It’s amazing how much you can see on a short trip to Boston. The city center is unbelievably walkable, with history around every corner, and an exciting food and beverage scene to boot. But one of the very best parts about this area of the country is that nothing is too far from anything else, so trips outside the city are an effortless train or car ride away, whether that means eating your weight in lobster rolls in Kennebunkport; exploring witchy history in Salem; going for a waterfront stroll in Newburyport; or ferrying out to Provincetown in time for drag brunch. Here are the best day trips from Boston.
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Stay: The Merchant
Why did this hotel catch your attention? What’s the vibe? This is a place that has all the history you want from a boutique New England property. Built in 1784, the home was originally occupied by a prominent Salem merchant dealing in rum and Sumatran pepper. The bedroom where newly elected president George Washington stayed during his visit to Salem in 1789 is now one of the hotel’s most treasured suites, and the Colonial-period floating staircase is one of the best-preserved examples of its kind.
Tell us all about the accommodations. Each room is decorated differently, yet all have classic American touches and contemporary finishes. Expect lots of Colonial blue, Chesterfield upholstery, and antique woodwork in the rooms.
It’s all in the details: What were the tiny things that made your stay more pleasant?
The hotel has a breakfast buffet of both sweet and savory small plates, and individually controlled heated bathroom floors—a nice touch for New England winters.
And the service? The front desk staff is welcoming and accommodating. With only 11 guest rooms, the hotel never will never make you feel like your needs aren’t being met.
Any other hotel features worth noting? There’s free off-site parking a three-minute walk from the hotel, or you can opt for on-site parking for $25 a night. The outdoor second-floor deck is perfect for taking a break between museums—there’s a table with complimentary coffee, fresh fruit, water, and seltzer available all day.
Bottom line: Worth it?
An adorable, charming, historic place to hang your hat if you choose to spend an overnight in Salem.
Stay: The Hotel Salem
Why did this hotel catch your attention? What’s the vibe?
Salem has been on the map for Bostonians ever since the 1692 witch trials, and it’s about time that a boutique hotel brings the town into the 21st century. Whether you are staying the night or just trying to have a quick meal or a drink on the rooftop—one of the best and only rooftop bars in town—any traveler should stop here for a few minutes.
What type of travelers will you find here? Daytrippers, suburban hipsters, and tech nerds looking for a break from the city.
Tell us all about the accommodations. Any tips on what to book? The rooms, most of which overlook Salem’s historic buildings, are comfortable and clean, with a mid-century-inspired design. Suites tend to have a lofted layout with a comfortable sitting area and light-filled upstairs bedrooms, and the micro-rooms manage to marry compact design with comfortable beds and ample natural light.
We love a shower goodie. What are you likely to scoop up to take home?
You’re sure to bring home the sustainable amenities from Lather, an emerging sustainable grooming company. And iPads in every room are loaded with info about local attractions (but those stay in the room, of course).
Drinking and dining—what are we looking at? There’s no room service, but downstairs you’ll find Counter, a seasonal American restaurant specializing in can’t-miss pasta, including a knockout Meyer lemon bucatini carbonara (!). Upstairs is The Roof, a local hot spot—though also seasonal—serving oysters, tacos, guacamole, and other small plates, plus trendy summery drinks like frosé and strawberry habañero margaritas.
And the service?
The concierge has the best tips about Salem, whether it’s how to get dinner reservations, or which tour guides at the witch museums are the funniest.
Bottom line: Worth it? The Hotel Salem’s mid-century aesthetic, contemporary food and drinks, and friendly environment make it a lovely, welcome counterpoint to the more traditional and historical stops in Salem.
Ramen, in Salem? Tell us more.
Kokeshi serves up excellent, whimsical takes on Asian street food in a decidedly non-New England space that eschews a Colonial aesthetic for colorful murals and communal tables.
When is the ideal time to stop in?
Although Kokeshi is open for lunch, the real scene gets going for dinner, especially on Friday and Saturday nights. Come after 8 and you will likely compete for tables with Salem’s young hipsters and other area foodies.
What’s the best way to wash down a noodle bowl?
An irreverent list of cocktails includes Mr. T’s Mystery Tea (Jeremiah Weed, Chambord, lemon) and the must-try Kokeshi Mule (Deacon Giles spiced rum, ginger beer, cilantro, and lime). The “fermented grape juices,” as they’re called, include a couple of reds and whites, mostly from the West; cans of craft brew also are available.
Take us through the menu. What will we find alongside bowls of ramen?
A ramen menu sets this place apart from the American restaurants that dominate Salem’s dining scene; on a cooler day, there’s nothing better than a rich, spicy bowl of steaming noodles. The shared plates are equally satisfying, especially the Shaolin seaweed salad with crispy lotus root, and the steamed pork buns with shaved carrots, cilantro, and house-made chili mayo. In summer, try the chilled ramen with extra furikake.
If you’re not sure how to navigate the menu, are the staff willing and able to advise?
The staff is friendly and helpful without being pretentious, and will happily take time to explain walk you through the menu.
What’s the real-real on why we’re coming here?
If you’re passing through Salem and the weather outside is anything less than balmy, warm up with a piping-hot bowl of ramen.
Do: Pickering Wharf
Give us a little context.
If you’re looking for a cute waterfront setting in which to stroll around, shop, and grab a bite to eat, Pickering Wharf will do the trick.
Sounds fun. What are some of the highlights at the market?
There’s every sort of hand-dyed, hand-woven, hand-dipped, hand-poured gift and souvenir you can imagine here. Ocean Chic Boutique is a must-visit, and the rare finds at RJ Coins & Jewelry are worth a look-see, even if that’s not your passion. Waite & Peirce, always a mainstay, is a terrific curio shop filled with trinkets, jewelry, home goods, and historical reproductions. For dinner, Sea Level Oyster Bar is especially good; you can also see which restaurant or pub is offering live music. After dinner, grab a pint at Longboards or Regatta Pub before calling it a day.
We’re in the mood for a splurge. Where should we go?
Stop by Waite & Peirce and pick up something from Sea Bags of Maine, a local company that fashions bags from recycled sail cloth. And if you have time to spare, opt for a day sail on the Fame, an 1812 schooner replica parked right outside.
Or… the opposite. What’s the thrifty version?
Swing by Partidge In A Bear Tree for a postcard.
Who are your fellow pedestrians?
You’ll find a steady stream of people having dinner, listening to live music, and enjoying the fresh seaside air.
Once we’ve had our fill of shopping, what’s next?
The wharf ends at the Salem Maritime National Historic Site; established in 1938, it’s the country’s first National Historic Site. Today its nine acres of historic buildings and structures offer plenty of opportunities for strolling—and Instagramming.
Do: Peabody Essex Museum
To start, why don’t you set the scene.
One of the museum world’s great success stories, the Peabody Essex Museum was not always the behemoth it is today. It began as a merger of the East India Marine Society, which held one of the world’s most intact collections of seafaring memorabilia and curiosities, and the Essex Institute, a literary and historical society. Thanks to a new building in 2003 and one of the country’s most ambitious capital campaigns, the P.E.M. is now one of the largest museums in the country, in terms of both gallery space and endowment.
Sounds impressive. What are some of the highlights of the collection?
Before the new buildings, the P.E.M. was known for its collection of shrunken heads, carved ivory, and other curios. But today, it is has some of the country’s most important collections of American and Asian art and design. Natural light streams into the galleries, ensuring an atmosphere that’s always serene and never stuffy. On rainy days and sunny days alike, this is a worthwhile place to come nerd out.
What’s the best way to navigate all that history?
There are different types of tours available every day, but one of the best is the Two Merchant’s Houses tour, which compares two of the museum’s greatest treasures, curiously both built around the same time: the Gardner-Pingree house, built in Salem in 1804, and the Yin Yu Tang house, home to a single family in southeastern China for 200 years.
Who else might you spot on one of the tours or perusing the collections?
The P.E.M. is one of Salem’s major attractions, so you’ll see school groups, Bostonian day-trippers, international travelers, adult tour groups—you name it. Thanks to the museum’s spacious design, you’ll never feel like a sardine swimming upstream.
Okay, so: How is it?
This museum is extraordinary. The rich collections do a great job of honoring visual traditions and explaining their connections to real people and real places. It’s the kind of place that demands multiple visits.
Who might benefit the most from a visit, whether first-timer or repeat customer?
History enthusiasts, art lovers, design fanatics, and culture buffs alike will all find something to admire here.
Do: Salem Willows Arcade and Park
Take it from the top: What’s the general vibe here?
Located a short stroll from downtown, this quiet waterfront park has been one of Salem’s most beloved spots since the town’s Colonial days. Today it’s the perfect way to kill an hour or two.
And to kill an hour or two, what are our best options?
The small park is packed with plenty to do. You can grab a snack at one of the restaurants along the southern edge, ride the carousel, or play a round of skeeball with the kids (or a fun-loving date) at the arcade.
Give us a sample itinerary.
Salem Willows is perfectly digestible in a single trip. Do as the locals do: grab a bag of fudge from E.H. Hobb’s candy shop, located on the park’s eastern edge; snag a bench overlooking the water; and watch the sunset before heading to dinner.
Sunset, you say?
On nice days, the park gets busy. For fewer crowds, come later in the day so you can watch the sunset over the water.
Do: Salem Witch Museum
If we’re in Salem, a stop at the Salem Witch Museum seems inevitable. What makes this an essential visit?
The Salem witch trials of 1692 carved out an enduring and powerful niche in American history for this little town, and this intimate, kitschy museum does an excellent job telling the story. Whether you’re visiting Salem for the restaurants, the ocean, or just some New England history, you owe it to its most infamous legacy to spend an hour learning more about what landed it on the map.
How does it place visitors in 1692?
The first part of the Salem Witch Museum is an audiovisual reenactment of the trials, complete with disembodied voices and life-sized wax statues—it’s a bit campy and corny, but that’s all a part of the fun. After that, you’ll find yourself in the “Witches: Evolving Perceptions” exhibition, which examines what it means to be a witch. By the time you walk through (which should only take about an hour, tops), you will have more than a rote understanding of what happened at the witch trials.
If you’ve been before—or after you’ve spent your requisite hour with the permanent collection—is there anything else to see?
This museum has had the same two exhibits as long as anyone can remember, but that’s why we love this place. The dramatic lighting and wax museums are just spooky enough to summon the spirit of the witch trials without being off-putting for children.
What did you make of the crowd?
This is an essential Boston-area school-trip destination, so make sure you come first thing in the morning or toward the end of day to avoid the school busses.
And how quickly can we be in and out?
The building is quite small, so you’ll have no problem conquering it in an hour or so.
What should we pick up on the way out?
There’s a fittingly witchy gift shop filled with all sorts of tchotchkes and collectibles, including spell books, tarot cards, cups for reading tea leaves, and a selection of history books.
Stay: Blue – Inn on the Beach
Does Blue – Inn on the Beach live up to its name?
To find a hotel that qualifies as more “beachfront” than Plum Island’s charming Blue Inn, you’d probably have to be in the water. Located on a quiet end of the beach, the hotel has Ocean View suites that open directly onto the dunes.
Who else will be there?
Despite its extraordinary location, the Blue Inn manages to avoid throngs of tourists. You’re more likely to encounter native New Englanders on a staycation here than rowdy out-of-towners.
Given the choice, where should we be staying here?
While it might set you back a bit more, go ahead and book an oceanfront suite—watching the sun rise over the water from the comfort of your bed will be worth every penny. The decor is refreshing, coastal-feeling, modern, and, well, mostly blue.
What are the highlights of the rooms?
Most rooms come with private decks, or balconies and fireplaces. Not that you’ll be in your room much; the inn has a beachside hot tub, where all the action goes down; never mind the beach itself. Wifi is fast and free.
We might not be in our room much, but say we’re craving a night in—what are our dining options?
The property has only 13 guest rooms and a handful of cottages, so staff is able to offer each guest undivided attention, whether it’s delivering breakfast to your room—croissants, coffee, overnight oats, and fruit in an adorable lobster trap—or making tips about where to grab dinner in town.
We’re road-tripping from Boston. Where do we leave the car?
Each room comes with a dedicated parking spot—a crucial perk in an area where parking can be tricky.
Bottom line: worth it, and why?
This painfully cute seaside inn makes a compelling case for turning your day trip to Newburyport into an overnight. That way, you can stay late at dinner in town and not worry about hauling back to the city—and when you wake up, you’ll most likely have the entire beach to yourself.
What’s the vibe at Brine?
This intimate space has just 50 or so seats, and an interior that feels more sophisticated than your typical seafood joint—think exposed brick, Carrara marble, Edison bulbs, and aluminum-wrapped tables.
What’s the crowd like?
Brine’s modern take on coastal New England classics tends to draw in a young, hip, discerning crowd.
Sounds like there might be a compelling drink menu.
What the cocktail list lacks in length—there are usually only five or six options—it makes up for in high-quality spirits and fresh, seasonal ingredients. It’s hard to go wrong: the “N.41,” for instance, is a blend of charred rosemary gin, Luxardo Albicocca, citrus, and mint tea syrup. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more creative cocktail list in Newburyport.
And the food? What’s the best thing to pair with a charred rosemary gin?
The menu consists of unique interpretations of top-notch meats and fresh seafood; take, for example, the clam chowder that switches bacon bits for soft slices of pork belly. But whatever you end up ordering, make sure to start with the Power Tower seafood platter—oysters, shrimp, crab, lobster, and littleneck clams—and end with the salted caramel soufflé.
If you have questions, are the staff there to help out?
The inviting, cheery staff will help you navigate the menu or, if you’re looking to go the small-plates route, suggest a good plan for sharing.
How does Brine elevate your average seafood joint?
Come here for proof that New England’s culinary scene is very much capable of more than lobster rolls and fried clams.
Do: Park River National Wildlife Refuge
Why is Parker River worth a stop in?
Conservationist Rachel Carson once called Parker River National Wildlife Refuge “New England’s most important contribution to the national effort to save the waterfowl of North America.” The eight-mile barrier island is accessed from just outside Newburyport, and stretches south all the way toward Ipswich. This is one of the state’s best preserved coastal refuges, so you’re unlikely to find a more unspoiled spot this close to Boston.
Sounds like an escape. What will we see these days?
A leisurely walk along the Hellcat Interpretive Trail will bring you through freshwater marshes, vernal pools, dunes, and maritime woodlands.
Venturing into the wilderness, how can we get our bearings?
It’s pretty difficult to get lost on this narrow island, but there are several posts along the way with educational information. Make sure to climb a few of the observation lookouts to find top-notch photo opportunities. There are brochures and helpful staff to guide you at the entrance.
What’s the main takeaway?
This is a great stop to learn about local wildlife and see what this coastline looked like before the Pilgrims arrived.
Do: Riverside Cycle
Why should we stop in at Riverside Cycle?
One of the joys of escaping Boston for the day is immersing yourself in some wide open space; here, you can rent a bike and ride out to the beach.
What do they have?
Riverside Cycle, located in the center of town, has a selection of bikes and gear to suit everyone from novices to Tour de France trainees.
If you’re going top of the line, what’s your selection?
If you’re planning on working up a sweat with a daylong ride before coming back to Newburyport for dinner, reserve a lightweight carbon fiber road bike at $75 a day.
For the more budget-conscious, are there alternatives?
Entry-level bikes—perfect for getting to and from the beach—start at $25 for a half day.
Do: Newbury Port Whale Watch
What are we getting into as we set sail?
This is by no means a high-gloss affair, but the guys behind the wheel of the “Captain’s Lady III” know exactly what they’re doing. With all the ease and élan of well-seasoned seamen, they bring groups of whale watchers just a few miles up the coastline to the Gulf of Maine, which is a hub of whale activity from May through October. The multi-level boat is spacious and fits a decent amount of people, but never so many that you’ll be clambering over each other to get a good view.
What special accommodations are available?
A ramp on the pier makes this an accessible experience, and if you’re looking for other mobility considerations, simply ask a crew member—they’ll be glad to help.
We’re here for the whales. What will we see?
Whale watching can be a bit of a crapshoot, but the seasoned pros on board do their best to find the large marine mammals in the Gulf of Maine. On certain cruises, the whales make themselves known right away; on others, they might take their time. Staffers also are adept at quickly differentiating between minke, humpback, and fin whales.
How is the crew?
There’s nobody more plugged in to a seaside town’s goings on than a sailor, so make sure to corner a staff member or two so you can pump them for Newburyport tips. The crew is exceedingly aware of safety and sustainability precautions—they’ll never bait the wildlife and they always take care to keep a good distance.
Coming out of it, what’s your main takeaway?
This delightfully lo-fi boat ride feels like an experience that’s been passed down for generations.
Do: Plum Island Beach
Give us the wide-angle view: what kind of beach are we talking about?
It doesn’t get much more quintessential New England than this clean, pristine beach.
Is there anything that sets this apart from the other New England beaches?
Make sure to head all the way to the northern end so you can tramp around the Newburyport Harbor Light lighthouse area, and watch the boat traffic go in and out of Newburyport from across the water.
What’s the best way to get there?
It’s a quick, straightforward car or bike ride out to the beach from Newburyport town. Parking fills up quickly, so if you have a car make sure to arrive first thing in the morning.
Do: Mass Audubon Joppa Flats Education Center
We’ve just dropped in. What will we find?
Sometimes a quick, learning-focused pit stop can help make the most of your day trip. This center, operated by Mass Audubon, is a rich resource with plenty of observation decks, touch pools, exhibitions, and guided talks to facilitate a deeper understanding of just how ecologically important this part of the coast is.
How does it manage that?
There’s a little bit of everything, all related to promoting education about the area’s wildlife: indoor and outdoor observation areas, touch tanks for the kids, art displays, and scientific exhibits. This is certainly no American Museum of Natural History, but it gets the job done. The center reflects the small, very specific ecosystem in which it’s located, effectively conveying salient, interesting information.
Who else is perusing the exhibits and taking in the sights?
You’ll encounter all sorts of people here, from school groups to bands of die-hard birders.
What’s the best way to see Joppa Flats—and, importantly, what accommodations are made to make it accessible?
The center itself is a manageable size, perfect for day trippers looking for just a taste of education before hitting the beach. Mass Audubon is also a fantastic organization in terms of providing accessible spaces and programming for special needs visitors.
You mentioned guided talks—are the tours worth attending?
Whether you’re a birder or not, it’s worth dropping in for a guided tour, which are led by Mass Audubon guides. The area has a surprisingly rich biodiversity of avian species, even attracting bald eagles in winter.
Eat: The Canteen
Tell us about your first impressions when you arrived.
Part classic New England clam shop and part millennial catnip, this perfect lunch spot has something for everyone.
Who is that “everyone”?
A younger crowd sharing everything from lobster rolls to quinoa bowls.
Tell us more about the drinks.
There’s a short but great list of wines by the glass, as well as some cute cocktails (like the “Vermont,” made with maple syrup, white Port, and lime), but The Canteen is known for its addictive frosé. Proceed with caution—or you might end up missing your ferry home.
What are our best bets to soak up some of those cocktails?
It’s difficult to find a place that does a lobster roll as well as it does a quinoa bowl, but Canteen hits the mark.
How was the service?
The counter service keeps things moving, but you’ll still be able to linger after you grab your order.
After you’ve paid your bill, what are your lasting impressions?
A go-to lunch spot for Provincetown locals and day trippers alike, The Canteen is as good for a leisurely sit-down meal as it is for a beach-bound takeout order.
Eat: The Red Inn
Tell us about your first impressions when you arrived.
It doesn’t get more classic New England than this painfully cute red house, which was built in 1805. If you’re looking for a dining experience that’s more refined than the typical Cape Cod greasy spoon, The Red Inn is where it’s at. Best of all, the restaurant is located on the quiet West End, far from the madding crowds on the other side of Commercial Street.
What’s the crowd like?
The crowd here is tame, especially when compared to other P-Town restaurants.
What should we be drinking?
The Red Inn offers all sorts of inventive cocktails that pair well with long days on the beach, including the “Teatini,” made with Early Gray vodka and a sugar rim. Go at Happy Hour and you can enjoy a round of drinks on the dock and watch the tides come in and out.
Main event: the food. Give us the lowdown—especially what not to miss. This place serves some of the best food on the Cape. Start with a plate of goodies from the raw bar, then try the oyster brochettes with remoulade or the cod with rosemary and potatoes.
And how did the front-of-house folks treat you? The Red Inn is known throughout Provincetown for its service. Ask the staff to recommend something from the raw bar and a wine to pair with it—you won’t be disappointed.
Why is the Red Inn worth a stop?
If you want a proper sit-down lunch before or after doing the more buzzy parts of Provincetown, this is the spot.
Eat: The Lobster Pot
Does the Lobster Pot live up to its name?
There’s something perpetually charming about the hustle and bustle of a New England seafood shack, and The Lobster Pot checks off all those boxes: buzzy atmosphere, efficient service, the scent of steam and butter, and, of course, great local fish.
If you’re in the know, what do you order?
Daytrippers and locals alike swear by the fried clam platters and big steamed lobsters, which are doused with clarified butter.
What’s available to drink?
A good wine list: everything from light and crisp whites to rich, full-bodied reds.
So it’s a classic New England seafood shack, but we’re sure there’s something that sets it apart.
This place improves on the New England classics (steamed lobster, lobster rolls, fried clams) by offering a few globally inspired dishes, like the Shellfish Algarve and the Cajun Bouillabaisse.
And how did the front-of-house folks treat you?
What the staff lacks in charm it makes up for in efficiency. You might feel a tad bit rushed, but that’s all part of the fun.
Why is the Lobster Pot worth a stop?
Hectic atmosphere aside, this place is an institution, and any day tripper looking for a lobster fix should stop in.
Shop: Marine Specialties
What were your first impressions when you arrived? Commercial Street is home to an entire slew of souvenir joints, galleries, and home decor shops—but none of them hold a candle to this wacky hole in the wall. It’s been a Provincetown institution for 55 years.
What can we find here, or what should we look for?
It’s difficult to put Marine Specialties into a single category. It’s part military surplus, part tchotchke shop, part nautical knick-knack, and everything in between. You can find old life jackets, nautical rope, every sort of shell accessory, Provincetown T-shirts, and all sorts of crazy-cool objet.
If money’s no object, what goes in the cart?
The antique mermaid-shaped ship figureheads lying around would make for one heckuva of a souvenir.
And what if we’re on a budget? Not keen on lugging around a hulking antique all day? Then just pick up a nautical rope bracelet—it’s a Cape Cod tradition.
Do: Pilgrim Monument
Tell me: What’s this place all about?
The Mayflower stopped in Provincetown for a couple of weeks before moving on to Plymouth. This monument commemorates its short stint on the Cape, as well as the signing of the Mayflower Compact in Provincetown Harbor in 1620. At 252 feet, it’s the tallest all-granite structure in the country.
So what does that mean?
Ask any Provincetown regular, and they’ll say that Pilgrim Monument, which rises over the horizon, is a familiar sight that welcomes them again and again to this seaside village.
Is there a guide involved? There aren’t any guides, but a few informative plaques at the base of the monument discuss its history, including how President Theodore Roosevelt laid the cornerstone in 1907.
Who comes here?
It takes a certain type of visitor to climb the 116 steps and 60 ramps to the top of the monument, but if you can manage it, the views are well worth it.
Why is it worth a stop?
Although Provincetown is best known for its shopping, nightlife, and beaches, Pilgrim Monument is an enduring symbol of this little town’s important place in American history. Start your day trip here—you’ll get a bird’s-eye-view lay of the land.
Do: Long Point Wildlife Refuge Beach
Give us the wide-angle view: what kind of beach are we talking about? You’ll really feel like you’re at world’s end at this secluded beach. The literal tip of Cape Cod, it’s surrounded by water on three sides and hardly ever gets the tourist throngs that Provincetown’s more central beaches do. It takes a bit of effort to get out here, but trust us, it’s worth it.
So set the scene: What do you see?
There was once a small community out here, but today there’s little more than a single lighthouse.
If we’re thinking about going, what—and who—is this beach best for? The beach is a bit of a walk from Provincetown proper, and the ferry only runs every two hours or so; if you aren’t much of a beach lover, it’s not worth the trek. But if some uninterrupted sun is your thing, there’s no place better place to find it.
Tell us about your first impressions when you arrived.
A fire crackles year-round in the gargantuan fireplace at one end of the dining room, which is marked by all manner of natural elements—cross-sections of wood (or “pickles” as they’re called here) pattern the walls. A preserved apple tree strung with lightbulbs fashions the central chandelier. A breezy, screened-inn porch overlooks a serene pond and fire pits. Candles flicker at every turn.
What was the crowd like?
There’s nothing subdued about Earth’s dining room vibe; diners come to have a loud, good time. Even so, the food is as much the point of an evening here as a good time, and is at the center of this locovore’s haven.
What should we be drinking?
One sip of the Goose Rocks Gimlet (a meticulously balanced mixture of Clock Farm Vodka and house-made lime cordial with a smattering of slightly spicy ground pink peppercorn) and you know these bartenders aren’t messing around. Drinks are made from local ingredients whenever possible, and created around what’s available in the property’s gardens. The wine selection is equally well thought-out: It brings in robust selections from vineyards in Argentina and Chile one minute, and the Middle East (particularly Lebanon) the next.
Main event: the food. Give us the lowdown—especially what not to miss.
With dishes like handmade ravioli bursting with lobster, crab, and Boursin cheese, Executive Chef Joe Schafer proves he knows the rules well enough to break them. The dish is a creamy, salty, sweet marvel. Ditto his fried heritage chicken, a format for two that employs fruity local tomatoes and peaches, luscious Buratta and tangy peach gastrique to carry through every light-yet-crispy bite. The kitchen emphasizes its partnerships with area farms such as Tibbits’ Edibles, Browne Trading Co., Clover Leaf Farm, Chick Farm, and its own Hidden Pond Gardens.
And how did the front-of-house folks treat you?
Earth has its good days and its bad days. On one visit, everything was spot-on. Our server was well aware when we needed more wine, ready with answers about how the specials were prepared, and arrived almost instantaneously with a napkin after a water spillage. But other nights we saw some lapses, like plates not being cleared and a half-hour passing before we were shown a dessert menu.
What’s the real-real on why we’re coming here?
This is a place for celebration as well as one that can handle big groups (I had my 20-person rehearsal dinner here). On any given night you’re likely to find couples returning for annual anniversary dinners or simply ecstatic to be here for the first time.
Do: Goose Rocks Beach
Give us a first impression of stepping on to this beach?
Walk past the swanky Tides Beach Club private area (where all the matching chaise lounges and umbrellas are), and settle your feet into the soft, white sand. Then look up, and notice the width of the beach; bordered by the Cape Porpoise neighborhood to the southwest and the Granite Point neighborhood of Biddeford to the northeast, it’s a sweeping beach dotted with small islands and rocky pilings that break up the horizon.
How accessible is it?
While the beach is totally open to the public for no fee, the area around the initial entryway belongs to The Tides Beach Club, so the public needs to settle in around it (though that isn’t too hard, given that the beach is about 3 miles long, and it’s about a one-minute walk to the public areas). In the summer, anyone eating or staying at The Tides can park in the inn/restaurant’s parking lot in back; anyone else must have a Parking Sticker to park on the street, which needs to be bought in advance of going to the beach through the Kennebunkport Town Hall.
Decent services and facilities, would you say?
Neither food nor drinks are offered on the beach, but the Tides restaurant is just across the street for upscale sandwiches and lobster rolls to take to go and enjoy on the beach. There are no bathrooms, changing areas, or cabanas.
How’s the actual beach stuff—sand and surf?
As Maine beaches go, this one is exceptional for one thing: its powdery-white sand. There’s nary a big rock (let alone the dunes that are almost all rocks that you’ll find at most Maine coves) anywhere here. So you can enjoy a smooth, two-mile walk from the entryway to the other side of the beach’s crescent. The three mile width lets everyone have some breathing space even on the hottest summer days, and even though Maine waters are known for being frigid, Goose Rocks Beach’s small, rolling waves ebb in and out of multiple tide pools making a pleasant wading pool experience.
Can we go barefoot?
Again, this is among the sandiest, least rocky beaches in Maine. To be clear, that doesn’t make this the Caribbean, but your barefoot walk will be much more comfortable here than elsewhere in the state.
Anything special we should look for?
Not only is this Maine, it’s Kennebunkport; you’re as likely to find a beach vendor or a food truck in this mannered arena as you are a Fyre Festival revival. That said, one of the best places to grab an easy, wallet-friendly snack is Goose Rocks General Store, where you’ll find first-rate breakfast pizzas and cheeseburger subs to go.
Ultimately, what—and who—is this beach best for?
For Kennebunkport visitors who want immediate access to nature, Goose Rocks is a sure bet. If pin-drop quiet, complete serenity is your jam, there are other beaches around Maine that will do that better. But given the cost (free) and the hassle of parking (minimal, if you get a parking pass in advance or grab lunch at The Tides Beach Club across the way), it’s one of the easiest-access, most enjoyable beaches in Southern Maine.
Stay: White Barn Inn
Why did this hotel catch your attention? What’s the vibe?
I’ve stayed at The White Barn Inn at least 13 times in my life, and I’ll never forget the first time I drove up. It was 5pm, and my boyfriend and I were staying there, but about to be late for dinner in the dining room at 6pm. We’d called ahead, told them we were rushing, and I needed a few minutes to get ready for dinner in my room. When we arrived, there were three men there: One to take my hand, one to take all the luggage; one to bring my boyfriend to check us in.
What’s the backstory?
Not for nothing has White Barn Inn been blessed with just about every hospitality and dining award possible—from the endless applause of regional magazines and AAA five diamond ratings to a spot on Traveler’s Gold List. Previously designated as a Relais & Chateaux member, in 2013 it became part of Grace Hotels and then the Auberge Resorts Collection. Meanwhile, since its opening in 1973, it has been a draw for couples seeking enchantment and celebrities seeking discretion. About the latter the seamlessly professional staff stays conclusively mum, but know that there have been plenty here. And they’ve indulged in all of what the decadent property has to offer—the infamously rich lobster fettuccine with cognac coral butter sauce; the 90-minute Himalayan Salt Stone Massage in the spa; the hand-packed picnic baskets made for sunrise (or sunset) beach picnics. All of it.
Tell us all about the accommodations. Any tips on what to book? There are three levels of lodging: guest rooms, suites, and cottages. In the junior suite, the most impressive of the rooms in which I’ve stayed, details are genuinely looked after—decadent fabrics on the king bed (and at every turn, from the cushions to window treatments), fresh flowers, a double-sided fireplace, and a spa-like bathroom with a jet-tub for two.
Is there a charge for Wi-Fi?
The resort charges a daily fee of $35 that’s added to the room rate, and it includes Wi-Fi. [See below for what else it includes.] It works very well throughout the property.
Drinking and dining—what are we looking at?
Jonathan Cartwright was the first chef to put the 19th century barn on America’s culinary radar screen, and made it into a destination restaurant. He was brought on by the Inn’s original owner, and he led the drive to turn Maine ingredients and rustic specialties into exalted dishes. These days that honor falls to Chef Matthew Padilla, who has stepped into Cartwright’s shoes and risen to the occasion. At dinner—when jackets are required—that means tasting menus full of over-the-top luxurious creations such as foie gras torchon with strawberries and fennel jam. He serves his own rendition of Cartwright’s signature dish, lobster fettuccine in a cognac sauce; it’s now a lobster and morel linguine with carrots and Calabrian chili. It’s all served with elegance on white linen-covered, candlelit tables beneath spotlit exposed beams decked out with artwork, American crafts, and farming tools. At breakfast (which is included if guests book the ‘bed and breakfast’ rate) there are dishes like lobster eggs Benedict and customized omelets that arrive with a scrumptious side of duck fat potatoes.
How was the service? Starting with the formal-but-warm welcome from your car as you arrive to the easy check-in and charming banter as you’re ushered to your room, service is superb. Staff come from all over the globe, and have extensive top-level international hospitality experience. What’s more, they’re genuinely enthusiastic about the experience the property offers, and it shows in details like their familiarity with the menu of champagnes and recommendations about hikes in the area. And the concierge arranges virtually anything your heart desires, whether that’s a private bike tour around the beaches of the Kennebunks, a hot air balloon ride, a cooking class, or a private dinner in the restaurant’s wine cellar.
What type of travelers will you find here?
The majority of guests are couples of all ages who, if not actively participating in a courtship ritual are on a romantic getaway. When groups do appear, it’s often to celebrate a graduation, or a genteel family reunion.
What about the neighborhood? Does the hotel fit in?
Set apart from the relative frenzy of downtown Kennebunk and Kennebunkport (come summertime, Dock Square is packed with families on the hunt for ice cream and fried clams, beachgoers, and window shoppers), the Inn sits quietly in its handsome residential neighborhood. If not for a small white sign at the end of the driveway, you may not even know it’s here, driving by on your way to the nearby beach. That said, a 15-minute stroll or five-minute bike ride from the inn will put you in the rest of the town’s action.
Is there anything you’d change?
What’s most remarkable about The White Barn Inn is the extent to which they seem to have thought of everything. The fresh flowers in the hallways; the complimentary port in the sitting room; the soothing repertoire played nightly by the dining room’s piano player; the umbrellas held for guests as they arrive; the cosseting massages in the spa. You walk away from a stay here wondering why all of life can’t be this seamless. It’s nearly impossible to imagine anything that needs changing.
Any other hotel features worth noting?
The resort’s daily fee of $35 includes not just Wi-Fi, but a continental breakfast, an afternoon tea and snacks, bicycles, and pool access.
Bottom line: Worth it? Why?
Not only is it worth it, don’t be surprised to find yourself eagerly planning your next visit. And between now and then, thinking back to the bliss of your stay, with all of its special touches, exemplary food, and nearly clairvoyant service.
What were your first impressions when you arrived? The view speaks for itself at this aptly named restaurant, where every table offers sweeping panoramas of the Atlantic.
What’s the crowd like? Guests may have been playing on the water or running around on the beach all day, but this is the kind of place where everyone takes a break, showers, and dresses up before dinner. For its location in a town that is delightfully unpretentious, Ocean is a refreshingly refined dining room where the best of New England seafood and produce come together in a fine dining experience. If you’re planning one nice dinner during your visit, make this it.
What should we be drinking? Make sure to get there well before your reservation so you have ample time to enjoy a cocktail on the veranda before sitting for dinner. Your Blood Orange Cosmo will taste that much better as you sip it while staring off over the surf. There is a surplus of locally made spirits on the cocktail list, so if there isn’t anything to suit your fancy, the bartender will certainly whip something up to pair with your meal, your mood, or both.
Main event: the food. Give us the lowdown—especially what not to miss. New England fine dining doesn’t get much better than this. Classic dishes are reimagined with decadent, locally grown touches. Instead of a steamed lobster in a plastic basket with a lemon wedge and some sad French fry situation, your lobster comes butter-poached with black truffle gnudi, morels, and a Maine uni emulsion. Other dishes get similar treatment, such as the swordfish, which comes with crispy escargot, pea purée, trout roe, and a limoncello emulsion.
And how did the front-of-house folks treat you? A far cry your typical seaside resort town bar and grill, the staff here are refined, knowledgeable, and just absent enough.
What’s the real-real on why we’re coming here? There are so many cheap thrills in a town like Kennebunkport, but Ocean is an enduring testament to the fact that sometimes, an upscale dinner is money well spent.
Shop: Snug Harbor Farm
Give us an overview of the shop. There’s a saying in Maine, that this state is “the way life should be,” and Snug Harbor Farm is one of the purest expressions of that fantasy. Located a few minutes inland away from the bustling tourist spots in Kennebunkport lies this bucolic garden center, laid out as an idyllic woodland farm complete with roaming chickens, ducks, and peacocks. It’s less like a shop and more like a Martha Stewart movie set. And you’re going to want to buy everything.
What can we find here? This is southern Maine’s gardening paradise, where every gardening supply you could ever want is on display—from potted trees and topiaries for that farm you’ve been dreaming about, to tiny succulents you can actually take home to your apartment in the city.
If money’s no object, what goes in the cart? There is often a rotating selection of artwork from local artists on display, whether it’s a sculpture to place in your own country garden or a landscape painting to hang in your studio apartment.
And … what if we’re on a budget? Those succulents come in various sizes and shapes that make great gifts and are easy to carry home.
Who else shops here? Perhaps the best part about Snug Harbor is that it feels worlds away from the tourists you’ll encounter in other parts of the Maine coast. This is where the region’s most dedicated gardeners come to get their annuals and exchange town gossip. Listen up and you might overhear a memorable story or two.
Any secret tips? Make sure to check the farm’s website—in the warmer months especially there are often drop-in gardening workshops so you can really make the most of your visit by learning a thing or two from these experienced green thumbs.
Eat: Rococo Ice Cream
Okay, you’ve just walked in. First impressions?
Mainers take their ice cream very, very seriously. At this pint-sized Kennebunkport mothership (there are a few other locations around the Maine coast), it’s not uncommon to see a long line outside the door and down the block—but trust us, this is ice cream worth waiting for.
What can we find here, or what should we look for? Inspired by her years spent exploring Argentina, founder Lauren Guptill set out to create an ice cream shop that fuses New England dairy with “flavor profiles from every corner of the world.” The result is a hole-in-the-wall that has achieved a cult following not only for its chocolate, vanilla, and real mint scoops, but also for its more inventive concoctions: Cuban Coffee, Persian Love Cake, Green Tea Ginger, and Garam Masala, just to name a few. If some of the more out-there combinations intimidate you, start with the slightly less unexpected, Rhubarb Sage.
Main event: the ice cream. Give us the lowdown—especially what not to miss.
If you really want to up the ante, Rococo offers a selection of different cones, as well, including traditional waffle and sugar sones, dark chocolate, and pretzel cones. Ask your scooper for their advice on pairings. If you’re absolutely enamored and want to bring the Rococo experience home, don’t fret—they offer nationwide shipping so you can enjoy as much Horchata Rumcake ice cream as your heart desires at home.
What’s the crowd like? Anyone and everyone who likes ice cream makes a pit stop at Rococo. Yes, there will be the vacationers and summer residents, but you’ll also be brushing shoulders with tried-and-true Maine locals.
What’s the real-real on why we’re coming here?
You know that quintessential New England ice cream shop smell? Part fresh cream, part sugar on the air, part toasty waffle cones? Yeah—you’ll definitely get that here.
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