The best things to do in Kittery, Maine, for foodies, history lovers, shoppers, and more.
Coastal Maine has long been a favourite spring time destination for my family. I love shaking off the last days of winter and road tripping to the shore to soak in the gorgeous gardens (seriously, does everyone here have a green thumb?) and listen to the waves, and maybe search for a bit of beach glass. While there are no shortages of sweet spots to base ourselves, we've grown partial to one area in particular. There are so many things to do in Kittery Maine that we always find ourselves happily occupied for a long weekend and we usually start planning our next trip on the drive home!
On our most recent trip to Kittery, Ryan and I brought along our dog Oliver. Oliver is one discerning traveller and he loved every spot on our list! I bet you will too.
Things to do in Kittery
Fort McClary State Historic Site
Fort McClary is a delightful spot. This state historic site is small enough to visit in less than 30 minutes but you could just as easily spend a few hours, enjoying a picnic and exploring some of the hikes along its property. There are wonderful water views plus some unexpected treats, like flower beds planted to reflect common medicinal plants that would be used in home remedies to treat ill and wounded soldiers. From a practical point of view, we appreciated the clean outhouses, free parking, and dog-friendly environment.
This site dates to the late 1700s when the property was acquired by William Pepperell (we'll talk about his son later...), a shipbuilder who established rudimentary defences in 1689. As you might imagine, over the centuries the site's fortifications evolved in sophistication and the blockhouse you see dates to 1844 (and now serves as a museum).
Visiting this attraction costs $3 for Maine residents and $4 for non-residents. There is no ticket selling office on site and you pay your admission by dropping money into a marked box at the gate. As such, hold onto your coins so you're not caught empty-handed when you visit! (You can read up on the different fees and discounts for state parks here).
Kittery's Beautiful Beaches
Kittery and its surrounding communities (including York, Ogunquit, Portsmouth, Rye, and Hampton) is home to gorgeous beaches. One of our all time favourite things to do in this area is visit in early spring, just when the ice and snow has cleared but long before most people are dreaming of sun and surf, and take a walk along the shore. Oliver loves it and it always feels like such a wonderful way to shake off winter and usher in warmer weather (though, to be clear, the Atlantic Ocean was as frigid as ever when I dunked my feet in early May!)
At some of the area's smaller beaches you'll see terse signs stating that parking is for residents only. If you're staying at a private rental or an inn that boasts beach proximity, be sure to inquire about whether the proprietors leave a parking slip for guest use. Otherwise, you might be faced with a bit of a hike since your out-of-town plates won't be welcome.
Shopping the Kittery Outlets
Confession: I didn't do any shopping on this trip! But it seems somehow wrong to talk about Kittery and not mention its most popular attraction, the outlet shops.
I'm probably the last person on the planet to have figured this out but just in case I'm not alone... Outlets are just regular stores. Sure, they like to pretend that they have different stock than their shopping mall counterparts or that they offer killer deals. Nope, nope, nope. Maybe once upon a time outlets were places where major brands sent their end of season rejects and clearance leftovers and sold them for a song but that ship has long sailed. I bet I'm sounding very much like a curmudgeon right now. Sorry, shopping fans!
What outlets do have going for them is that they are much more attractive than a blah shopping mall featuring outdated architecture and shuttered flagship stores and they often feature a number of brands that aren't always found in the same spot. If you like shopping, I hope you love it! At the outlet's website, you can sign up to get electronic coupons.
Lady Pepperrell House and the Old Burial Ground
Built in 1780 by the widow of Sir William Pepperrell (son of the Fort McClary founder), the Lady Pepperrell House is one of the most beautiful examples of Georgian architecture in all of New England. But that beauty came at a terrible cost. Pepperrell was a slave trader and you have to assume that a great deal of the fortune that funded this home came from his involvement in the slave trade. This side of the Pepperrells' life is rarely discussed and Sir William is much better known for his efforts fighting the French to gain control of Fortress Louisbourg in Nova Scotia (a site I know well, having grown up nearby. You can read my Louisbourg visitors guide here.)
Today, the Pepperrell House is a National Historic Landmark and is privately owned but does open for events several times a year. You can learn about the Pepperrell family's connection to slavery and about the local history of enslavement in this illuminating article.
Next door is the Old Burial Ground, across from the First Congregational Church of Kittery Point. There are pretty views of the water from the graveyard and the old headstones, some dating back hundreds of years, are very interesting.
John Paul Jones Memorial Park
For those of you who are a bit behind on your northeastern American naval history (ahem, just about everyone), Jones hoisted the first United States ensign over a naval ship. A later ship under his command was the first to be saluted by the French. These are apparently big, important things when you're struggling to form a country and thus Jones is often being called the father of the American navy. (For what it's worth, it seems that for every heroic deed, he committed two dubious ones). Given that Kittery and nearby Portsmouth are major naval centres, it seems fitting that Jones be honoured here.
In a confusing twist, this pretty park named for him is actually a memorial to World War I soldiers. The relief sculpture you see above is the work of Bashka Paeff and is a rare example of a war monument done by a female artist.
Red Door Pottery Studio
What is it with me and Ryan and pottery? It has to be one of the least practical things to buy when you're travelling and yet we do it ALL THE TIME. Who can forget the time when we brought home an entire dinner set from Italy in Ryan's backpack? By that standards, our visit to Red Door Pottery was rather tame. We couldn't resist their outdoor display of odds and ends, which featured a sign saying to take a piece in exchange for a donation to the food bank. What a great idea! The artist cleans out some of their older pieces and project leftovers and we get some cool knick knacks, all for a wonderful cause. I grabbed a tiny vase (or was it an espresso cup....) that had little pottery plant labels to use in my herb garden.
Kittery Community Market
While we weren't able to stick around to check out the Kittery Community Market ourselves, based on the signage we saw, it looks like a popular community event and they often feature live entertainment. Double check their hours, but for now this seasonal market operates on Sundays from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM.
Visit Ogunquit, York, and Portsmouth
Kittery's neighbours are equally charming. Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is one of the best shopping and coffee destinations around (and we've been there before for a $200 travel challenge, so it's budget friendly too!) York is filled with historic properties and some of the most coziest houses and gardens imaginable. And Ogunquit is an awesome arts destination and home to terrific pizza. Every time we visit, we grab a pie at the Cornerstone and I swear it gets more delicious every time we try it.
When you're road tripping with a dog, in uncertain spring weather, in a pandemic, you realize pretty quickly that you better be happy doing a lot of scenic drives and Kittery and its neighbours did not disappoint in this regard. There are gorgeous lighthouses, parks, and nature areas. All we needed were some yummy snacks to fuel our adventures and we found them in spades.
Where to eat in Kittery, Maine.
Lil's Cafe and Maine Squeeze
These two next door neighbours made up my favourite flavours of Kittery. Lil's Cafe is a sweet cafe and bakery. They serve up everything from avocado toast and pastries to oat milk lattes and fresh blueberry muffins (which I absolutely loved). You might want to allot extra time for your visit on weekend mornings. Just about everyone seems to be popping in for just-out-of-the-oven homemade bread, coffee, and crullers. Keep your eyes opened for the semi-hidden record store in the back! If you have the choice between visiting at the beginning of your trip or the end, go at the beginning. They have a bulletin board filled with community event announcements, helpful if you are looking for some travel inspiration.
Lil's next door neighbour, Maine Squeeze, is set up in the most random of little buildings. What did this small hut used to be? It's a former bank kiosk! You'll want to hit them up and withdraw some yummy smoothies and juices.
Fans of creative donut flavours will love Lovebirds. This coffee and donut shop has ample vegan options and plenty of unique taste sensations, including a guava jelly donut (which I ordered, above), and flavours like carrot cake, cherry lime rickey, Boston cream, and chocolate coconut. I'm glad I stopped in for a treat at the beginning of a long day spent exploring.
Stonewall Kitchen Cafe
I'm absolutely obsessed with Stonewall Kitchen's food and household products and, while they're technically next door in York, Maine, I think they're well worth including as the Stonewall Kitchen Cafe is so close to the Kittery outlets. You can expect an affordable mix of classic sandwiches, hot dishes like hamburgers and tuna melts, hearty salads, and several lobster dishes. I ordered the grilled Brie and fig jam sandwich, which came with a pickle and a side of kettle chips. Loved it! (You can see their menu here).
For those sticking just to Kittery, there is a branch of Stonewall Kitchen among the outlets. There's also a store just down the road in the centre of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. But I think there's something nice about being at the company's flagship store.
Kasha's Kitchen and Chun Ping Lau
If you want quick, easy, and affordable eats, both Kasha's and Chun Ping Lau should be on your radar.
Kasha's is a humble, unassuming little diner next to a gas station. You'll find it across from the Coachman Inn and just down the road a bit from the outlets. Ryan gives their all-day breakfast high marks and had good things to say about the eggs Benedict he ordered.
Their next door neighbour is Chun Ping Lau, which specializes in Chinese-American takeout. Given that we were traveling with Oliver, easy takeout options were a priority for us and Chun Ping Lau was just what we needed. We were very impressed by their huge servings and their beef teriyaki appetizer got high marks from us.
The Maine Beer Cafe
We appreciated this friendly pub not far from the outlets. Maine Beer Cafe staff kindly brought out a bowl of water for Oliver and accommodated us switching tables so we could get out of the wind. Their burgers were good, the salad was really fresh, and we liked getting a small bag of kettle chips instead of French fries. Their list of local beers and ciders is impressive.
Speaking of beer... one place we didn't make it to this time was Kittery's Tributary Brewing Company. But based on reviews, it sounds like the kind of spot that all beer lovers should have on their list.
Warren's and Bob's Clam Hut
If you're a seafood lover, we suspect both Warren's and Bob's should be on your list. Alas, we know absolutely nothing about Warren's except that they have a big sign and that they boast the seacoast's finest salad bar. We didn't eat here, nor did we even go close by. Ryan is allergic to lobster so we stayed away. We did, however, have a good laugh at a seafood joint that chooses to brag about their salad bar? Who does that!? Shouldn't you brag about your lobster? In any case, we think those of you who can eat lobster should check it - and the salad bar - out and report back to us.
Unsurprisingly, we also didn't visit Bob's Clam Hut by the Kittery Outlets for the same reason (well, because Ryan's allergic - we had no qualms with Bob's signs!) However, I have eaten a lobster roll at Bob's on a previous visit and enjoyed it.
Where to stay in Kittery, Maine: My review of the Coachman Inn
In the spirit of looking on the bright side of life, the Coachman Inn cannot be beat in terms of location and price. It is within walking distance of Kittery's outlets and it surrounded by restaurants, services, and amenities. It also cost far less than other properties in the area and had the tremendous bonus of being pet friendly. Had we stayed in something slightly fancier next door in downtown Portsmouth, we likely would have doubled our budget - boo! So we were very grateful to be in the heart of Kittery and paying a comparatively modest price. And, as Ryan noted, there's a lot of evidence that the owners care. They're friendly and welcoming and the modest rooms were well appointed in the sense that they include a microwave, fridge, and coffee maker. We were happy that the bathroom towels were not transparently thin like the ones you find in most motels.
However... It wasn't great. Our room smelled overwhelmingly like cigarette smoke. I suspect that the pet friendly rooms and the smoker-friendly rooms are one and the same there. I can absolutely see the logic in this from the motel's point of view. However, the first 24 hours of our stay were especially pungent thanks to the cloying smell of cigarette smoke. As well, people were smoking a substance of a different kind across the hall from us. As the doors weren't exactly a snug fit (we could see a ring of light shine through all four sides of the door frame when we turned out the lights) all smells from the hall flooded into our room. Ugh.
The smell dissipated over the course of our three day stay and I slept well, so my final verdict is somewhere in the middle. I'd give the Coachman Inn a 5 out of 10. However, the property is well ranked by others online. My best advice? Take my review with a grain of salt. It's just one woman's opinion! We've stayed in both far better and far worse properties and, depending on what you're looking for, this might just be your perfect choice for where to stay in Kittery.
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