Find History, Nature On New Hampshire Coast

December 9, 2018 GMT

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — As one all too accustomed to America’s obsession with a standardized urban design — every other block decorated with a Rite Aid, Panera, Starbucks and McDonald’s — Portsmouth came as a gust of fresh air. This port city on the Piscataqua River and just a few miles from New Hampshire’s only stretch of coastline seems tailor-made for a dripping-with-New England-atmosphere TV series. On my first morning, I stopped in at the Goods Market and Cafe for a jolt of java to get the day started. It would be tempting to dismiss this place as a typical hipster hangout with lots of fair-trade goods and food products from local farmers. It does have that, but it also has a wonderful vibe that is more homey than hipster. Freshly fueled, I was off for my tour of Strawbery Banke Museum, a 10-acre outdoor history museum showcasing 400 years of Americana. Most of the 37 buildings are on their original sites alongside the riverbank and are interspersed with 10 historical gardens from a colonial kitchen garden to a World War II Victory Garden. Costumed role players welcomed me to such diverse dwellings as the 18th-century Wheelwright House offering an authentic open-hearth cooking demonstration; the Pitt Tavern, a Revolutionary War-era tavern frequented by George Washington, John Hancock and the Marquis de Lafayette; and Goodwin Mansion, home to Civil War Gov. Ichabod Goodwin. I continued my history lesson with a Discover Portsmouth Walking Tour, a jaunt through several hundred years of Colonial America. My favorite site was the lemon-yellow three-story dwelling that was once home to John Paul Jones, speaker of that early American sound bite, “I have not yet begun to fight.” Having had my double dose of early American history, I spent the next day taking in the glorious scenery of New Hampshire’s coast. It may be the shortest coastline of any American state — only 18 miles — but as far as scenery goes, it can compete with the best of them. One of the loveliest spots is Odiorne Point State Park, which has the requisite vistas of rocky cliffs punctuated by a distant lighthouse, and an extensive network of trails winding through dense seaside vegetation. But it also has Seacoast Science Center, a spot definitely worthy of a couple of hours of your time. From 400-year-old heritage homes to an oceanside park to one-of-a-kind shops, Portsmouth defies the notion of a cookie-cutter America, and for that, we can all be grateful. PATTI NICKELL is a Lexington, Ky.-based travel and food writer. Reach her at pnickell13@ hotmail.com. Must see, must do Where to stay: The Sailmaker’s House, 314 Court St.; 603-380-3447; sailmakershouse.com. More like a well-appointed private home than a traditional inn, this 10-room property is a 15-minute walk from both Market Square and Strawbery Banke. Where to eat: Ri Ra, 22 Market Square, rira.com; Mombo, 66 Marcy, momborestaurant.com FYI: GoPortsmouthNH.com