Karen, a HomeAway staffer, guides us through the Kennebunks in New England
Close your eyes and dream of the quintessential New England beach vacation. Can you smell the salt air? Can you taste the lobster roll and the fried clams? Can you feel the splash of the Atlantic Ocean on your face as your sail boat picks up speed? Can you feel the sand between your toes as you walk the beach looking for sand dollars, starfish, clam shells and crabs? Do the cool nights feel refreshing after a day at the beach? You must be dreaming of Kennebunk and Kennebunkport Maine.
First settled in the early 1600s, the Kennebunks was an early trading, shipbuilding and shipping center in southern coastal Maine. But with proximity to major metropolitan areas ( 1 ½ hour drive from Boston and 5 hours from New York City), and with the help of the Boston and Maine Railroad system, this stereotypical New England village quickly became a thriving summer vacation destination by the late 1800s. Thanks to the Kennebunkport Seashore Company which bought more than 600 acres along five miles of coastline and created the infrastructure for a beautiful vacation spot, summer cottages flourished in the area. Many of these shingle style cottages, along with newer renovated homes are available as vacation rentals that will form the basis of your quintessential New England beach vacation.
While you may be dreaming of a summer beach vacation, the Kennebunks is a year round vacation destination. Enjoy the quiet of the off season and take in the fall foliage while hiking nearby Mount Agamenticus. Or visit in December. Kennebunkport was voted one of the top 10 Christmas towns in America by HGTV. During Christmas Prelude you can watch Santa Claus arrive in a lobster boat, see the lighting of the Dock Square Christmas tree decorated with lobster buoys, go caroling by candlelight at the Franciscan Monastery and of course, get a start on your Christmas shopping.
Unlike many parts of mid-coast and northern Maine, the Kennebunks have several long sandy beaches. All of these beaches feature Maine’s cold salt water (about 56⁰ at the start of the summer and 68⁰ at end of the summer) and very few amenities, other than the occasional lifeguard and port-a-potty.
Parsons Beach is a privately owned beach that is open to the public which tends to be less crowded than the Kennebunk and Mother’s Beach. It is almost a mile long and has some of the best waves in the area.
- Inside Tip: No parking permit is required, but come early because parking is very limited. You will have to walk about a mile if you do not secure one of the close-in parking spots.
- Mother’s Beach is a quarter mile stretch of protected beach area with rocky outcroppings at each end, perfect for “tidal pooling”. The beach features a playground that was completely renovated this year. Adjacent to the beach is the Kennebunk Beach Improvement Association, which offers classes for children 3-17 including swimming/diving, sailing, fishing, island exploration, creative arts, tennis, fitness, and golf.
Gooch’s Beach is a nearly half mile stretch of sandy beach that is popular with families and surfers. At high tide the beach almost disappears, but at low tide there is enough room for a major league baseball game. Aquaholics conducts surfing lessons on this beach most days. You can sign up online or visit their store in town. From June through September dogs are permitted on the beach before 9am and after 5pm.
- Inside tip: Parking Permits are required at these beaches from June 15th - September 15th. Day, weekly and seasonal passes are available at the Chamber of Commerce, HB Provisions and Kennebunk Town Hall.
- Arundel Beach is a 150 yard sand and pebble beach at the mouth of the Kennebunk River.
- Goose Rocks Beach is a little further from the village of Kennebunkport but its nearly 3 miles of soft sand make it well worth the trip. No facilities are available and parking permits are available at the Kennebunk / Kennebunkport Chamber of Commerce, the Kennebunkport Town Office, the Kennebunkport Police Department, and Goose Rocks General Store. Dogs are allowed before 8 a.m. and after 6 p.m
Things to Do
While The Clam Shack won the Travel Channel’s “Food Wars” episode for the best lobster roll, you should judge for yourself. Alisson’s Restaurant was the worthy opponent in the “Food Wars” episode, but you can also find great lobster rolls at The Ramp, Nunan’s Lobster Hut, Mabels’ Lobster Claw, Arundel Wharf, Port Lobster and many other places.
Inside tip: Help narrow your choices by deciding if you like your lobster roll with mayo or butter and straight up or with celery, chives, etc.
Arundel Wharf Restaurant is open for lunch and dinner, but the best seat is an Adirondack chair on the deck during happy hour. Surrounded by water on 3 sides, the deck is a perfect place to relax and enjoy the boats coming into and leaving the harbor.
Shipyard, the 15th largest microbrewery in the U.S. got its start in 1992 at Federal Jack’s Restaurant and Brew Pub – one of Maine’s original brew pubs. Stop in for Fuggles IPA, Goat Island Light Ale or Taint Town Pale Ale.
Fine dining options include:
- The White Barn Inn Restaurant, a AAA Five Diamond and Forbes Five Star restaurant occupying two 1820s restored barns
- On the Marsh
- Hurricane Restaurant
- David’s KPT
- Opus Ten
- One Dock
- The Tides Beach Club
- All Day Breakfast
- HB Provisions
- Mornings in Paris
- Merriland Farm Cafe (just outside Kennebunk in the town of Wells)
- Play golf at one of the semi-private golf courses: Webhannet Golf Club and Arundel Golf Club.
Rent a bike at Cape-Able Bike Shop or Coastal Maine Kayak and Bike.
- Inside tip: You can easily ride from the beach into Kennebunk primarily via the Bridle Path. You will cross beautiful marsh land, ride along the Mousam River and arrive in the village via Summer Street, the location of many ship captains’ homes. You can also ride the 70 mile wooded biking trail stretching from Kittery to South Portland
Rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard at Kayak Excursions.
- Inside tip: Launch your kayak out of Cape Porpoise and explore the stilted fish shacks. Pack a lunch and paddle out to Goat Island Lighthouse.
- Sail. If you did not sail into the harbor on your own Friendship sloop, you can still enjoy a few hours at sea aboard the Eleanor (schooner) or Pineapple (ketch).
- Go lobstering. Take a ride on a classic Maine lobster boat and help haul up the traps, or just sit enjoy the spectacular Maine coast.
Visit the Brick Store Museum and walk the mile down Summer Street to see the Wedding Cake House. Along the way you will see many outstanding examples of Colonial, Federal, Queen Anne, Greek Revival and Italianate homes including the Taylor-Barry House, the Captain Nathaniel Lord Thompson House and the Burleigh Smart House
Seashore Trolley Museum is the largest electric railway museum in the world. In addition to seeing streetcars from nearly every American city that had a streetcar system, visitors can ride a streetcar on a rebuilt portion of the Atlantic Shore Railway.
Museum in the Streets: Download the Museum in the Streets walking brochure for a wonderful self-guided tour on Kennebunk.
Whale watching tours take guests 20 miles out in to the Atlantic Ocean in search of whales, dolphins and other marine life.
Hike the nature trails, explore the tidal flats, look for wildlife, fish, canoe or kayak in Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge.
Drive north out of town along Ocean Avenue and look for Spouting Rock and Blowing Cave. If you reach Walker’s Point, the summer home of George H.W. Bush, you have missed them.
Kennebunk, Lower Village Kennebunk and Kennebunkport have more gift, clothing and antique shops and art galleries than you can visit in a day. Be sure to check out the Maine Art Gallery for an impressive collection of Lyman Whitaker wind sculptures and original fine art.
Craft fairs are very popular and two stand out: School Around Us Annual Summer Craft Fair and the Laudholm Nature Crafts Festival.
By Karen Fuller