Virtuoso Traveler 2018 April Best Family Trips: The Maine Coast

Best Family Trips: The Maine Coast

Barefoot time on Goose Rocks Beach.
Barefoot time on Goose Rocks Beach.
Photo by Joel Centano
Parents with young children, take note: Youth is fleeting, and summer in Kennebunkport is sublime. 

Happy childhoods and summers on the Maine coast have much in common. Both are bright, beautiful, and carefree. But both pass way too swiftly and are over too soon.
It’s this imperative – coupled with warm memories of my own childhood travels to “Vacationland” – that compels me to put my laptop down and point my compass toward Kennebunkport for a long weekend with my 6-year-old daughter, Anya. Time, I’m now comprehending in a very adult way, is truly our most valuable asset, and the number of our remaining summer vacations together is far too finite. With my wife and youngest daughter visiting family in California, our trip also allows for a rare opportunity to connect one-on-one.

Choosing a summer spot that keeps both parents and children happy is no simple task, which is why I sought a second, expert opinion. “Kennebunkport has wonderful sandy beaches with safe swimming for families – no sharp drop-offs and little undertow,” says Kathy Burns Lamphier, a Virtuoso travel advisor from nearby Greenland, New Hampshire. “Families return year after year because the town feels comfortable and familiar, like home.”
As soon as we arrive in town, we can see why. Beyond its low-key vibe and stress-free beaches (the aptly named Mother’s Beach among them), this seaside village-cum-summer playground offers plenty in the way of classic New England character: quiet country roads, pick-your-own blueberry farms, forested hiking trails, historic trolley tours, interactive museums, and a raft of seafood restaurants, ice-cream shops, and independently owned stores to explore. “Kids also love sailing on the lobster boats,” Burns Lamphier stresses.

Following her advice, Anya and I begin our visit with a voyage departing from Dock Square in the village center. Drifting up the Kennebunk River, we pass shingle-style summer homes and sailboats with names like Salt Wind before lingering by Walker’s Point for a glimpse of the Bush compound (as if on cue, the town’s most famous residents appear on the lawn). When we spy Goat Island, our captain tells us an apocryphal tale – that it’s named after New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, the “GOAT,” or “Greatest of All Time.” (Friendly tip: Don’t question this sentiment in these parts.)
As we sail farther out to sea, lobster traps are hauled and lore shared, but our highlight comes when the captain requests that Anya take command of his ship. At first she’s hesitant, hiding behind me. But then she steps forward and takes hold of the wheel, her confidence and excitement blooming in a belly laugh and broad smile.

Colorful shops near Dock Square.
Colorful shops near Dock Square.
Photo by Patrick Donovan/Getty Images 

This Is How We Roll

If time travel were possible, bicycles would be the means of transport. The thought comes to me the following morning as we’re rolling along wooded paths at Hidden Pond resort – me on a blue beach cruiser and Anya on a pink-and-purple number with handlebar streamers. Focused simply on pedaling, I start to feel young again – or at least, less old. Distant memories of summer vacations stir – my sister and I swimming in the sea all day and watching Return from Witch Mountain at drive-in theaters – as sweet fern scents the air and birdsong resounds from dense copses of birch and balsam.
“I adore the homespun feel of the property,” says Burns Lamphier, who suggested Hidden Pond for its slow pace, secluded forest setting, and family-style (or “hugemongous” in my daughter’s vernacular) cottages – each with kitchens, fireplaces, screened porches, and outdoor showers. The resort’s small-town feel and sense of community, she adds, also keeps guests coming back.
Take our neighbors. During their first visit nine years ago, I learn when they break from their lobster bake to say hello, the couple realized they were lacking a high chair for their 14-month-old daughter. The resort’s then-GM promptly headed to L.L.Bean’s flagship store in Freeport to buy one for them. Ever since, they’ve visited each summer, joined for the past five years by two sets of family friends and their own gaggle of kids.
Such devotion, we soon discover, is fully deserved. Over the course of our stay, Anya and I explore the resort’s 60 acres – always by bike, guests’ preferred means of transport. By day, we tour the on-site farm, where we pick piles of blueberries to take back to our cottage. We swerve along sylvan trails and quiet paved paths that lead to a slew of lily-lined ponds. (After surveying them all, Anya decides, “The one by the bike shed must be Hidden Pond, because it’s the hiddenest.”) Afternoon craft time (kids learn to make fairy houses, for instance) coincides nicely with a mixology class for Dad at the poolside bar.
By night, we ride to dinner at Earth restaurant, which emphasizes food from Hidden Pond’s gardens plus local farms, foragers, and fisher folk. Fine-dining is a stretch for my still wiggly first grader, but wood-oven-fired pizzas and enormous wedge-fries occupy her long enough for me to tuck into local favorites like lobster and corn bread. Later, we roll on to our nightly swim – the resort’s pool aglow in a wash of light – followed by s’mores (Anya’s professional assessment: “They’re the best ever!”) outside by the lodge.

“Bessie” (a 1956 Ford Country Sedan) backs Hidden Pond’s beach cruisers.
“Bessie” (a 1956 Ford Country Sedan) backs Hidden Pond’s beach cruisers.
Photo by Joel Centano

Destination Immersion

Maine summers can get “wicked muggy,” which makes New England’s weather gods a mercurial lot. Sure enough, our last evening brings a deluge – but it’s also a blessing: The summer storm allows us to simply sit together on our screened porch, talk, and play the board games stacked on our cottage shelves.
In the morning, we take Hidden Pond’s shuttle a mile up the road to Goose Rocks Beach. While the rain has ceased, the skies are still cloudy, so we leave our swimsuits behind, expecting only to beachcomb. But the weather shifts again, and minutes after we arrive, the sun breaks through. Soon, the resort’s beach butlers set up yellow umbrellas and serve lemonade as families play paddleball and build castles in the soft white sand.
Though we’re fully dressed, the Atlantic’s pull proves too powerful: After wearing me down with appeals, Anya starts to wade along the shoreline, and before long she’s daring out into deeper waters, dipping into cresting waves. Splashing, of course, comes next. Soon we’re both soaked and she’s riding on my shoulders. We challenge some waves, run screaming from others. When at last a monster wave rushes in, we take a full plunge and let the ocean pour over us.
Resurfacing, I get the sense that we’re late for checkout. Nevertheless, I take us back to the waves, again and again, as Anya calls out “One more time, Dad!” There’s no need to rush, I decide, no time like right now. There is only the present, this ocean, these waves and our laughing, and the same feeling I had when I was her age, this overwhelming wish that summer would never end.

When You Go

Closed each winter, Kennebunkport’s Hidden Pond resort reopens for the 2018 season in May. One- and two-story, two-bedroom cottages accommodate up to five family members; one bedroom bungalows are ideal for couples. Virtuoso travelers receive a $100 resort credit and complimentary à la carte breakfast treats (including coffee and your favorite newspaper) delivered daily.
Home away from home: A two-story, two-bedroom cottage at Hidden Pond.
Home away from home: A two-story, two-bedroom cottage at Hidden Pond.
Photo by Hidden Pond

Out & About

A few family favorites in and around Kennebunkport. 

The first rule of summer vacations, says my daughter, is that ice cream is, in fact, a healthy snack. Start in the village center at Rococo Ice Cream (6 Spring Street), which serves handcrafted flavors such as strawberry habanero and Maine whoopie pie.
Stops at Candy Man (20 Dock Square) and The Sugar Shack (17 Western Avenue), a short stroll across the bridge in neighboring Kennebunk, let kids stock up on chocolate, saltwater taffy, and all things gummy (yes, we visited both).
A kid in a candy shop: Shopping at The Sugar Shack.
A kid in a candy shop: Shopping at The Sugar Shack.
Photo by Joel Centano
You’ll find decidedly pricey fried clams, though arguably Kennebunkport’s best, at The Clam Shack (2 Western Avenue) in Dock Square. Arrive by 11 AM or after 2 PM to avoid its inevitable long lines. Or purchase fresh lobster at the connecting seafood market for a bake back at Hidden Pond.
Beyond sweets and seafood, families frequent Kennebunk’s Brick Store Museum (117 Main Street) for insight into the region’s maritime history (plus beach and walking tours in the summer). A 45-minute ride aboard Intown Trolley (kids get to sit up front and ring its bell) offers an insider’s look at village streets, local beaches, and historic homes along Ocean Avenue. If the ride resonates, children can also hop aboard restored vintage streetcars at Kennebunkport’s Seashore Trolley Museum (195 Log Cabin Road).
For a respite from the village bustle, trek along a one-mile education trail at the nearby Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge (321 Port Road) in Wells, drive six miles northeast along Route 9 to the village of Cape Porpoise to see its lighthouse, and visit Kennebunk’s Snug Harbor Farm (87 Western Avenue), where kids can commune with miniature ponies and peacocks.

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