Seaside Kitsch Meets American History at Portsmouth, NH


(View of the Portsmouth Fish Pier, photos by Maggie Overfelt Valentine)

Guest blogger Maggie Overfelt Valentine, who has recently shared photos with Travelogged of her honeymoon to Maui and Kauai, spent a weekend at the end of the summer in the seaside town of Portsmouth, NH. When I went to Kennebunkport, Maine, last summer, I was hoping to stop off at Portsmouth on my way home, but I didn't get a chance. So I asked Maggie to tell me all about what I missed.

Equal parts seaside kitsch and Americana history, downtown Portsmouth, NH, still feels more like an Old-World fishing and ship-building village than it does a modern port city. Located about 60 miles north of Boston, Portsmouth is, for many, an exit off I-95 on the way to Maine. However, driving north along the wandering 1A highway affords a lovelier landscape, featuring seaside farms, mom-and-pop seafood stands, and stark, saltbox estates.


Navigating downtown is best done at an ambling pace, taking in the bakeries (like Popovers on the Square and independent food stores (like Stonewall Kitchen) of Market Square. There's also no shortage of lobster roll stands downtown.

The Portsmouth Anthenaeum (pictured left), a private library and museum founded in 1817, offers a peek into the city’s Federalist past with its New England-centric art exhibits; it's a must for art history buffs.

But more casual history lessons can be overheard at the laid-back dockside bars in the alley behind Ceres and Bow streets. Both the Blue Claw and Poco’s Bow Street Cantina offer sunset views of Piscataqua River, where Moran tugboats still guide tankers into the harbor. Locals close out autumn evenings with seafood festivals and free live music at Prescott Park, a 3.5 pier-side area that looks out to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, which is used for repairing Naval ships.

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