Southern Coast

Wood Pond Press

The Southern Maine coast is an undulating shoreline of sandy beaches, rocky cliffs and tidal coves, interspersed with some of the state's best-known and most appealing resort towns. It includes Portland, Maine's largest and most dynamic city.


After Kittery with its cheek-to-jowl shopping outlets come the Yorks, the collective name for a handful of villages near or beside the sea. Historic York Village, the oldest English settlement in Maine, straddles the meandering York River. Scenic U.S. Route 1A heads east to York Harbor, a shady enclave of waterfront homes and fashionable inns, where river meets sea. Route 1A turns north toward the amusement areas of crowded York Beach, whose vestiges of the past render it a cut above the honky-tonk. Beyond are Nubble Light, one of America's most photographed lighthouses, and Cape Neddick Harbor, a quieter and quainter fishing site. Sand gives way to rocks as Bald Head Cliff rises to the forested Shore Road leading into Ogunquit.A Chamber of Commerce brochure details walking and driving tours. Most of the York Historical Society buildings are concentrated along Lindsay Road, which leads to Sewall's Bridge, a replica of the first pile drawbridge in America dating to 1761. Nearby, Route 103 passes a mini-suspension bridge for pedestrians (called the "wiggly bridge," for good reason), which leads to a pleasant pathway along the river from York Harbor to Sewall's Bridge. The rambling 1718 Sayward Wheeler House (1718) at 79 Barrell Lane is opened weekends by the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities. Out Route 91 is a small stone memorial next to the trickling Maud Muller Spring, which inspired John Greenleaf Whittier's poem.

York Historic District, 207 York St., York Village. The history of the first chartered English city in North America (a refuge for early Puritan settlers from Massachusetts) is on display here. The Old York Historical Society in the historic George Marshall Store at 140 Lindsay Road offers guided tours of its six properties. Costumed guides begin tours in the 1750 Jefferd's Tavern, a Colonial hostelry facing the Old Burying Yard and the village green in the center of town. One of New England's best collections of regional decorative arts is displayed in more than 30 period rooms and galleries spanning the period from 1719 to 1954. The 1719 Old Gaol, once the King's Prison, is the oldest surviving public building of the British colonies in this country; on view are the dungeon, cells, jailer's quarters and household effects. Also open are the Emerson-Wilcox House (1742) and the enormous Elizabeth Perkins House (1730) beside the river, the 1745 Old School House and the John Hancock Warehouse & Wharf, with old tools and antique ship models in a warehouse owned by a signer of the Declaration of Independence.(207) 363-4974. Open mid-June through September, Tuesday-Saturday 10 to 5, Sunday 1 to 5. Adults, $2 each building. Combination ticket, adults $7, children $3.

>> York Harbor Lodging and Dining Suggestions

Stage Neck Inn, 22 Stage Neck Road (Off Route 1A), Box 70, York Harbor 03911. (207) 363-3850 or (800) 340-1130.

Dockside Guest Quarters, Harris Island, Box 205, York 03909. (207) 363-2868 or (888) 860-7428.

York Harbor Inn, Route 1A, Box 573, York Harbor 03911. (207) 363-5119 or (800) 343-3869.

>> York Harbor Lodging Suggestions

The Inn at Tanglewood Hall, 611 York St., Box 490, York Harbor 03911. (207) 351-1075.

>> York Harbor Dining Suggestions

Cape Neddick Inn Restaurant, 1233 Route 1, Cape Neddick. (207) 363-2899. Entrées, $12 to $20. Dinner, Tuesday-Sunday 5:30 to 10.


The Indians who were its first summer visitors called this beach town Ogunquit, meaning "beautiful place by the sea." Today's summer visitor is apt to call it crowded. Thousands of tourists pack its streets, motels and beaches, to the point that the Chamber of Commerce became one of the first in the country to run a trolley service to shuttle people back and forth.Ogunquit's broad, white-sand beach – rated one of the nation's top ten – is three miles long and flanked by dunes, the northernmost in New England. Picturesque Perkins Cove, studded with fishing and pleasure boats, has inspired artists and intrigued tourists for decades. A promontory with a footbridge across the cove on one side and the open ocean on the other offers a number of shops, art galleries and restaurants, plus boat trips.The best way to savor the majestic Ogunquit waterfront is to walk the Marginal Way, a mile-long footpath along the rocky cliffs beside the sea. From Perkins cove, it undulates up and down as it climbs to a point, where it turns toward town and yields an eye-popping view of Ogunquit Beach. Arches of trees frame views of the sea for camera buffs, and benches provide resting spots along the way.The Ogunquit Playhouse, billed as America's foremost summer theater, is based in a graceful white barn structure with 700 seats on the southern edge of town.

Ogunquit Museum of American Art, 183 Shore Road, Ogunquit.Off the beaten path in a meadow overlooking a rocky cove and the Atlantic is this exceptional summer showplace for contemporary American paintings and sculpture. Francis Henry Taylor, the late director of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, called it "the most beautiful small museum in the world." Visitors approaching the museum look directly through the main gallery to the ocean. Built in 1952 and enlarged in 1992 and 1996, the museum houses some of America's most important 20th-century works in five galleries. Thomas Hart Benton, Charles Burchfield, Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, Rockwell Kent and Walt Kuhn are among those represented in the permanent collection. A reflecting pool on the grounds is a natural habitat for blue herons and kingfishers. Large and small pieces of outdoor sculpture enhance the spectacular seaside setting. (207) 646-4909. Open Monday-Saturday 10:30 to 5, Sunday 2 to 5, July-September. Adults $4, students $3.

>> Ogunquit Lodging and Dining Suggestions

Cliff House, Shore Road, Box 2274, Ogunquit 03907. (207) 361-1000.

>> Ogunquit Lodging Suggestions

The Sparhawk, Shore Road, Box 936, Ogunquit 03907. (207) 646-5562.

Riverside Motel, 50 Riverside Lane, Box 2244, Ogunquit 03907. (207) 646-2741.

Hartwell House Inn, 312 Shore Road, Box 1937, Ogunquit 03907. (207) 646-7210 or (800) 235-8883.

>> Ogunquit Dining Suggestions

Arrows, Berwick Road, Ogunquit. (207) 361-1100.

98 Provence, 262 Shore Road, Ogunquit. (207) 646-9898.

Hurricane, Oarweed Lane, Ogunquit. (207) 646-6348.


Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, 321 Port Road (Route 9), Wells.Seemingly far removed from the surrounding resort and beach scene is this 4,800-acre reserve near the Wells-Kennebunkport town line. It's named for the environmental pioneer who summered in Maine and conducted research in the area for several of her books. This is the largest section of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refuge scattered along 50 miles of Maine coastline from Kittery Point to Cape Elizabeth. The Carson Trail is a mile-long interpretive trail located at the refuge headquarters. It leads through an area rich in migratory and resident wildlife. The gravel trail and boardwalks meander through tranquil pine woods until the vista opens up at the sixth marker and a boardwalk takes you out over wetlands and marsh. Cormorants, herons and more are sighted here, and benches allow you to relax as you take in the scene. An even better view of the ocean in the distance is at Marker 7, the Little River overlook. The widest, best view of all is near the end of the loop at Marker 11. If you don't have time for the entire trail, ignore the directional signs and go counter-clockwise. You'll get the best view first, though you may not see much wildlife.(207) 646-9226. Refuge headquarters open Monday-Friday 8 to 4:30, limited weekend hours in summer. Trail open daily, dawn to dusk; donation.

Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve, 342 Laudholm Farm Road, Wells.Abutting the Carson wildlife refuge to the south is the one of 22 estuarine reserves in the country, based at Laudholm Farm off Route 1, north of Wells Corner. Its 1,600 acres of salt marshes, sand dunes and tidal rivers include seven miles of nature trails and a wide variety of wildlife. Guided tours, education programs, and a slide show and exhibits are offered in the stately, rambling Greek Revival Laudholm Farm visitor center. Recently, the Wells Reserve started construction of a new facility, the Maine Coastal Ecology Center. (207) 646-1555. Visitor center open Monday-Saturday 10 to 4, Sunday noon to 4, May-October; weekdays in spring and fall. Grounds open daily 8 to 5, year-round. Parking fee, $2 per person in summer and weekends in June and September.

>> Wells Dining Suggestions

Grey Gull Inn and Restaurant, 475 Webhannet Drive, Moody Point. (207) 646-7501.


For sophisticates, the small coastal area known as the Kennebunk Region has the most and best of everything in Maine: the best beaches, the most inns, the best shops, the most eating places, the best scenery, the most sightseeing, the best galleries, the most diverse appeal. It also plays a starring role as the summer home of former President George Bush, a visible figure around town.Actually, there are at least three Kennebunks. One is the town of Kennebunk and its inland commercial center, historic Kennebunk. The second is Kennebunkport, the coastal resort community that was one of Maine's earliest summer havens for the wealthy, and adjacent Kennebunk Beach. A third represents Cape Arundel around the Bush estate at Walker Point, the fishing hamlet of Cape Porpoise and Goose Rocks Beach, whose rugged coastal aspects remain largely unchanged by development in recent years.Explore a bit and you'll see why watercolorist Edgar Whitney proclaimed the Kennebunks "the best ten square miles of painting areas in the nation." From Dock Square, take Ocean Avenue along the Kennebunk River out to Parson's Way opposite the landmark Colony Hotel, where you can relax on benches beside the ocean or walk out to the serene little chapel of St. Ann's Episcopal Church by the sea. Continue along the ocean to Spouting Rock, where the incoming tide creates a spurting fountain as waves crash between two ragged cliffs, and Blowing Cave, another roaring phenomenon within view of Walker Point and the eleven-acre George Bush summer compound. Go on to Cape Porpoise, the closest thing to a fishing village hereabouts, with a working lobster pier and a picturesque harbor full of islands.The Art Guild of the Kennebunks numbers more than 50 resident professionals as members and claims the Kennebunks hold the largest collective community of fine art on the East Coast. Art and galleries are everywhere, but most are concentrated around Kennebunkport's Dock Square and the wharves to the southeast.The Kennebunkport Historical Society runs the 1853 Greek Revival Nott House called White Columns and the 1899 Town House School with exhibits of local and maritime heritage. But inland Kennebunk is more obviously historic. Summer Street (Route 35) running south of downtown toward Kennebunkport is considered one of the architecturally outstanding residential streets in the nation. The 1803 Taylor-Barry House is open for tours, and the aptly named yellow-with-white-frosting Wedding Cake House (1826) is a sight to behold (though not open to the public).

The Brick Store Museum, 117 Main St., Kennebunk. There's a treasure behind every door on the block at this 1825 museum, which occupies four 19th-century commercial buildings at the edge of downtown. It offers an excellent collection of decorative and fine arts, Federal period furniture, artifacts and textiles. The museum mounts a couple of major exhibits each year (photos of the great fire of 1947 were on at one visit) and offers walking tours of Kennebunk's historic district.(207) 985-4802. Open Tuesday-Saturday 10 to 4:30. Adults $5, children $2.

>> Kennebunkport Lodging and Dining Suggestions

The White Barn Inn, 37 Beach Ave., Kennebunkport 04046. (207) 967-2321.

Cape Arundel Inn, Ocean Avenue, Kennebunkport 04046. (207) 967-2125.

>> Kennebunkport Lodging Suggestions

The Captain Lord Mansion, Pleasant Street, Box 800, Kennebunkport 04046. (207) 967-3141 or (800) 522-3141. Fax (207) 967-3172.

Old Fort Inn, Old Fort Avenue, Box M, Kennebunkport 04046. (207) 967-5353 or (800) 828-3678.

Bufflehead Cove Inn, Gornitz Lane, Box 499, Kennebunkport 04046. (207) 967-3879.

The Inn at Harbor Head, 41 Pier Road, Kennebunkport 04046. (207) 967-5564.

The Yachtsman Lodge & Marina, Ocean Avenue, Box 2609, Kennebunkport 04046. (207) 967-2511.

The Captain Fairfield Inn, Pleasant and Green Streets, Box 2690, Kennebunkport 04046. (207) 967-4454 or (800) 322-1928.

>> Kennebunkport Dining Suggestions

Seascapes, On the Pier, Cape Porpoise. (207) 967-8500.

Grissini Trattoria & Panificio, 27 Western Ave., Kennebunkport. (207) 967-2211.

On the Marsh Restaurant, 46 Western Ave. (Route 9), Lower Village, Kennebunkport. (207) 967-2299.


Cape Elizabeth, one of the Portland's choicest suburbs, occupies a picturesque promontory stretching into Casco Bay south of the city. A favorite stop for sightseers is Fort Williams Park and the Portland Head Light. Beachgoers head for Crescent Beach State Park, Higgins Beach in Scarborough and Scarborough State Beach. The Scarborough Marsh Nature Center has 3,000 acres of salt marsh rich in plant and animal life – although naturalists lead tours, a favorite pursuit is paddling a canoe through the marshes to see wildlife on your own. Prouts Neck is an exclusive summer community, whose rugged cliffs inspired artist Winslow Homer and where his studio is now a private residence

The Museum at Portland Head Light, 1000 Shore Road, Cape Elizabeth.The East's oldest operating lighthouse, commissioned in 1791 by George Washington, is said to be the Atlantic coast's most photographed. Following $600,000 worth of renovations, the Town of Cape Elizabeth operates the museum on the first floor of the lighthouse keepers' quarters. Exhibits chronicle the history of Portland Head Light and Fort Williams, a military outpost that developed for coastal defense next to the lighthouse and now is an appealing town park with trails, picnic tables and great views of the harbor. A small museum shop is housed in an adjacent garage. (207) 799-2661. Open daily 10-4, June-October; weekends, April-May and November-December. Adults $2, children $1. Park, free.

>> Cape Elizabeth Lodging and Dining Suggestions

The Inn by the Sea, Route 77, Cape Elizabeth 04107. (207) 799-3134 or (800) 888-4287.

Black Point Inn Resort, 510 Black Point Road, Prouts Neck 04074. (207) 883-4126 or (800) 258-0003.


Variously described as a big town or a small city, Portland (population, 65,000) is the center of the largest urban complex in the largest state in northern New England. Its manageable size combined with a potent civic pride make it a shining example of urban revival. The crowning achievement is the Old Port Exchange, a restored edge-of-downtown historic district fashioned from a once-decaying waterfront. Abandoned warehouses have been turned into restaurants, stores and galleries that flourish side by side with sailmakers and ship's chandlers. A number of outfits along the Commercial Street waterfront offer sightseeing, nature, whale-watch and sailing cruises. The biggest is Casco Bay Lines, which also operates America's oldest working ferry service. The ferries transport residents, school children, mail and necessities along with visitors to the most populated of the 365 Calendar Islands of Casco Bay. Indeed, it is the proximity and flavor of the sea that distinguish Maine's largest city from others in New England. In-town Portland is virtually surrounded on all sides by water, be it the Portland Harbor, the Fore River, the Back Cove or Casco Bay.

Portland Museum of Art, 7 Congress Square, Portland.This is widely considered northern New England's most important art museum, although it has been upstaged lately by the Farnsworth Museum and Wyeth Center in mid-coast Rockland. A local philanthropist not only sparked the museum's expansion with his gift of seventeen Winslow Homer paintings, but provided the funding for a showcase addition. The magnificent I.M. Pei-designed Charles Shipman Payson Building joins the original McLellan-Sweat House (1800) and L.D.M. Sweat Memorial (1911) museum buildings and provides five times as much space. The four-story structure with its enormous elevator, a staircase that makes you feel as if you're floating upstairs and portholes through which you look outside is intriguing. So are Payson's Homer collection, the works of Andrew Wyeth and Rockwell Kent, the American Galleries, the decorative arts galleries, the Pepperrell Silver Collection and changing exhibitions. The Joan Whitney Payson Collection, a remarkable group of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works by Picasso, Monet, Degas, Renoir, Van Gogh and others, was given to the museum in 1991.(207) 775-6148 or (800) 639-4067. Open daily 10 to 5, Thursday-Friday to 9, Memorial Day to Columbus Day; closed Monday rest of year. Adults $8, children $2.

Wadsworth-Longfellow House, 489 Congress St., Portland.Built in 1785 by the maternal grandfather of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who wrote much of his early poetry here. His boyhood home was Portland's first brick building and is the oldest remaining residence on the Portland peninsula. A beauty it is, with original furnishings and possessions of the Wadsworth and Longfellow families. The Maine Historical Society headquarters and library are located behind the house and its lovely garden.(207) 879-0427. Open June-October, Tuesday-Sunday 10:30 to 4. Adults $5, children $2.

Victoria Mansion, 109 Danforth St., Portland.This 1860 brownstone edifice, one of the nation's most opulent Italian villas, has been described as "an encyclopedia of mid-19th-century decoration, domestic life and determined elegance." Built for hotel magnate Ruggles Morse, it retains most of the original contents, including a remarkable stained-glass skylight atop the three-story main hall. Notable are the richly carved woodwork, colorful frescoes, trompe-l'oeil walls and ceilings, carved marble fireplaces, French porcelains and etched glass. An important collection of furniture by interior designer Gustave Herter is featured. (207) 772-4841. Open May-October, Tuesday-Saturday 10 to 4, Sunday 1 to 5. Adults $7.50, children $3.

Portland Public Market, Preble Street and Cumberland Avenue, Portland.New England's biggest farm market was built from scratch at the edge of downtown in 1998 by Maine philanthropist Elizabeth Noyce. A block long and half as wide, it's an architectural marvel of timbered beams, walls of windows and soaring ceilings. Inside, more than two dozen selected Maine food growers and high-end vendors purvey everything from elk to eels in a pristine contemporary setting. Besides all the market stalls, there's the Commissary restaurant, as well as plenty of takeout opportunities and tables on the mezzanine upon which to eat.(207) 228-2000. Open Monday-Saturday 9 to 7, Sunday 10 to 5.

>> Portland Lodging Suggestions

Portland Regency Hotel, 20 Milk St., Portland 04101. (207) 774-4200 or (800) 727-3436.

Pomegranate Inn, 49 Neal St., Portland 04102.(207) 772-1006 or (800) 356-0408.

The Danforth, 163 Danforth St., Portland 04102.(207) 879-8755 or (800) 991-6557.

>> Portland Dining Suggestions

Fore Street, 288 Fore St., Portland. (207) 775-2717.

Hugo's, 88 Middle St., Portland. (207) 774-8538.

Back Bay Grill, 65 Portland St., Portland. (207) 772-8833.

Aubergine, 555 Congress St. (207) 874-0680.

Commissary, 25 Preble St., Portland. (207) 228-2057.

Street and Co., 33 Wharf St., Portland. (207) 775-0887. Entrées, $15.95 to $19.95. Dinner nightly, 5:30 to 9:30 or 10.

Bibo's Madd Apple Cafe, 23 Forest Ave., Portland. (207) 774-9698.


>> South Portland Dining Suggestions

Joe's Boathouse, 1 Spring Point Drive, South Portland. (207) 741-2780.

This content is excerpted from New England's Best, by Nancy and Richard Woodworth, copyright 2002, published by Wood Pond Press.

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