The Kennebunks

The Kennebunks—Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, and Kennebunk Beach— are the quintessence of seaside Maine, brimming with magnificent architecture, beautiful lighthouses, rocky beaches, seaside hiking, bike routes, lobster rolls, and fine dining.

First settled in the early 17th century, the Kennebunks gained fame and wealth two centuries later as shipbuilding towns. That boom went bust after the Civil War, but its legacy—a profusion of grand Colonial- and Federal-style homes sitting amid a picture-perfect landscape—helped transform the Kennebunks into one of Maine’s most popular resort areas. Over the following decades, vacationing notables included St. Louis businessman D. D. Walker, whose son George Herbert Walker later bought property in the area. George Herbert’s grandson and great-grandson, the two President Bushes, still vacation here from time to time.

Kennebunkport’s White Bam Inn is one of New England’s greatest, comprised of an 1820s gatehouse, carriage house, May’s Cottage (where the inn’s original owner once lived), and the main building, a classic autumn-gold clapboard with while trim. Twenty-five meticulously appointed European-style guest rooms are done up with four-poster, canopy, and sleigh beds, and modern amenities including Jacuzzis. A swimming pool offers an alternative to sandy Gooch’s Beach, within walking distance but with water that’s almost always too cold for swimming. A highlight of any stay is a meal in the inn’s restaurant, widely considered the best dining north of Boston. Here, rustic and refined blend seamlessly in two lofty barns, with creaky floorboards and locally crafted antiques, all glowing with candlelight.

As a cozy, romantic alternative the Federal-style Captain Lord Mansion has 16 guest rooms, each named for a ship built by its original owner. Gas fireplaces, Oriental rugs, and overstuffed furniture lend a period air. A rooftop cupola looks out over the vast lawn toward the Kennebunk River.

Despite their tony reputation, the Kennebunks aren’t all about moneyed luxury. At the west end of the Kennebunkport Bridge, the Clam Shack is one of America’s great seafood dives. No utensils here, and no seats: You just order your fried clams and lobster rolls through the walk-up window and roll up your sleeves.