Southern Maine just might have more than its fair share of gorgeous beaches. But when it comes to walking — really walking for miles across packed sand without needing to dodge chairs and umbrellas and small children making a sprint for the ocean — Pine Point beach deserves a spot at the top of the list.
Located on the water side of Scarborough, the more residential Pine Point area borders the tourist attraction that is Old Orchard Beach. That’s not to say Pine Point Beach is a quiet place — on a hot summer day, it’s far from that. But you can always get a good walk in, whether the tide is up or out, making the breakwater at one end or The Pier in Old Orchard Beach at the other your stopping or starting points. Take off from the large paved parking lot at the end of Avenue 5 ($10 per car during summer hours), and it’s a 5- to 6-mile walk to The Pier with plenty of houses and hotels to check out as you stroll along.
If you park in the lot, you can also take advantage of the public bathroom and changing rooms and the Emma’s Eats take-away stand. If you’re planning to bring a four-legged friend, know that dogs are welcome at Pine Point Beach after Labor Day until May 14, all day, but must be on leash from 1 to 3 p.m.
One caution: There’s a stretch of summer each year when parts of Pine Point Beach are covered with seaweed. It’s not pleasant, but you can make it through the stinky brown mush with your flip flops still intact and walk on to better spots (and smells). You’d encounter the seaweed in floating form if you ventured down to the surf, but who are we kidding? Everyone knows the ocean in Maine’s too cold for swimming. (Odds are those people you see out there jumping the waves are “from away.”)
THE EASTERN TRAIL
During the summer and early fall, there’s rarely a time when the portion of the Eastern Trail that winds through Scarborough Marsh isn’t busy with walkers, runners and bikers.
The 65-mile on- and off-road recreational trail that stretches from South Portland to Kittery is perfect for hybrids and mountain bikes and doable on a road bike. There are plenty of spots to park the car and get the bikes out, including a lot at the edge of the marsh on Pine Point Road. From here, you can ride toward South Portland, making your way out to Bug Light, or head toward Old Orchard Beach, Saco and Biddeford. Part of the trail is paved, part is crushed rock, part is packed dirt. All of it makes for pretty easy pedaling.
There are several spots in the SoPo direction where benches have conveniently been added at picturesque rest stops. If you didn’t bring food along, it’s easy to get off the trail, pedal the road a bit and grab a bite or a beverage in Old Orchard Beach or Saco.
Be aware that you’ll hit road crossings in either direction, but stop signs and pedestrian crossing lanes help drivers see you and you see them.
Need a bike? Check out Fun And Sun Rentals on Snow Canning Road in Scarborough where you can get kids’ bikes, multi-speeds and tandems for around $20 a day. They also offer bike tours and have free delivery if you want to do your own thing.
You’ll find few better places for a saltwater paddle than Scarborough Marsh. If you come from Route 1, you’ll pass the Scarborough Marsh Audubon Center on your way to Pine Point Beach.
The tidal Dunstan River flows through the marsh, which is home to plenty of birds, including egrets, glossy ibis, herons and gulls. You can paddle near the Audubon Center and use the “road” signs conveniently placed at some of the twists and turns, or head toward the bridge that carries the Eastern Trail over the river, where the water opens up on its way to the ocean.
If the tide is right, you may find you can drift away past Pine Point homes and grassy marsh islands until you see a train bridge up ahead. Just remember that the return trip may not be quite so easy when you come back against the current.
If you have your own canoe or kayak, pull into the launch area just before the Eastern Trail parking lot. When the tide is on the high side, it’s an easy in and out here. But when the tide goes out, the water drains away from the dirt roadway making it much more difficult to navigate the slope to put boats in or take them out. More than a few water shoes have been claimed by the muck.
Need a kayak or canoe? Head to the Audubon Center between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. where you can rent a watercraft to paddle starting at $16 an hour.
We tried the newish The Garage BBQ for an outdoor lunch at one of the many picnic tables. The place had been a garage forever before it was converted to a seasonal restaurant (open April to October), and the owner has preserved some cool details: The lights above the bar are made from old Maine license plates, a booth was created from the bench seat of an old car, and the front end of a sweet red car, sticking out through a wall, greets you when you enter the lobby.
There’s plenty of seating, both indoors and out, and dogs are welcome in the patio area. The menu features a wide variety of starters, salads, sides, sandwiches and entrees. We tried for the potstickers, filled with pork and served with kimchi and a very spicy Thai sweet chili barbecue sauce, and a pulled chicken sandwich with fries and slaw. The order of potstickers was big enough for a meal and we used the sandwich to test out several of the homemade barbecue sauces on our table.
We visit Pine Point often and when we want something to go, we swear by On The Vine Marketplace at Dunstan Corner (just before the turn to Pine Point). It’s a produce market, deli counter, bakery, fresh foods, Maine-made specialties and beverage store all rolled into one. You can’t go wrong with one of their made-to-order sandwiches and a sweet treat for dessert.
If you’re looking for an adult beverage to wrap up your day near the beach, head up to the second floor where you’ll find a big selection of wines and Maine and New England beers. It’s a good bet you’ll leave with something you haven’t tried before.