48 Hours in York + Kittery
Summer is the perfect time for a trip to southern Maine to explore York’s beaches and trails and Kittery’s flourishing culinary scene and boutiques.
My husband and I are off to York and Kittery to visit some of the places we’ve had on our to-do list for over 15 years. My in-laws live in York, and they have graciously agreed to host the kids and dog so we can take some time for ourselves.
We initially thought we might have our dog, Merlin, with us, so we booked a dog-friendly room in the Harbor Crest Building of the York Harbor Inn. We discover that the room would have really catered to our furry family member, with a luxury dog bed, placemat, dog bowls, and treats.
Tonight we’re having dinner at The Central Restaurant and Bar. There’s a short wait, as reservations are not accepted at this small eatery, but the hostess suggests we sneak around the corner to their sister establishment, The Central Bean and Bakery, for a drink. I opt for a rosé (it’s spring after all), and my husband, Ryan, gets a local beer that’s on tap. We sit back and relax with our drinks while my phone charges (where are outlets at all the seats!) so I can capture the night.
Once we’re seated at the Central Restaurant, owner Kiersten Mayes greets us and offers some recommendations for our meal. We start with a few small plates. My favorite is the Louisiana-style fried shrimp paired with two dipping sauces: an Asian-fusion mango and a house ranch dressing. It is the perfect mix of savory and sweet. My husband, Ryan, prefers the “Dam Big” roasted oysters plucked from the Damariscotta River and topped with ginger-scallion ponzu and crunchy panko bread crumbs. For our third plate we select the Mexican street corn croquettes with lime crema and cotija cheese, topped with cilantro. It reminds of us of the traditional Mexican street food we had on vacation a few years ago. We’re almost full, but out comes our entree: bucatini with clams and the most perfect, buttery white wine sauce (thankfully we decided to split). Kiersten does not let us leave without a bag full of the house-made chocolate-chip cookies.
When we get back to the inn we check out the o downstairs, where live music is playing. We order a nightcap and plan our Saturday.
Since this is not our first time in York, we know the best place to go for bagels is the Bagel Basket. Ryan’s cousin, Chloe, happens to be working this morning. We walk out with a bag full of bagels and a selection of cream cheeses to bring back to the rest of the family. After breakfast we take the kids and Merlin to check out Cape Neddick Light, known as Nubble Light. The girls enjoy jumping along the rocky grounds while taking in the view of the iconic lighthouse. Next we head to Short Sands Beach to see if the old-school arcade Fun-O-Rama is open for the season. Unfortunately, it’s closed, but that doesn’t stop us from exploring the surrounding scene. We soon spot the bright pink bike with balloons parked in front of Sweet Josie’s Candy Shoppe. We walk in and feel like we’re in a candy dream. The store opened in 1979 and still has that penny-candy-store vibe. After about 30 minutes we leave with a selection of saltwater taffy, homemade fudge, and bin candy.
Our next stop is Long Sands Beach. Everyone is thrilled to walk along the shore—the girls dig in the sand, and Merlin runs free and makes friends along the way.
The kids are hungry, and we have the perfect solution: Flo’s Hot Dogs, which has been serving steamed hot dogs along Route 1 in Cape Neddick since the 1950s. We order three dogs with ketchup and Flo Sauce (a secret-recipe relish).
We drop off the kids and dog with their grandparents, and we’re off to Bob’s Clam Hut for our lunch. It’s our first visit to this legendary seafood shack, and we find a seat outside in the sun and order the clams “two ways” and a lobster roll. The lobster roll is overflowing with sweet delicious meat in a traditional bun. But it’s the clams that we’ll be coming back for soon. For years Bob, the owner, had made his fried clams dredged in flour with no seasoning and paired them with his signature tartar sauce. Then in 1986 Lillian Mangos joined the staff, and she insisted on dipping the clams in egg wash before dredging them in flour. We tasted both, and although it’s hard to decide, we’re leaning toward Team Lillian. At the end of the meal we cleanse our palates with a scoop of Rococo Ice Cream’s goat cheese Chambord flavor.
The Kittery Foreside neighborhood has gained a lot of attention in recent years because of its exciting boutiques, galleries, and eclectic dining. Our first stop is Tayla Mac, which offers a remarkable selection of pieces by local designers, baby items, and clothing. I’m immediately drawn to the T-shirts and walk out with a new “Mama Bird” shirt. Next we head to the boutique Folk, which is filled with clothes by some of my favorite designers such as Ilana Kohn, Ace and Jig, and Black Crane. I make a note to come back on my own to fill out my summer wardrobe.
While we’re in Folk we hear that we must visit Tributary Brewing Company and try a limited-release stout, Mott the Lesser, if there is any still available. When we get to the brewery, there’s not only outside seating but also a live band. Mott the Lesser is still on tap and does not disappoint, with an 11-percent alcohol content that goes down smoothly. Before we head back to the hotel we stop by the famous mural building that houses the vintage shops Lost Coast and Nest. Lost Coast is closed for the week, but we find some vintage barstools at Nest that might be a nice addition to our home.
Husband-and-wife team chef Justin Walker and Danielle Johnson Walker recently opened Walkers Maine in Cape Neddick. The decor is rustic-modern, with a stone fireplace in the middle surrounded by cozy seating. I start with the cocktail Spring Forward, made with Tito’s vodka, lime, cucumber, and Maine Root Ginger Brew. Ryan gets the Arborist’s Desire, a mix of Four Roses bourbon, black birch, clementine, and clove. We order a medley of dishes, including a whole roasted cauliflower with nigella seeds, honey, thyme, and crispy garlic (we promise each other we’ll try to duplicate it at home), wood-fired Japanese eggplant, hearth-roasted yams topped with feta, and tuna tostadas with bacon aioli, avocado, and cotija. We settle on smoked duck and pork for our entrees, and they are all we could have desired. The meal ends with a down-home and fulfilling banana cream pie.
For years we have heard rave reviews about the homemade corned beef hash at Rick’s Restaurant in York. When we walk in we’re greeted by several animal heads made from newspaper papier-mâché. Although we consider each getting something different, we both settle on the hash with eggs and toast. It’s just what we need to sustain us during our hike.
We summit Mount Agamenticus by following the 3.2-mile Bear Loop, which follows old roads and rock walls. It is a lovely way to start the day and take in the view of the White Mountains.
Before we pick up the family to head back to Portland, we stop at the headquarters of Stonewall Kitchen in York. The walls are lined with syrups, jams, chutneys, jellies, mustards, and sauces—even better, there are tasting stations to try all of the flavors. We pick up a few favorites to bring to the grandparents to thank them for watching our flock this weekend.
Before we get onto the highway, we pull over for one last stop at When Pigs Fly bakery. After the kids sample a few different fruit breads, they decide on a loaf of harvest bread with apples, raisins, walnuts, and seeds, and we continue on our way home, thankful to have checked off so many places on our to-do list.