A family can easily spend a pleasant week or so exploring the beaches, boats, cobblestones, shops, museums, and attractions of coastal New Hampshire and Maine.
Day 1: Portsmouth
Portsmouth is a great place to begin a tour of the coast and a good base for exploring local parks and beaches. Be sure to visit New Castle Island for its historic streets; the outstanding collection of oceanside state parks lining Route 1A in Rye; and the Strawbery Banke Museum in downtown Portsmouth by the waterfront, with its historic buildings and restorations. Nearby is the lively Children's Museum of Portsmouth, with hands-on exhibits of arts and science. In town, there are plenty of shops and restaurants.
Day 2: York and Kittery
Only a 10-minute drive north, these twin towns offer a lot for families. York has a dynamite lighthouse (with homemade ice cream nearby), an amusement arcade, several excellent beaches, and the Goldenrod -- a candy store where kids can watch taffy being pulled. You can buy boxes, of course, to take home -- half the fun is deciding which candies to buy. Kittery is more for adults, but its extensive set of outlet stores also appeals to teen shopaholics.
Days 3 & 4: Ogunquit and the Kennebunks
A 15-minute drive north leads you to Ogunquit, which has enough distractions for a few days with the family. In addition to a main street full of shops, restaurants, and cafes, it has a main beach that's a vast stretch of powdery sand at low tide and has some of Maine's warmest ocean water (which isn't saying much!). Perkins Cove has sea views, ice-cream and candy shops, an excellent small bookstore, and lots of souvenirs for sale.
A bit farther north, the Kennebunks, which consist of the twin towns of Kennebunk and Kennebunkport (summer home to President Bush's family), are a great base for your next day. Here you'll find plentiful shopping, white clapboard homes, and more lobster and seafood restaurants than you can shake a fork at. If you've got time, drive out to the point of land where Secret Service guys guard the famous Bush compound.
Days 5 & 6: Portland
A 25-minute car ride will take you to Portland, which is a joy for families to explore. The Children's Museum of Maine is almost exactly in the center of Portland proper, making it a good jumping-off point for a tour of the city. The excellent Portland Museum of Art is right next door, providing teens and college-age family members with something different to do.
In the historic Old Port, Exchange Street is the key shopping address, though the side streets have much to offer. (Tip: There's an Internet cafe on Exchange Street for sending e-cards back home.) The city's tourist office -- stocked with free info -- is down at the bottom on Commercial Street. Kids will enjoy the ice-cream shops, boats, and quirky gift stores.
The Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Co. & Museum combines a leisurely, short train ride to the foot of the cliffs framing Portland's east end with an educational museum.
Another great experience is a cruise around Casco Bay on the Casco Bay Ferry lines that depart from a terminal at the foot of Franklin Arterial (across from the Hilton Garden Inn). You can take anything from a 20-minute run to a half-day mail boat cruise. Two good destinations are Peaks Island -- a favorite among mothers pushing baby strollers, with easy-to-cruise streets and Portland views -- and Long Island, with an excellent beach.
If your kids are crazy about baseball, an outing at Hadlock Field watching the Portland Sea Dogs can't be beat; it's one of my favorite minor-league parks.
Finally, young and old alike enjoy the sunrises, sunsets, picnics, sailboat views, swing sets, and ball fields of the park along the Eastern Promenade. It's one of Portland's true gems, and the perfect place to cap off a visit.
Day 7: Cape Elizabeth
While staying in Portland, plan to spend at least one afternoon hitting the string of beaches and lighthouses off Route 77 in the quiet suburb of Cape Elizabeth and surroundings, just 15 minutes from the city.
Kids will especially enjoy the Two Lights and Portland Head Light lighthouses; the eats at Two Lights Lobster Shack; and romping around in the sand and surf on Crescent, Scarborough, and Willard beaches.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.