In coastal Maine, Kennebunkport and Kennebunk make up a popular holiday area that's referred to as "the Kennebunks" -- generally known as a more upmarket, small town-y escape compared with hip sister city Portland to the north. Travelers stop in to taste the state's famed seafood and farm-fresh cuisine, browse the boutique stores and galleries, and rest their heads at the historic inns. You may not find too much nightlife here, but beautiful views and picturesque strolls come in spades.
Of course, all of this can cost you a pretty penny in the summer months, particularly for those checking into a nicer bed-and-breakfast or a tucked-away resort. That's why we love visiting in winter, when it's quieter and when properties are steeply discounted, sometimes by half 50 percent. You'll actually be able to get a table at the restaurants that do remain open, too, without having to spend a half hour hunting for parking space as you might in July or August.
For those seeking smart luxury in down season, here's a guide to what is open and what to do.
What to Do
Right in downtown, the number of Kennebunkport's boutique shops that stay open is just right. It's enough to keep browsers and art lovers happy for the weekend, but not so many that you'd feel the pressure to rush from store to store. Our favorites include hyper-local Minka, owned by a husband-and-wife duo that creates their own natural skincare line and employs local artisan to produce the handbags, clothing, and jewelry that they design. You'll find souvenirs with nautical flavor at Daytrip Society; the aptly named Whimsy Shop sells the lobster claw ornaments pictured above. Abacus -- showcasing everything from laser-cut birch bowls (as featured in nationwide museums) to handmade jewelry -- doubles as a gallery. If you love all things shiny, Compliments Gallery features works from some of the most beloved glass artists around.
Just further afield are a few activities that winter can exclusively claim, including an afternoon of ice skating at the Waterhouse Center's new rink, now in its second season. Keep going north and you can dive into snow fun on the cheap at Harris Farms (weather permitting). Cross-country skiing is $12 or $15 per day, and group and private lessons are $18 and $30, respectively. Ski, boot, and pole rentals are $15 -- but you can also get snowshoes for $10, skate skis for $22, and pull sleds for $5 per hour.
Where to Eat
No trip to Maine is complete without some lobster, even when famed staples like the Clam Shack and Mabel's Lobster Claw are closed for the season. In Cape Porpoise, The Ramp Bar & Grill introduces a quirky but appealing sports theme -- complete with a bench made of baseball bats. The crunchy lobster roll, waterfront views, and the chance to chat with patrons who grew up down the street aren't bad either. But don't leave the neighborhood without grabbing a cookie from Cape Porpoise Kitchen. We love the molasses ginger one that's as big as your face (and only $1.95).
If almond croissants and decadent lattes are your idea of a good start to the day, head over to Mornings in Paris for breakfast. The French-inspired cafe is known for concoctions like a salted caramel latte and amaretto hot cocoa, and lovely details like the wrought iron lamps and art print cup sleeves all help visitors feel like they're truly Parisien(ne). Nearby, H.B. Provisions is a good store to pick up snacks -- the whoopie pie is a local favorite -- as well as to-go lunches.
For a sit-down meal, David's KPT affords a modern atmosphere with wrap-around dock views. Here, tuck into dishes like a duck breast, vegetable potsticker, and egg platter for breakfast; lobster ravioli for lunch; potato-crusted haddock for dinner. Good to know: Happy hours extend from 3 p.m. till close at the bar on Mondays. And be sure to check the calendar at Table Maine, a pop-up restaurant and event space that partners with the best venues in the area, from the much-hyped Earth at Hidden Pond to Portland's Allagash Brewing.
Specials & Promotions
To further entice travelers to make a winter trip, Kennebunkport has kicked off a Paint the Town Red campaign for the month of February. It encompasses a month of hotel promotions (more below), limited edition menu items at restaurants and bars, and special classes and dinners. Even the stores and spas are taking part, offering 10-40 percent discounts or tossing in special gifts.
Where to Stay
Old and new meet at the Kennebunkport Inn, a former tea merchant's mansion that's been welcoming guests since 1899. A three-stage renovation between 2012 and 2015 here introduced refurbished guest rooms, a new terrace with an outdoor fireplace, and a new restaurant and bar. And its location, right off of Main Street and the main square, can't be beat. This month, weekends are as low as $139 per night -- less than half of what a summer weekend would cost you. All guests enjoy free WiFi, complimentary bottled water, and afternoon hot chocolate in the reception area -- a winning combination when paired with the crackling fireplace on a frosty winter day.
As part of the Paint the Town Red campaign, the inn is also offering a two-night Love KPT weekend package. The $250 per night promotion folds in daily breakfast for two at David's, one dinner at One Dock Prime, and a delivery of wine, chocolate-covered strawberries, and whoopie pie. Late checkout, if you want it, is also included. Other participating properties include the AAA Four-Diamond Captain Lord Mansion, offering third nights free (among other discounts), and the airy, 16-room Captain Jefferds Inn, offering a two-night package with amenities like a group sleigh ride.