When you go to the beach in Maine in July or August you expect to be wedged tightly between people and blankets, chairs and coolers, beach umbrellas and those all-the-rage beach shelters. It’s just the way it is.
Unless you happen to head to Ocean Park.
You can almost always find parking in this tiny community just south of Old Orchard Beach — OK, you may have to walk a bit, but you won’t have to pay. And even when it’s both hot and humid, you’ll be able to find some space on the sandy beach that has plenty of public access.
You’ll find 7 miles of beach to walk on the shores of Saco Bay between Old Orchard Beach and Saco’s Ferry Beach State Park. Walk toward Saco, and you’ll likely find some quiet and space to stretch out. Turn the corner near where the water flows out of the marshland and you may even find some privacy.
Walk toward Old Orchard Beach and the pier and all the activity that comes with it — bars, restaurants, amusements, rides, shopping — is within reach.
When the tide is out, the beach is huge, so bring your football, your bocce set and your Frisbee. An outcropping of rocks is visible during low tide on the Old Orchard Beach edge of Ocean Park. According to the history of Ocean Park (oceanpark.org/history.html), Googins Rocks is named for Patrick Googins, the son-in-law of an early settler.
One caution about the tide: When it comes in, it comes in pretty quickly. The sandy beach drops off to the water, and you’ll find you’re walking with ocean up to your knees in no time.
If you didn’t bring your own picnic, Ocean Park Subs & Grocery is your first stop. You’ll find everything you need to stock the cooler and plenty of snacks to sustain you during your beach stay.
You’ll notice the display of baked goods as soon as you walk in. The place is known for its cinnamon buns and sends Miss Cinnamon Bun to the annual parade.
If you’re looking for ice cream or a quick lunch, check out Ocean Park Soda Fountain on Temple Street. It’s old school with a counter you can order at and a handful of small tables and booths.
For an adult dinner after you’ve scrubbed off the salt and sand, you’ll want to head to Yellowfin’s Restaurant. The place caters to the summer crowds, serving brunch on Sundays and dinner Thursday through Sunday.
Ocean Park was founded in 1881 as a Chautauqua community. Not sure what that means? Simply put, it’s a community that provides entertainment and culture for its residents.
A look at the Ocean Park calendar listings shows that’s still happening today with a variety of activities for kids and adults. The big annual events include a sand sculpture competition and a well-attended Independence Day Parade.
The community is quaint and friendly with homes built close together and right at the edges of the small streets. Many of the buildings date back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, so a stroll around town offers plenty to see like the Temple and Jordan Hall. According to the community’s website, several of the buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
There are a couple shops worth checking out: Goosefare Trading O.P., which has a little bit of everything, and Cottage Designs and Gifts, which has some fun curios and tchotchkes.
If you want to enjoy some nature while you walk, there’s the 0.8 kilometer Ted Wells memorial Trail, which covers land owned by the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, and the Red Dot and Blue Dot trails off Free Street. The Red Dot trail is Ocean Park’s oldest and travels around the community’s cathedral pines.
Got kids in tow? Check out the fairy garden across from Jordan Hall, where builders are always welcome.
And, of course, there’s the shuffleboard. Courts can be rented by the hour or for just $1.50 per game. Tournaments are held most weeks. Any yeah, maybe you’re not quite sure how the rules work, but when are you going to get another opportunity to use that funny-looking stick to push a weighted disc down a court?