Leaf Peeping Along New Hampshire’s Seacoast

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Fall in New England is synonymous with one thing- leaf peeping. But for a different twist on this classic itinerary, kick off your trip in the charming seaside town of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The granite state is arguably best known for its mountains and lakes but it also has a vibrant coastline – although at only 18 miles long, it is also the tiniest in the US.

Portsmouth is small but mighty, with plenty to see and do. The city has a rich historical and naval past, and is easily explored on foot or by bicycle. Portsmouth is ideal for anyone whose idea of a perfect weekend involves the outdoors, oysters and exploring independent restaurants and boutiques.

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Base yourself at the Hotel Portsmouth, a boutique hotel that is part of the Lark group. The brand is known for repurposing historic properties and injecting them with plenty of personality, and fun. The Hotel Portsmouth has a prime downtown location that is walking distance to everything. The hotel is housed in a restored Victorian that features intricate woodwork, but the design is fresh thanks to vibrant wallpaper and mid-century modern furnishings. The breakfast buffet is held in a little breakfast nook wallpapered with parakeets – go for the Mighty Leaf herbal teas and overnight oats.

One way to soak in all the sights and get in a workout is to sign up for a Port City Bike Tour. The Classic Historic tour takes in some of Portsmouth’s biggest sights, such as The Moffatt Ladd Historic House, and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and Prison. Once the tour and workout is complete, relax and take in the leaves with a Fall Foliage cruise from Portsmouth Harbor Cruises.

Portsmouth is full of historic homes to tour but get there quick as many are closed over the winter. Stop by the Georgian mansion that was once owned by Governor John Langdon. The grand ballroom now hosts a rotating art exhibit. The current one is from local artist Richard Haynes. His paintings were inspired by Jacqueline Tobin’s book, Hidden in Plain View, which tells the story of people navigating their escape on the Underground Railroad by using messages encoded in quilt patterns.

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From the John Langdon House it’s a short walk to historic Strawbery Banke, a 10 acre outdoor history museum. The property has around 32 buildings to explore, and some date back to the 17th century. Spend time here to see what life was like for New Hampshire’s early settlers. Don’t miss the dry goods store or try your hand at weaving on a loom. Strawbery Banke is also home to the artisan baker Fig Tree Café. Refuel with a latte and a lemon ginger scone, or the black bean sweet potato wrap.

While Portsmouth is proud to showcase its history, it is also firmly in the 21st century, with plenty of boutiques and art galleries. Browse the selection of small-scale works at Enormous Tiny Art, which shares space with the retail store Nahcotta. The best buys here are exquisite Japanese pens, coffee table books and wooden toys. Pop by Gus and Ruby Letterpress, an artisan stationery boutique selling bespoke cards from owners Samantha Finigan and Whitney Swaffield. Pick up a boxed set of cards with a letterpress lobster for a gift or as a souvenir.

For a small city, Portsmouth has an unusually high concentration of bookstores, including Portsmouth Book & Bar and Sheafe Street Books. Or pop into the Portsmouth Athenaem – it’s one of the few membership libraries left in the US, although the research library and the exhibition gallery are free and open to the public.

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When hunger calls, settle into a table at Row 34. The sleek space is known for its raw bar, and offers a wide selection of New England and Canadian oysters as well as micro beers. Need more? Try the bluefin tuna crudo or a lobster rolls For dessert, pick up an artisan chocolate bar at Byrne & Carlson Chocolatier. The Pansy has edible flowers embedded into the chocolate, or if you need a kick of spice, try the Chipotle Sea Salt bar. Annabelle’s Ice Cream was recognized by Food + Wine magazine; it serves up all natural ice creams and sorbets. Try the Pumpkin Pie or the fresh lemon sorbet.

Portsmouth also has a strong emphasis on wellness. Birchrose + Co. is a modern apothecary, and the sleek, white boutique is stocked with natural beauty products including a Hydra Gel Mask made with matcha and hyaluronic acid, or a cleansing oil made with tamanu oil and wild citrus. Birchrose + Co also sells CBD lotions handcrafted in Vermont. Visit Societe, which bills itself as a purveyor of healing teas as well as an apothecary. Order a Cool Goddess – a mix of gota kola, gingko leaf, ginger root, cinnamon chips, orange peel, red raspberry leaf, and licorice root. Load up on Maine sea salt, maple sugar or coconut oil spices at Stock + Spice, which faces the Piscataqua River and offers a view of Kittery, Maine. Also nearby is Old As Adam, a tiny boutique selling vintage menswear as well as accessories like an antique ice cream scoop.

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