In comparison to the rest of Maine’s coastline, Old Orchard Beach is an anomaly. Craggy coves, ribbons of white sand, rocky cliffs and sparsely populated fishing villages are what you expect to find in Maine, so when you first lay eyes on this 7-mile carnival, you wonder if your GPS failed and you took a wrong turn somewhere on I-95, ending up in Coney Island or the Jersey Shore instead of Vacationland. There’s no reason to recalculate. You’re in the right place. On this unique stretch of sand, Winslow Homer and Norman Rockwell’s version of Maine has been replaced with bikini contests and two-dollar shot glasses.
The Attractions of Maine’s Miniature Coney Island
Fanning out from the 475-foot pier that marks the center of town, Old Orchard Beach swells with a cotton candy medley of honky-tonk attractions. There are scores of double-decker hotels, motels, greasy pizza stands, fried food shacks and souvenir huts. It is a colorfully tacky affair, combining old school kitsch will a Jell-O-shot of boardwalk seediness. At the Palace Playland amusement park, you can ride the gondola Ferris Wheel, drop 50-feet on a rickety roller coaster or cool-off by splashing down Maine’s largest waterslide. The nonstop whirl and bleep of pinball and arcade games is punctuated with karaoke, classic rock, reggae and live music. Old Orchard Beach has a retro-beauty. While it might not cater to everyone’s style, it is certainly a bold alternative to the gentrification that has taken over much of the eastern seaboard.
Old Orchard Beach looks much like it did in the turn of the 20th century. As early as the 1850s, trains running from Boston and Montreal began chugging through this scenic section of Maine. It did not take long for a resort community to form, and in no time at all thousands of vacationers began arriving to sunbathe, go roller-skating, ride the merry-go round and play games of chance. Old Orchard Beach was named after a grove of apple trees that sailors used as a coastal landmark. However, when you’re looking for a place to park this summer, chances are that apple grove is long gone, the Old Orchard that gave the town its name has probably become a throbbing disco, sunglasses salon, tattoo parlor or a novelty shop selling Jimmy Buffett style t-shirts: Margaritaville, indeed.
While Old Orchard Beach has a hedonistic Spring Break vibe, Ocean Park touts itself as a tranquil and wholesome vacation destination. Alcohol and tobacco are not sold here, making it a true family-friendly sanctuary. Located on the southwestern edge of town, this holiday haven likes to keep its distance from its rowdy neighbor. Ocean Park was founded in 1881 by Baptist leaders as a religious and educational retreat.
If you’re looking for a reprieve from the neon and carnival atmosphere of Old Orchard, Ocean Park hosts a variety of cultural happenings. Movies, concerts, lectures, dances, yoga classes and religious services are held in the Temple, an architectural marvel that is on the National Register of Historic Places. There are no rides or carnival style booth games here. If winning an oversized teddy bear by squirt-gunning water into a clown’s mouth is not your day at the beach, then try your skill on Ocean Park’s public shuffleboard court. After that, head over to the Ocean Park Soda Fountain for an old-fashioned lime rickey. The scene at Ocean Park is a world away from what you will find a couple miles up the road. In fact, Old Orchard Beach and Ocean Park are polar opposites, a seaside Ying to a coastal Yang,
Pine Point Beach
Extending from Scarborough River to Old Orchard Beach, you will find a four-mile stretch of sand known as Pine Point Beach. Officially a part of Scarborough, this is an ideal place to relax, sunbathe, swim or play Frisbee. Surfing and sailing are also popular activities at Pine Point. The beach has all the necessary amenities. Restrooms, showers and a concession stand make it the perfect place to spend a July day. Nearby, you will also find the Scarborough Marsh Audubon Center. It offers both guided and self-guided tours of Maine’s largest salt marsh. You have the option of exploring on foot or taking a canoe for a peaceful paddle. Bring the field guide and binoculars. The birdlife in this area is second to none.
Nightlife, Lodging and Dining
During the Big Band era, the Old Orchard Beach pier extended 1,800 feet into the sea and was outfitted with a lively dance hall. Sadly, a fire gutted the concert hall, but in the summer Old Orchard is still a one-of-a kind music destination. The Town Square holds concerts throughout the week. The Old Orchard Beach Pavilion hosts classical orchestras and brass bands. There are also several bars in the area that have live music and dancing. There is a fireworks display every Thursday night. Places to stay run the gamut from budget motels to luxury resorts. The same is true for dining. Grab some newspaper-wrapped fish and chips at a seaside dive or sit down at an elegant table for some ahi yellowfin tuna. At Old Orchard Beach, variety is the greatest thrill by the sea.
Old Orchard Beach Area Directories
Visit the following directories to find lodging, dining, attractions, shops, services and recreational activities in the Old Orchard Beach, Maine area.
- Old Orchard Beach Maine (Population: 8,960)
Old Orchard Beach, Maine Map