Road Trip: Old Orchard Beach, Maine

October 26, 2010 4:55 PM

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(credit: Chamber of Commerce)

(credit: Chamber of Commerce)

For over 150 years, tourists have been flocking to Old Orchard Beach along the southern Maine coast. Some come for a weekend getaway. Some are carrying on a tradition that spans several generations. But they all come for the sun, the surf and the sandy beach.Located less 100 miles north of Boston, Old Orchard Beach is about a two-hour drive from the city. You can also get there using Amtrak’s Downeaster servicefrom Boston.It is such a popular destination that its population swells from under 9,000 in the winter months to an estimated 100,000 in the summer – and that doesn’t include folks who just come for the day.

Chamber of Commerce

(credit: Chamber of Commerce)

THE SAND

The wide, sandy beach can easily handle the crowds that arrive every year once the weather warms up. From Pine Point in Scarborough, south through Old Orchard, and on toward Ocean Park in Saco, there is seven miles of nothing but sand. Hard-packed sand at low tide gives way to sugary white sand and dunes above the high-water mark. Old Orchard Beach is so wide that, in the 1920s, aviators such as Charles Lindbergh landed there on barnstorming tours.

Pier at Old Orchard Beach/ Chamber of Commerce

(credit: Chamber of Commerce)

THE PIER & PALACE PLAYLAND

At the very center of the beach is the town’s famed pier. The Pier at Old Orchard Beach has been the main entertainment attraction, and the center of most activity, since the original steel version was built in 1898. That first pier extended more than a third of a mile into the sea. Despite being 20 feet above the high tide point, the pier was severely damaged by a storm in just its first winter. After repairs, it was shortened to 700 feet.

Between the World Wars, the pier and its Casino dance hall were the most popular entertainment venues north of Boston. The Casino played host to legendary big bands from Benny Goodman to Guy Lombardo and singers from Rudy Vallee to Merv Griffin and Frank Sinatra. Several spectacular fires over the years, plus the ravages of storms and tides, eventually destroyed the pier and its attractions. In 1980, however, a more compact version was built that is once again the hub of activity in Old Orchard Beach.

Across the street, Palace Playland has been entertaining kids for decades.  A worthy successor to the original pier’s carnival rides, the amusement park features over two dozen attractions. Kids will love the Ferris wheel, the carousel and two separate roller coasters. There are plenty of midway games as well, and all of it is located just steps from the sand.

MUSIC IN THE PARK

Every Thursday evening you can grab your blanket or beach chair and head to Memorial Park for a free concert. The 6 p.m. concerts feature anything from bluegrass to country.

Be sure to check Old Orchard Beach’s schedule of special events, to see if you trip coincides with a special music festival or sporting event.

THE FOOD

What would a summer vacation be without classic beach food? And what would a Maine vacation be without seafood? Visitors to Old Orchard Beach can get plenty of both.

A short drive north of the center of town in Pine Point, The Clambake has grown over the years from a small walk-up clam shack to an expansive family-style restaurant – complete with a bar. There was a time when the menu consisted of just fried clams and clam cakes, but today it includes lobster, fish and other choices as well. But the clams are still the main – or Maine – attraction. Eat like a native and try the full-belly clams rather than the strips. You’re just a short walk from the sand – so you can work it all off after dinner!

Are you hungry, but intent on squeezing in every possible minute of beach time? Lisa’s Pizza is an Old Orchard Beach tradition – a place where you can step in off the sidewalk, walk away with a dripping, oozing slice of vacation pizza and an entire bucket of fries, and be back on your blanket in no time. For over 40 years, Lisa’s has been feeding the masses – and is one of the few places at the center of town that’s even open in the winter.

WBZ

(WBZ photo)

THE SURROUNDING AREA

There is plenty to see and do in the surrounding towns, from go-karts to water parks and more. You can check out some of these destinations at the Chamber of Commerce web site.

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