Old Orchard Beach, Maine - My Family Travels

Visit New England's only oceanfront amusement park for old-fashioned rides, live entertainment, lobster dinners, and a walk through history.

Old Orchard Beach, Maine, known as New England’s only Beachfront Amusement Park, lies just 98-miles from Boston, 12-miles from Portland, and about 300-miles from New York City. A convenient day-trip or frugal weekend getaway from neighboring metropolitan cities, the area caters to families and budget travelers looking for oceanfront views and entertainment.

Steeped in foggy nights and rich history, Old Orchard Beach’s oldest records date back to 1653, making it an ideal spot to explore its legacy in between seafood dinners and outdoor recreation. The town took its name from the local old apple orchard resting on high land above the sandy beach and a landmark to sailors for years. Today its historic pier serves as an entertainment hub for amusement parks, eateries, live entertainment, and proximity to the beach.

While you won’t find high-end spas or 5-star luxury hotels with beach side balconies dotting the landscape, you will discover a family-friendly destination with 40-restaurants, outdoor recreation, history, shopping, fine dining, and plenty of atmosphere. When we pulled up to the Waves Motel just before midnight, we were greeted by the ominous sound of crashing waves under a full moon and a fog rolling in off the Atlantic Ocean.

Maine Amusement Park Fun

If you have kids in tow, it won’t take long to discover Palace Playland (207/934-2001, 1 Old Orchard St, Old Orchard Beach, ME 04064) , located just off the pier on Old Orchard Street. Open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, the park features arcades, a carousel, Gondola Ferris Wheel, Kiddie Land, Galaxi Coaster, fortune teller, old-fashioned photo booth, and fireworks every Thursday night. Admission to the park is free, making it easy for Mom and Dad to watch the kids without having to pay extra for themselves. Visitors looking to ride the roller coasters and play can opt for pay-as-you-go tickets for as little as $1.15. Discounted tickets in packs of 20 or 50, and all-day passes are also available. 

Pirate’s Cove Mini Golf (207/934-5086, 70 First Street, Old Orchard ME 04064) brings 18th century pirate folklore to life. Golfers putt around waterfalls, caves, and footbridges on two different 18-hole courses. It’s about a 10-minute walk to the Pier and local restaurants, making it a convenient after-dinner stop. During summer months they are open from 9am to 10pm.

Funtown Splashtown USA (207/284-5139, US Route 1, 774 Portland Road, Saco, ME 04072) blends thrills of an amusement park with a waterpark theme in one place. Funtown attractions range from the roller coaster Excalibur, vertical ride Dragon’s Descent, flume ride Thunder Falls, family and kiddie rides. Splashtown features slides and water games including the Mammoth, Tornado, a Family Raft Slide, and Liquid Lightning, a Continuous River Slide. Open from June through September, hours vary during the season.

Nature enthusiasts can stop by the Scarborough Marsh Nature Center (207/883-5100, Route 9 / Pine Point Rd Scarborough, ME 04074) for a lesson on local birding and wildlife. Located along the largest salt marsh in Maine, the center offers canoeing and kayaking rentals or tours. You can also opt for a special family nature walk and sunset or moonlight canoe tours to look for black-crowned night heron or snowy egret along the banks.

I was surprised to see how many locals and tourists were braving the chilly ocean with water hovering just below 60 degrees. My husband and I were comfortable in shorts and a light sweatshirt and enjoyed walking along the beach and pier, but never ventured into the ocean past our ankles. Visitors were busy playing frisbee, building sandcastles, jogging, and collecting shells. If you’re looking to take a dip away from the chill of the ocean, The Waves Motel and many other area accommodations offer small on-site swimming pools to guests, as well as convenient beach access.

For warm-weather visitors, the end of August or a 90º day is probably a better option for swimming in the Atlantic, though the Maine locals didn’t seem to mind the mild temperature or ocean breeze. You might even see them diving right in during the coldest of winter months. In January, Old Orchard Beach holds its annual Lobster Dip at the Brunswick Hotel to raise money for the Special Olympics of Maine. Events take place year-round including June’s Palooza Music Festival with live entertainment on the Pier, Back to the Beach Corvette Weekend, Memorial Day Parades and more.

Maine Shopping

Old Orchard Beach offers a handful of shopping options for both kids and adults and its retail strip functions as a friendly pedestrian area for window shopping and socializing. Turn up at Dickinson’s Candy (207/934-7507, 42 Old Orchard St, Old Orchard Beach, ME 04064) just after lunch for a bite of delectable dessert or a treat to go. Visitors are greeted by the aroma of sugar and an old-fashioned style caramel popcorn maker where you can serve up free samples and watch Mike whip up fresh batches just behind the glass. There’s nothing like tasting candied popcorn, warm and gooey, right out of the kitchen. You can also taste a selection of homemade fudge before choosing what to buy. The shop’s variety of chocolates, sweets, and novelty candies makes for popular souvenirs to take home.

We also browsed Board Silly Puzzles & Games (207/934-4020, 44 Old Orchard Street, Old Orchard Beach, ME 04064) and discovered everything from traditional board games, word scrambles, brain teasers, educational games, trivia, sports themed games, and old-fashioned wooden puzzles. We walked away with a puzzle picture of Old Orchard Beach and “Bananagrams”, a word scrambler housed inside a zip-up banana case. You can even send the staff a photograph or image by email to create your very own puzzle for a gift or keepsake.

If you’re looking for outlet savings or bargain shopping, make the 50-minute drive south of Old Orchard Beach for 120 outlet shops at Kittery Outlets and Trading Post (888/KITTERY, 301 US Route One Kittery, ME 03904). You’ll find over 120 stores with savings of 20 to 70% off at retailers including Adidas, Gap, Tommy Hilfiger, and The Children’s Place. Or you can spend the afternoon at the Maine Mall (207/774-0303, 364 Maine Mall Road, South Portland, ME 04106) just south of Portland with over 135 stores, restaurants, theaters, and entertainment.

Maine History

Since the early 1900’s, the hub of Old Orchard Beach revolved around its pier and amusement area complete with roller skating, merry-go-round, rides, games, and refreshment stands. The pier was rebuilt and renovated several times due to fire and storms, but thrived again in the 1930’s during the Big Band era. After a raging storm in 1978, the renovated pier reopened in 1980 and continues to be the major hub of entertainment and retail. Stop by and stroll past the vendors, have a slice of pizza, or listen to live music during summer months.

In 2008, Old Orchard Beach turned the tender age of 125. To learn about the history of Old Orchard Beach visitors can stop by the Old Orchard Beach Historical Society at the Harmon Museum (207/934-9319, 4 Portland Avenue, Old Orchard Beach, ME 04064). Here visitors will learn more about the pier, see old photographs, explore the history of the town and more. Free parking is available behind the Saco & Biddeford Savings Bank, and the museum is free to all visitors, but donations are strongly encouraged.

Details, Details

Despite being a cultured New Yorker for nearly a decade by way of Atlanta, I needed a complete lesson in eating a whole lobster. We dined at the The Brunswick Hotel (207/934-4873, 39 West Grand Ave, Old Orchard Beach, ME 04064) with ocean views and ordered up the most delicious fresh lobster stew simmered in sherry and rich cream.

Cracking open the lobster entree proved more difficult to maneuver and would take a little more muscle than a lazy bowl of seasoned stew. I learned the lobster shells were the hardest of the season and despite being at peak flavor, they would be difficult to crack. I realized just how difficult when a red claw went flying across the table. All that hard work eventually paid off with fresh lobster drenched in warm butter. The meal was topped off with chocolate cake and coffee accompanied by live music from the hotel deck and outside bar. But if seafood isn’t your flavor, try the sirloin steaks, prime rib, stuffed chicken breasts, or specialty salads.

For breakfast and brunch options, try Joseph’s By the Sea (207/934-5044, 55 West Grand Ave, Old Orchard Beach, ME 04064) for omelets, waffles, eggs, and mimosas overlooking the ocean. Down towards the pier, JJ’s Eatery II (207/934-0222, 12 Old Orchard Beach, ME 04064) serves up traditional greasy spoon fare at a bargain. Or stop in for lunch to find burgers, sandwiches, and standard deli fare. The Clambake Seafood Restaurant (207 883-4871, US Rt 9, Scarborough , ME 04064) is a popular choice for seafood, but for snacks and kid-favorite treats, walk along the pier for pizza, ice cream, french-fry stands.

You can explore the center of town’s restaurants, shops, and pier without the need for a car and we spent most our time walking along Old Orchard Street, Grand Avenue, and the beachfront. Keep in mind some of the businesses and attractions in Old Orchard Beach shut down during winter months, so check the calendar of events and local news with the Chamber of Commerce in advance.

Because the area caters to families and budget-minded travelers, it’s easy to find accommodations with kitchenettes and proximity to attractions and the beach. We stayed at the Waves Motel (207/934-4949) located oceanfront at 87 West Grand Avenue, Old Orchard Beach, ME 04064.  Paradise Park Campground (207/934-4633) is among the lodging options in Old Orchard Beach, which range from camping to no-frills motels, inns, apartments, condos, cottages, and house rentals.

Having invested in green initiatives including a salt water and ultraviolet pool cleaning system, as well as underground barrels to capture rainwater to use for outdoor irrigation, Paradise Park is a great choice for travelers seeking eco-friendly options. With activities such as volleyball, paddle boat races, fishing derbies, a heated pool and 2 jacuzzi’s there is something for each member of your family. They offer a variety of sites including waterfront and park home rentals, with rates for waterfront properties beginning at $39/3N during peak season from June through September. The price for park home rentals is $1100/week during peak season and $800/week during value season.

For a complete list of entertainment and lodging options in Old Orchard Beach, visit the local Chamber of Commerce or call (207/934-2500).

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