By Greg Reid
Ask six people to name their favorite Portland-area beach, and you’re likely to get seven answers. That’s because beaches around here are a little like our restaurants; different ones appeal to different moods and different tastes. And they’re abundant.
When it comes to clean, easy-to-reach beaches, we’re spoiled. How many others in New England have the option of leaving the treasures of coastal York County – and the traffic – to the good people in Wells, York and beyond?
Consider this: You could visit a different saltwater beach every day for a week and never drive more than 45 minutes from downtown Portland. Some offer gentle surf, ample parking and nearby facilities. Others feature playground structures, picnic areas, swing sets and showers. And a few offer thundering surf that seems as thrilling to the teen as much as it is terrifying to the preschooler.
Here’s a glance at some local favorites. Take a week and hit the beach this summer.
30 Willow St., South Portland
Willard Beach in South Portland offers a tradeoff of luxury for convenience and entertainment. The lack of luxury comes in the form of the rocky ocean floor at the water’s edge. The tenderfoots among us might think twice about romping into the waves.
It’s convenient because it is so close by, encompassing a four-acre expanse between Fisherman’s Point and Southern Maine Community College, looking out on House and Cushing islands, the Ram Island Light. And it’s entertaining because it provides a close-up look at boat traffic, as you’ll see ferries, fishing boats, freighters, cruise ships and the occasional windjammer.
There’s a good-sized playground structure near the beach entrance, and the nearby bathhouse offers a snack bar and restrooms with showers. A short walk from the beach, a lot on Willow Street offers parking for 75 cars. If that lot is full, follow Fort Road to the SMCC campus, where ample spaces await, even on the hottest of days.
66 Two Lights Road, Cape Elizabeth
Eight miles south of Portland, Crescent Beach State Park in majestic Cape Elizabeth is a classic oceanfront park with grass-studded dunes, gentle breezes, picnic areas and views of fishing boats and Richmond Island.
The beach in the annual Beach to Beacon 10-kilometer road race, the park’s namesake feature is a mile-long, crescent-shaped beach ideal for sunbathing, strolling, and even beach soccer.
Beachgoers of every age will enjoy the warm waters and light surf. Be sure to investigate the mouth of a freshwater creek spilling into the ocean, and explore the rocky ledges at the south end for hermit crabs.
Day-use fees are $4.50 for adult state resident; $6.50 for adult non-resident and $2 for nonresident seniors. An annual Maine State Vehicle Park Pass costs $70 and gives all vehicle occupants of up to a 17-passenger vehicle free day-use.
Individual annual park passes are available for $35. You can buy park passes at park gatehouses and through the State Department of Conservation and Bureau of Parks and Lands pages of Maine.gov.
418 Black Point Road, Scarborough
If you like pounding surf, you’ll adore Scarborough Beach State Park, a few hundred yards from Prouts Neck. You know you’ve passed another milestone when your kids start asking to head to Scarborough. It’s about the age they put down the sand shovel and pick up the boogie board. But it’s beachgoing not for the faint of heart. While water temperatures reach the upper 60s in July and August, rip currents are not uncommon. Lifeguards are on duty June 10 through Labor Day.
Fees are as follows: Adult Maine residents: $4.50; adult Maine non-residents: $6.50; children (5-11 years): $2; children under 5 free; senior Maine residents, free; senior non-residents: $2. (Note: State park passes purchased from the State Department of Conservation and Bureau of Parks and Lands are not valid at Scarborough Beach State Park.)
Parking is limited to 285 on-site spaces and 250 off-site spaces. Arrive early on weekends; on-site spaces fill by 11:30 a.m., and off-site spaces by 12:30 p.m. Beach hours are 9 a.m.-8 p.m. June 16-Aug. 10, and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Aug. 11-Sept. 15. See website for fall and spring hours. Mind your speed, as police closely monitor the narrow, winding road.
Ferry Road, Scarborough
About a quarter-mile farther down Black Point Road, turn right onto Ferry Road and drive a half-mile to Ferry Beach, or Western Beach, facing the Scarborough River Channel. A sandy beach along the Scarborough River channel, Ferry Beach is somewhat protected from ocean waves by the jetty located on the other side of the channel. Here, surf and tide changes are about as serene as Scarborough’s are dramatic.
Gate attendants call this “Mother’s Beach,” as most morning visitors arrive with babies and stay until noon. At 12:30 or so, a second batch of moms arrives, with toddlers and preschoolers in tow. It’s easy to see why this beach attracts those caring for little ones. The gentle tide makes a great habitat for hermit crabs. When you hear the squeals of delight and awe, you’ll know the kids have discovered the nimble, harmless creatures. There are no life guards on duty or picnic facilities. Restrooms include showers. As of early June, there were no vendors selling food.
The municipal parking lot is located right at the beach. While the beach is open sunrise to sunset, collection hours are from 9 am to 5 pm. Fees are $10 per day for passenger cars and motorcycles, and $35 per day for RVs, buses and campers. After 3 pm, the fee for cars and motorcycles drops to $5. Seasonal passes are available at the town clerk’s office.
Pine Point Road and East Grand Avenue, Scarboough
Across the Scarborough River Channel from Ferry Beach, the long and sandy Pine Point Beach on Saco Bay extends from the jetty at Pine Point to Old Orchard Beach. Surf cast fishing and surfing are allowed. Surfers must be tethered to their boards by a leash of seven to 10 feet in length. You won’t find life guards on duty, but there is a concession stand and restrooms with showers.
Beach hours are sunrise to sunset. There’s a municipal parking lot on Avenue 5, off King Street. Lot collection hours are 9 am to 5 pm, and cars and motorcycles are charged $10 per day. RVs, busses and campers are charged $35 per day. Seasonal passes are available at the town clerk’s office.
East and West Grand Avenue, Old Orchard Beach
Often hailed as Maine’s top beach resort, Old Orchard Beach has been a summertime destination for generations of local and out-of-state beach-goers alike. There’s simply nothing else in Maine quite like OOB. The famed 500-foot pier is a centerpiece for nightlife, entertainment and weekly Thursday night fireworks displays. The strip of beach shops, arcades and amusement parks are all a short walk from the town’s uninterrupted seven-mile stretch of beach, where you’ll find lifeguards on duty.
Parking is available at numerous street-side meters and municipal lots, as well as at privately operated ones. You’ll need 50 cents to gain entry to the public restrooms just off the strip, on West Grand Avenue.
10 Perkins Farm Lane, Phippsburg
Popham Beach State Park encompasses 529 acres on a unique landform bordered on either side by the deltas of the Kennebec and Morse rivers. The resulting experience is nothing less than spectacular. The rolling surf draws swimmers and surfers alike, and it churns up a treasure trove for shell collectors. Life guards are on duty, and you should hit the waves prepared to work through undertows and wary of periodic riptides. Always swim within your ability and near a lifeguard station.
If you’re out to get some sun and read a book, you can set up with a great view of Fox and Wood islands. At low tide you can walk the sandbars or play in the tidal pools. Cross a sandbar and climb the rocks of Fox Island, but pay attention to the rising tides. You don’t want to get stuck out there.
The park offers a large parking lot, access to bathhouses, freshwater rinse-off showers, a picnic area with charcoal grills, trails and wildlife to watch. Entry fees are $4 per adult Maine resident, $6 per adult nonresident and $2 per senior nonresident. State park passes are available at the gatehouse and through the State Department of Conservation and Bureau of Parks and Lands pages of Maine.gov.
If you meet the seven-beaches-in-seven-days challenge, here’s an option for the early rising and well-equipped.
Higgins Beach is located at the edge of a quaint residential neighborhood of mostly rental cottages and inns. Surfers enjoy the waves and warmer water, though surfing is prohibited from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. from June 15 to Sept. 15. Surfers must be connected to their boards by a seven- to 10-foot board leash. Sunbathers, meanwhile, can relax all day on more than half a mile of beautiful white sand. Higgins Beach is also known for its striped bass fishing and historic shipwreck embedded in the sand. Beach hours are sunrise to sunset. Restrooms include showers, but there are no snacking or picnicking options and no life guards are on duty.
The challenge lies in reaching the beach for those not renting or staying within walking distance. There is limited street parking on Bayview Avenue, and the sole municipal parking lot is located at 39 Ocean Ave. The lot is open sunrise to sunset and collection hours are 9 am to 5 pm. Fees are $10 per day for passenger cars and motorcycles. There is no parking for RVs, buses or campers. Seasonal passes are available at the town clerk’s office.
Greg Reid is writer living in Portland. You can find his work at www.ScribblingMadly.com, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @gregreid820.