Food and Fresnel

This edition of Food and Fresnel covers the history of Portland Head Light and Cape Elizabeth lighthouses in Maine. Food and Fresnel is an online travel guide for lighthouse lovers, offering listings of restaurants and places to stay near your favorite harbor lights. Originally published by The Astute Recorder.

Photos: Portland Head Light by Flickr user cliff1066. Two Lights by Flickr user tedkerwin. Lobsters by Flickr user Paul Keleher. Used with permission.

Portland Head Light

Portland Head Light in Southern Maine has been called “the most photographed lighthouse in the world,” hugely adored by lighthouse travelers. Even if you’re not a lighthouse fan, chances are you’ve seen a photo of this glorious structure at least once.

Construction of the lighthouse started long before the approval of the Missouri Compromise, which admitted Maine into the Union as a free (non-slavery) state on January 3, 1820. George Washington ordered the development of a lighthouse on Portland Head when Maine was still part of the Massachusetts colony.

On January 10, 1791, Portland Head Light went into operation, bearing a rubble stone conical-shaped tower, standing at 101 feet tall. Since its construction, the tower has never been rebuilt. The light was originally fueled by whale-oil lamps and in 1855, a fourth-order lens was installed but replaced by a second-order lens in 1864. The light was automated in 1989.

The current keeper’s quarters, which now serves as the museum, was built in 1791. Today, the U.S. Coast Guard maintains the light as an aid to navigation. Fort Williams Park is adjacent to the lighthouse and has plenty of tables and barbecues to enjoy a picnic in this historic and grand setting. It’s no wonder Portland Head Light attracts more than one million visitors each year.

Two Lights, Cape Elizabeth


Remembered for its depiction in several of Edward Hopper’s 1920s paintings, one of the “Two Lights” was the subject of a 1970 U.S. postage stamp, honoring the 150th anniversary of Maine’s statehood. The light station is known as “Two Lights” because when it was built in 1828, there were actually two lights. One light tower stood at the east end of the designated area and another on the west.

Considered redundant to have two lighthouses operating in close proximity, public officials ordered the decommissioning of western tower in 1924. Today, the western light is a privately owned home. The eastern light tower still serves as a navigational aid, with a beam that reaches 17 miles out to sea. While the lighthouse’s immediate grounds are not open to the public, you can enjoy ocean views at the nearby 41-acre Two Lights State Park just off of Route 77, which has ample picnic tables and grills.

Open Lighthouse Day 2009 on September 12

For the first time, Maine will celebrate “Open Lighthouse Day,” which takes place on Saturday, September 12. Twenty-nine of Maine’s lighthouses will offer access to areas within their historic sites, which might not always be open to the public. The U.S. Coast Guard, the State of Maine and American Lighthouse Foundation are hosting Open Lighthouse Day 2009 “to increase awareness of Maine’s maritime heritage and the rich history of its lighthouses and lighthouse keepers,” according to the “Visit Maine” Web site.

At Portland Head Light, museum director Jeanne Gross says there will be limited access to their tower. Those who visit the tower must be able to climb the stairs unassisted. Children will not be admitted. “The museum will also be open and free to everyone,” Gross says. To read more about Open Lighthouse Day 2009, visit the Portland Press Herald. »

Portland Head Light Regular Tours (no tours at Two Lights)

  • Museum: Open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Memorial Day to the Friday following Columbus Day. Open weekends only (same hours) from mid-April to Memorial Day and from Columbus Day to just before Christmas. Fees: Adults ($2), children 6 – 18 years old ($1), children under 6 (free).
  • Gift shop: Open at all times when the museum is open and on weekends from Nov. 1 to just before Christmas. Visit their Web site.
  • Best time to visit: “From about the third week of September to Columbus Day is when we have fall foliage and it is the best time of year to visit,” says Gross. “It’s nice because it’s less crowded than the summer months and easier for people to find accommodations. “Gross says many fall-foliage travelers make it a point to stop over at Portland Head Light as they make their way through New England.

Cruise the Bay. See four lights in 90 minutes with Portland Discovery. Learn more. »

Portland, Cape Elizabeth Restaurants

As a high-metropolitan area, Portland features a number of national chain restaurants, easily found while making your way through town. But if you favor local favorites and mom-and-pop eateries, check out the selections below.

Near Portland Head Light

  • Di Pietro’s Italian Sandwiches. Offering Italian sandwiches unique to Maine, Di Pietro’s is an ideal choice if you want to picnic alongside Portland Head Light in Fort Williams Park. 171 Cumberland Ave., Portland, ME 04101. 207-772-4084. Hours: hours. $$. Accepts credit and debit cards.
  • Terra Cotta Pasta Company. If you live in or around Portland, chances are you’ve stopped by this little market to pick up pasta and sauces for home cooking. But if you’re an out-of-towner looking for some gourmet, ready-made picnic eats (and wine) to enjoy with an ocean and lighthouse view, then you can head to the Terra Cotta Pasta Company. Nancy English of “Chow Maine” gives this nice review. 501 Cottage Road, South Portland, ME 04106-5035 . 207-799-9099. Hours: Tue. – Fri. 9:30 to 7 p.m., Sat. 9:30 – 6:30, Sun. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. $$. Accepts credit and debit cards.
  • Saltwater Grille. The aesthetic at this choice location offers panoramic views of Portland, the ocean and their surrounding landscapes. A menu that features jambalaya risotto ($23.99) and Bangs Island mussels ($12.99) also includes gluten-free selections such as the cobb salad ($12.99), steamed Maine lobster (market price) and grilled filet mignon ($26.99). 231 Front St., South Portland, ME, 04106-1565. 207-799-5400. Hours: Click here for specific hours. $$ – $$$$. Accepts Visa, Mastercard and American Express.
  • Joe’s Boathouse. Located in the Port Harbor Marina, patio dining at Joe’s Boathouse offers a refreshing ambience and fusion cuisine. How about Belgian waffles with cinnamon butter for breakfast ($7.50 – $9.50), a crispy salmon salad with an Asian flare for lunch ($11.95) or Thai curry scallops for dinner ($23.95)? 1 Spring Point Drive, South Portland, ME 04106. 207-741-2780. Hours: Mon. – Sat. 11 a.m. – 9 p.m., Sunday brunch 9 a.m. – 3 p.m., dinner 5 p.m. – 9 p.m. $$ – $$$. Accepts credit and debit cards.

Near Two Lights:


  • The Lobster Shack. Open since the 1920s, The Lobster Shack is one of the most popular restaurants in Southern Maine. Even Bobby Flay featured it on “Food Nation.” The menu boasts everything from a clam-bake plate ($10.49) to a lobster-roll boat ($15.49) to lobster stew ($13.39). You can also enjoy a good-ole-fashion cheeseburger and fries. Plus, plenty of desserts. 225 Two Lights Road, Cape Elizabeth, ME 04107. 207-799-1677. Hours: Open seven days a week from the end of March through the end of October. 11 a.m. – 8 p.m. in spring and fall. 11 a.m. – 8:30 p.m. in sumer. $$ – $$$. Accepts credit and debit cards.
  • Rudy’s of the Cape. Pizza, chowda and lobsta; just a few of Rudy’s specialities. A favorite among locals, Rudy’s makes for an excellent sit-down stop over or you can pick up Italian sandwiches, wraps or whatever is your pleasure to enjoy on a picnic at Two Lights Park. 517 Ocean House Road, Cape Elizabeth, ME 04107-2607. 207-347-7165. Hours: Sun. – Tues. 6 a.m. – 6 p.m. Wed. – Sat. 6 a.m. – 9 p.m. $$. Accepts credit and debit cards.
  • The Good Table Restaurant. A fine choice for breakfast, lunch and Sunday brunch. Opened in 1986, The Good Table was rebuilt after a 2001 fire burned it to the ground. Owners Tony and Lisa Kostopoulos and local fans alike would not let this popular eatery die. Today, with a kitchen headed by Chef Ryan Weeks, the restaurant remains adored for its gourmet and reasonably priced menu that includes seafood, steaks and Greek dishes. 1527 Ocean House Road, Rt.77, Cape Elizabeth, ME 04107. 207-799-4663. Hours: Closed Monday with varying breakfast, lunch and dinner hours from Tues. – Fri. and on weekends. For specific hours, visit their Web site. $$ – $$$. Accepts credit and debit cards.
  • Sea Glass Restaurant and Lounge. This upscale waterfront dining experience can be found at Inn by the Sea. Blending fresh local ingredients with a South American flair, Chef Mitchell Kaldrovich offers a culinary experience for the lighthouse-loving foodie. 40 Bowery Beach Road, Cape Elizabeth, ME 04107. 207-799-3134. Hours: Call for hours and make reservations online. $$$$. Accepts credit and debit cards. The inn is pet-friendly but check with the restaurant to see if they allow pets in the al fresco dining area.

Portland, Cape Elizabeth Hotels

Where to stay in Portland and Cape Elizabeth

While lodging options might be limited near Two Lights, Portland has a wide selection of hotels and bed-and-breakfasts to suit your needs and taste. Below are links to local listings.

Other Points of Interest

Portland Symphony Orchestra. Even with summer days gone by, you can enjoy a winter concert by the Robert Moody-led orchestra between October and May. 207-773-6128. Victoria Mansion. A 19th-century national landmark, which displays the aristocratic architecture of the pre-Civil War era. Built with Brownstone and decorated with deep eaves and charming verandahs, the Victoria Mansion enchants preservationists with its Italian-villa-esque appeal. 207-772-4841.