary store and spent far too much money on a candle, just to confirm that I was approaching 30 and fast (candles and coffees and books, oh my).  Nora, the insanely adorable pit bull mix took us to her favorite pet store and the morning was spent peeking in and out of various shops. Around 3 o clock we packed our bags and headed south back to Connecticut with another great New England weekend in the books.

Prescott Park - 10 acres of gardens with fountains and tree-lined walkways.
Downtown Portsmouth 
 Nora at her favorite store downtown waiting to be let in

Overall, I thought Portsmouth was a quaint little city. 
As far as location goes, it cannot be beat right between Boston, Massachusetts and Portland, Maine.  Great hiking, including the White Mountains and New England's tallest peak is a day trip away (three hours to the base of Mt. Washington).   Portsmouth has a small town vibe with a trendy feel, with an awesome food scene and a younger crowd.  I was also disappointed in how un-dog friendly the area was.  According to our hosts, a lot of places that were once dog-friendly, have recently changed their tune.  A lot of parks, patios and outdoor areas are not dog friendly, a frustrated feat for dog owners in a city.  It isn't as quaint as Portland or some of the other New England Towns, but Portsmouth is charming in its own way. I would definitely give Portsmouth another weekend to enjoy the local food scene, amazing views and great company.  

Want to read more about Portsmouth?


  1. Katie you are killing me with the New England nostalgia your posts are causing me! Great write up as always. Additional recommendation is sitting on the deck at the Oar House in the summer. Cool ocean breeze and awesome seafood! (Not that you can get bad seafood in New England...) -Heather @

    1. You are also killing me with the Utah posts! Oh how I miss the desert this time of year! Glad we can live vicariously through each others blogs. And thanks for the recc!


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