What to See and Do
Some families are fond of tradition; they spend the same summer week at the same beach house enjoying the same simple pleasures year after year. Other folks like to mix things up, hopping from beach to beach, taking in historic sites, hitting the water, and testing the limits … of their physical endurance or their credit cards. Southern Maine appeals to families at both ends of the vacation spectrum, and everywhere in between.
There are more than thirty public beaches between Kittery and Portland. They range from small, quiet patches of sand known mostly to locals to rollicking, hotel-lined resorts where the beach is just one of many attractions. Here are some of the largest Maine beaches with the greatest appeal for families.
Beach Avenue, Kennebunk
Gooch's Beach at the northern end is the largest of the three beaches that constitute the mile-and-a-half-long Kennebunk Beach. It's popular with swimmers, sunbathers, bodysurfers, and sandcastle makers. Sidewalks connect Gooch's Beach with both rocky Middle Beach and the petite, sheltered Mother's Beach, where families with small children will enjoy the gentler waves. Lifeguards are on duty at Gooch's Beach and Mother's Beach in season. Parking stickers for all three beaches can be purchased at the chamber of commerce, town hall, or police station.
Ogunquit Main Beach
Beach Street, Ogunquit
Ogunquit's lovely beach is separated from the mainland by the Ogunquit River. Parking at the main beach is scarce, but visitors can park elsewhere in town and board one of the trolleys operated by the Ogunquit Trolley Company (207-646-1411,
The Marginal Way is one of Maine's most scenic — and most popular — walks. This mile-and-a-quarter-long paved footpath runs from Ogunquit Beach to Perkins Cove, providing dramatic views of rocky cliffs along the shore. There are thirty memorial benches where you can rest when little family members' legs tire.
Old Orchard Beach
Along West Grand Avenue and East Grand Avenue, Old Orchard Beach
The perennial favorite among southern Maine's beaches is Old Orchard Beach, which is not just a seven-mile sandy strip but a family amusement center with rides, games, arcades, restaurants, and fireworks popping near the pier every Thursday night from late June through Labor Day.
Mile Road and Atlantic Avenue, Wells
Wells Beach is the largest and best known of the three public beaches in Wells. This broad stretch of sand is lifeguard-protected in the summer months, and restrooms and a playground are available to visitors. Parking fees are charged at town-operated lots near the beach.
Preble Street, South Portland
This crescent-shaped beach between two lighthouses appeals to families because of its soft sand and calm Casco Bay surf. It is located just three miles from downtown Portland.
Boat and Trolley Tours
A boat tour will give you an entirely different perspective of coastal Maine and a chance to see everything from lighthouses to whales. For landlubbers, trolley tours offer an old-fashioned way to see the sights.
Atlantic Seal Cruises
Freeport Town Wharf, South Freeport
From Memorial Day weekend through late October, head out to sea to spy on seals with this boat tour operator, which stops at Eagle Island for visits to the former home of North Pole explorer Admiral Peary on its daytime excursions.
Casco Bay Lines
56 Commercial Street, Portland
Casco Bay Lines is the nation's oldest continuously operating ferry company. Check their summer sailing schedule for scenic cruises. You can even ride along on the mail boat that delivers letters and parcels to the residents of the islands in Casco Bay.
First Chance Whale Watch
4 Western Avenue / Route 9, Kennebunk
Don't miss the chance from Memorial Day through Columbus Day to head out to sea with First Chance Whale Watch Cruises. They offer not only whale-watch expeditions but also scenic lobster-harvesting and evening-storybook cruises. Reservations are a good idea.
Ocean Avenue, Kennebunkport
Traffic in Kennebunkport can be brutal in the summer, so sit back and enjoy a narrated tour of the seaside town. Intown Trolley's forty-five-minute sightseeing outings take you past photogenic places and points of interest, including former president George Bush's coastal home.
RAINY DAY FUN
For another dose of transportation nostalgia, visit the Seashore Trolley Museum (195 Log Cabin Road, Kennebunkport, 207-967-2712,
While the simple joys of playing in the sand, hopping over waves, and collecting shells will keep kids entertained for days, southern Maine delivers additional diversions.
Funtown Splashtown U.S.A.
774 Portland Road / Route 1, Saco
Northern New England's largest amusement park celebrated its fortieth anniversary in 2007 by doubling the size of its Splashtown water park. You'll like the flexible ticket options, which allows you to choose either the wet side or the dry side of the park or both and to save money after 4 P.M. Funtown Splashtown U.S.A. is open from mid May through mid-September.
Maine Wildlife Park
Route 26, Gray
Ready for something wild? Head inland to the Maine Wildlife Park, home to animals that need protection or rehabilitation including moose, lynx, bobcats, mountain lions, coyotes, bald eagles, turkey vultures, and more.
New England is not exactly known for its deserts, but thanks to a glacier that left behind a large sand deposit some 11,000 years ago, Freeport is home to a genuine desert. Tour the Desert of Maine (95 Desert Road, Freeport, 207-865-6962,
Portland Sea Dogs
Hadlock Field, 271 Park Avenue, Portland
When the dog days of summer arrive, it's time to cheer on the Portland Sea Dogs, the Eastern League Double-A Affiliate of Major League Baseball's Boston Red Sox. Kids will love the antics of the team's mascot, Slugger the Sea Dog, and a day at the ballpark makes for an affordable outing for the whole family. Tickets may be purchased by phone, in person, or online at the team's Web site.
York's Wild Kingdom
Route 1, York Beach
Visit and learn about exotic animals, plus enjoy a variety of rides and classic amusements at this family park, which operates from Memorial Day weekend through late September. Don't miss the ocean views from the Ferris wheel.
Museums, Lights, and Historic Sites
Whether it's too cold for the beach or you simply want to interrupt your days of frivolity for a learning opportunity, you'll find kid-friendly museums and historic landmarks to explore along Maine's southern shore.
Cape Neddick Light
Sohier Park, Nubble Road, York
Don't miss the Cape Neddick “Nubble” Light, a picturesque 1879 lighthouse that can be viewed from the free parking area at Sohier Park in York. The lighthouse is particularly spectacular when it is illuminated each year during the Christmas holiday season.
Children's Museum of Maine
142 Free Street, Portland
With an ever-changing lineup of activities designed to inspire learning and wonder in addition to its permanent exhibits, this downtown museum strives to give kids something new to discover during each visit. Even older children will appreciate the optical magic of the museum's Camera Obscura, which allows visitors to see panoramic views of Portland from a room with no windows; call ahead for demonstration times.
The Museums of Old York
York Street and Lindsay Road, York
In 1632, York became America's first chartered city. Walk through three centuries in Old York, the collection of historic buildings along York Street and Lindsay Road operated by the Old York Historical Society. Costumed guides lead tours of eight museum buildings Monday through Saturday from June through Columbus Day weekend.
Portland Harbor Museum
Fort Road, South Portland
See a working lighthouse, a nineteenth-century fort, and historic exhibits at this ocean-side museum. Located on the campus of Southern Maine Technical College, it is open to visitors daily Memorial Day through mid-October, Friday through Sunday from mid-April until Memorial Day and from mid-October through Thanksgiving weekend.
Portland Head Light
Fort Williams Park, 1000 Shore Road, Cape Elizabeth
The grounds of Fort Williams Park are open free year-round to see and photograph Maine's oldest lighthouse, built in 1791. The keeper's quarters now house a museum, which is open daily from Memorial Day through mid-October and on weekends from mid-April through May and from Columbus Day through late December. Fort Williams Park also offers a beach, tennis courts, and areas for cross-country skiing and ice skating in the winter and kite flying on breezy days. The ruins of the large, old fort entice to children and adults alike.
Portland Museum of Art
7 Congress Square, Portland
Maine's largest art repository is a must for art lovers visiting the state. The museum focuses on the artistic heritage of the United States, particularly Maine, and features works by Winslow Homer, Andrew Wyeth, John Singer Sargent, and other acclaimed American painters. The museum is open daily Memorial Day through Columbus Day and every day except Monday the rest of the year. Check their Web site for a schedule of Family Festivals and other programs for children.
Two Lights State Park
Off Route 77, Cape Elizabeth
This forty-acre state park is home to remnants of a World War II coastal defense installation. Enjoy picnicking, hiking, and scenic views of Maine's rocky coast.
489 Congress Street, Portland
Portland's first brick home dates to 1785. It was the childhood residence of one of Maine's most famous native sons, the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The house is open for tours daily May through October and during special holiday hours in December. It is also open weekends in November.
Wells Auto Museum
Route 1, Wells
Have you ever dreamed of riding in a Model T? At the Wells Auto Museum, you can literally travel through automotive history. More than seventy cars of forty-five makes are on display daily from mid June through September. The museum operates weekends only in late May and early June, as well as in early October.
Few travelers can resist the allure of Kittery and Freeport's factory outlet stores. But the outlets aren't the only places to drop some cash in southern Maine. When you're finished scouring the outlets for deals, there are a few other interesting spots to shop.
Dock Square, Kennebunkport
You can easily lose hours wandering in and out of boutiques, gift shops, and art galleries in this charming shopping district.
87 County Road, Westbrook
Haven's Candies has been making saltwater taffy, fudge, chocolate lobsters, and other sweets since 1915. Their retail store is open daily. Make an appointment and treat yourselves to a behind-the-scenes tour of the candy factory on weekdays.
Freeport Outlet and Specialty Shopping
Main Street / Route 1 area, Freeport
There's more to Freeport than L.L. Bean. There are more than 170 outlet stores and specialty shops concentrated in this vibrant town. Other name-brand retailers with factory stores here include Banana Republic, Brooks Brothers, Cuddledown, Nine West, Polo Ralph Lauren, and Reebok. And, unlike Kittery, Freeport goes beyond outlets to offer shoppers a nifty array of specialty stores selling made-in-Maine gifts and unique souvenirs. Wander into The Mangy Moose (112 Main Street, 207-865-6414 or 800-606-6517,
JUST FOR PARENTS
While you're in Freeport, stop by Cold River Vodka (437 Route 1, 207-865-4828,
Route 1, Kittery
Finding Route 1 in Kittery is akin to discovering the pot at the end of the rainbow for retail addicts and casual shoppers alike. More than 100 brand-name outlets are packed into this stretch of highway. Plan your outlet-shopping strategy before you get to Maine by viewing the online map at the Kittery Outlets' Web site.
Len Libby Candies
419 Route 1, Scarborough
Len Libby is not just a candy store. It's home to the world's only life-size chocolate moose — Lenny is made of 1,700 pounds of chocolate! The kids will love Len Libby's homemade ice cream, too.
2178 Post Road /Route 1, Wells
Lighthouse Depot lays claim to the title of “world's largest lighthouse gift store.” Next door, you'll find the American Lighthouse Foundation Museum of Lighthouse History (
L.L. Bean Flagship Store
95 Main Street, Freeport
800-559-0747, ext. 37222
Leon Leonwood Bean invented the Maine Hunting Shoe in 1911. In 1912, he initiated mail-order sales with a four-page flyer sent to out-of-state sportsmen. In 1917, L.L. Bean set up shop on Main Street in Freeport, and the rest, as they say, is history. Today, visitors can shop 24 hours a day, 365 days each year. Part of L.L. Bean's mystique comes from the company's 100 percent satisfaction guarantee — a promise that was born in 1912 and remains to this day. Any purchase, whether made at the flagship store, at outlet shops, or via mail order, can be returned at any time for a replacement or refund.
You'll find L.L. Bean Factory Stores in these New England locations:
Maine: Bangor, Ellsworth, Freeport, Portland
New Hampshire: Concord, Manchester, Nashua, North Conway
Portland's Old Port
Commercial Street, Portland
Portland's Old Port District, with cobblestone walkways and Victorian red-brick buildings housing dozens of specialty boutiques, galleries, restaurants, antique emporiums, and craft shops selling Maine-made items, is well worth a visit. This easily walkable area extends from the bustling, working waterfront to Congress Street between Exchange and Pearl streets. If uniquely Maine jewelry is your desired souvenir, there are several distinctive jewelers you should visit in this area. Cross Jewelers (570 Congress Street, 207-773-3107 or 800-433-2988,
RAINY DAY FUN
Free tours of the Tom's of Maine manufacturing facility (27 Community Drive, Sanford, 800-985-3874,
Tom's of Maine Natural Living Store
302 Lafayette Center, Kennebunk
Kennebunk is the birthplace of natural health and beauty products maker Tom's of Maine, and visitors to the Natural Living Store will find sizable discounts on factory seconds, plus an opportunity to learn about and shop for first-quality products.