Located equidistant between Portsmouth, New Hampshire and Maine’s largest city Portland, Kennebunkport is cozily tucked a mile up the Kennebunk River from the Atlantic Ocean.
As many other early settlements of coastal Maine did, Kennebunkport began as a small community built around the agriculture and shipbuilding industries of the 17th and 18th centuries. Still intimate today, its primary industry is tourism.
Central to life in town today is Dock Square, where visitors and locals find a collection of restaurants, boutique shops, and art galleries. Small hotels, inns, and bed and breakfasts in Kennebunkport round out the hospitality venues and provide guests with an authentic maritime experience.
Maine Street is the primary thoroughfare that brings tourists and commerce to the Historic District. Ocean Avenue parallels the Kennebunk River and offers visitors a wonderful stroll past stately homes with beautiful views of the river and town on a 5-mile loop.
Kennebunkport bed and breakfast inns are some of the most sought-after along this region of coastal Maine. Walker’s Point Estate, the summer retreat of the Bush family, operated as the Summer White House of former US President George H.W. Bush. While not many homes can claim this level of fame, the B&Bs of the state’s wealthiest community are highly prized for their lavish accommodations.
Other upscale destinations are the numerous art galleries and museums that exhibit with great aplomb the history and character of the region during its high-adventure days of whaling and shipbuilding. And not to be left out, seafood in all its glory is the centerpiece of the upscale restaurants and bistros that serve up some of the finest maritime menus on the coast of Maine.
The first European settlers to arrive on the coast of Maine landed in the late 1500s. Mostly fishermen looking for new waters to ply, small settlements began to take hold in the area by the mid-1600s. The agricultural community incorporated as Cape Porpus July of 1653 would later be renamed as Kennebunkport.
The Mousam River became the source of another growing industry as manufacturing tapped into the limitless raw energy provided by the river’s consistent flow. Sawmills started to sprout as well, taking advantage of the abundant timber to be harvested. The combination of timber and its proximity to the ocean naturally led to shipbuilding.
This industry was dominant until the early 20th century. The construction of much larger ships of steel raised at massive shipyards elsewhere down the eastern seaboard forever doomed Kennebunk’s provincial trade.
It was during this transitional period that tourism started to thrive as those who worked and lived in the growing cities looked for places of respite along the coast. Small inns, restaurants, pubs, and hotels began transitioning as well to meet the demands of wealthy guests who had money to spend on increasingly extravagant lodgings.
Since the 1870s when the tourism industry began gaining popularity, people have been looking for ways to spend the free time and disposable income they were accumulating. Today, the wealth created in urban centers across New England and cities like New York and Boston is bringing people by the thousands to the shores of southern Maine.
Relaxing at popular destinations such as Goose Rocks Beach, which is considered by many to be the most welcoming beach on the coast due to its gentle surf and protected shoreline, makes for a great family outing on a warm summer day. Gooch’s Beach is another excellent location to enjoy idyllic surf and wide-open space at low tide. The kids and dogs will love it.
The name “Kennebunk” is an interesting one if a bit odd. It translates to “long cut bank,” which defined the great hill at the mouth of the Mousam River as it flows into Kennebunk Bay. This promontory served as an important guide for the early Native Americans as they navigated the ocean waters during their fishing excursions.
Owing to some interesting and complex geological differences, the beautiful sandy beaches of southeastern Maine are limited to areas south of Portland. To the north and east of Maine’s largest city, beaches are inconsistent and significantly rockier. Certainly not enticing for a family day in the sun. West of Kennebunkport, timber harvesting was crucial for the survival of the early settlement, and today it is still heavily forested and agricultural.
Certainly the most famous landmark in the area is the strip of land sticking out into the Atlantic Ocean known as Walker’s Point. This short spit is where the 41st President of the US George H.W. Bush family estate resides and can be seen from Ocean Avenue.
As with many coastal areas with a history of maritime importance, most activities and attractions center around the nearby sea. Lighthouses come to mind immediately, and they are numerous up and down the Maine coastline. Four of these esteemed beacons are located within a 20-mile radius of Kennebunkport, two of which are close to town.
Established in 1833, rebuilt several times and restored to its 1950s look in 2011, Goat Island Light is the last manned lighthouse in the state. Just twelve miles north is Wood Island Light that offers tours for a closer look and history perspective. During peak summer months of July and August, tours are free but reservations are recommended. Down the coast in York, Nubble Light and Boon Island Light will add to your appreciation of these structures that have helped keep many a mariner safe from the treacherous shorelines on dark and stormy nights.
For those who love the seaside environment and want to learn more about its ecology, the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge is an absolute must. A passionate advocate of the sea and its creatures, Rachel Carson was vaunted for her tireless activism and engaging prose in such classics as “Under the Sea Wind” and “The Sea Around Us”. Learn more about her and the life forms she fought so hard to protect by spending a day at this beautiful sanctuary.
Kennebunkport Historic District comprises most of the town center where you can view classic 18th and 19th-century architecture. It was placed on the list of the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.
Significant seasonal temperature differences make for exciting year-round weather forecasting. Warm to hot summers that are frequently humid do little to offset the discomfort of the sometimes dangerously cold and windy winter months. Exposed to the North Atlantic storms and all their fury during the winter, coastal Maine is not a place for the faint-hearted when they come calling.
Snow exceeds rainfall annually by nine inches, with snow averaging 59” to 50” of rain per year. Sunny days outnumber the cloudy ones by 35 with 200 sunny to 165 cloudy days. Some sort of precipitation falls 129 days out of the year. Summer highs average around 79 degrees but will feel warmer with the humidity. Winter’s bite will reach the lower teens but with wind chill factored in it can be significantly colder.
Typically the summer season is relatively short with autumn temperatures cooling things off quickly after Labor Day. Spring and Fall bring a mixed bag of conditions so it pays to keep an eye on forecasts if outdoor activities or boating are planned for the day. Winter can seem to hang on forever with the cold, dark season lasting up to six months before the spring thaws arrive.
The culinary scene in Kennebunkport has forever centered around seafood such as fried clams, grilled lobster, and a heaping pile of side fixings all washed down with sweet tea or a cold beer. Menus today, however, are much more upscale, diverse, and creative. From your everyday clam sandwich with fries to high-end plates served up by New York or Boston-trained chefs, count on fresh, savory fare at any table you choose around town.
Raw bars offering fresh locally-sourced oysters are always popular. And mid-summer, keep an eye out for grilled fish specials with a side of garlicky steamed mussels. A favorite for the non-New Englander is the “lazy man’s lobster,” that is, lobster prized from the shell, grilled or steamed with spices, and then loosely returned to the shell for presentation. For excellent views to go with your plate, check out Federal Jack’s Restaurant and Brew Pub. Sumptuous license is taken with the menu and locally-brewed ales round out the food groups. Oh, and don’t forget an order of “chow-dah” to go!
When a rich historical area is infused with wealth few other places know, you can count on an extravagant experience regardless of where you stay. In an intimate community like Kennebunkport, host friendliness and the charming interior of your inn are matched only by the scenic ocean views. Your innkeeper will no doubt point out some of the highlights of your surroundings upon check-in to ensure you make the most of the picturesque locations during your stay.
Boutique B&Bs, historic inns, and upscale retreats abound across the region. In this small enclave, your hosts are all too well aware of the friendly competition around town and go to great lengths to roll out the red carpet for you upon arrival.
There is no shortage of high-end treats, surprises, and comforts your hosts will delight in lavishing on you during your time with them. In addition to standard niceties in your guest room such as exquisite linens, plush bathrobes and towels, custom furniture, and relaxing water features, you can expect the latest upgrades in flat-screen TV, free wifi, and even a gas fireplace to accompany a soak in the jacuzzi.
Other amenities to inquire about can range from a full 4-course gourmet breakfast to something a bit less formal like a continental breakfast for those on the go. Your chef and staff are only too happy to provide any special dietary needs or that customized dessert with a bit of advance notice. They delight in going out of their way to please so don’t be shy and take them up on it!
Depending on where you’re coming from, Boston’s Logan Airport will offer the most convenient air service to southeastern Maine. Manchester, New Hampshire and Portland, Maine are good alternative airport options and may provide good commuter choices within the region.
Renting a car is the best option once you land but upon arrival in Kennebunkport, UpHail is a great way to get around in minutes. As with any small town, often the best way to see all the community has to offer is to take a spin on a bike or even walk. Ask your host where you can rent a bike in the event they don’t have several from which to choose. You never know what new friends you might make, or a familiar face you’ll run into when you take it slow and scenic.
A vacation at a Kennebunkport bed and breakfast on the water is one of those bucket list items. Classic seaside scenery, salty tang in the humid breeze, and somebody somewhere close is grilling lobster! Does it get any better?
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Something unique to the Kennebunkport area is the Captains Collection of bed and breakfast inns that are all top-rated and waiting for you. Properties such as Captain Lord Mansion, Captain Fairfield Inn, Captain Jefferds Inn, and Maine Stay Inn & Cottages are all located in the heart of the Historic District. These extraordinary retreats are infused with captivating maritime history while providing guests with the utmost in extravagant luxuries.
Just a block away from the action in Dock Square, you can also stroll along the banks of the Kennebunk River to gain a true seaside harbor perspective. Kennebunkport Inn is the only hotel in the Historic District and offers a greater number of rooms than most boutique inns but does not compromise on the comforts.
The Harbor Inn accommodates pets and has a sunset cruise that is the perfect way to end your day. Cape Arundel Inn & Resort is a classic example of a Kennebunkport bed and breakfast on the water. Choose between seaside views from the Victorian Main House or a more secluded feel the Club House provides. A restored shipbuilder’s sanctuary, the Waldo Emerson Inn was once the summer retreat of famous poet Ralph Waldo Emerson.
If you prefer a quieter corner, The Inn at English Meadows is the perfect choice. Slightly removed from the bustle of the village, stretch your legs a bit for a walk to the activity at Dock Square. For the ultimate in harbor views and top-end lodging, The Boathouse Waterfront Hotel might be the grandest of all the options.
Depending on your taste and whether you are looking for pet-friendly accommodations or something that caters to kids, adults-only, or inns for the disabled, the best bed and breakfast in Kennebunkport, Maine is just a quick search away.