Kennebunkport is a nice little Maine town. Stroll around Dock Square in the village center and you’ll find plenty of shops to spend your money in and a few good restaurants to curb your appetite. Take a ride along Ocean Avenue past the Bush Compound at Walker’s Point and I’m sure you’ll find the scenery spectacular. Spend some time on Goose Rocks Beach if you’re lucky enough to find a parking spot and you’ll marvel at the lovely summer homes there. All well and good, but it’s not the “real” Maine.
To find some semblance of Maine in its genuine article form within this region of the state you have to drive up the coast a couple of miles to the fishermen’s pier in the Cape Porpoise section of Kennebunk. You won’t find any fancy sports cars or luxury sedans in the parking lot – at least not before sunrise. All you’ll likely encounter are smelly pick-up trucks with chain smoking fishermen of all ages inside of them waiting for the first light of day to signal it’s time to crank up the boat engine and head out to sea. Likewise, you won’t spot a Hinckley sailboat or a massive yacht moored there. The status symbol of choice here is a lobster boat.
The pier does share a parking lot with its neighbor, the Pier 77 restaurant. Since this establishment is popular with tourists, you might spot an occasional Porsche or BMW in the lot around dinner time. I’m told that the food is good there but I much prefer the more Maine-ish adjacent pub named The Ramp where I highly recommend the fish-n-chips. Any restaurant with lobster buoys dangling from its siding unmistakably shouts “real” Maine.
Driving down to Cape Porpoise to catch the sunrise last Saturday I pulled into the lot at the same time as a vehicle with California plates. A middle aged couple got out and I could tell by their gear that they were both photography enthusiasts. I struck up a conversation and learned that they were on a four month cross country journey in search of “real” America. They had left their home in northern California in early August and traveled up the Oregon coast before heading to Yellowstone National Park. They later witnessed the total solar eclipse near Omaha, Nebraska and stopped at countless other places before arriving in Maine. Cheap motels and Airbnb’s were the extent of their accommodations.
They spoke of driving up Route 1 all the way to Eastport – the nation’s easternmost township and the first place in the US to see the sun on most days of the year. Having been to Eastport on several occasions for work related purposes, I can attest that it is not situated exactly on the edge of the earth but you can see the edge from its fishing docks. My favorite time to visit is when the Chamber of Commerce hosts the “vacant building” festival down on Main Street (anyone who has been to this economically depressed town knows what I mean).
I offered them a few tips regarding several other obscure Maine photo destinations including Lookout Point in Harpswell and Five Islands Lobster Company in Georgetown. And since they were going to Eastport anyway, I highly recommended the WACO Diner right on the waterfront for breakfast. In all fairness, I did preface my recommendation with a disclaimer that one didn’t go there for the food or the service but rather for the “experience”. It’s the only restaurant I know of that offers eggs scrambled, sunny side up, or cracked raw into your warm glass of beer (a local Downeast delicacy). Ask if there is a table available and the hostess will tell you “go and check for yourself”. On the plus side, you might just spot a whale while dining on their deck. If you want “real” Maine, oh baby, this is it!
From Eastport, the couple planned to visit New Hampshire and Vermont for peak foliage season before returning home via a southern route with stops in the Smoky Mountains and the Grand Canyon.
I commend these two for their free spirited-ness and desire to see not only the country’s iconic vistas and attractions but the off-the-beaten-path destinations as well. Since that aligns with my aspirations, we might just cross paths again.