Beer, beaches, and babies in Portsmouth, NH

Portsmouth, NH probably isn’t the first place that comes to mind when talking about beaches. Sure, New England is known for seafood, particularly lobsters, but until we traveled there, I didn’t even realize New Hampshire touched the ocean. The small stretch of coastal New Hampshire packs a wallop though and is absolutely worth a visit. It’s not just Cape Cod that has picturesque New England seafood shacks, shanties, and fishermen galore. The little slice of coastal New Hampshire is the perfect place to experience incredible food, beer, and enjoy the best parts of a coastal life, even when traveling with kids.

We began looking for a destination to take our one-and-a-half-year-old twins that would have fun things to do with them during the day, good food, even better craft beer, and enjoyable weather, without breaking the bank. Additionally, after a trip overseas with the boys where we had to board the dog, we wanted somewhere relatively dog-friendly as well. Portsmouth fit the bill with a strong craft beer scene, a beautiful downtown that rolls along the water, and tons of amazing restaurants and casual food shacks with fresh seafood all around. While the town is a little tricky to navigate with a stroller (especially a twin one) due to cobblestones and some hills, it can definitely be done and getting from point to point in a car is incredibly simple. It was the perfect place for us to take a road trip for a long weekend.

We discovered a great AirBNB across the river in Kittery, Maine on a small farm-house. We knew it was a perfect fit when we found out that the farm grew lavender, cultivated honey, and housed a large-scale home brewing operation. We had a full bedroom, kitchen, and living room to ourselves, which was great because the boys sleep best when left alone in their own room. Best of all there was a deck with a gas fire pit overlooking a waterfall feature which gave us a nice respite at night while the boys fell asleep. Just a short drive across the I-95 bridge from downtown Portsmouth, it turned out to be a fantastic base of operations for our weekend adventures.

We actually began the weekend further up the coast in Kennebunkport, Maine. About an hour from Portland, probably our favorite ever culinary destination, it was hard to not keep going up the road for the incredible Eventide seafood restaurant, but we stayed strong and journeyed into Kennebunkport’s downtown, famous for being the retreat of choice of the Bush family. Their compound (one day I hope to have a house large enough to be called a compound) is even visible from the coastline.

Smack in the middle of downtown, right along the bridge that connects the town’s halves that spread along the river, is an incredible seafood shack, the Clam Shack. It’s not much to look at, but the seafaring decor complete with lobster traps as tables does have a certain authentic rustic appeal. The awesome lobster rolls are deserving of my favorite fashion icon (Steve Harvey and his fine-cut suits)’s best lobster roll award. I think I prefer the Connecticut version with hot lobster and butter over the Maine version with cold meat and mayo, but you actually get the choice of either way here.

Further down the river as it runs out to the ocean, the stores give way to fishing huts, boat docks, and large private residences. It’s basically Maine in a nutshell. A stroll along the water eventually took us to a nice little secluded beach where unfortunately dogs were not allowed, though Maine has a ton that are dog friendly in other places. Walking a stroller along the narrow sidewalks was a little tricky, but worth the views and the relaxing stroll with the fresh salt air. A drive along the coast also gave us great views further out where it got more secluded. Something about the New England coast just makes me want to head out in a whaling boat.

After the Bunk (no one calls it that), we backtracked to Portsmouth and discovered a somewhat hidden (hard to spot from the road, but all the locals know it) gem for great craft beer and food at the MYHM Craft Beer Cafe. The beer menu is pretty extensive and normally includes a ton of local New Hampshire and Maine brews. While we visited, they were in the midst of a tap takeover which featured only super hoppy IPAs. These were good, but hard to really get a deep sample of local brews. The food was a great take on traditional gastropub cuisine with tasty wings, loaded fries, mac and cheese that the boys absolutely devoured, and really solid burgers. Like any good pub menu, the food does a good job of pairing well with, and soaking up the beer.

That night, we sat out on the deck with a fire roaring (even on warm late summer days it gets chilly at night) and enjoyed the homebrewed beer offerings from the farm while the boys slumber away inside.

The next day, we continued to explore the surrounding outskirts of town including southern coastal Maine. In the morning, we stopped in at Lil’s Cafe in downtown Kittery. Though it lacks the size and historic atmosphere of Portsmouth, this small main street has a bunch of great restaurants and still manages to feel active and alive. Lil’s has great coffee and probably the best almond croissants in the world, no joke. The lines out the door concur with this assessment.

We took our coffee to go and headed up the coast to Seapoint Beach, a fairly large but empty beach that allows dogs in the mornings and evenings. Early in the morning, there were only other dogs and their owners there too. It’s a little messy with seaweed for just sitting on the beach all day, but it’s perfect for a quick stop on a nice day to take in the sand and sea. The car is still suffering from wet dog and ocean funk though. At least the boys loved seeing the waves and the dog running into and out of the water.

Kittery is probably best known for the massive stretch of outlet stores that run along the highway just north of town. On a rainy day, there isn’t much point in exploring the old district of Portsmouth so the outlets make a good distraction. There’s even a small microbrewery tucked among the outlet stores. Best though is the fantastic old times Bob’s Clam Hut. The menu is the same as any other seafood shack, but not only are the clams great, the lobster rolls are large and in charge (that means good) too. There’s a massive outdoor seating area that is covered to stay out of the rain too.

The best option in the rain is to explore the craft breweries the region is known for. Within 30 minutes of Portsmouth are nearly a dozen breweries, largely dog friendly. On nice days, many have awesome outside areas that are perfect for soaking up sun and beer. We started at Tributary Brewing, perhaps the most decorated brewery in the area which was started by the former brewer of Harpoon who was responsible for several major awards. No food is served inside, so dogs are allowed. There are only a half-dozen beers on tap, but each is quite tasty.

We waited out the rain inside Tributary and once the sun was out, went a bit further away from town to Deciduous Brewing. The small Riverside mill town has a pretty cool historic waterfront that is worth exploring, but we ended up going directly to the brewery.

Inside, Deciduous is a cozy place to hang out thanks to a large fireplace, couches, and lots of board games. Outside is nice though the tables basically sit in the parking lot. Still, I prefer being outside with my beer on decent days as to cooped up inside. Again, the tap list is short, but there is at least a variety.

Also outside of town, located between what feel like warehouses, is Stone face Brewing. Though there is a small patio which presumably allows dogs, the boys were asleep when we got there so rather than wait there I ran inside with a growler hoping to get a fill to go. I discovered that NAH does not allow growler fills unless the growler is from the same brewery. And I thought NJ had bizarre beer laws.

By then, the boys were ready for bed thanks to all of the fresh air and time outside so we went back to the farm and got them to bed. While they slept, I picked up some pretty incredible tacos and an absolutely phenomenal burritos with fish from the nearby Loco Coco’s tacos. Paired with more of the homebrew beer, it makes for a great meal out at the fire pit.

On our final day, we got a spell of wonderful sunny weather. Thanks to it, we finally got to explore the town and more of the outdoor activities. Of course we also saw more of the area’s breweries too.

We took the boys and their stroller along with the dog to the highly touted Popovers on the Square smack in the middle of downtown. We enjoyed awesome baked popovers with cheese and egg as we sat right in the main square and watched what seemed like half of the town walk by.

After fueling up on popovers and coffee, we walked through and around the town. Much of Portsmouth is still built-in and around the historic brick wharf buildings right on the water. We also explored Prescott Park for a while. The boys enjoyed seeing the shed where historic boats are repaired and launched. The dog loved the Park’s flowers until we eventually discovered signs that informed us he wasn’t allowed in the park. Oops.

Near the park we found a spot under the massive drawbridge for great pictures and to watch it go up and down as a large boat passed under. The noise frightened the dog a bit but the boys were very excited to watch it move.

We also stumbled upon the historic manor of Strawberry Banke which dates back to the revolution. Though thee dog wasn’t allowed on the grounds, we were able to see a good portion of it from outside the gate as we wandered around.

After our exploration,we ventured back to the water to the Old Ferry Landing, the building where ferries used to depart before the bridges were build. Now, it houses a seafood shack rather than ferries. Though dogs aren’t allowed inside, orders can be placed to go and enjoyed out front on the tables there.

In the afternoon, we checked out more of the breweries and found our clear favorite.

We began at Redhook, the East Coast Outpost of the Seattle-based brewery.  I had visited the West Coast original a few years ago while in Seattle and was struck by how similar this one was. The entire building is massive but the outside is the best place to be on the large patio with picnic tables. The beer menu is extensive and thanks to partnerships, there are beers from Kona and Widmer Bros too.

From there we journey out to Throwback Brewing. This brewery is housed in a farm and was amazing. There is a large outside with colorful fabric shades and it’s off course dog friendly. There was a bit of a wait for a seat and no line so a bit cutthroat, but once seated we could barely be to persuaded leave. Every brewery should feature chickens and goats right near the tables . The boys loved watching both. The dog just looked hungry. Thankfully the food was just as good as the beer here and we thoroughly enjoyed wings and burgers. The beer has a ton of variety and some interesting beer styles not commonly found elsewhere like a Norwegian grisette. We really didn’t want to leave.

So we grabbed a growler of the beer to take back to our farmhouse for our last night there. In the morning, we grabbed coffee and those almond croissants again, toId you they were worth it, and because the dog wasn’t smelly enough, stopped for a quick dip into the ocean at the beach again.

Our New Hampshire beer and beach trip ended much as it started, with a smelly dog in the back, two very tired but happy boys, and bellies full of seafood. The Caribbean might have nice beaches, but only in New England can you combine nice beaches with incredible seafood right from local fishermen along with locally brewed craft beer. A New Hampshire Beach vacation is the summer trip for me!


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