This relatively unheralded southern coastal town, one of the oldest in Maine, is often overshadowed by its better known neighbors, Portsmouth, N.H., to the south and York, Maine, just north. Most visitors hit the two-mile stretch of designer outlet shops along busy Route 1, and leave with their bags of bargains, without ever seeing the more picturesque and interesting parts of town. Next time, stick around a bit and explore a historic fort, take a scenic drive along coastal backroads, and take flight on one of the largest aerial rope courses in the state. The local dining scene is a delightful surprise, too.
The Portsmouth Harbor Inn and Spa (6 Water St., 207-439-4040, www.innatportsmouth.com, summer rates $165-$195) is housed in a handsome, three-story brick building, surrounded by pretty pocket gardens overlooking the Piscataqua River and downtown. Five cozy rooms, with private baths, are individually decorated with antiques, top-notch linens, and plenty of pastel colors and floral fabrics. The delicious hot breakfast, included in the rate, is a bonus, as is the full-service spa housed in the connecting barn. You’ll need a sense of whimsy and no aversion to clutter to appreciate the Disney-esque Enchanted Nights B&B (29 Wentworth St., 207-439-1489, www.enchantednights.org, $80-$250). The exterior is a hodgepodge of trim work, windows, and paint colors, and needs some TLC, but the inside rooms are well-kept. There are nine rooms, all chock-full of antiques, collectibles, and drapey fabrics. For basic digs, consider the Coachman Inn (380 Route 1, 800-824-6183, www.coachmaninn.net, rates around $145-$190). Rooms are spacious and white-glove clean, with updated amenities such as flat-screen TVs. Children will like the outdoor heated pool.
Classy Anneke Jans (60 Wallingford Square, 207-439-0001, www.annekejans.net, entrees $16-$34), with its dark wood and contemporary decor, is more urban bistro than seaside Maine. The lively bar is a local fave, a fine place to sip hand-crafted cocktails (try the lemon drop martini) and nosh on small plates, like fried olives and the house-made charcuterie. In the dining room, try entrees such as the pan-roasted chicken served with Israeli couscous, beef stroganoff pappardelle, or mussels with pommes frites. Robert’s (326 Route 1, 207-439-0300, www.robertsmainegrill.com, entrees $16-$30) serves up consistently fresh and tasty dishes. The dining room is bright and lively, and some of the tables overlook a salt marsh and tidal river. You could make a meal of the fried oyster or lobster sliders, but you’d miss out on main dishes such as the signature lobster mac and cheese, pan-roasted cod with littleneck clams, and the buttermilk fried chicken. For surprisingly authentic Mexican, with house-made salsas and ultra fresh ingredients, try Coco Loco’s (36 Walker St., 207-438-9322, www.locococos.com, $5.45-$11.95). They serve a mean margarita, too. Don’t let the name fool you. At When Pigs Fly Pizzeria (460 Route 1, 207-438-7036, www.whenpigsflypizzeria.com, entrees $20-$28, pizza $10-$18) you’ll find a huge menu of snacks like warm dates or fried cauliflower, veal sweetbreads, and spicy beef tripe stew, along with dishes like sea urchin spaghetti, beef pot roast, and duck confit. Yes, there’s wood-fired pizza, too — crispy, chewy, cheesy, and smoky good.
DURING THE DAY
Of course, go shopping. The Kittery Outlets (375 Route 1, 207-439-6548, www.thekitteryoutlets.com) includes more than 120 designer outlets stretched along both sides of the highway. Not to be missed is the Kittery Trading Post (301 Route 1, 888-587-6246, www.kitterytradingpost.com), a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts, with three floors of gear and clothing. After bargain hunting, take a scenic drive down Route 103, passing pretty coves and harbors and seaside homes. Stop at Fort McClary State Historic Site (Route 103, Kittery Point, 207-384-5160, www.maine.gov, open Memorial Day-September, dawn-dusk, $2 Maine resident, $3 non-
resident), located on the tip of Gerrish Island. The more than 200-year-old fort, which protected approaches to southern Maine and the Piscataqua River, was named for New Hampshire native Major Andrew McClary who died at the Revolutionary War’s Battle of Bunker Hill. There are several buildings on the site, and pretty views of a rocky cove and Maine coastline. At Fort Foster (Pocahontas Road, www.kitteryme.gov, dawn-dusk, $10 per vehicle), walk a network of trails, hang out on the pebble-strewn beaches, and soak in views of Portsmouth Harbor, Whaleback Light, and Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse. For some high-flying adventure, head to the Flight Aerial Adventure Course (500 Route 1, 207-439-8838, www.takeflightadv.com, challenge course adults $40, children age 12 and under $25, zip line $59 per person; combo challenge course and zipline adults $84 adults, 12 and under $69), dubbed Maine’s largest high ropes challenge course. The 2½-hour high ropes adventure has more than 60 elements including swinging platforms, cat walks, and bridges. The zipline course takes about two hours and includes six lines measuring from 100 to 600 feet long.
Grab a stool at friendly-spirited and intimate Black Birch
(2 Government St., 207-703-2294, www.theblackbirch.com) and order a pint from the extensive menu of craft brews. This is a fun place to hang out; it’s designed for relaxation, with concrete floors, a small cluster of tables, and a pine bar made from reclaimed scaffolding. The generous hand-crafted cocktails are inventive and the gastropub-style food is worth sticking around for. Fried chicken and waffle sandwich, need we say more? For a quieter option, head to tiny and scenic Pepperell Cove to watch the boats come in and the sun head down.
Due to reporting error, an earlier version referred to The Kittery Outlets incorrectly as the Kittery Premium Outlets.