KENNEBUNKPORT — Straddling the Kennebunk River, within range of the salty scent of the Atlantic, Kennebunk’s Lower Village and Kennebunkport’s Dock Square are like two claws of a lobster making one tasty destination. Or maybe I simply have lobster on the brain after a weekend visit to this lively seaside destination. Located less than two hours from Boston, the summer hometown of our 41st president, George H. W. Bush and former shipbuilding hub sparkles with unexpected style while remaining true to its rocky coastal heritage.
Lobster rolls are ubiquitous. One popular spot to enjoy a tasty crustacean on a freshly baked bun is the Clam Shack (2 Western Ave., 207-967-3321, www.theclamshack.net, $2.95-$41.95). Join the crowd in line to place your order, then take a seat indoors or out at this tiny fish shack that also serves a traditional boiled lobster dinner, hot dogs, burgers, and fried seafood. For a hearty New England breakfast with a Southern twist, head out Route 9 to the Wayfarer Restaurant in the village of Cape Porpoise (2 Pier Road, 207-967-8961, wayfarercapeporpoise.com, $7-$14). Enjoy classic buttermilk pancakes, French toast, and eggs Benedict, or go bold with a pulled pork omelet or fried chicken with Belgian-style waffles. For lunch or dinner, the Ramp Bar & Grill (77 Pier Road, 207-967-8500, www.pier77restaurant.com, $6-$20), located under Pier 77 overlooking Cape Porpoise Harbor, is a casual eatery serving expected (clam chowder, crab cakes, lobster rolls) and unexpected (Syrian fatoush salad, Greek meze, penne Bolognese) delights prepared by chef Peter Morency. Ice cream devotees make a pilgrimage to Rococo Artisan Ice Cream (6 Spring St., 207-251-6866, www.rococoicecream.com, cones and cups $4.50-$5.50) for a changing selection of small-batch, handcrafted flavors including banana split, chocolate coconut crème, whoopee pie, sweet and salty olive, curry carrot, and strawberry kiwi sorbet.
For creative and contemporary cuisine in a casual and stylish riverside setting, nothing beats David’s KPT (21 Ocean Ave., 877-266-1304, boathouseme.com, $12-$30), the ground-level restaurant of The Boathouse Waterfront Hotel helmed by chef David Turin. You can dine inside (where floor-to-ceiling windows offer views of the Kennebunk River) or alfresco on the wraparound deck while savoring lunch or dinner options such as lobster ravioli, steak and lobster pizza, salmon and grilled corn cakes, haddock with Maine peekytoe crab, grilled sirloin, burgers, and — oh, yes — a lobster roll. For a romantic evening overlooking the Atlantic, dine in the white-tablecloth-and-candlelight atmosphere of Ocean (208 Ocean Ave., 855-346-5700, www.capearundelinn.com/dining, $29-$35), an elegant dining destination located in the Cape Arundel Inn & Resort. Montreal-born chef Pierre Gignac creates a seasonally changing menu with choices such as Maine sea scallops in lemongrass consommé, and butter-poached lobster with potato gnocchi and white asparagus.
Soak up the sun or dive in the brisk water at several wide sandy beaches in Kennebunk. From July through Labor Day, you’ll find lifeguards and porta-potties at both Gooch’s Beach and Mother’s Beach. Parking permits are required (June 15-Sept. 15) at these beaches as well as at Middle Beach. Daily and weekly passes ($20/$75) are available at Chamber of Commerce Visitor Centers and Kennebunk Town Hall (207-985-2102, www.kennebunkmaine.us). Daily and weekly permits ($12/$50) are also needed for parking at Goose Rocks Beach, a three-mile long sandy stretch north of Cape Porpoise. Pick one up at the Kennebunkport Police Department, the Goose Rocks General Store, or Town Hall (207-967-4243, www.kennebunkportme.gov).
ON THE SEA
Enjoy a two-hour sail with Captain Rich Woodman aboard the Schooner Eleanor (43 Ocean Ave., 207-967-8809, www.schoonereleanor.woodmanboats.com, $45), a traditional Gaff Rig 50’ schooner. Cruise past lobster boats and luxury yachts along the Kennebunk River before setting sail off the coast from Cape Arundel to Cape Porpoise. The crew provides water, cushions, and blankets in case the day gets blustery. Guests are welcome to bring beer, wine, and a picnic lunch on board. Sports enthusiasts sign up for three-hour guided kayak tours to Cape Porpoise, Kennebunk River, and Mousam River with Coastal Maine Kayaks & Bikes (8 Western Ave. 207-967-6065, www.coastalmainekayak.com, $85). Tours, led by licensed guides, include kayak, personal flotation device, and paddle. You’ll find all things aquatic at Aquaholics Surf Shop (166 Port Road, 207-967-8650, www
.aquaholicsurf.com) including surf lessons, surf camps, and stand up paddle tours. No need to pack your wetsuit or surfboard, Aquaholics rents them along with bodyboards, gloves, booties, and beach umbrellas and chairs ($10-$75 daily). For a chance to see some finbacks, humpbacks, minkes, the rare blue whale, and the endangered right whale, climb aboard Nick’s Chance (4 Western Ave., 207-967-5507, www.firstchancewhalewatch.com, adults $48, children ages 3-12 $28, under 3 $10). The four-plus-hour whale watch tour with Captain Gary makes one voyage daily, departing 10 a.m.
Emmons Preserve, in the heart of Kennebunkport, is designed as a place for children to connect with nature. Park at Conservation Trust Headquarters (57 Gravelly Brook Road, 207-967-3465, www.kporttrust.org/emmons-preserve, free) and hike one of five trails, including the Learning Trail loop with learning stations at natural and historic sites. Or rent bicycles at Coastal Maine Kayaks & Bikes (see above, $10 hour/$35 day) and explore 10 miles of forested recreational trails in the Smith Preserve, also part of the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust.
A newly refurbished motor lodge with a laid-back retro vibe, the Lodge on the Cove (29 S. Main St., 207-967-3993, www.lodgeonthecove.com, $169-$369) may remind you of summer camp in days of yore. Mixing vintage and contemporary furnishings with upbeat colors and a dose of tongue-in-cheek whimsy, the lodge is hip enough for parents to appreciate and casual enough for kids to enjoy. Located in a wooded cove, the lodge features a heated outdoor pool, restaurant (with build-your-own burgers, milkshakes, Annie’s mac and cheese), tiki-style bar, and activities such as Ping-Pong, bean toss, bonfires with s’mores, and family movie nights. Located on the Kennebunk River waterfront, the family-owned Nonantum Resort (95 Ocean Ave., 207-967-4050, www.nonantumresort.com, $149-$449) includes the Carriage House Inn, a fully restored inn circa 1884, and the modernized Portside Lodge. In addition to enjoying the outdoor pool, families can take advantage of scheduled activities such as kayak excursions, crafts, kids’ ice cream parties, movies under the stars, princess and pirate parties, stand up paddleboard demonstrations, and family campfire sing-along with marshmallow roast. Kid menus are available at each of the resort’s dining outlets.
SLEEP IN STYLE
Located in the heart of the bustling business district, and open year round, the Kennebunkport Inn (One Dock Square, 800-248-2621, www.kennebunkportinn.com, seasonal from $95-$379) is a perfect place to stay when you want to walk to shopping, dining, and sports activities. Built in the late 1890s, this former tea merchant’s mansion recently renovated its 34 guest rooms and social spaces, mixing classic New England decor with Ralph Lauren-inspired colors and patterns. For Relais & Château decadence, the 26-room White Barn Inn (37 Beach Ave., 207-967-2321, www.whitebarninn.com, seasonal from $370 -$465) offers spa services, fine dining, evening turndown service, a swimming pool, bountiful breakfasts, and afternoon tea in a romantic setting.
SHOP TILL YOU STOP
Boutiques, gift shops, souvenir emporiums, and art galleries are plentiful here. For quality crafts, home accessories, handmade jewelry, and unusual gifts, it’s worth a stop in Abacus (2 Ocean Ave., 207-967-0111, www.abacusgallery.com). Good Earth Pottery (7 Ocean Ave., 207-967-4160) sells handcrafted stoneware all made and fired in Kennebunkport by husband and wife David and Diane Jenkins. A fixture in town since 1974, this second-floor showroom is the place to go for functional pottery, casseroles, mugs, platters, teapots, tureens, and more. For fun and quirky gifts, locally made art, housewares, and even custom framing, check out the newly opened Morph Gallery & Emporium (155 Port Road, 207-967-2900, www.facebook.com/morphemporium), located near the sublime-smelling and caffeine-delicious Coffee Roasters of the Kennebunks (163 Port Road, 207-967-8304, www.coffeeroastersofthekennebunks.com).