KENNEBUNKPORT, MAINE — In summer, families visit and revisit Kennebunkport, Maine, to savor local traditions — cycling to the beach, dining on lobster rolls at sunset, and canoeing on the Kennebunk River. Thanks to a new inn with a vintage surf lodge look, families can enjoy such pastimes in style.
Upon arrival at the Lodge on the Cove, a revamped 1970s motor inn overlooking the Kennebunk River in a woodsy setting about a mile from Dock Square, guests enter an octagonal-shaped lodge (a vestige of the previous inn) with mod, unhampered decor. Friends can gather on Creamsicle-toned club chairs by the stone fireplace, pull a tome from white bookshelves adorned with a Brownie camera, green binoculars and a rotary phone, or venture down the spiral staircase for a poolside bite at the Dory Restaurant. Guestrooms are equally playful, featuring room keys on nautical rope and zigzag-patterned walls.
"We wanted to create a coastal vibe, but not in the traditional sense with starfish and Adirondack chairs," says Christy Reid, General Manager of the Kennebunkport Resort Collection, who worked with designer Krista Stokes to develop a fresh look. The result: the octagon is a coastal clubhouse, of sorts, with white floors, Pantone-popping colors, and sensor pleasers, such as faux birds perching on café tables.
Of the eight properties in company's collection (others include Hidden Pond, a 60-acre luxury resort with a spa located 8 feet off the ground in the trees located a mile from Kennebunkport's Goose Rocks Beach), the Lodge on the Cove is geared to families. Guests can feast on homemade shakes and bacon burgers by the outdoor heated pool, borrow sleek white beach cruisers and pedal along Ocean Avenue, and gather round the fire pit for s'mores. While rooms have flat-screen TVs and WIFI, some families prefer to while away the hours playing classic board games, such as Sorry, long after sun set.
"When I first say the property," says Reid, who grew up in Kennebunkport, "I thought, 'this is what Maine looks like.' It's not all perfect lawns. It's the cove and pine trees and natural rock. The location is unexpected and calm."
Old And New Favorites
Open for about 15 months, the lodge is the newest in a community filled with venerable getaways. On nearby Ocean Avenue, the Nonantum Resort was founded in 1883, and The Colony Hotel celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. The most famous retreat of all — Walker's Point, home of President George H.W. Bush and his family — entices 50,000 visitors annually to pause by a plaque and Navy anchor overlooking the family compound. True, the Bush's welcome guests, but it is by invitation only.
You don't have to have deep pockets — or a VIP invite — to enjoy a Kennebunkport vacation, says Ken Mason, a local hotelier. Many of the most satisfying pleasures are simple and free, such as watching the sunrise and sunset, swimming in the ocean, and wandering through the historic village, lined with art galleries and specialty stores not found on the Route 1 strip.
"As far as lodging, you have the spectrum," says Mason, owner of the Seaside Inn, the only hotel directly on Kennebunk Beach. "You can go from a mid-priced hotel up to a boutique hotel that's hundreds of dollars a night."
Mason knows the Kennebunks — Kennebunkport and neighboring Kennebunk — inside and out. That's because his family's hotel, the Seaside Inn, is a 9th-generation family-run inn-keeping business. Founded in 1667, it is believed to be the country's oldest continuously operating family inn (the original building is gone, but the operations have continued through time). Mason has loyal customers; 82 percent are return guests.
"I have one gentleman who's been coming since he was 2," says Mason. "He turned 83 this year. I have a family from Montreal who has stayed with us since the early 1960s. The reason they come to us is the homey feeling. The staff knows everyone's birthday and anniversaries. There's a sign at the back of the desk, Welcome Home. That's why families come to town — for the village feel."
Mason says the same high-low old-new spectrum for lodging applies to dining in town. At a new spot, such as David's KPT, open since May 2013, you can feast on steak and lobster pizza with roasted tomato, caramelized onion, goat cheese and arugula, in a dining room with floor-to-ceiling windows – and a deck for après dining – on the harbor. Some patrons arrive by boat. The popular dining spot is owned by chef/restaurateur David Turin, whose other restaurants include David's, in Portland, and David's 388 in South Portland.
On the other hand, families can stick to the come-as-you-are haunts that have fortified families for decades. These include hot boiled lobster dinners at Nunan's Lobster Hut (since 1953), fried clams from The Clam Shack (1960s), and lobster rolls at Alisson's (1980s). "Then there's the simplest thing of all," says Mason. "Picnic on the beach."
>>Lodge on the Cove: Hang your hat at this mod outpost — a converted 1970s roadside inn on Chick's Cove — with Pantone-popping furnishings, a heated outdoor pool, s'mores on summer nights, complimentary use of beach cruisers, and a poolside restaurant, The Dory, serving yummy build-your-own burgers, milkshakes, lobster sliders, and sweet potato tater tots. (You don't have to be a hotel guest to dine at the restaurant). Guest rooms have a microwave and refrigerator; rates include a light continental breakfast. Depending on the season, nightly rates range from $149 to $339. 29 South Main St., Kennebunkport; 800-879-5778; http://www.lodgeonthecove.com
>>Seaside Inn: Stay in the only property directly on Kennebunk Beach in a 22-unit inn run by the same family for nine generations. Guestrooms feature village scenes by local artist Wendy Webster Good. Guests can borrow bikes, soak in an ocean-view hot tub, and enjoy complimentary continental breakfast in the 1850 boathouse room. Depending on the season, prices range from $179 (two-night off-season package) to $349 nightly. 80 Beach Ave., Kennebunk Beach; 207-967-4461; kennebunkbeachmaine.com.
More suggestions for places to soak up Kennebunkport's charm:
David's KPT: At chef/restaurateur David Turin's newcomer inside the Boathouse Hotel & Marina, families can watch boats come and go and sample creative coastal cuisine in a classy, comfortable setting. Feast on a seafood tower (12 oysters, 6 clams, 4 prawns, and a lobster tail), tuna or steak tartare, crispy skin Margret duck breast with "forbidden" black rice salad, open faced lobster ravioli with sherried lobster cream, and steak and lobster pizza with caramelized onion and goat cheese. For kids, there's plain pasta with butter and parmesan cheese, grilled skewers of jumbo Gulf shrimp and sea scallops, grilled sirloin steak, and pepperoni pizza. 21 Ocean Ave., Kennebunkport; 207-967-8225; http://www.boathouseme.com/dining
Nunan's Lobster Hut: Since 1953, Nunan's has served fresh-caught lobster cooked-to-order in a come-as-you-are atmosphere in the Kennebunkport fishing village of Cape Porpoise. 9 Mills Road, Cape Porpoise; 207-967-4362; http://www.nunanslobsterhut.com
The Ramp Bar & Grill: At this casual Cape Porpoise hideaway under Pier 77 Restaurant, enjoy Guinness on tap, "pulled pig" North Carolina barbecue sandwiches, and steamed mussels overlooking the harbor. 77 Pier Road, Cape Porpoise; 207-967-8500; http://www.pier77restaurant.com
Cake House Bakery: The pastel-pink sweet shop delivers more than 500 cupcake and frosting combinations — ranging from Buffalo chicken to Guinness dark ale with light ale buttercream frosting ¿ on a rotating basis, plus donuts, scones, and flavored iced coffee (bacon-blueberry is a hit). 5 Union St., Kennebunkport; 207-967-8900.
Rococo: The artisan ice cream emporium dishes out maple fig jalapeno, molasses gingersnap, goat cheese blackberry Chambord, sweet and salty olive, and Blue Fin Stout (beer ice cream), among other fanciful flavors. 6 Spring St., Kennebunkport; 207-251-6866; http://www.rococoicecream.com
Abacus: Find reclaimed wood lobsters and photo albums fashioned from Maine license plates at this eclectic emporium of hand-crafted treasures. 2 Ocean Ave., Kennebunkport; 207-967-0111; http://www.abacusgallery.com