CAMSAP and Patronin family members regulate microtubule minus-end stability and localization and thus organize noncentrosomal microtubule networks, which are essential for cell division, polarization and differentiation. Here, we found that the CAMSAP C-terminal CKK domain is widely present among eukaryotes and autonomously recognizes microtubule minus ends. Through a combination of structural approaches, we uncovered how mammalian CKK binds between two tubulin dimers at the interprotofilament interface on the outer microtubule surface. In vitro reconstitution assays combined with high-resolution fluorescence microscopy and cryo-electron tomography suggested that CKK preferentially associates with the transition zone between curved protofilaments and the regular microtubule lattice. We propose that minus-end-specific features of the interprotofilament interface at this site serve as the basis for CKK's minus-end preference. The steric clash between microtubule-bound CKK and kinesin motors explains how CKK protects microtubule minus ends against kinesin-13-induced depolymerization and thus controls the stability of free microtubule minus ends.