Kennebunk's downtown is inland, just off the turnpike, and is a dignified, small commercial center of white clapboard and brick. The Brick Store Museum, 117 Main St. (tel. 207/985-4802), hosts shows of historical art and artifacts throughout the summer, switching to contemporary art in the off season. The museum is housed in a historic former brick store -- yes, a store that once sold bricks! -- and three adjacent buildings. The buildings have been renovated and all have the polished gloss of a well-cared-for gallery. Admission is free (though a $3 donation is suggested), and tours cost $5 per person. The museum is open Tuesday to Friday 10am to 4:30pm and Saturday from 10am to 1pm.
Tom's of Maine (tel. 800/FOR-TOMS or 207/985-2944), a natural toothpaste maker, is headquartered here. Tom and Kate Chappell sell their all-natural toothpaste and other personal-care products worldwide, but they are almost as well known for their green, socially conscious business philosophy. Tom's factory outlet sells firsts and seconds of its own products, as well as a selection of other natural products. The shop is at Lafayette Center (corner of Main and Water sts.), a historic industrial building converted to shops and offices. It's open Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm. There's another store nearby at 1 Storer St.
When en route to or from the coast, be sure to note the extraordinary homes that line Port Road (Rte. 35). This includes the famously elaborate Wedding Cake House, which you should be able to identify all on your own. Local lore claims that the house was built by a guilt-ridden ship captain who left for sea before he and his bride could enjoy a proper wedding cake.
Kennebunkport is the summer home of President George Bush (the elder), whose family has summered here for decades, and it has the tweedy, upper-crust feel that one might expect of the place. This historic village, whose streets were laid out during days of travel by boat and horse, is subject to traffic jams. If the municipal lot off the square is full, go north on North Street a few minutes to the free long-term lot and catch the trolley back into town. Or walk back -- it's a pleasant walk of 10 or 15 minutes from the satellite lot back to Dock Square.
Dock Square has a pleasantly wharflike feel to it, with low buildings of mixed vintages and styles, but the flavor is mostly clapboard and shingles. The boutiques in the area are attractive, and many feature creative artworks and crafts. But Kennebunkport's real attraction is found in the surrounding blocks, where the side streets are lined with one of the nation's richest assortments of Early American homes. The neighborhoods are especially ripe with examples of Federal-style houses; many have been converted to B&Bs.
Aimless wandering is a good tactic for exploring Kennebunkport, but at the least make an effort to stop by the Richard A. Nott House, 8 Maine St. (tel. 207/967-2751), during your travels. Situated on Maine Street at the head of Spring Street, this imposing Greek Revival house was built in 1853 and is a Victorian-era aficionado's dream. It remained untouched by the Nott family through the years and was donated to the local historical society with the stipulation that it remain forever unchanged. Tours run about 40 minutes; it's open mid-June to mid-October 1 to 4pm Tuesday to Friday, and Saturday 10am to 1pm. Admission is $5 for adults, free for children.
For a clear view of the coast, sign up for a 2-hour sail aboard the schooner Eleanor (at the Arundel Wharf Restaurant, Kennebunkport; tel. 207/967-8809), a 55-foot gaff-rigged schooner, built in Kennebunkport in 1999 after a classic Herreshoff design. If the weather's willing, you'll have a perfect view of the Bush compound and Cape Porpoise. Fare is about $40 per person.
Ocean Drive from Dock Square to Walkers Point and beyond is lined with opulent summer homes overlooking surf and rocky shore. You'll likely recognize the Bush family compound right out on Walkers Point when you arrive. If it's not familiar from the time it has spent in the national spotlight, look for crowds with telephoto lenses. If they're not out, look for a shingle-style secret service booth at the head of a driveway. That's the place. There's nothing to do here, though, but park for a minute, snap a picture, and then push on.
A Picnic on Cape Porpoise
Cape Porpoise is a lovely little village, nearly forgotten by time, between Kennebunk and Biddeford. (And you've got to love the name.) It makes for a superb day trip or bike ride. While in the village, think about packing a picnic and taking it to the rocks where the lobster boats are tied up; watch the fishermen, or train your binoculars on Goat Island and its lighthouse. Drop by Bradbury Brothers Market (tel. 207/967-3939) for basic staples, or the Cape Porpoise Kitchen (tel. 800/488-1150 or 207/967-1150) for gourmet-style prepared meals, cheeses, and baked goods. The village has two good lobster shacks, a handful of shops, and even a postage-stamp-size library.
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