Family Reunion Vacations: Kennebunk, Maine

Family Vacation in Maine: Surfing, tide pools, fishing and more

This was our 5th vacation in the Kennebunk/Kennebunkport, Maine area and we’ve always had a wonderful time.  This year, however, the kids said it was the best vacation ever.  We didn’t actually have a family reunion this year though we did briefly see my sister and her family in Connecticut right before this trip but we did see many, many multi-generation families at our hotel as well as lots and lots of well-behaved dogs.

The tidepools are why we go back, or at least, that is what I thought.  My husband always helps the kids catch an aquarium of sea creatures that go into a large bucket and are returned when we leave the beach:  small crabs, an occasional fish, and sea urchins.  So I thought I’d be really Type A and buy books on tide pools to read before we left and while we were there so that the kids can identify their finds and learn more about this ecosystem.  My husband and I both grew up in beach towns albeit different ones and exploring tide pools as children are fond memories for both of us.

The first book, What’s in the Tide Pool?, was meant for my five-year-old and he did enjoy it very much.  Exploring an Ocean Tide Pool was appropriate for my 10-year-old and 8-year-old but I’m not sure if they actually read it cover-to-cover and I suspect they thought it was boring but useful.  I asked them if they thought I was a lunatic mom for making them read about tide pools while playing in tide pools and they all rolled their eyes and said, “Yeah!  Duh!  You’re crazy!”  Still, I was undeterred.

The sun was really intense so on our second day we took the kids to Portland, Maine to the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine.  What do you know?!  We arrived just in time for the 1/2 special touch and feel tide pool exhibit!  It was fate!  The museum docent was so lovely and enthusiastic that my kids followed her to the next exhibit on photography but while we were touching the sea creatures, she told me about her favorite tide pools in Maine:  Popham Beach about one hour north of Portland and Crescent Beach in Cape Elizabeth which is 15 minutes south off Route 7.  She said to check the tide charts to arrive at low tide, but that it was totally worth the additional one hour drive north to Popham where the tidepools are vast and spaced out like little islands that you can hop to. We didn’t make it to either but she raved about them and we’ll definitely plan it into our next trip.

Instead, the next day we chartered a boat for a two-hour fishing trip on the “Allyson” off  The Landing in Kennebunkport.  It was near our hotel and the only option that allowed short trips.  Captain Tom Mansfield is really nice and my kids had fun catching Bluefish as well as breezes as it was a scorching hot day.  My husband thought the outing was very well priced.  The only bummer was that we were staying in a hotel so we couldn’t eat our catch so the fish all went back to into the sea and we watched them swim away.  Bluefish are surprisingly hardy creatures!

The highlight of the trip was … ta da … surf lessons!  Who knew there was great surfing in Maine?  I grew up next door to Huntington Beach in California which is a surfing mecca of sorts but I don’t surf.  My kids had made several trips to the local toy store and bought inexpensive boogie boards which lead to surfing lessons in one easy go, once I discovered Aquaholics, a great surf shop.  The nice owner, Nanci,  connected us with an amazing surf instructor for our girls named Alicia.  What was very cool is  that she also a science teacher!  And what do you know?  She threw in marine biology into the surfing lesson mix when a very nice woman kept bringing us whole sand dollars (echinoderms!)  knowing that they are a rarity that my children delight in.  My girls are now converted surfaholics and dream of the next time they can catch a wave!

Food Finds:

We had lunch at Happy Teriyaki which is walking distance from The Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine.  There wasn’t much food at the museum and there are a lot of other child-friendly restaurants within a block of the museum.  You will pass some as you search for parking lots nearby.  We were delighted to find Korean and Japanese food and thought this restaurant was a nice respite from the heat and seafood we were consuming daily while on vacation.  My husband was able to read the Korean characters to score naengmyun, a cold noodle dish that is hard to find and difficult to do well.  It was delicious!

Mabel’s Lobster Claw was a short walk from our hotel and we ate so many meals there that they started to treat us as regulars.  The food is great.  They do take reservations but it’s a small restaurant and can’t handle large parties but is perfect for lunch if your family reunion party splits up on their own for lunch.  Everything is good here and I especially liked the blueberry tea bread and mini corn muffins that they serve gratis as their bread offering.

Noonan’s Lobster Hut never disappoints.  But remember to bring cash and come early as it’s a popular spot.  I don’t know their secret for their exception lobsters but I suspect it has to do with the lobster catch that arrives off the boat daily.  Be sure to save room for the homemade desserts.  The apple pie is what your grandmother would make if she grew up in the mid-west and baked from scratch every day (which is, of course, not my grandmothers, but a mythical pie baking one that you’d see on old TV shows).

Here’s a link to The 10 Best Lobster Shacks in Maine from Travel and Leisure Magazine.

p.s.  Alicia, our surf instructor extraordinaire, is working on a children’s book about a girl who loves to surf.  Stay tuned!

If you are interested in either tide pool book, please click on the image of the book to view at Amazon.

By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. Nanci

    Thanks for the great plug. Alicia Amy is a great surf instructor, so happy to share the stoke, and a fabulous science teacher, enthusiastic and knowledgeable. We tried to get the “surf and science” program going this year. I thought it was a flop, apparently not! We’ll give it another go next summer. Thanks for the kind words! I posted the blog to Alicia’s FB page.

  2. Alicia Amy

    Thanks for the good words. I am still plugging away on my book. I work on it every morning (as long as there is no surf.) It is about a hard core girl and the ocean.

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