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York, Maine Vacation Review
York, Maine, offers some of the best seaside vacation family fun in
New England

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Short Sands Beach Photo, York Beach, Maine

Short Sands Beach, York Beach, Maine (photo by Eric H.)

Article and photos by Eric H.

York, Maine, is living proof that you don't have to travel far up the Maine coast to get a true feel of the famed Downeast lifestyle.

Lobster dinners, rocky shoreline, expansive ocean beaches, ice cream stands, salt water taffy and refreshing salt air await you just minutes north of the New Hampshire-Maine border. York has something fun for everyone: the quiet, antique-friendly York Harbor and York Village, the beaches, carousel and arcades at York Beach, and the rugged, rocky, more secluded environs of Cape Neddick.

When visiting York, you can see the joy and relaxation in peoples' faces as more smiling and "hellos" take place here than you can initially handle. The key is to adapt. When you do, the health benefits are greater than any wellness doctor could ever recommend.

We suggest starting with Long Sands beach where families saturate this wonderful two-mile stretch where the water is cold, but the appeal of the area isn't. Long Sands Beach is perfect for strolling, sunning, building a sandcastle, or just meeting friendly people. If you don't mind the frigid waters, it is also perfect for swimming.

Then walk the loop from Long Sands Beach to the stunning Nubble Lighthouse at Cape Neddick. Generally recognized as one of the most photographed lighthouses in the country, this is the perfect place to rest, get hypnotized by the rough ocean waves and prototypical Maine rocky coastline --it is a picture-perfect postcard come to life. Sometimes, Mother Nature's fury can be viewed in the form of some spectacular storms with biting high winds and crashing waves.

My wife Joan and I fell in love at Nubble Light, under the milky way sky. For years, we have come back to our favorite New England travel destination remembering that day when our lives changed in the most wonderful way possible. It's especially nice coming to Nubble Light at night to cool off, hear the hypnotic waves and see the red beacon light shining in the pitch black, seaside sky, landscaped with an endless and stunning array of stars and galaxies. For others, it's fun trying to spot other lighthouses in the far distance (on a clear night, you can see lighthouses as far as 30 miles away in Portland).

You could literally spend a day at Nubble Light, and not tire of one of New England's masterpieces.

Around the corner is absolutely terrific ice cream at Brown's ice cream stand. We strongly recommend the blueberry ice cream. And remember, it's OK to eat blueberry ice cream without feeling guilty. Blueberries are loaded with antioxidants, plus you're helping the Maine economy by purchasing this tasty fruit. Regarding the ice cream, we'll just say you're helping the Vermont economy. Foxes, which is closer to Nubble Light, also serves Brown's Ice Cream at its ice cream stand and has a nice dining area where you can sample top-notch Maine classics like lobster, and clam chowder.

To justify all that eating, be prepared to walk about a mile until you reach York Beach. Here, you will find Short Sands Beach, the midget cousin of Long Sands Beach. The waves pack a wallop and so do the crowds. Short Sands Beach is downtown, which means easier access to stores, restaurants, arcades, Maine largest zoo (including the carousel) and, curiously, a bowling alley, overlooking the ocean. It is a bit puzzling seeing people favor the bowling alley over a pristine beach. Perhaps the salt air produces better scores.

Make it a point to walk across the street to the landmark Goldenrod's, offering nice lunches and loads of salt water taffy. They make the stuff here, and at times, the machines viewed from the window draw more of a crowd than a Britney Spears concert. Only here, you get more wholesome entertainment.

In downtown York Beach, visitors can sample some nice arts, crafts and antique stores, plus the obligatory t-shirt shops. Perhaps the best of these shops is Joan's Beach House which has a nice array of gifts, including some great Maine shirts, lighthouse lamps and throws. Some great candle scents permeate the air.

York Harbor and York Village are more subdued and New England-traditional than York Beach. The shopping district has a quaint, relaxed feel -- some prefer the quiet, understated feel with its small town feel, tree-lined side streets, spectacular homes sporting many different types of architecture, and meandering sidewalks leading to charming little indepedently owned shops. A small ocean beach at York Harbor is just a short walk away, as well as a fun cliff walk which requires walking over lots of rocks, while enjoying sweeping views of the Atlantic ocean.

Not too far from York Harbor on Route One is the famed Stonewall Kitchen offering some truly amazing jams, syrups, salad dressings and plenty of kitchen accessories. Don't leave without buying the incredible blueberry jam.

On the other side of town is Shore Road, which has more twists and turns than a Hitchcock movie. Here in the Cape Neddick area, you'll experience a more untouched part of the area as the ocean looks more lonesome and wild, but no less charming. Shore Road leads to the delightful village of Ogunquit.

Great restaurants reside in York. Clay Hill Farm is without a doubt the best restaurant in the area and possibly in New England. Clay Hill Farm's lovely gardens and warm intimate dining rooms in an old and elegant farmhouse set the tone for the freshest food we've encountered in many years of dining. The spinach salad is so alive with straight-from-the-garden tatste and just the right amount of dressing. The lobster bisque jumps right at your taste bud's joy center. The roast half duck and seafood scampi are particularly amazing, so flavorful and memorable with all the right seasonings and sauces. Deserts, largely of a chocolate theme, will leave you breathless.

The Cape Neddick Inn (Rt. 1A) is also a superb dining establishment. A gracious country atmosphere awaits you, along with fine service and an upscale menu featuring creative seafood and steak dishes. During the summer, a warm window breeze and the fine art on the wall lend a home-like feeling. We really enjoyed the salads and schrod and pork dinners on our first visit here.

Another restaurant recommendation is the Sand and Surf on Long Sands Beach. What might first seem like a tourist haven turns out to be a fine top-notch steak and seafood place. The seafood --particularly the haddock -- is quite fresh and plentiful. The Sand and Surf has quite possibly the best clam chowder and blueberry pie of any we've sampled in New England. Plus, the perfect view of Long Sands Beach is reason enough to visit.

There are many fine places to stay in York.

The Katahdin Inn might just be our favorite place to stay now, and in the years to come. The innkeepers are down-to-earth and welcoming, their 19th century Victorian inn charming, quaint and convenient, the ocean views amazing, and the rates quite reasonable in an area that has shown recent glimpses of becoming upscale. The Katahdin Inn is really the perfect place to stay in York Beach, one of New England's best vacation destinations.

The former Inn at Long Sands is now the 123 Restaurant and Inn. We expect the quality to be  as wonderful as it was before, offering rooms with spectacular ocean view porches of beautiful Long Sands Beach -- right across the street.  Further updates on the way for the new inn and restaurant -- stay tuned!

Edward's Harborside Inn at York Harbor is a charming place with refreshing sun-splashed views of the ocean. Many of the rooms are spacious and full of character. Edward's is located where the harbor meets the Atlantic Ocean and is within walking distance of the village shops. Walking the dock at Edward's backyard or having breakfast outdoors with fine views of the harbor creates one of the most delightful experiences in New England lodging -- it's like making your own great discovery.

The Dockside Guest Quarters and Restaurant , near York Harbor, is located on the secluded Harris Island. The Dockside consists of bed and breakfast-type rooms in the main house and some very good modern, condo-style rooms featuring fireplaces and porches with great harbor views. It is nestled in between dense wooded area and the harbor, making it a peaceful and romantic place to stay. A fine restaurant completes this excellent choice for lodging.

York might not have the style of nearby Ogunquit, the opulence of Kennebunkport, the Springsteen feel of Hampton Beach, N.H., or the urban aura of Portland. What it does have is heart and soul and a great family-oriented atmosphere, inviting every walk of life to experience the seaside experience in New England. York is simply made to enjoy. So, enjoy!

Many of York's businesses are seasonal, especially in the York Beach area. For more information, visit the York Chamber of Commerce Web site

Click here to read some reviews on York area inns and motels

Related articles:

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Ten Reasons to Visit York Beach

Maine spring fishing destinations

Visiting Portland Head Light at Fort Williams Park, Cape Elizabeth

Spring magic at Short Sands Beach, York Beach

A Long Sands Beach walk in the morning

Fun and fried food at Short Sands Beach

York Beach Maine vacation review What it's like to be at Nubble Lighthouse, Cape Neddick

Ten reasons to visit York Beach Maine

A Marginal Way summer in Ogunquit

Visiting Kennebunkport

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