Grab a towel and sunscreen, we’re headed for the beach. Unlike the rest of the coast, where rocks, ledge and cliff define the landscape, along the Southern Maine Coast, from York through Old Orchard, miles of wide sand beaches are the rule. Build a sand castle, go surfing, play beach volleyball, swim or simply walk for miles.
Equally magical and plentiful are the region’s nature preserves. The Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve at Laudholm Farm comprises 1.600 acres. The Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge is divided among 10 sites. Bird watchers flock to the East Point Sanctuary, a Maine Audubon preserve in Biddeford. For a quiet retreat, try Saco Heath, a 500 acre preserve operated by the Nature Conservancy where trails lead through woods and fields.
Off the beach, antiquities and architecture buffs can tour the Sayward-Wheeler House, in York Harbor, and the Georgian-style Hamilton House and the Federal-style home of writer Sarah Orne Jewett, in South Berwick. Legend has it that the ornately decorated Wedding Cake House, in Kennebunk, was built by a sea captain for his bride as a substitute for a wedding cake when he was called to sea. The Brick House Museum leads architectural walking tours through Kennebunk’s historic district.
Immerse yourself in Colonial history in the Old York Village Historic District. For a taste of 19th century village life, spend a day at Willowbrook at Newfield. Military history buffs should begin in Kittery at the Kittery Historical and Naval Museum. Nearby Fort McClary is an 1846 hexagonal blockhouse. Delve into the region’s maritime history at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum and the Kittery Historical and Naval Musem.
The arts are well represented here, too. The Ogunquit Museum of American Art shows works by Marsden Hartley, Rockwell Kent and others; don’t miss the sculpture garden. Catch a play at the Hackmatack Playhouse, in Berwick, or the Ogunquit Playhouse, a classic summer stock theater that regularly attracts well-known actors. The beautifully restored Biddeford City Theatre is listed on the National Historic Register.
Maine’s southern coast has plenty to entertain kids. There’s the Wild Kingdom zoo and amusement park in York. Amusements parks in Saco and Old Orchard Beach deliver big thrills with roller-coasters, carousels, waterslides and other riders. A gentler ride is available at the Seashore Trolley Museum, in Kennebunkport, where you can view more than 200 streetcars and take a four-mile ride on one.
Shoppers take note: Kittery has more than 125 outlet stores; antiques stores are plentiful in Wells; and boutiques, galleries and specialty stores crowd Perkins Cove, in Ogunquit, and Dock Square, in Kennebunkport.