Going to college is all about making hard choices.

Am I in the mood for pizza and beer or tacos and mojitos? Should I crack open a book on the beach or in the park? Should we go dancing at the disco place, or go see a band at the blues bar?

For those of you beyond your college years, thank your stars you are no longer faced with such quandaries. But for those of you still trudging your way through a post-secondary course of study in southern Maine, we are here to help.

We at GO have compiled a guide to the best of everything you need for a successful and happy year of higher learning — Maine style.

We can tell you the best places to find hip threads and cool decor, the best choices for nourishment and refreshment, and the best spots to relax and get away from the textbook grind. We’ve got recommendations for just about every aspect of college life.

Well, the ones that really matter, anyway.


BEST PLACE FOR VINTAGE CLOTHING: Find
WHERE: 16 Free St., Portland
INFO: 699-4285; Facebook
WHY WE LIKE IT: Unlike traditional thrift stores that can overwhelm shoppers with endless rows of pre-owned fashions organized by color, this shop offers the feel of a boutique. The selection is smaller, but it’s carefully curated to appeal to the hipster in all of us. Whether you need a cute top for a Friday night on the town, a pair of topsiders for lounging in the dorm, or a “Star Wars” bike shirt for a Sunday of cycling around Back Cove to burn off the previous night’s beers, Find has you covered. The shop also stocks a selection of new shoes and will buy your cast-offs (as long as they’re still fun and fresh).

BEST PLACE FOR LOW-COST ROOM DECOR:
Goodwill
WHERE: 555 Maine Mall Road, South Portland
INFO: 553-2223; www.goodwillnne.org
WHY WE LIKE IT: The newest and largest Goodwill store in Greater Portland boasts thousands of items and an ever-changing supply of household goods sure to make any dorm room less cinder block-y and more cozy. Find everything from bedding to kitchenware, including an assortment of new items. Should you need to spice up those barren walls, you’ll appreciate the collection of cast-off art. And while a painting of a covered bridge might not work with your style, you may want to buy it just for the frame and insert your favorite poster.

BEST TOURIST SPOT FOR STUDENTS: Peaks Island
WHERE: Portland Harbor
INFO: Casco Bay Lines; www.cascobaylines.com
WHY WE LIKE IT: All it takes is a half-hour ferry trip, and you’ll feel light years away from the bustle of downtown Portland. Rent a bike at Brad and Wyatt’s and pedal around the island, being sure to stop and explore the abandoned Battery Steele complex and the endless rocky beaches on the backside. Or just hang by the ferry landing, where you can grab a Shipyard at the Inn on Peaks Island’s brew pub or relax with a cocktail and a full meal at the Cockeyed Gull. Find pizza and ice cream nearby too. And if you head out this weekend, you can catch the last Reggae Sunday of the season at Jones Landing – Stream will get the crowd moving starting at 10 a.m.

BEST PLACE TO GET YOUR GROOVE ON: Bubba’s Sulky Lounge
WHERE: 92 Portland St., Portland
INFO: 828-0549; www.bubbassulkylounge.com
WHY WE LIKE IT: A dance floor is a dance floor is a dance floor, unless you’re shaking it at Bubba’s. Here, the multicolored, lighted dance floor is straight out of the disco era. DJs take the crowd one decade forward on Friday nights for the ’80s Dance Party, and Saturdays typically serve up bands or special events, such as the Maine Roller Derby after-party with DJ Todd the Rocket on Sept. 11. Bring some cash for the cover and your photo ID, as it’s a 21-and-older hotspot.

BEST PLACE TO BUY CDS, VIDEOS AND GAMES:
Bull Moose
WHERE: 151 Middle St., Portland
INFO: 780-6424; www.bullmoose.comWHY WE LIKE IT: Because Bull Moose is completely committed to local music and the Portland scene, and the staff is knowledgeable about just about everything related to music and pop culture. If you can’t find what you’re looking for here, they’ll find it for you. They have a lot of used inventory too, so you can often get what you want cheap. The downtown location is a great place to browse, and the staff is up to speed on who is playing where and when and what records are coming out in the next few weeks. Besides all that, Bull Moose has stores across the region – in North Windham, Brunswick, Sanford, Lewiston and a warehouse store in Scarborough.

BEST PLACE TO HEAR LOCAL MUSIC:
Empire Dine and Dance
WHERE: 575 Congress St., Portland
INFO: 879-8988; www.portlandempire.comWHY WE LIKE IT: Because it’s big and spacious with a decent dance floor, Empire has good bands and a nice variety of music. They hire a lot of local bands, which is cool, as well as touring acts. The Empire has decent food too. Better still, it’s in the heart of downtown and away from the Old Port. Not that we do not like the Old Port, but it’s nice to be removed from the mayhem when you’re looking to make a quick late-night exit.

BEST ENTERTAINMENT FOR LESS THAN $10:
North Star Music Cafe
WHERE: 225 Congress St., Portland
INFO: 699-2994; www.northstarmusiccafe.com

WHY WE LIKE IT: Because it’s small, micro-local and funky in the way a coffee house should be. There’s a lot of quiet music, readings, open mikes and other similar events. The cover charge is usually $5, and the food is local. The staff is friendly, and it just feels like home.

BEST PLACE FOR USEDTEXTBOOKS:
The campus library
WHY WE LIKE IT: When you need books for class, you immediately think of the campus bookstore, used bookstores or online outlets. However, Brady Kuech, a senior at the University of Southern Maine, pointed out that heading to your campus library is a great idea. If the library doesn’t have the books you’re looking for in the stacks, you can inter-library loan them for free. And when you’re a cash-strapped college student, nothing’s better than free.

BEST INDOOR OFF-CAMPUS STUDY SPOT: Portland Public Library
WHERE: 5 Monument Square (corner of Congress and Elm streets), Portland
INFO: 871-1700; portlandlibrary.com
WHY WE LIKE IT: The main branch of the Portland Public Library just underwent a renovation of more than $7 million. And it’s pretty amazing. Huge windows along Congress Street let in light and allow you to work in the library while still feeling like you’re part of the bustle of Monument Square. If you really don’t want the distractions from  the street or in the library itself, head upstairs, where there’s a room dedicated to quiet and study.

BEST OUTDOOR OFF-CAMPUS STUDY: The Eastern Promenade
WHERE: Cutter Street, Portland
INFO: www.trails.org
WHY WE LIKE IT: The Eastern Prom offers both a place to sit on the grass to actually do some studying and lots of human, animal and marine activities to distract you from studying. Plus, there’s a 2-plus-mile trail for walking or biking, and the views of the water will be a reward for all your nose-in-the-book hard work.

BEST PLACE FOR OUTDOOR RECREATION:
Bates-Morse Mountain Conservation Area
WHERE: Route 216, Phippsburg
INFO: www.morseriver.com
WHY WE LIKE IT: Measuring more than 500 acres, the Bates-Morse Mountain Conservation Area is managed by Bates College in Lewiston and is, hands down, one of the most lovely places on the midcoast. Park in the parking lot at the base of the 180-foot Morse Mountain. Your hike up the mountain will eventually lead you to Seawall Beach, which is never crowded. Another bonus for those with budding romances (or established ones) is that the beach is a great place for a romantic outing.

BEST PLACE FOR JAVA & WIFI:
Bard Coffee
WHERE: 185 Middle St., Portland
INFO: 899-4788; [email protected]; Facebook
WHY WE LIKE IT: French Press or AeroPress, cappuccino or Cubano, you’re sure to find a brew to fuel your brain cells at Bard Coffee. And yes, you can get politically correct caffeine from organic, fair-trade suppliers here. If you’re hungry, sample the locally sourced baked goods and gelato from one of Maine’s best gelato makers. Need a study break? On Thursday nights, the shop hosts a barista throwdown that benefits poor children in the world’s coffee-growing regions.

BEST LATE-NIGHT CHEAP EATS:
Otto Pizza
WHERE: 576 Congress St., Portland
HOW: 773-7099; ottoportland.com
WHY WE LIKE IT: There’s an excellent case to be made that the best pizza in Portland can be found at Miccucci’s, an Italian grocery on India Street. But it closes at 5 p.m., and actually getting some pizza involves a process slightly reminiscent of “Seinfeld”’s “Soup Nazi” episode. (But a lot nicer.) At Otto, you can get amazingly delicious $3 slices with crispy crust and toppings like mashed potatoes and bacon until 11 p.m., when you’re pulling an all-nighter for that chemistry exam, or until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday, when you’re looking for good food after a night out.

Staff Writers Stephanie Bouchard, Meredith Goad, Avery Yale Kamila, Bob Keyes and Ray Routhier contributed to this story.