A quintessential coastal town where you can find former presidents enjoying lobster rolls side-by-side with salty fishermen and suntanned day-trippers, Kennebunkport has come to define summers in New England. Whether you’re here to ogle the old-money mansions or spend a day exploring the secluded islands just off the coast, the most surprising thing about this low-key getaway is how much there is to do.
Cruise to the Clam Shack
Dock Square in the center of town is the place to get yourself acquainted with all things Maine. From hip boutiques, to artist-run galleries, to the famed Clam Shack seafood restaurant, a visit here and you’ll soon be living like a local. Lobster roll fanatics swear by Port Lobster and Mabel’s, but there are plenty of seaside spots to choose from. One of the biggest draws in the otherwise modest town is a drive down Ocean Ave., home to some of the grandest mansions in New England. For a truly unique experience take one of the historic trolley tours that follows the famous road past captain’s houses and historic inns before ending up at Walker’s Point, the sprawling summer home of former president George H.W. Bush.
Haul in Hefty Catches
The Atlantic Ocean is a way of life in Maine and no trip would be complete without experiencing the state’s dynamic coastline up close and personal. Whale watching and lobster boat cruises are especially popular pastimes with guests getting the chance to haul their own lobster pots alongside fishermen. For a more relaxing outing, try a sunset cruise on board the historic Eleanor, a 55ft schooner built in a traditional 1930’s style. Paddlers are in luck too as tours of the picturesque Kennebunk River are easy to arrange and some even include free delivery of kayaks or stand up paddleboards. Head to the upper section of the river (above Dock Square bridge) for the calmest water and best chance to observe migratory shorebirds in the natural environment.
Explore the inner coast with a visit to the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, a multi-use park made up of sections both north and south of town. The Carson Trail at the park’s Wells headquarters is a popular and scenic one-mile jaunt that introduces visitors to the marsh landscape, while the Timber Point Trail in the Biddeford outpost ends overlooking the rocky Atlantic coast. Quick hikes to the observation towers in Wells and Saco are another great way to observe the endless numbers of rare birds that call the region home. Deer, turkey and game bird hunting is also allowed on the refuge, but is tightly regulated so be sure to research permits before you arrive.
Sticking to its roots, Kennebunkport has worked hard to preserve its seafaring past in the form of museums and historic buildings that are open to the public. The Historical Society, Seashore Trolley Museum and Nott House all feature artifacts and exhibits on the maritime traditions and famous first family, while the Brick Store Museum in the next door town of Kennebunk offers a local walking tour of historic Colonial, Revival and Queen Anne homes. For a bit of living history, head north to quiet Cape Porpoise where the working harbor features plenty of lobster boats, seafood shacks and views of Goat Island Lighthouse.
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