Maine Beaches Guide
The southern Maine coast from Kittery to Portland is lined with broad white-sand beaches crowded with sea-goers in summer. The charming towns of Kittery, the Yorks, Ogunquit, Wells, the Kennebunks, Biddeford, Old Orchard Beach and Scarborough, each has additional attractions, from fine art museums and summer theater to good old carnival fairground rides.
Beach Towns Transportation
I-95, the Maine Turnpike, a toll road, is the fastest-speed route among these towns, but old US Route 1 goes up the coast through the town centers and much closer to the beaches. It's slower, and in high summer there can be frustrating traffic jams, but you see more.
Bus & Train
The Amtrak station in Wells is the Wells Transportation Center, 696 Sanford Road (map), just off I-95 (Maine Turnpike), which is also the local station for Greyhound intercity buses from Boston's South Station Transportation Center. See Local Transportation below for transportation to other points in Wells and beyond.
York County Community Action Corporation coordinates local bus and shuttle routes among the Yorks, Wells, Kennebunks and Portland ME. In summer (late June to Labor day), the Shoreline Explorer runs between the Yorks, Wells and Kennebunks. More...
Kittery, the most southerly town in Maine, is pretty and historic, far nicer than its commercial outlet store mecca reputation would have you know.
Outlet stores—but that's not all of Kittery.
You'll hear it and see it, and if you leave I-95 at Maine Exit 2 or 3 and go north on US Route 1 just after entering Maine from New Hampshire you'll see Kittery's 120+ shops, stores, factory outlets and similar emporia. They're ranged along US 1 all the way to York.
But there is another Kittery as well, a pretty, historic New England coastal town ranged along ME Route 130 (map) which wanders along the coast past historic Fort McClary State Historic Site, near Fort Foster and Seapoint Beach, 11 Seapoint Road, with pretty views of the sea, the forest and the salt marshes.
Plenty of room on the beach in Kittery.
Where to Stay in Kittery
The Yorks Guide
North of Kittery, south of Ogunquit, "The Yorks" (the neighborhoods of Old York, York Harbor, York Beach and Cape Neddick) (map) have natural beauty, old New England charm, long beaches, an amusement park and zoo, boutiques, a lighthouse, and plenty of history.
The Old Gaol, York.
Old York (York Village)
Old York (or York Village), inland from the beaches, is the historic town center, settled by Europeans in 1624, on the site of the Indian settlement of Agamenticus. It received a royal charter in 1639, the first English town in the country to have this privilege.
If you're interested in American colonial history, don't miss it. The Old Gaol, Old School House, Old York Cemetery, Jefferds Tavern and other historic buildings are well worth a look.
The Old York Historical Society has preserved the village's historic buildings:
Old Gaol, built as a jail in the 1700s, is now a museum of colonial and Native American artifacts.
Emerson-Wilcox House (1740) sheltered two presidents over the years.
Jefferds Tavern (1750) just across the street from the Emerson-Wilcox House, and right next to the...
Old School House (1745) a tiny place for a small number of small people.
Old York Cemetery Besides having the standard collection of fascinating old New England tombstones, there is a grave said to be that of a witch. Covered with a huge slab of stone to protect the townspeople from a reappearance, it's a real curiosity. One wonders what odd circumstances brought this poor soul such condemnation.
First Parish Church across the street from the Emerson-Wilcox House, still very much in use.
John Hancock Warehouse and Wharf, down at the water's edge, now holds exhibits on life in York during revolutionary times, but was once owned by the great patriot who signed the Declaration of Independence with a signature so large the king could read it without his glasses.
Sewall's Bridge on the York River.
Elizabeth Perkins House, built in 1730 but preserved with Victorian furnishings.
Costumed "interpreters" guide you through these historic buildings, explaining the details of daily community, commercial and family life in Old York from 1740 to 1940.
Tours run from mid-June through September, Tuesday through Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm.
York Beach, ranged along aptly-named Long Beach Avenue and Ocean Avenue (map), is the most popular and populous of the Yorks in Maine.
It offers the quintessential middle class New England summer beach resort experience. Its two beaches, Long Sands Beach and Short Sands Beach, divided by the peninsula of Cape Neddick, have plenty of space for the crowds, even in August. Just inland from Short Sands Beach are typical shops selling candy, ice cream, salt water taffy, T-shirts and other beach attire, jewelry, souvenirs and meals. There's even an amusement park and zoo.
Long Sands Beach
Long Sands Beach is just that: a l-o-n-g beach backed by Long Beach Avenue, extending from Lobster Cove in York Harbor to the south, all the way to Cape Neddick in the north (map).
At high tide, Long Sands Beach is fairly narrow. At low tide there's plenty of room for everyone. Click here to check tide times. Parking places along the beach on Long Beach Avenue are filled by mid-morning on any hot summer day.
Long Beach Avenue has several hotels, inns and snack and food stands to provide you with necessities during your day at the beach.
Short Sands Beach
Short Sands Beach, on the northern side of Cape Neddick, is shorter but deeper than Long Sands Beach, and has this advantage: the commercial center of York Beach is ranged along Ocean Avenue just inland from the water (map), so you have easy access to hotels, inns, snack stands, cafes, restaurants, games arcade, York Beach Amusement Park & Zoo, clothing boutiques, souvenir shops and other services.
Among my favorite places is The Goldenrod, on Ocean Avenue at Railroad Avenue, a restaurant, cafe and candy store where you can see old-fashioned salt water taffy being pulled, rolled and wrapped by ingenious taffy-pulling machines.
The Fun-o-rama is an old-time New England games arcade with Skee-Ball, pinball, video game booths, electric shock machines, punch-the-bully and more. Bring a lot of quarters!
Although Short Sands Beach is much shorter, it is also deeper, particularly at low tide, when the broad swath of sand allows everyone plenty of personal space. Click here to check tide times.
It's less than two miles from Ocean Avenue to Sohier Park and Nubble Light at the tip of Cape Neddick. If the weather is not too hot, you can walk there in 30 to 45 minutes.
Much-photographed Nubble Light, Cape Neddick, York ME.
Cape Neddick, at the northeastern end of Long Sands Beach, is a rocky promontory that divides York Beach's Long Sands Beach from Short Sands Beach (map). Crowned by Nubble Light (also known as the Cape Neddick Lighthouse), it's a favorite spot for fishing from the rocks, sunning, and snapping photos of the picturesque, very Maine lighthouse.
A tiny cablecar allows the lighthouse keeper to travel between the island and the mainland, but it's not open to visitors, so you must admire the lighthouse, keeper's house and outbuildings from Sohier Park on the mainland.
Just outside Sohier Park, Fox's Restaurant serves quick meals at the take-out window next to umbrella-shaded picnic tables. The interior restaurant (no reservations) serves more elaborate fare, with wine and beer.
After lunch or dinner, wander eastward uphill along Broadway to Brown's Ice Cream, another Cape Neddick standby, busy day and night with ice-cream lovers cooling at Brown's picnic tables.
York Harbor, south of Long Sands Beach at the mouth of the York River, is an upscale summer resort with a bit of the upscale ambience of nearby Ogunquit. During its 19th-century heyday, the onetime fishing village of York Harbor rivalled such renowned New England coastal summer resorts as Newport RI and Bar Harbor for Gilded Age glitter.
The Gilded Age is gone, the resort hotels have been demolished, but York Harbor retains a wonderful variety of late 1800s/early 1900s houses in Shingle style, with public buildings in Mission Revival, Colonial Revival, and Second Empire styles.
York Harbor's beaches are small, with small and exclusive parking lots. In fact, parking places are at a premium in the town, which is presumably the way local residents like it.
No matter which of the Yorks you favor, you can find available hotels, motels, inns and B&Bs using this handy Hotel Map with Prices:
The Native American name Ogunquit means "beautiful place by the sea."
Ogunquit has been a summer resort for over a century, and it's no wonder people come back year after year.
What to See & Do
Visitors feel welcome in the town, whether they're relaxing at one of Ogunquit's Beaches, strolling along Ogunquit's picturesque Marginal Way, a footpath along the rocky coast; or dining in one of the many excellent restaurants.
Ogunquit's Main Beach, Little Beach, and Footbridge Beach are ranged along a peninsula just a few minutes' walk from the center of town. Lifeguards are on duty from 8 am to 5 pm daily in summer.
To walk Marginal Way (map), start at the northern end off Shore Road. The walk to the southern end at Barnacle Billy's Restaurant in Perkins Cove takes about 30 minutes at an easy pace.
The Atlantic Ocean, the rocky coast, the gulls wheeling overhead, and the smiles of the other walkers are all a treat whether the sun is shining, or it's misty, or even if there's a gale coming.
At Perkins Cove, the picturesque old fishing-village section of town, a tiny peninsula is festooned with the quaint low waterfront shacks from Ogunquit's fishing-village heyday, now converted to shops.
Right next door to Barnacle Billy's Restaurant is the dock for the Finestkind boats. Each hour during the day, from Monday to Saturday, the lobster boats set out to cruise the Maine coast, hauling in the lobster pots and the day's catch. You can go along and have the process of lobstering explained while you view the coastline and the fishing grounds. There are cocktail, starlight, and lighthouse tour cruises as well. More...
The next thing to do is to call the Ogunquit Playhouse, 10 Main Street (US 1) to reserve seats for a performance, which will no doubt feature a star or two of national reputation. Shows are scheduled for Monday through Saturday at 8:30 pm and Wednesday and Thursday at 2:30 pm. More...
Ogunquit fills up during the summer beach-resort season, so make your reservations well in advance to be sure you get what you want. Use our handy Hotel Map with Prices to find what you want. (Don't see the map? Click here!)
Wells's seven miles (11 km) of oceanfront is mostly good sand beach, which is what brings visitors in summer.
The Wells Transportation Center, 696 Sanford Road (map), just off I-95 (Maine Turnpike), is the local station for Amtrak's Downeaster train, and also for Greyhound intercity buses from Boston's South Station Transportation Center.
From south to north, Wells's beaches are:
— Moody Beach, backed by summer homes, with little parking for visitors
— Wells Beach, the major beach with some free but mostly pay parking, reached by a causeway from the town
— Drakes Island, across an inlet from the northern end of Wells Beach, and reached by a separate road from the mainland at the northern end of the town of Wells
The major destination for visiting beach-goers is Wells Beach, reached from US Route 1 by turning east on Beach Road (look for the Wells Beach Resort Campground on the west side of US 1, and the USA Inn on the east side). It's 4/5-mile (1.3-km) from the traffic signal on US 1 to the small commercial area at the center of Wells Beach.
The commercial area has restaurants, snack stands, a few lodging places, and a few free parking places. For a larger pay parking lot operated by the town of Wells, turn left (north) onto Atlantic Avenue as you come off the causeway and proceed to the northern end of the avenue, lined on both sides with summer cottages.
Note the 16 "Public Way" paths leading from Atlantic Avenue between the private cottages to the beach. They're useful if you own or rent a cottage, but not if you've arrived by car for the day, as there is no parking allowed on Atlantic Avenue.
At the northern end of Atlantic Avenue is a parking lot charging $10 per day for non-resident cars. The beach here, a short walk from the parking lot, is called Eastern Shore, and is the widest part of Wells Beach.
It should take less than 15 minutes to walk from US 1 along the Beach Road causeway to Wells Beach.
Wells has motorized public "trolleys" that circulate on routes through the town from the Chamber of Commerce Information Center on US 1 and down Beach Road to Wells Beach, trundling visitors to and from the beach.
The Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge is on the way to Kennebunk.
Use this handy Hotel Map with Prices to find your lodgings for the perfect Wells Beach vacation.
The several communities with similar names—Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, Kennebunk Beach—are clustered on the Maine coast and constitute one of the state's most popular vacation areas.
Dock Square, Kennebunkport ME.
Of the towns, Kennebunkport is perhaps the most interesting. It's been a resort for years, drawing both the well-to-do and the student crowd living on summer earnings from their hotel, inn and restaurant work.
Kennebunkport was put on the map of the national consciousness by President George H W Bush and his family, who have a large summer home off Ocean Drive at Walker's Point.
The center of town is Dock Square, where Ocean Drive meets ME Route 9 (map). Restaurants, shops, boutiques, cafes, and the Hospitality Center are clustered here.
In summer, parking, as usual in these New England seaport towns, can be difficult.
Sometimes there are a few places on Maine Street, just east of Dock Square, but the best place to try is the fairly large municipal parking lot just beyond Dock Square: Drive through Dock Square on ME Route 9, turn left on Church Street, and the lot is a short way along on the left. The walk to Dock Square is less than five minutes.
What to See & Do
Shops and galleries around Dock Square draw lots of shoppers who enjoy spending their time browsing. then there are the beaches...
These beaches are good for swimming, especially on very hot days (the water tends to be chilly), and for walking, thinking, or jogging on almost any day.
Colony Beach is the closest to the center of Kennebunkport, 1.2 miles (2 km, 30 minutes) south of Dock Square along Ocean Avenue. Several hotels are located along this route. If you stay at one of them, you'll be within walking distance of Colony Beach.
Parking at the beach is very limited, but a parking permit is not required.
Goose Rocks Beach, six miles (10 km) northeast of Dock Square, is great for kids because of the low surf.
The 3-mile-long (5-km), wide, light sand beach is plenty big for the people who come, and the absence of surf, kept away by the reef and Timber Island, makes it safer and more pleasant for children. The beach has toilets only, no other facilities, but the Goose Rocks Beach General Store, 3 Dyke Street, offering simple lunches and beach supplies, is a 10-minute walk from the southwestern end of the beach.
At low tide you may be able to walk right out to Timber Island for a look around, but be sure to return to the mainland during low tide, unless you want to swim back.
One of the reasons the beach is so spacious and uncrowded is that parking anywhere in the neighborhood of Goose Rocks Beach, including on the street right along the beach (Kings Highway), is by permit only during the summer season from Memorial Day to Labor Day (late May through early September).
The parking permit restriction keeps casual visitors away, but permits ($30 for non-residents for one day, $100 for a week) are sold at the Goose Rocks Beach General Store, 3 Dyke Road, and at the intersection of Proctor Avenue & Kings Highway.
Plan to arrive early in the day if possible, because having a parking permit does not guarantee you a parking space. On summer weekends, particularly in July and August, be sure to arrive as early as possible.
Kennebunk Beach & Gooch's Beach
The grey sand beach slopes gently toward the sea, but the beach can be narrow at high tide. The water is usually fairly cold, and can be surfy, as the beach faces open ocean.
There are no beach facilities (that is, no toilets, changing rooms, food or drink stands, etc.).
Walks & Drives
Be sure to take a drive or a walk along Maine Street, just a block from Dock Square, for a look at Kennebunkport's fine old mansions.
The drive along Ocean Avenue yields fine views of the sea, the rock coast, and some of the grand houses and estates. Many people stop for a look at the Bush estate on Walker's Point, which was the summer White House during the presidency of George H W Bush.
Spouting Rock, off Ocean Avenue, is a natural feature, a blowhole through which incoming waves burst into spray and foam.
For a delightful part-of-the-day excursion, head for nearby Cape Porpoise, a little bit of the real Maine three miles northeast of Kennebunkport along ME Route 9, on the shore. Go for breakfast, lunch or dinner, preferably by bike.
This charming bit of Maine coastal life is a vacation haven for a small, knowledgeable few. Not fancy, not crowded, it has only a few craft shops, a half-dozen restaurants, a few guesthouses, and a lot of Maine atmosphere.
Atlantic Hall in the Cape Porpoise village center.
Cape Porpoise is good for bicycling: although somewhat hilly, the distances are not long, pretty views of the sea are plentiful, and parking a bike is as simple as parking a car is not.
Bike the mile or so to the pier, a working fishing and lobstering wharf. A brass plaque on a rock atop the sand hill there bears this legend:
August 8, 1782, a British ship of 18 guns attacked a small force of inhabitants gathered on Goat Island and was driven away by severe musket fire, losing 17 men. James Burnham of this town was killed. This tablet erected by the Maine State Council, Daughters of the American Revolution, August 8, 1921.
Parking at the pier is severely restricted, so plan to come for lunch at either the Cape Pier Chowder House, The Ramp Bar & Grill, or the Pier 77 Restaurant. The Ramp and Pier 77, under the same management, have their own private parking lot.
Not an awful lot exciting has happened in Cape Porpoise since that signal victory in 1782, and it's just as well, for the quiet is what makes it nice.
Besides the three restaurants at the pier, Cape Porpoise has several more restaurants in the village center.
East along the coast, a short drive brings you to Goose Rocks Beach and, a bit farther, to the long sand beach at Biddeford Pool.
Prices for hotel rooms and meals tend to be a bit high, but for most people the price is not so important so long as they can just find a room available in this delightful Maine town. This Hotel Map with Prices shows availability as well as prices and locations:
Biddeford Pool, Maine, is a quite private summer seaside resort with a long fine sand beach.
The long, uncrowded crescent of sand beach at Biddeford Pool, Maine.
Beach houses line the long sand beach, with older classic homes in the small village. The few beach parking lots are restricted to permit holders in summer.
Visitors (that is, those who are not residents of Biddeford Pool) can buy a temporary beach parking permit for $10, and can park at the beach lots after 12 noon (residents have priority access until noon).
As you might imagine, the broad sand beach is uncrowded.
Where to Stay
Old Orchard Beach Guide
Old time New England family beach resort atmosphere—with an amusement park and Amtrak Downeaster train station right on the beach! That's Old Orchard Beach.
Kids love the amusement park, teens love hanging out and checking out other teens, parents love the broad beach, the easy snack food, and the free band concerts in the park gazebo.
Old Orchard Beach is a vibrant survival of 19th-century New England summer beach life, updated and modernized for the 21st century, but with all the fun of the past.
That Old Orchard Beach is popular with Canadians from Québec adds to its charm. You'll hear French spoken in the streets as much as English, many signs are bilingual, and the Canadian and Québécois flags are much in evidence.
Lots of vacation lodgings in summer. Use this handy Hotel Map with Prices to locate just the accommodations you want.
Sunset at low tide on Prouts Neck Beach, Scarborough ME.
Scarborough, the town just southwest of Portland, Maine and just northeast of Old Orchard Beach (map), has beaches, a bird sanctuary, and painter Winslow Homer's studio sited on the dramatic point of land called Prouts Neck, jutting out into Saco Bay.
Where to Stay
Black Point Inn, Prouts Neck, Scarborough, Maine
A prime reason to visit Prouts Neck is to stay at the fine 3-star, 25-room Black Point Inn on Prouts Neck, 510 Black Point Road, Scarborough ME, only 10 miles (16 km) southwest of Portland, Maine (map), but a world away in terms of mood and tranquillity.
Set on a hill overlooking the sea in a realm of private estates, a country club and a yacht club, the inn is relatively small, with refined ambience and a sense of personal service.
Prouts Neck, a small peninsula jutting south into Saco Bay, is only 10 miles (16 km) south of Portland, but is a hundred miles away in terms of mood and tranquillity.
The ambience is pure, traditional New England country inn, with refined traditional decor. The living room, with large sea-view windows, has comfortable classic furniture, a large fireplace, a grandfather clock, and quiet classical music in the background.
Guest rooms at the Black Point Inn have ocean, bay or swimming pool views, supremely plush, comfortable beds, individual climate control, and all amenities. Room rates vary depending on room size, views and furnishings. In lieu of tipping, a service charge is added to the rate.
The seasonal heated swimming pool, tennis courts, fitness room, bicycles, kayaks, fishing gear, yoga classes, a private beach club, and golf privileges at the nearby Prouts Neck Country Club fill guests' time here. The Western Beach on Saco Bay is just across the road from the inn, and Scarborough Beach State Park is only a mile (1.6 km) away.
Cliff Walk, a footpath that meanders along the shore and cliffs of Prouts Neck, is a favorite walk starting right outside the Inn. Famed American painter Winslow Homer's studio, now administered by the Portland Museum of Art, is also on Prout's Neck just a short walk from the inn.
The Point Restaurant offers fine dining in the evening, and the less-formal Chart Room provides breakfast, lunch, snacks and a bar with seating indoors and on the porch outdoors with fine views of the Western Beach.
What makes the difference at the Black Point Inn is the welcome and the service: supremely helpful, friendly, knowledgeable local staff and direct family management. You'll feel at home here.