By Andrea Timpano, Taking the Kids correspondent
OLD ORCHARD BEACH, Maine (Day 1 of 3) — After one of the longest (and coldest) winters I can remember, I’ve never been more excited to hit the road for my first summer getaway. My destination? Old Orchard Beach, Maine.
Accompanied by my sister and two friends, we arrive on a warm and delightfully sunny afternoon. We meet up with James “Bud” Harmon, the CEO and president of the local Chamber of Commerce, for a tour of the area. Leaving Bud’s office downtown, one of our first stops is Palace Playland: New England’s only oceanfront amusement park. The park features more than 30 rides and attractions, and admission is free. The arcade buzzes with ski ball and the latest video games as Bud recalls the birthdays he spent there as a child.
We make our way to the adjacent pier, but not before stopping to admire the seven-mile stretch of beach before us. Even though it’s early June, we see lots of families sunbathing and playing in the sand, as well as a few swimmers braving the chilly ocean water. Admission to Old Orchard Beach is free and open to the public, though we paid $10 to park our car in one of the lots downtown. There is metered parking also, but Bud says families shouldn’t worry about parking at the beach; it’s a short 10-15 minute walk from anywhere in town.
The Old Orchard Beach Pier, a town landmark, is home to small shops, kid-friendly restaurants, and bars with beautiful views of the ocean. It also serves as an entertainment venue, offering everything from live music (karaoke, anyone?) to festivals. If you’re visiting during the week, make sure to check out the Lobster Bake held each Thursday throughout the summer.
Walking away from the water, Bud takes us to some of the more popular stores in town. We love visiting Dickinson’s Candy Factory, where you’ll find homemade fudge, taffy, kettle corn, and just about every kind sweet you can imagine. Also worth a stop is Board Silly, a puzzle and game shop with items for kids (and adults) of all ages. It’s here that we spot the world’s largest puzzle which contains a whopping 32,000 pieces.
Continuing our tour by car, Bud tells us about the many lodging options available to visitors. Some families choose to camp at one of the thousands of campsites available in Old Orchard Beach, while others opt for stays at local inns and motels or cottage or house rentals. Bud also mentions that the town boasts several pet-friendly properties (as well as two dog parks) for those traveling with their four-legged friends.
While it’s certainly possible (and fun!) to spend your whole vacation at the beach, there are plenty of others places to explore in town and beyond. Bud recommends visiting Camp Ellis, where you can rent kayaks or go fishing off rocky jetties. There’s also Ferry Beach State Park, a 100-acre site featuring walking trails, guided nature programs, and picnic areas. Don’t forget the Audubon in neighboring Scarborough; kids will love canoe tours along the Dunstan River, morning bird watching sessions, and exploring the salt marsh. Seafood enthusiasts will enjoy a trip to Bayley’s Lobster Pound, the birthplace of the Maine lobster roll.
Our last stop of the day is Funtown Splashtown USA, a combination amusement-waterpark featuring nearly 50 attractions. With a range of themed activities and rides— including eight “kiddie rides” for the little ones— there’s something for everyone to enjoy here. Older, thrill-seeking kids and adults won’t want to miss Excalibur, the largest wooden rollercoaster in Northern New England. Less adventurous guests will like the bumper cars or Family Fun Lagoon. The park contains 19 restaurants, food stands, and carts, but you’re welcome to bring in your own snacks as well— a bonus for families looking to save a few dollars.
After saying goodbye to Bud at the end of our tour, we stop for a quick bite at Hooligans Steak and Ale, one of the restaurants on the pier. We fill up on fresh Maine seafood and fries before jumping back in the car to drive to our next destination: Ogunquit.