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Some of the best York Beach attractions for the whole family

Downtown York Beach, Maine

Article and photos by Eric H.

Following up on our popular article on York Beach, Maine, we decided to write a piece focusing specifically on the best attractions in this fun-filled, family-oriented summer resort town. While York Beach has myriad attractions that require an extended vacation or repeated day trips, we feel the following destinations will keep your summer soul and senses happy for years to come:

York Wild Kingdom photo, York Beach, Maine1. York Wild Kingdom Zoo and Fun Park 

1 Railroad Ave.
York, Maine
Tel. (207) 363-4911

Many people don't realize how vast this downtown York Beach attraction is, thinking they'll see just a few ratty-looking animals and some anemic, outdated amusement rides. The truth is, the zoo -- along with Southwick's in Mendon, MA, and Roger Williams in Providence, RI, is amongst the best in New England, and the rides provide a more than adequate mix of traditional amusements. Along with the lions, tigers and bears, you'll find some more unusual animals like the two toed sloth, Patagonian Cavy, Capybaras, African Crested Porcupine and Patas Monkey -- as well as an impressive aviary with a tremendous variety of birds. Amusements include a merry-go-round, 90 ft. slide, ferris wheel, bumper cars and boats, a haunted house, miniature golf, batting cages, boat rides, and arcade games. Be prepared to spend a whole morning or afternoon here -- or depending upon your energy level, a full day!

Nubble Lighthouse photo, York Beach, Maine2. Nubble Lighthouse 

Sohier Park,
(Off Nubble Rd.)
York Beach, Maine

Built and established in 1879, Nubble Lighthouse majestically stands one of America's most photographed lighthouses. Perfectly framed by the often rough seas and classic rocky Maine coast, you could spend hours here sitting on a bench, climbing the rocks and just taking in the salt sea air and splendid scenery. Located at Sohier Park, which also includes a small gift shop on the premises with some fantastic regional arts and crafts items for sale (as well as some souvenirs).

Dunne's Ice Cream, York Beach, Maine3. Dunne's Ice Cream 

214 Nubble Rd.
York Beach, Maine
Tel. (207) 363-1277

Brown's Ice Cream Stand graced the Nubble Lighthouse area as a landmark ice cream stand for many years, but the Brown's sold the business a few year's back and former manager Steve Dunne assumed responsibilities at a new location virtually right next to the old ice cream stand. Dunne's, fortunately, carries on the tradition of serving incredibly tasty homemade ice cream every bit as good as Brown's. Like Brown's, expect long lines but know that your patience will be worth the wait. My favorite flavors: the Wild Maine Blueberry and Maine Whoopie Pie, of course!

Foster's Clambake, York, Maine, photo4. Fosters Downeast  Clambake 

1 Axholme Rd. (visible from Route 1A), York, Maine
Tel. (207) 363-3255

When in Maine, do as the Maine people do -- that includes having a "Downeast" clambake that includes Maine lobster, steamers and clam chowder. Fosters Downeast Clambake just might be the quintessential, Maine dining destination to make your clambake dreams come true. Walk past the lobster pools, place your order at the walk-up counter and you're on your way to a memorable dining experience; the wonderful regional seafood and indoor picnic-like seating area truly resonates with the essence of a Maine summer. Located minutes from the action of York Beach, Foster's also features a gift shop with clothing and souvenirs, and musical entertainment (we listened to a local crowd-pleasing musician who covered everything from Jimmy Buffett's "Margaritaville" to "I'm Henry the Eighth I Am" (the slightly annoying Herman's Hermits song from 1965).

Short Sands Beach photo, York Beach, Maine5. Short Sands Beach 

Route 1A Downtown
York Beach, Maine

Short Sands Beach feels like your own secluded discovery, even with the crowds of people that frequent downtown York Beach to swim, shop and surf. Relatively small for a popular ocean beach, Short Sands packs a mighty wave of appeal with a great stretch of sand, chilly swimming waters for the brave, and a perfect background of Victorian homes, rocky coast, and fun attractions -- like the bowling and arcade buildings and the Surfside restaurant for fried seafood (see #9 below).  You'll also find a playground, gazebo where entertainment takes place, and a basketball court. Right off the beach is The Goldenrod for tasty breakfasts, lunches and dinners and made-on-the-premises salt water taffy (see #6 below). Also noteworthy is Joan's Beach and Gift, the perfect place to find local gifts, souvenirs and clothing -- it's more on the side of classy rather than tacky and without the inflated prices. Beyond Joan's, you'll find a mix of  more souvenir and clothing stores (read about Ro's below, #10), restaurants and bars, Hotels (like the new upscale Atlantic and the older, quaint Union Bluff), two homemade fudge shops, the aforementioned York Wild Kingdom Zoo and Fun Park, and lots of places to eat ice cream. Shorts Sands Beach and its lively surroundings are equally fun whether on a hot sunny day, or at sundown when the crowds are less and the air cools down for a quiet, relaxing evening by the beach.

Long Sands Beach, York Beach, Maine6. Long Sands Beach 

Long Sands Rd.
Route 1A

York, Maine

This one-plus mile stretch of sandy beach is perfect for that proverbial sunset stroll, or to throw a Frisbee around, dig up clams, build a sandcastle, surf or boogie board, or just soak in the views of Nubble Lighthouse in the distance. Motels, inns, restaurants, ice cream stands and summer homes colorfully complement the beach from across the street. Perfect for the family!

Goldenrod Kisses photo, York, Maine7. The Goldenrod

2 Railroad Ave.
York, Maine
Tel. (207) 363-2621

More than 100 years old, this seasonal breakfast, lunch and dinner landmark is best known for its salt water taffy-making.  You can create your own tour-- as hundreds of people each day do -- by looking through the window of the restaurant where employees and efficient-looking automated machines work to deliver this delicious treat. Inside, you'll find a wide variety of this freshly-made taffy, and also other candies, ice cream, and gifts. The dining room is cozy with a high-arched ceiling and nice wood paneling, and the delightful soda fountain looks like a scene out of of the 1940s.

Surfside photo, York Beach, Maine8. The Surfside, Bowling and Fun-O-Rama 

Route 1A Downtown
York Beach, Maine

Located, as mentioned earlier in this article, on Shorts Sands Beach, this trio of businesses offers the classic beach accompaniments -- fried seafood, clam chowder, bowling, indoor miniature golf, arcade games, souvenirs, clothing, boogie boards and surfer gear. This is a true summertime staple amongst families looking for good, clean fun without the sleaziness factor.

Ro's Shirts, York Beach, Maine9. Ro's Shirts by the Shore

17 Railroad Ave.
York Beach, Maine
Tel. (207) 363-7379

What would a family vacation be like without a piece of clothing with that town or city's name? Ro's goes into overdrive with its packed-to-the-gills store offering just about every type of York Beach and State of Maine shirt or other souvenir available. Slightly tacky, but somehow endearing and charming, Ro's the retail version of "How many people can you fit into one phone booth?"

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Read these travel tips on how to enjoy a York Beach, Maine summer family vacation.

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