photo of Kennebunkport, Maine

A marina view in Kennebunkport, Maine. (ThinkStock)

What to do in Kennebunkport

Kennebunk and Kennebunkport, known collectively as the Kennebunks and located on the southern coast of Maine, have been attracting summer visitors for centuries. In the 1700s, the Abenaki Indians came to these shores for summer fishing and hunting. Before the Revolutionary War, shipbuilding was already an area industry and this maritime legacy is evident by the impressive homes wealthy sea captains built that still grace Kennebunkport's streets.

But it's the beaches, which range from quintessential rocky coasts to sandy shores, that really draws families to a region composed of four distinct communities—the ship owners who originally settled in Kennebunk; the upper class who reside across the Kennebunk River in Kennebunkport, a bustling beach town with many lavish houses, including Walker's Point, the summer home of former President George Bush; the small fishing village, Cape Porpoise; and the middle class residential area, Goose Rocks Beach.

Both Gooch's and Kennebunk beaches are long, wide strips of sand. With young kids head to nearby Mother's Beach, the unofficial name for a swath of sand with mild surf and shallow water where moms with tots in tow have congregated for decades. About two miles east of Kennebunkport, the postcard-pretty village of Cape Porpoise offers all of the beach without any of Kennebunkport's bustle. Even quieter, Goose Rocks Beach's three miles of fine sand, calm surf, and long, gradual underwater slope allow for plenty of shoreside splashing.

An important part of the Kennebunks' experience is getting out on the water. Several companies offer whale-watching tours to Jeffery's Ledge, 20 miles off the coast and a prime feeding ground for these graceful behemoths. Various outfitters, such as First/Second Chance, offer the classic Maine experience of swells, cackling gulls, and lobster buoys, along with comments from the captain and a naturalist pointing out interesting marine life. You might see sharks, minke whales, as well as the big boys—finback whales that can be up to 80 feet long. Because the cruise lasts nearly four hours, the voyage is best suited for older elementary-age kids and teens. Lobstering is, of course, another Maine tradition. Aboard the 90-minute cruise on Second Chance, watch a demonstration of lobster harvesting.

You have to get off the beach some of the time, too. When you do, visit the Seashore Trolley Museum, a facility that preserves and houses 250 streetcars that have plied the thoroughfares of everywhere from 19th-century Boston to postwar Glasgow. Gradeschoolers are enthralled by the whistles, bells, and benches as well as the 3.5-mile ride through woods and fields on a restored trolley. For a respite from the shops and cafés in Kennebunkport's crowded Dock Square, head for the tranquil Franciscan Monastery. Although the facility isn't generally open to visitors, you can stroll the well-tended gardens along trails that wind through woods and overlook the harbor and the river. In Wells, five miles south of Kennebunk, seven miles of trails run through salt marshes, woodlands, and near coastal dunes at Laudholm Farm, which forms part of the 1,600-acre Wells Reserve.

Tip: In the Kennebunks, the beaches are open to the public, but to visit many of them you must obtain a parking permit.

Recommended Side Trips: Boothbay Harbor, Freeport, Portland, Acadia National Park

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