Old Orchard Beach Maine for the Whole Family
By Kate Hartshorne
Nestled into seven miles of white sandy beach, Old Orchard Beach, Maine, and its surrounding community is the perfect place for a family vacation. This long strip of heaven is ideal for swimming, sandcastles, or digging for clams.
Having frequented this part of Maine often with my parents when I was a child, I had no recollection of what to expect as I made the short drive from western Massachusetts with my husband and two boys.
Having children of different age groups (10 and 2) and different interests, and a husband with different hobbies from my own, family vacations are not always easy for us to plan. How do you find an area that will truly be fun for the whole family? We did; the answer was Old Orchard Beach.
Upon arriving at Old Orchard we were taken aback by the large number of hotels ready to accommodate us right on the beach. Small motels with starting prices as low as $50 per night during the off season, to larger more luxurious suites on the beach, as well as larger cottages big enough for the whole family.
The locals warned us that lodging fills up in the summer months, so get your reservations in quick if you want to catch the good deals.
It's All Right on the Beach
The amazing thing I noticed immediately about Old Orchard was that everything was happening right on the beach or just steps away, even accommodations without a view of the water were no more than walking distance away from the sand.
Our pick for the weekend: The White Lamb Cottages. Part of the Edgewater Hotel on West Grand Avenue in Old Orchard, the White Lamb will rent you a beautiful two bedroom cottage decorated to the nines in a 1940’s motif.
But don’t be fooled by the old school décor, this cabin comes complete with all the modern amenities from a full kitchen to a Jacuzzi tub. With beds for six, hot coffee and muffins delivered to our door in the morning, and 100 quick steps to the ocean, my family was in heaven.
The cottages were located in an area that was quiet enough to sleep late into the mornings, as our pre-teen enjoyed, but still only a half-mile from the center of town.
The beach was an impressive stretch of white sand and cold blue water, a perfect swimming beach, if you can stand the icy cold Maine water. The locals let on that the best beach time in Maine comes in early September, as the water warms up and the price of fresh-caught lobster drops.
For our June vacation we had plenty of fun just walking on the beach and digging for crabs. Even my husband Francisco, a native of the Caribbean, was able to wade into the chilly water surf to land himself some prize shellfish. Back in the cabin they went into the pot and into his belly faster than I could change out of my bathing suit.
What should we do?
The biggest dilemma surrounding our ordinary family vacations is the question of how to keep the four of us entertained. Old Orchard solved that problem for us right off the bat: there is an amusement park cleverly built right on the beach in the center of town! As the last seaside amusement park in the Northeast, the entrance to Palace Playland is always free, so for those of us who just like to watch their children ride, there is no added cost.
I was able to push Nathan around in his stroller and check out the view of the ocean while Francisco and Carlos mounted the bumper cars over and over until they were dizzy with delight, living proof that some things you never grow out of.
We quickly learned that there were two other amusement parks right down the road from the beach, so much adventure we were unable to see it all in one short weekend. In the evening we headed out to Pine Point, to the famous Clambake restaurant; my parents’ favorite when I was little.
The Clambake has much of the original furniture and charm, along with dozens of tables framing a large wall of windows overlooking the marsh. We squeezed into a booth to enjoy our fried seafood.
The Clambake is definitely not for dieters -- most of the good stuff is either fried in oil or dipped in butter --but what’s a vacation without something to work off when you come home? After our meal, we rolled ourselves out of the restaurant and watched the sunset from the harbor at Pine Point.
The silence was captivating, the only sounds of seagulls flapping their wings and boats bobbing up and down in the wake. Golden rays of late day sun bounced off the water as the sun dipped behind the clouds to say goodnight.
Cotton Candy on the Old Pier
Shopping is a big plus in Old Orchard for those who need a day off from the beach. Local shops fill the town center and the old pier, with goods as eclectic as handmade board games to toe rings, funky t-shirts, and homemade cotton candy. While shopping, don’t forget to treat yourself to a basket of pier fries or a scoop of ice cream from one of the many delicious take out stands downtown.
With its honky-tonk roots and its newfound charm and sophistication, Old Orchard has grown into a community that suits everyone’s needs. Mike Dickinson, owner of Dickinson’s Homemade Candy, a local candy shop that specializes in salt water taffy and other goodies, has lived in Old Orchard all his life.
“If there’s one thing I want to stress about Old Orchard,” Dickinson says, “It’s that it’s family friendly. They [the town managers] have a fantastic vision for the future”.
Dickinson began working at the candy shop back in 1983, and purchased the business in 1993. His chocolate-scented shop is a great place to give your kids a treat as you watch the candy-makers stretch long rolls of taffy in the window.
Golf and History
Whether it’s lounging on the beach, shopping downtown, or golfing 18 holes at the Dunegrass, there is definitely enough to do to easily fill a week or more.
Hop on a fishing charter for some adventure over the open water, or canoe through the salt water marsh on a guided nature tour for only $11 per person. The activities at Old Orchard Beach are not only fun, they are surprisingly affordable, and great for kids.
For those traveling history buffs, the old Harmon Museum provided me with a wealth of knowledge about the history of Old Orchard, including the fire of 1906 that destroyed the old pier: you would never know it from the looks of things now, the pier is the center of the town’s night life!
As a woman who is constantly on the go, it is always important for me to have the chance to slow down during my vacation. Waking early in the morning with my younger child, the beach was a quiet paradise for us and a few early fishermen. Nathan splashed in the wake and ran from the approaching waves while I sat in the sand and breathed in the salty air.
For those of us who relish the opportunity to slow down for a minute, the coastline of Old Orchard offers the peace and tranquility of a Caribbean island, without the long travel time or the costly expense. Add a fresh caught Maine lobster to the menu and my family and I will be heading back again soon.
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Kate Hartshorne is an expert on families: she helps create them! A maternity nurse who lives in Northfield, MA with her family of eight, Kate is also an expert on family travel and she shares her insights with our readers on GoNOMAD.com. Kate strives to give you the biggest bang for your buck on a family vacation, she scouts out the best without breaking the bank.