The Best Little Beach Towns in the United States: Ogunquit, Maine

The United States is full of wonderful beach towns, hidden and well-known. While every beach town has a different flavor, they’re all united by their beautiful beaches.

Ogunquit, Maine is a small town located on Maine’s southern coast. Only 75 miles north of Boston, it’s easily accessible from many major cities in the United States and Canada. The name, Ogunquit, means “Beautiful Place By the Sea.” I couldn’t agree more!

 

The Town:
If I had to describe Ogunquit in one word I would use the word inclusive. It’s a popular resort destination for families, couples, and the gay community where everyone coexists harmoniously. Ogunquit is a small town with a year-round population of only 1,300 or so, but in the summer the population grows to around 13,000. This presents one of the few downsides to Ogunquit. The summer months can be crowded. As a result, my favorite time to visit is September when the weather is still generally mild and the crowds are gone.

Some of the attractions Ogunquit is known for (besides its beaches) are the Ogunquit Playhouse, the Marginal Way, its trolleys, its art scene, and Perkins Cove.

The Ogunquit Playhouse began in 1933 in a renovated garage and today it’s known as “America’s Foremost Summer Theatre.” Every year from late May through late October it presents a series of Broadway-quality shows. According to the Ogunquit Playhouse’s website, “We are dedicated to producing the finest shows ever to appear on Broadway stages, right here on our own stage and to carrying on the legacy of the Ogunquit Playhouse.”

The Marginal Way is a 1.25 mile long paved pathway along the rocky shoreline that links the main village to Perkins Cove. One end of the path is located on Shore Road next to the Sparhawk Hotel with the other end found by the Oarweed Cove Restaurant in Perkins Cove.

Ogunquit’s trolleys run from one end of town (Ogunquit’s northern town line on US Route 1) to the other (Perkins Cove) from June through Columbus Day. Trolleys run approximately every 15 minutes and make frequent stops along the route including Main Beach. Hours vary seasonally.

Ogunquit has attracted numerous artists over the years and today it’s a popular destination for artists and art lovers alike. It’s home to several art galleries, studios, and the Ogunquit Museum of American Art. A comprehensive list of art-related locations can be found at ogunquit.org.

Perkins Cove is perhaps the most photographed location in Maine. Once you’ve been there you’ll understand why. It’s the quintessential New England harbor! It even has one of the last manually operated drawbridges in the US. In addition to its beauty, Perkins Cove is the site of various boat tours and a secondary commercial center in Ogunquit with many restaurants and stores.

The Beaches:
Ogunquit is blessed with three fabulous beaches: Main Beach (reviewed on thebestbeach.net), Footbridge Beach, and Little Beach. Main Beach and Footbridge Beach have their own parking lots, although if you don’t have a lot of gear it’s easy to walk from one to the other along the shore. While Footbridge Beach is the less crowded of the two, Main Beach is closer to the center of town.

Footbridge Beach has a boat launch on the Ogunquit River for kayaks and canoes adjacent to the parking lot, but it is possible to launch kayaks and canoes from the sand at Main Beach. Main Beach is also where the Ogunquit River meets the Atlantic so if you want to reach the ocean regardless of the tidal flow that’s where you want to launch your boat.

Little Beach is indeed little! In fact, it’s so small that it disappears entirely at high tide. Little Beach is located at the end of Israel Head Road where the road meets the Marginal Way.

Where to Eat:
I love to eat and have probably tried every restaurant in Ogunquit at one time or another. My perennial favorites include the following:

The Lobster Shack – Maine is known as a lobster destination and, in my opinion, the Lobster Shack has the best lobster in Maine. Like most Maine lobster pounds, you choose what size lobster you want, and then a live lobster is plucked out of the tank and weighed. If it’s the right size, which it usually is, it goes directly into the pot of boiling water to be perfectly cooked. When it’s finished it comes to you in its purest form: whole lobster and melted butter. It’s so good!

Other menu items include steamer clams (another Maine favorite), lobster rolls, lobster plates, cheeseburgers, chowder, chili, pies from Bread and Roses Bakery in Ogunquit, and more.

Arrows Restaurant – Arrows Restaurant is about as different from the other restaurants listed here as can be. Arrows is a fine dining restaurant that would be at home in any major city. The chefs at Arrows have won numerous awards including James Beard Best Chefs of the Northeast 2010. This is the restaurant to go to in Ogunquit if you are celebrating a special occasion or just looking to splurge on your vacation.

Barnacle Billy’s – Barnacle Billy’s menu is similar to the Lobster Shack. They are traditional Maine lobster pounds serving great food in a casual atmosphere. The difference between the two is that I believe the food is better at the Lobster Shack, but the ambiance is better at Barnacle Billy’s where you can sit outside overlooking Perkins Cove.

Fancy That – Fancy That is my go-to restaurant for breakfast lattes, lunch, and snacks. They have really tasty sandwiches and delicious baked goods, plus the best (IMHO) coffee in town. It’s a carryout restaurant, but there is a nice patio out front where you can eat your food and people watch.

Where to Stay:
I’ve been going to Ogunquit for years and the only place I’ve ever stayed is the Sea Chambers Motel because quite honestly I’ve never had any desire to stay anywhere else. What keeps me coming back to the Sea Chambers? Its location! It’s located on Shore Road within walking distance of everything: Main Beach, Ogunquit town center, the Marginal Way, and Perkins Cove. Once we arrive we can park our car and not use it again until we leave.

It’s not only the location that keeps me coming back to the Sea Chambers year after year. The Sea Chambers is family-owned and operated and most of the staff has been there forever. The rooms are spotless and comfortable with free Internet access. There is also a pool, free continental breakfast, and coin-operated guest laundry facilities.

In addition to its many hotels and motels, Ogunquit is home to numerous Bed and Breakfasts.

Getting There:
By car: From Interstate 95, take the York exit. Turn left on US Route 1. Drive approximately 8 miles to the intersection of Route 1 and Beach Street.
By plane: Ogunquit is within two hours (depending on traffic) of three airports. The closest is Portland International Jetport in Portland, Maine. The other two are Boston Logan International Airport in Boston, Massachusetts and Manchester Boston Regional Airport in Manchester, New Hampshire.

The bottom line:
Ogunquit, Maine is one of the best little beach towns in the United States. It has something for everyone including fantastic beaches, great restaurants, a range of accommodations, shopping, and museums. The only negatives are the summer crowds and the cold water, however, if you go in September and wear a wetsuit you’re golden.

 

 

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