“I love the beach. I love the sea. All my life I live within – in front of the sea.” ~ Rafael Nadal
I feel like these are the dawg days of summer as we fast approach September, heck they might have even already past us by with the chilly temps we have been having and Starbucks just releasing their PSL. In many ways it feels like we didn’t even GET a summer. It was certainly a strange one, in this time of Corona. Which is why reflecting on childhood memories can be incredibly nostalgic and even comforting. It is one of the reasons why I have a soft spot for Old Orchard Beach AKA OOB so much.
As kids, we would pack our boogie boards and towels, sand toys and I would always add a book (or ten). Their would usually be a gang of us, my parents, siblings, cousins, and even my grandparents would drive the hour and twenty minutes to Old Orchard in Maine. We would park at Jimmy’s, which while we had to pay, always guaranteed clean bathrooms, an outdoor shower, and basically parking at the beach WITHOUT actually parking on the beach, since that is how close we were to it. We would lug our beach crap, and settle in for a full day of boogie boarding, jumping waves, burying each other in the sand, maybe going for a run and playing by the pier. Literally ALL the quintessential New England Memories.
Alas things do change, this year has definitely shown that. Jimmy’s has been replaced by a roller coaster, but George’s (love the names) parking lot is another locally owned and just as amenity filled parking lot that while not as close also has bathrooms and changing rooms. The crowds that once filled the boardwalks, and crammed onto the beaches were much fewer this year. And every one was wearing masks and socially distanced. The vibes might have been sightly more mellow, but the nostalgia was still there.
Old Orchard Beach is the perfect New England beach town. It has a little bit of everything. Nestled between several other beaches along the Atlantic in Maine, it is the most populated, until you reach York farther South. Located only a few miles down is Pine Point which is much quieter, and Kenney Beach which is dog friendly. But neither of those beaches are as built up as OOB is.
Filled with hotels, shops, and rented houses, it is a bustling hub, come Memorial day. It gets an influx of people, from the weekly renters, to day trippers driving from New Hampshire and other parts of Maine. The pier is dotted with restaurants and kitschy beach shops, and right on the beach is an amusement park, for when you have grown tired fro jumping the massive waves.
There is something for everyone of all ages which is why it is so perfect, if you are looking for a bustling beach town that has everything at your finger tips and you can just park your car and don’t have to worry about driving. Whether you are visiting for the day, or a week Old Orchard has enough going on, as well as people watching to keep not only you, but also your kiddos entertained. It isn’t the place to go if you want a quieter beach day. I would go to Crescent for that.
Dolce Crema Cafe
Old Orchard has a ton of restaurants and cafes. If you forgot to pack snacks or are in the mood for something a little different then the beach cooler fair, you will be able to find it. You can even get the traditional pier food of fries and pizza, fried dough, and of course ALL the ice cream places.
My favorite restaurant is Dolce Crema Cafe. Located just off the pier, it for goes the greasy beach food, and offers fresh salads, traditional American dinners, and even has breakfast options. In many ways it reminds me of the Italian Bodega that was located just down the block from my apartment in New York. Which makes sense since they also serve many Italian desserts, coffee and espresso, as well as my favorite Gelato!
Family owned and operated since it opened, the staff is always so friendly and even recognize me from year to year. They have indoor seating as well as outdoor seating which they have expanded due to the restrictions because of COVID. They have a vast selection of gelato and it has now become tradition to grab one whenever I go.
I have seen OOB grow and evolve since I was a childhood. What has always been a staple (though they have expanded quite a bit) and is nice to see during these times is Dickinson’s Candy Store. As a kid and teenager I would happily anticipate going and grabbing up their famous salt water taffy, the different but still delicious flavors like beach ball and watermelon and grabbing as much as I can.
They have two locations one on the pier and their flagship store a few blocks away. Not only do they sell taffy, but also fudge, chocolates, and the penny candy that kids love. It is a must go to place, and one that is definitely filled with nostalgia.
I love a good pier, and when I travel I am always on the hunt for them. I have also found that no pier is the same. They are all different, unique and kinda amazing in the fact that they with stand powerful waves and storms. The Old Orchard Pier is insanely busy, built up with shops and restaurants as you walk on it. At the very end is a restaurant slash bar, that comes alive at night with life music.
In the old days it would be crowded and you would be be crossing your fingers and giving the RBF in hopes of getting a table or just even being able to take in the views. There are stairs that go down to the beach so you can go under the pier (popular for photoshoots) and at low tide you can actually walk PAST the pier, which is pretty cool.
Old Orchard has miles upon miles of beach that lead out to the open sea, Which makes it the perfect place to catch some pretty massive waves. The actual beach is pretty wide so even though it does get busy, if you walk a little bit you will find a sandy spot, even at high tide.
While I like quieter beaches, you will never get bored at OOB and it is the perfect spot to keep kids entertained. It also holds the nostalgia factor which is why I not only go a couple times a year, but I have also started taking my nephews and nieces there as well. Continuing the traditions that my grandparents started all those years ago.
Do you like a quieter or busier beach? What is your favorite beach?