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Thursday, August 10, 2023

Summer weekend in Southern Maine

When I think of Maine, I think of rocky coasts, national parks, puffin and lighthouse tours, lobster everything, epic restaurants in Portland, so many craft breweries, foggy islands, whale watching tours, and moose sightings on the lake. I’ve been up to Maine a handful of times to hike Acadia, stroll through Bar Harbor, get married on a lake, cruise around Bar Harbor, and hike the Katahdin, Maine’s tallest peak 

What I never really associated Maine with, was beach towns and boardwalks, amusement parks and family vacations. Of all my trips to Maine, this was the first time we made a point to stop at the beach, and do some of the touristy things like dinner in Ogunquit, a day at Wells Beach, and an overcast morning at the Old Orchard Beach boardwalk. After a few beach days on the southern seacoast of Maine, I can officially say I GET IT. Loud and clear. I get why families flock to the beach, why kids crowd the arcade and couples walk the boardwalk. It’s sort of like the Jersey Shore without Jersey: i.e. less people, more lobster. 

My first thought was “why am I driving to the beach when I live in a beach town” but once you set your chair in the sand, you just know it’s different. Gorgeous wide sandy beaches with room to sprawl out, tides that let little wade and play in the tide pools, just enough of a surf where kids can ride the waves on the boogie boards but you don’t have to worry about crazy waves and currents. The water looked tropical and no seaweed in sight when we were there. The parking can be limited and the towns busy, but it never feels overwhelming. The water is cold but its wildly refreshing when you get to enjoy a hot summer day on Maine’s sandy shores. You have lobster rolls and smoothie bowls, tourist traps with t shirts and fried dough stands all around. It really and truly feels like a vacation where long days on a salty sandy beach and warm nights on the boardwalk allow you to truly unwind.

In my 20s, it was all about big hiking trips and epic outdoorsy adventures but this chapter of life, in my 30s with two very little kids, it’s a different scene and a drastic change of pace. Sometimes we are all up at 5am and scootering to the playground in early morning light. Plans and centered around nap times, early dinner means 5pm, and we are all out like a light by 9. In my mind, I’m willing them to grow up a little for some fun future adventures to waterparks and adventure zones. Then I remind myself there is something so simple and sweet watching our son clamber around the tide pools, go down the slide for the 55th time, or the pure and extreme joy that comes with an ice cream cone.

As our babies turn into heavy toddlers, we find ourselves hiking with heavy packs a bit less and pushing strollers a bit more. Maine proudly boasts the name “vacationland” and after spending time deep in the woods on top its tallest peak, and swimming in the Atlantic on picture perfect beaches, I totally see why. New England summers never feel long enough but that way makes them so wildly special. A state once full of epic adult focused adventures is a new family wonderland. If like me, your first thought is to head north to Maine’s foodie city, or even farther to hike its highest peaks or enjoy New England’s only national park, I have to tell you to consider a stop on the southern seacoast. Throw your hiking boots aside, grab a beach chair and a lobster roller, and unwind.

What we did: 

  • Day at Wells Beach ($20 parking, quick easy walk to the beach, no bathrooms or showers)
  • Morning at Old Orchard Beach boardwalk and arcade (rides open at 4pm during the week)
  • Swimming at Wassamki Springs Campground (great little freshwater pond for swimming)

What we ate: 

  • Bandito’s Mexican Grill in Ogunquit (great food, terrible service)
  • Big Daddy’s Ice cream in Ogunquit (really big portions, really good ice cream)
  • Grilling at the campground (simple food and time spent with family

Where we stayed: 

  • Wassamki Springs Campground near Portland (cute campground but a little ways from the coast and quite loud with the nearby airport) 
  • *Friends of ours had an AirBnb in Seaglass Village cottages in Wells that were really nice with a ton of amenities. 

What we saw in the area but didn’t have time to do: 

  • Amusement park Palace Playland at Old Orchard Beach
  • Funtown/Splashtown USA waterpark and amusement park
  • York’s Wild Kingdom
  • Mini golf in the beach towns
  • Hiking around Portland
  • Ogunquit shops 
  • Smiling Hill Farm

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