Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, it should come as no surprise that a significant amount of my summer memories trace back to the Coney Island Boardwalk. Whether it was for a stroll and hot dog (or two) at the original Nathan’s, or a night of fireworks and back-to-back rides at Luna Park, there was always something memorable about a day at the boardwalk.
It’s those memories that are the reason I’ve always had a fondness for coastal boardwalk towns. So naturally, when we began planning our extended weekend to Maine, we knew we couldn’t leave Old Orchard Beach off of the itinerary.
Old Orchard Beach has gone through various transitions throughout it’s long history, at one point being home to a racetrack, the area of which was purchased in 1952; and even spent five years as the home to an Animal Fair. But many parts of it’s historic past still remain: Pier Fries has been feeding visitors for almost a century, and the Old Orchard Beach Pier has been a hangout for beachgoers since 1898!
Despite all of the activities to currently available to enjoy in the area and our limited time, we managed to have a pretty jam-packed day.
Get Down to the Beach Bright and Early
I typically prepare for any trip including those shorter in length by researching all of the popular “where-to-go’s” and “what-to-see’s”; and remember virtually every “Must Visit Beaches in Maine” article having Old Orchard Beach pretty high in the rankings. Like most beaches, I’d suggest trying to arrive earlier in the morning to claim a spot and unwind before the noon crowds roll in.
What I enjoyed most about Old Orchard Beach is how it provides the best of both worlds: the liveliness and excitement you’d find at many popular pier-inclusive beaches, but also the relaxation and beauty of beaches like Myrtle Beach. And while there was a steady influx of visitors, we still never felt the beach was overcrowded or chaotic, making for a pretty relaxing morning.
Take a Walk Along Old Orchard Beach Pier
As expected, the pier was packed; but once you get passed the hoards of people Old Orchard Beach Pier is the ideal chill-out spot for people of all ages. Considering there is almost no way to avoid it, kids will definitely want to stop at Pier Pizza before heading down the Pier. Those looking for that summer kick-back atmosphere can head on over to Tequila Frogs for some Mexican Bulldog Margaritas. But if you’re just looking to get out of the sun for a minute and enjoy a relaxing meal, Hurricanes Raw Bar is definitely the spot.
While weekend beach vacations can be the ideal go-to for college students, I have always felt that these trips are perfect for families as they’re often affordable and generally don’t require too extensive of a drive if you’re living on the East Coast. Families can add Old Orchard onto their spring break idea list without fear of a bad time, because there truly is something for everyone.
Relive Your Childhood at Palace Playland
Palace Playland, which boasts being New England’s only beachside amusement park, is exactly what you look for when it comes to coastal amusement parks: a wide variety of nostalgic rides, complete with a slight grittiness. As we walked up, the first ride that caught our attention was the Pirate, which you’ll generally find a variation of at most amusement parks or block parties, making it the perfect first stop for our nostalgic trail through Playland.
Considering the inflated per-ride prices at many of the places I used to frequent as a kid, we were amazed to find out that a Day Pass got you unlimited access to every ride in the park. Needless to say, we ended up staying at Playland a bit longer than we had originally anticipated but it was entirely worth it.
Play a Relaxing Round of Schooner Mini Golf
Schooner Mini Golf is about a five minute drive from Old Orchard Beach Pier, and is your typical 18-hole mini golf course..if that course was complete with a large replica Schooner! On this day there were only about two other groups on the course, which was ideal as it gave us the chance to take our time but also saved us from the occasionally extensive wait. Per usual, I ended up coming in second to last place, which I accepted with pride as I still managed to beat my usual score. Portland Schooner Mini Golf plays off its theme so well, and provides an array of holes that are actually pretty challenging, but the staff are also a big part of the great time you’ll have; they’re aren’t many places that have workers that leave you in a better mood after a quick two-minute conversation while purchasing tickets.
And don’t think you can leave Schooner Mini Golf without grabbing a Cookies’n’Cream shake for the road. I mean that literally, as you can’t exit without passing by their on-property ice cream window; but considering that it was around 92 degrees at the time, there wasn’t a better way to end of the evening.
Our day at Old Orchard Beach was packed with excitement and still there are so many things we wish we had gotten the chance to do, like parasail passed the pier, enjoy the Thursday night downtown fireworks, or drop by the new Harmon Museum. But as always, it’s just an excuse to return.
But until then, we’re left with some great memories and a craving for some Pier fries.
*Quick Tip: Old Orchard Beach is a pretty popular spot, so parking was definitely a bit challenging. Come prepared to pay for parking and check out a list of local parking lots and their contact information here.
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