SIDE TRIPS FROM PORTLAND
Old Orchard Beach
About 12 miles south of Portland is the unrepentantly honky-tonk beach town of Old Orchard Beach, which offers considerable stimulus for the senses (not to mention bikers, fried dough, and French Canadians aplenty). This venerable Victorian-era resort is famed for its amusement park, pier, and a long, sandy beach that attracts sun-worshipers from all over.
Be sure to spend time and money on the stomach-churning rides at the beachside amusement park of Palace Playland (www.palaceplayland.com; tel. 207/934-2001), and then walk on the 7-mile-long beach past the midrise condos that sprouted in the 1980s like a scale-model Miami Beach. The beach is broad and open at low tide; at high tide, space to plunk your towel down is at a premium.
In the evenings, teens and young adults dominate the town’s culture, spilling out of the video arcades and cruising the main strip. For dinner, do as the locals do and buy hot dogs, pizza, and cotton candy—and be sure to save your change for the arcades.
Just outside of “OOB,” as many Mainers call it, neighboring Saco has two often-mobbed waterparks, Aquaboggan (www.aquabogganwaterpark.com; tel. 207/282-3112) and Funtown Splashtown USA (www.funtownusa.com; tel. 207/284-5139). A more charming local institution is the Saco Drive-In, 969 Portland Road (www.sacodrivein.com; tel. 207/286-3200), a lovingly maintained al fresco theater with a throwback snack shop—you can usually count on a kid-friendly earlier show and something for the grown-ups after.
Old Orchard Beach is just off Route 1 south of Portland. The quickest route is to leave the turnpike at exit 36 in Saco and then follow I-195 and the signs to the beach. Don’t expect to be alone here: Parking is tight, and the traffic can be horrendous during the peak summer months.
Maine’s second-largest lake is also its most popular. Ringed with summer homes, Sebago Lake attracts thousands of vacationers to its cool, deep waters.
You can take a tour of the outlying lakes and the ancient canal system between Sebago and Long lakes on the Songo River Queen II (www.songoriverqueen.net; tel. 207/693-6861), a faux-steamship berthed in the town of Naples. Operating from July through Labor Day, the 1-hour trips cost $15 for adults, $8 for children ages 4–12. Longer tours and group rates are also available for a little more money.
Or just lie in the sun along the sandy beach at bustling Sebago Lake State Park (tel. 207/693-6613), on the lake’s north shore—the park is off Route 302 (look for signs on the south side of the road, between the towns of Raymond and South Casco). This park has shady picnic areas, a campground, a snack bar, and lifeguards on the beach. It can be uncomfortably crowded on sunny summer weekends; it’s best on weekdays. Bring food and charcoal for barbecuing at the shady picnic areas off the beach. (Tip: The park’s campground has a separate beach, and you don’t have to be camping there to enjoy it.; it’s located a distance from the day-use area, but it is much less congested during good weather.)
Park admission costs $8 for non-Maine resident adults, $2 for nonresident seniors, $1 for children. Camping sites tend to book up early in the season, but call to check (tel. 207/693-6231)—you might luck into a cancellation if you want a spot to pitch your tent.
Sabbathday Lake Shaker Community
Route 26, from Portland to Norway, is a speedy highway that runs past new housing developments and through hilly farmland. At one point, however, the road pinches through a cluster of stately historic buildings that stand proudly beneath towering shade trees. That’s the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Community (www.maineshakers.com; tel. 207/926-4597), the last active Shaker community in the nation. The world’s two remaining Shakers living here today still embrace their traditional beliefs and maintain a communal, pastoral way of life. The bulk of the community’s income comes from the sale of herbs, which have been grown here since 1799.
Tours are offered a half-dozen times daily from Memorial Day through Columbus Day (in other words, mid-May through mid-October), providing a look at the grounds and several buildings, including the graceful 1794 meetinghouse. Exhibits in the buildings showcase the famed furniture handcrafted by the Shakers and include antiques made by Shakers at other U.S. communes. You’ll learn plenty about the Shaker ideology, with its emphasis on simplicity, industry, and celibacy. The tours begin at 10:30am; last tour starts at 3:15pm. After your tour, browse the gift shop for Shaker herbs and teas. The tour lasts 1 hour and 15 minutes and costs $10 for adults, $2 for children ages 6–12; it’s free for children 5 and under.
The village is about 45 minutes from Portland, on Route 26 near the attractive village of New Gloucester. From Portland, head northwest out Route 26 (Washington Avenue, reachable from I-295, U.S. Route 1, and Congress Street). Or, from southern Maine, take exit 63 from the Maine Turnpike; after exiting, follow signs into the center of downtown Gray and follow signs for Route 26 north and into the village. Don’t miss the farm stand, either, selling a wonderful array of dried herbs, flowers, and crafts farmed and crafted right on-site.