Maine’s South Coast – with the towns of York, Kittery, Ogunquit, Old Orchard Beach – dips well south of the mass of the state; it’s just a short drive north of Boston.
Although it is near, this Maine region will immerse you quickly in a distinctively Maine culture (how many ways can you spell “moccasin”?)
The South Coast is lined with great family beaches at almost every town: Kittery, York, Ogunquit, Kennebunkport, Saco, Biddeford, and Old Orchard Beach. Most beaches have broad expanses of sand and also little adjacent shopping villages with plenty of beach food and toys and souvenirs.
If you’re headed northbound on I-95, the moment you cross the Piscataqua River (the New Hampshire-Maine border) you will find yourself in Kittery, where the Kittery Trading Post and Kittery Outlets will practically reach out and snatch shoppers off the highway and into their busy aisle, swimming in vacation-play and outdoor gear.
As soon as you enter York, the excellent York Visitor Center just off I-95 is the place to taste and buy some blueberry jam at the Maine-made Stonewall Kitchen flagship store. But that’s just for starters.
If the kids in your car are itching for activity, York’s Wild Kingdom will get them moving around and gazing at beasts from remote parts of the globe.
York’s beaches include Long Sands Beach, Short Sands Beach, and Cape Neddick Beach, as well as the famous Cape Neddick “Nubble” Lighthouse. You cannot visit Nubble Light itself, but adjacent Sohier Park is a good place to unload, relax, dabble in the tide pools and eat salt water taffy or other snacks you bought in York. (Try the Goldenrod restaurant and candy store.)
Next of the northward route is Ogunquit, a fun town also with glorious sand beaches. This town loves to host seasonal celebrations, from St. Patrick’s Day to Thanksgiving and everything in between, so brace yourself for parties and / or parades on the more colorful holidays. Dining for adults is great at Jonathan’s Ogunquit, where you can also hear first-class music by artists of national reputation.
For outdoors people, the town of Wells, north of Ogunquit, is the hub of the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, where you can walk trails among beautiful coastal march meadows and celebrate the outdoors.
The refuge extends along the shore for many miles, ending its northward reach almost in Kennebunkport, a swanky coastal town where adults will find elegant dining and lodging, if they feel the desire for white-glove service.
Further north, Saco is the home of Funtown Splashtown, a water- and amusement park where the family can burn up a full day of water slides and pools, rides and games, and deliciously sticky summer indulgence food. Saco is near another town for colorful beach fun: Old Orchard Beach.
The South Coast region tops out just south of Portland. You can top off your visit at Cape Elizabeth and the Portland Head Light and Museum. Visit the lighthouse and museum and scoop up lighthouse and nautical gifts for yourself and friends back home.