16 Top-Rated Things to Do in Kennebunkport, ME

Beach towns dot Maine's southern coast, each with a different appeal. But Kennebunkport and its twin, Kennebunk, have a lot more than beaches to attract tourists. A rich heritage of shipbuilding left "The Kennebunks," as they are known, with entire streets of elegant captains' and shipbuilders' homes, making the town centers a pleasure to stroll through.

Kennebunkport, Maine | Photo Copyright: Stillman Rogers

Three different beach areas, a quaint fishing village, sailing and whale-watching cruises, a walking path along the scenic coast, more than a dozen art galleries, smart shops, the legacy of a presidential family, and many other things to do year-round make the Kennebunks among the best places to visit in Maine.

The twin towns are separated by the irregular line of the Kennebunk River, but for tourists, the more useful division would be between the two business centers. Technically, when you cross the bridge at Dock Square in Kennebunkport, you're in Kennebunk, even though the shops and restaurants continue.

Whether you're looking for a family beach vacation or a romantic getaway for couples, use this list to find the best things to do in Kennebunkport.

1. Dock Square & the Harbor

Kennebunkport Harbor | Photo Copyright: Stillman Rogers

In what's known as the Lower Village, Dock Square is the heart of Kennebunkport's shopping and dining scene. It sits alongside the busy harbor, not far from where the Kennebunk River flows into the Atlantic.

The bridge connecting Dock Square to the Upper Village is a favorite photo stop, lined with flowers in the summer and with views of the river and boats that crowd the little harbor. Historical boards with old photos tell the story of this former ship-building capital and of the tall-masted ships and schooners that were launched here.

The stately homes you see in the streets around Dock Square were the homes of these prosperous ship builders and sea captains.

Each December, during Christmas Prelude festivities, a tall Christmas tree in the center of the square is decorated with colorful fishing buoys.

2. Parson's Way and Ocean Avenue

Parson's Way | Photo Copyright: Stillman Rogers

Ocean Avenue begins at Dock Square and follows the shore around Cape Arundel as far as Walker's Point. Leaving the village, it follows the river, passing the large Nonantum Resort and the Kennebunk River Club before reaching Colony Beach.

From Colony Beach onward, there are almost continuous sea views. This is where you can pick up Parson's Way, a walking trail that follows the shore, paralleling Ocean Avenue. The two-mile out-and-back trail is relatively level and open year-round.

Overlooking Parson's Way and Ocean Avenue are a series of "cottages" from the days when Kennebunkport was a summer retreat for wealthy city families.

Along Parson's Way, you'll pass several tiny beaches, St. Ann's by-the-Sea, and ragged cliffs with crashing waves.

3. Stop at Walker's Point and Blowing Cave

Bush Summer Home | Photo Copyright: Stillman Rogers

At the far end of Ocean Avenue is Walker's Point, a peninsula where generations of the Bush family have spent summer vacations. The substantial gabled "cottage" has hosted not only two US Presidents, but foreign heads of state.

Built in 1903 by the grandfather of George H.W. Bush, it was his summer White House and that of his son George W. Bush. While you can't visit the Bush home, you can get good views of it from roadside pullouts along Ocean Avenue.

At one of these, on a bluff overlooking Walker's Point across Sand Cove, is a US Navy anchor, The "Anchor to the Windward" dedicated to George H.W. Bush. This is also where, when the tide is high, you can see the waterspouts from Blowing Cave and Spouting Rock, where waves shoot up from an opening in the rocks below.

4. Swim at Kennebunk Beach

Kennebunk Beach | Photo Copyright: Stillman Rogers

Among the best beaches in the Northeast, Kennebunk Beach is actually three. Gooch's Beach, Middle Beach, and Mother's Beach adjoin each other in a long arc of soft sand and gentle ocean surf beside the mouth of the Kennebunk River.

Don't expect to have the beach to yourself. Despite the difficulty of finding a parking space, the beach is popular year-round. When it's too cold for swimming and sunning, walking on this long stretch of sand is one of the favorite things to do here.

Gooch's Beach, the closest to town, is the biggest; Middle Beach is rockier, and the mix of rock pools and gently sloping sandy shoreline at Mother's Beach make it a popular place to visit for families. A playground at the end adds to its popularity.

Another appeal of these beaches for many is the freedom from boardwalk and concessions, so you'll want to bring your own drinks and snacks.

Parking and Access: To park here, you'll need a parking sticker, obtainable at kiosks along Beach Avenue, and to get there early in the day or late in the afternoon. A better plan is to take the In-Town Trolley to the beach.

Address: Beach Ave., Kennebunk, Maine

5. St. Ann's by-the-Sea

St. Ann's by-the-Sea | Photo Copyright: Stillman Rogers

One of 17 active Episcopal summer chapels in Maine, St. Ann's by-the-Sea would look right at home in an English village. Set in gardens overlooking the Gulf of Maine, the church was built in 1887 of sea-smoothed stones hauled up from the shore below.

The interior walls are of rough stone, as well, with wide stone arches separating the side aisles. The nave is surmounted by a vaulted ceiling of pine beams and trusses. Twenty-five stained-glass windows, many of them dating from the late 1800s, are set in the side walls, lighting the stone walls with a kaleidoscope of color on sunny days.

Address: 167 Ocean Ave. , Kennebunkport, Maine

6. Sun and Swim at Goose Rocks Beach

Goose Rocks Beach

Backed by a fringe of grass-covered dunes, the three miles of powder-soft sand at Goose Rocks Beach is not exactly a local secret, but is less well-known than the three on Beach Avenue. Protected by an off-shore rock barrier, the beach has gentle surf for swimming.

Goose Rocks Beach is just as popular with birds, and a favorite spot for bird-watching. You'll see several varieties of sandpiper foraging near the tide line, and areas of the beach may be blocked to visitors to protect the piping plover that nest here between April and August.

You'll need a pass to park here from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day; you can get these at the kiosk at Kings Highway and Proctor Avenue or at the Goose Rocks Beach General Store.

Address: Kings Highway, Kennebunkport, Maine

7. Bike or Drive to Cape Porpoise

Cape Porpoise | Photo Copyright: Stillman Rogers

The tiny little fishing hamlet of Cape Porpoise is about two miles from Dock Square on Route 9, or an eight-mile bike ride along Ocean Avenue and Shore Road. Here, you'll find a busy working harbor, with fishing boats unloading their catch and a couple of places to have lunch on decks overlooking boats bobbing in the inlet.

Opposite the pier is a map board identifying the 12 harbor islands, all of which are now protected by the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust. This is the best viewpoint for the landmark Goat Island Lighthouse, which has been guiding boats since 1833. The lighthouse is still manned, and you can visit the island at high tide by private boat.

8. Take a Whale Watch or Sailing Cruise

Whale Watch boat | Photo Copyright: Stillman Rogers

To see Kennebunkport's rocky coast, islands, and landmarks from a different point of view, see them from the water on a cruise. The two-masted Schooner Eleanor, a traditional gaff-rigged schooner, was built right here in Kennebunkport, long a center for shipbuilding.

Pineapple Ketch is a classic 1970s Downeaster 38, restored to its original condition, and, like the Schooner Eleanor, sails three times a day on two-hour cruises. Tip: the best photography and smoothest sailing is more likely in the morning; afternoon sailings may see more wave action. Or for the most romantic thing to do in Kennebunkport, take a sunset cruise in the evening.

To see humpback, finback, and minke whales, with a chance of spotting the endangered right whale, book a cruise with First Chance Whale Watch. The best chances of sightings are between July and September, when last Chance offers daily cruises.

9. Go Shopping and Gallery Hopping

Glass Art at Compliments | Photo Copyright: Stillman Rogers

If you looked no farther than the tight cluster of streets and lanes around Dock Square, you could easily believe that gallery hopping and shopping are the two most popular things to do in Kennebunkport. More than a dozen art galleries are within a five-minute walk of the square and bridge, and there are even more gift shops and boutiques.

Conspicuously missing are the souvenir and T-shirt shops common to most beach towns; Kennebunkport caters to a high-taste crowd, and it shows in the shops. You'll also notice that heavy emphasis is given to Maine and New England artists and craftspeople.

At Northlight Gallery, on Ocean Avenue, you'll find striking boat scenes by gallery-owner Harry Thompson, along with paintings by other New England artists. Next door at Landmark Gallery are impressionist paintings by owner David Perry Fouts, along with marine subjects and landscapes, and The Port features original watercolor paintings.

Across the bridge is Maine Art Hill, a multi-floor gallery representing more than 40 Maine artists; the sculpture garden features kinetic works that are in constant motion.

For a selection that includes spectacular hand-blown glass, whimsical ceramics, one-of-a-kind jewelry, and unique gifts, step into Compliments Gallery on Dock Square.

10. Parsons Beach

Parsons Beach | Photo Copyright: Stillman Rogers

Far from the centers of either town, Parson's Beach is also far from any sign of tourism, apart from the cars parked along the unpaved access road. Access is the reason why you can always find a place to spread your towel on this beautiful dune-backed stretch of sand.

Parking is free, but unless you arrive early in the morning, you'll have to walk about half a mile from Route 9, where there is a small parking area. But the beach and the elbow room are worth the walk.

When the weather is too cold for swimming and sunning, Parsons Beach is a favorite place for long walks far away from human activity.

Address: Parsons Beach Road (Off Route 9), Kennebunk, Maine

11. Ride the Trolley

Trolley stop, Kennebunkport | Photo Copyright: Stillman Rogers

Learn about local history from Native Americans to Kennebunkport's days as the Summer White House, on a one-hour tour with the Intown Trolley. Trolleys were a common feature from the early 1900s through 1927, when they carried summer guests from the train station to their cottages and hotels.

More than 30 years ago, the tradition was revived, with an open-air excursion that points out the main attractions, including the beaches, the Bush summer home at Walker's Point, Blowing Cave, St. Anthony's Monastery, and the streets of beautifully preserved sea captains' houses.

Tours run from Memorial Day through Columbus Day and during Christmas Prelude in December.

Address: 21 Ocean Avenue, Kennebunkport, Maine

12. Seashore Trolley Museum

Seashore Trolley Museum | Photo Copyright: Stillman Rogers

The Intown Trolley isn't the only trolley you can ride in Kennebunkport. The Seashore Trolley Museum has been collecting trams, trolleys, and subway cars since it opened in 1939, amassing a collection that represents public transit from around the world.

You can not only look at the 250 examples and learn about them, but you can climb into some of the cars and ride aboard a trolley from the early 1900s to tour the vast property. You can find street cars from Budapest; Rome; pre-World War II Hamburg; and Nagasaki, Japan; as well as various cities in the United States and Canada.

Kids love the museum, where they can climb aboard to explore the cars, and nobody says "don't touch." It's one of the most popular things to do for families. Picnic tables invite you to bring your lunch and stay a while.

Address: 195 Log Cabin Road., Kennebunkport, Maine

13. Wedding Cake House and Kennebunk's Summer Street Mansions

Wedding Cake House | Photo Copyright: Stillman Rogers

As you drive along Summer Street (Route 35) from Kennebunkport to the center of Kennebunk, you'll begin to notice fine old mansions of the shipbuilders whose shipyards lay along the river just beyond. But you'll notice one in particular.

Called the Wedding Cake House because of its over-the-top decorations, it was built in 1825 by a shipbuilder. When the attached barn and carriage house burned in 1852, Bourn rebuilt it and began decorating it with wooden replicas of Gothic ornamentation he had admired while traveling in Milan, Italy.

Having decorated the carriage house with intricately carved pinnacles, he added buttresses to the house. All the work was completed using only hand tools.

Closer to the center, more grand mansions line both sides of the street, and you can learn more about them from the Museum in the Streets signboards. These are among the 25 historical signs and you can see the map of their locations outside the Town Hall. A walk along Summer Street gives you a chance to admire these more closely and see the gardens, as well.

14. Step into History at the Brick Store Museum

Brick Store Museum | Photo Copyright: Stillman Rogers

In the center of Kennebunk's Historic District, a former dry goods store built in 1825 is now home to the Brick Store Museum. Its collections of almost 70,000 artifacts and documents are curated into interesting exhibits that tell and illustrate the story of the Kennebunks and surrounding area.

The museum has grown from the original store to include three adjacent buildings dating from 1810 to 1860, which are joined to form a fascinating museum that includes furniture, fine and decorative arts, Native Americans artifacts, implements of daily life, and an especially good collection of early costumes and textiles.

Descriptive information is designed not just to identify the piece but to tell the story associated with it.

Address: 117 Main Street, Kennebunk, Maine

15. St. Anthony's Franciscan Monastery

St. Anthony's Franciscan Monastery | Photo Copyright: Stillman Rogers

Set in beautiful grounds designed by the Frederick Law Olmstead landscaping firm, St. Anthony's Franciscan Monastery is housed in a 1906 Tudor-style mansion and is an active religious community. The monastery was founded in 1947 by Franciscan brothers from Lithuania, who added several features to the grounds in the 1950s.

These additions include the Grotto of our Lady of Lourdes, St. Anthony's Chapel, and the Chapel of Stations of the Cross. The chapel, constructed in the Lithuanian style, has stained-glass windows from Lithuania.

The grounds are open to the public, and you can visit the shrines and English-style gardens and follow the paved walking path through the riverside woodlands. Benches provide places for quiet contemplation, and you can learn more about the shrines on the property from a walking tour brochure available in the adjacent Franciscan Guest House.

Address: 28 Beach Ave., Kennebunk, Maine

16. First Families Kennebunkport Museum

First Families Kennebunkport Museum | Photo Copyright: Stillman Rogers

Although the film and small room of exhibits about the Bush Family and their long relationship to Kennebunkport are interesting, the real attraction here is the house itself.

A guided tour takes you through two floors of the 1853 Greek Revival home and reveals stories about the Nott family that lived here for 150 years.

Like so many others in Kennebunkport, the family's fortune was made in shipbuilding, so you'll learn a bit about this important chapter in the town's history. Now known as White Columns, the house is furnished with antiques, and features original imported French wallpapers and elaborate lighting fixtures. Throughout the holiday season, the entire house is decorated in lavish Victorian style.

Address: 8 Maine Street, Kennebunkport, Maine

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