I almost decided not to write this story of our recent trip to Kennebunkport, Maine. One of the criteria was that it be a place within an eight-hour drive of our readership area. “No way,” I thought, “can that be done. Legally.”
Thank you Google Maps for confirming that from my driveway to Kennebunkport, Maine, it is exactly a seven-hour and 59-minute drive. No lie.
The whole groundwork for this trip was actually laid 32 years ago when, as a much younger single guy, I found myself in need of lodging while driving from my home in Hamburg through Maine and on to Nova Scotia. Thumbing through the AAA travel guide in an age before the cell phone and GPS, I came across a listing for a bed and breakfast called Bufflehead Cove, conveniently located in Kennebunk, about 20 minutes from where I was driving at the time.
I booked a room for the night, and was pleasantly surprised to arrive and find a lovely, quiet, secluded old home on the banks of the Kennebunk River, just upstream from where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean in Kennebunkport. Bufflehead Cove was run at the time by Harriet Gott with help from her lobsterman husband Jim. Lucky for me, on the day I arrived it was Jim’s birthday, and I was invited down for the party — 50-gallon drums of fresh-caught lobster cooking away right in the backyard, with all the trimmings! I definitely made a note of this place for future reference.
Fast-forward two years and honeymoon planning for my upcoming marriage in June of 1988 to Tracy. We booked another room at Bufflehead Cove and spent three nights in the good company of the Gotts and the quaint Maine seashore.
And now, this past June on the occasion of our 30th wedding anniversary, we went with what we knew — another stay at Bufflehead Cove, where Harriet and her now-retired husband Jim still run the B&B with help from their son Erin. The neighborhood has grown a bit, and the guest rooms have been lovingly remodeled in the 30 years that have passed, but the experience of staying in the Gotts’ home is still something to write home about. Beautiful rooms, lovely breakfasts, the serenity of sitting outside (or on one of many balconies) watching the tides and the wildlife is both relaxing and awe-inspiring.
Of course you can’t drive seven-hours and 59 minutes just to sit around and watch the world go by for three days, no matter how pretty the setting is. The town of Kennebunkport is just downriver from the waterside deck at Bufflehead Cove (from where you can see Dockside, the heart of Kennebunkport). Although it’s within walking distance for the hearty walker, it’s just a five-minute drive into town. Parking can be an issue during tourist season, but a little patience will find you a space. Once there, you’ll find plenty to see as you walk around town.
Which we did. Several times.
A stop into Fine Print Booksellers one afternoon netted us a couple of Maine-based books — “Arundel,” a Revolutionary War-era historical novel by Maine author Kenneth Roberts; and “Boon Island” (also written by a couple of regional authors) whose cover description had the always-enticing words “fraud, mutiny, shipwreck, and cannibalism.” Afterwards feeling hungry (was it the cannibalism reference?) — but not mealtime hungry — Tracy and I ambled over a block to the Hurricane Restaurant for…dessert. (When you’re on vacation, there’s no need to have a meal in order to enjoy dessert.) The Hurricane’s key lime pie really hit the spot.
On our second day we drove about 10 minutes to picturesque Cape Porpoise where you can watch the lobster boats unload while you enjoy a fresh lobster roll and a pint of lager at the Cape Pier Chowder House. It has the homey feel of a place where the locals hang out. Nothing fancy here, but the view overlooking the working docks makes it stand out.
Asking around at our inn for a dinner suggestion, we were pointed in the direction of the Village Tavern in West Kennebunk. Again, not within walking distance, but with the advantage of being outside the touristy ring of restaurants. Another local hangout, it doesn’t even open until 4 p.m., but it’s worth the 15-minute drive from Dockside. If you want to stay in town, Federal Jack’s is a restaurant/brew pub located right at Dockside with beautiful views of the Kennebunk River. The brewery is right on-site, offering tours, and there’s an ample gift store on the first floor. The food was right in line with its décor — that is to say, sports bar-ish but satisfying. Plenty of seafood and some very interesting salad choices.
If old architecture is your bag, you’ll want to take a tour of First Families Kennebunkport Museum at White Columns. Located right on Maine Street in town, it’s an 1853 Greek Revival home once owned by shipbuilders and sea captains. At the tail end of the tour, a section of the house is dedicated to Kennebunkport’s most famous residents, the George H.W. and Barbara Bush family. No matter what your politics are, the room gives visitors a unique perspective into one of the most influential families in Northern New England.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t include the fact that the huge L.L. Bean flagship store in Freeport is about a half-hour’s drive from Kennebunkport. Its massive campus has separate buildings for clothing, hunting and fishing, home goods, and camping/hiking/backpacking. You should also be aware that Freeport’s whole downtown area is chock-full of name brand factory outlet stores. And on your way back you’ll want to stop in the resort town of Old Orchard Beach. A beautiful beach, an old-timey boardwalk, and a seasonal population explosion all make Old Orchard Beach a summer destination for many New Englanders.
Although we were there at the beginning of summer, it goes without saying that New England in general, and the coastal towns of Maine in particular, are a sight to behold in autumn. Their geographical location brings fall’s changing colors a little later than we’re used to here in WNY (traditionally it peaks in Southern and Coastal Maine around the third week of October); so a trip to Maine could easily yield you two beautiful autumns!
And if you find yourself in Kennebunkport in the fall, walk by the post office on Temple Street just up from Dockside. Out front is something we WNYers rarely see anymore: a huge elm tree. It should be breathtaking in its autumn colors.
Just don’t wait 30 years to go. Trust me!
Story topics: Travel