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Old Orchard Beach, Maine’s Premier Family Beach Resort
Once poetically described as the “garden by the sea,” Old Orchard Beach has attracted holiday makers since 1631, and remains one of Maine’s most beloved seaside vacation destinations today. Many families happily return to a favourite cottage, campground, or beachfront hotel here year after year, for so many of its pleasures are truly timeless: swimming in the Atlantic Ocean, riding the carousel at Palace Playland, and watching the “best fireworks display north of Boston” are only a few of the memories waiting to be made in this charming corner of New England.
A day at the beach.
With seven miles of pristine, sandy coastline, moderate summer temperatures, and lifeguards on duty, Old Orchard Beach is understandably popular with young families, though travellers of all ages enjoy swimming, sunbathing, kayaking, and jet-skiing here. Even those who hate getting sand between their toes are drawn to the waterfront by the historic Old Orchard Pier. Once the longest steel pier in the world with its own locomotive and a swanky casino, the Old Orchard Pier was damaged by a series of fires and storms before being completely rebuilt in 1980. Today, the pier is nearly 500 feet long, and offers a lively mix of restaurants and bars. Tourists and locals alike gather on the Pier every Thursday night in the summer to watch the fireworks while enjoying a fresh Maine lobster or box of Pier Fries; though the locally famous restaurant is no longer located on the pier itself, these crinkle-cut delights are well worth a stroll down to Old Orchard Street.
To everything, there is a season.
While there’s no denying that summer is the most popular time to visit Old Orchard Beach, the fun does not end when the temperatures start to drop and leaves start to turn. In early Fall, active travellers can compete in the Beach Raid, a heart-pumping race complete with boot camp stations, or take part in the Lighthouse Bike Ride: routes range in length from 25 to 100 miles, with the longest featuring a total of nine lighthouses. Truly brave souls can suit up and head to the beach on New Year’s Day for the Lobster Dip: “Maine's original and largest ocean dip” is an annual fundraiser for the Special Olympics of Maine. And Spring in Old Orchard Beach is certainly not without its attractions: hotels are little easier to come by before the hottest weather sets in, and with May comes Chowderfest, Beerfest, and the Memorial Day Parade.
Buckle up and brave the coasters of Palace Playland.
New England's only beachfront amusement park, Palace Playland, is a must for many young (and young-at-heart) travellers when in Old Orchard Beach. Admission is always free, and the rides run the gamut from classics such as the carousel, spinning tea cups, and funhouse for the littlest ones to monsters such as the Power Surge, Adrenalin, and Riptide for the most serious thrill-seekers. The Galaxi Coaster, an imposing steel structure that was made in Italy, offers some particularly spectacular views of the beach, though sightseers who want to enjoy it without subsequently whipping through a series of stomach-churning turns should get in line for the Electra Wheel instead: the gondola-style Ferris wheel rotates around to offer riders a panoramic view, and lights up with a stunning LED display at night.
All aboard the Amtrak Downeaster.
From May to October, the Amtrak Downeaster stops at the Old Orchard Beach station, which is conveniently located within walking distance of the shore, restaurants, shops, and hotels. Historic Portland’s fascinating working waterfront, museums, and microbreweries are only one stop away, while the Freeport station, just a few minutes further, puts shoppers within a few paces of the city’s massive, upscale outlet mall. The southbound train goes as far as Boston, Massachusetts, and the trip takes about two hours.
Or take the Heel-Toe Express out of town.
Old Orchard Beach is connected to the Eastern Trail, a 65-mile section of the East Coast Greenway, which runs all the way from Kittery, in southernmost Maine, to South Portland’s Casco Bay. Motorized vehicles are not permitted on the trail, and it is particularly popular with hikers and cyclists in the fall, when the foliage is particularly brilliant and the air is crisp; however, intrepid explorers also enjoy it on cross-country skis or snowshoes. And don’t forget to bring your binoculars: the trail runs through Maine’s largest saltwater marsh, and species such as the great blue heron, bald eagles, snowy egrets, and wild turkeys have been spotted here.