Recently we went on a 4 day vacation to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I really knew nothing about Portsmouth when I booked our hotel stay in May. Just that I was kind of going out of my mind with work and that I would probably want a few days off when things typically slow down for us at the beginning of August.
My requirements were that our vacation destination couldn’t be more than 3 hours away, it should be near water and there should be stuff to do. “Stuff to do” for me is loosely defined as activities that keep me moving around and exploring, as I am not one to sit around and relax. That is not vacation for me. The running family joke is that I have to “squeeze the fun” from all of my downtime because I don’t get much of it. We zip from activity to activity yelling “squeeze the fun!” shaking our fists. I don’t know, maybe I have adult ADHD.
In any event, we were off to Portsmouth for a few days. I had done some preliminary research and it seemed lively enough with interesting architecture and history, walkable shopping, quality restaurants and in close proximity to beaches where we could go exploring later in the days. Our awesome hotel even let us bring Libby along for the trip.
I think Portsmouth might be my new favorite New England town ever. They are quite small, a population of approximately 21,000, and they seem to have their stuff together on so many levels. They have a very well developed downtown area of well more than a hundred small owner shops and restaurants. Just blocks and blocks of independently owned places. The only large retailers we saw were a Banana Republic and Stonewall Kitchen. Everything else was locally owned. Kitschy stores with all different items doing well. Restaurants of all different varieties serving great food, at a variety of price points.
They’ve condo-ized many of their older buildings and built new construction of condos and houses so they blend in with the older historic buildings. There are several large hotels near the water that cater to visitors and allow people to be involved right in the downtown area of shopping and eating.
They are proud of their history and do a great job explaining it to visitors and incorporating it into daily life and the structures that are in place. Their visitor center was really well run and gave us helpful ideas for our visit, incorporating our interests. On-street and garage parking was easy to find. It was a dollar an hour for parking pretty much wherever you parked. That seemed more than reasonable to us. They even had a few dog parks within various City parks.
We tried to compare it to something in Greater Hartford, but really couldn’t. It was kind of like the West Hartford Center area, but supercharged. There seemed to be such an entrepreneurial base of small owner places, while still catering to both locals and out-of-towners. We’re still trying to think through the things we learned from our very enjoyable visit, so more on that next week.