For those still nursing memories of summer camp, Maine—touted on signage as “Vacationland”—conjures images of sleeping bags and tents, mosquitoes and frigid lakes. But if camping’s not your idea of a vacation, Maine has a lot more to offer gay families, especially when your destination is Ogunquit.
Situated on the Atlantic coast and a mere hour-and-change from Boston by car, Ogunquit is a small and queer-friendly town, rich in rewards both rustic and sophisticated, traditional and modern. From the ubiquitous presence of the maritime industry to the gentility of its classic New England architecture, this lovely gay getaway really earns its Native American name, “beautiful place by the sea.”
9 Reason to Visit Ogunquit, Maine
1. The Beachmere Inn
62 Beachmere Place,
The family-owned Beachmere, which has welcomed guests since 1937, is nestled on the coastline at the mouth of the Ogunquit River, opening onto stunning views of the expansive beaches for which the town is known. Positioned near the north end of the Marginal Way (see below), the inn sits magnificently atop a vast sloping lawn (complete with a swing set and slide) where children can run free. A small cove makes for a wonderful morning beach spot — get there before the tide comes in at lunch, though.
The staff at the Beachmere is lovely and personable, even offering babysitting services in the evening. Rooms are spacious,with kitchenettes, free wi-fi, and outdoor spaces with chaises. The pub serves a well-curated menu of snacks, salads and sandwiches, with a complimentary breakfast served each morning. Overall, the vibe at the Beachmere is relaxed and casual—ideal for a family getaway.
2. The Marginal Way and Ogunquit Beach
A paved and manicured promenade stretching more than a mile along Ogunquit’s scenic shore, the Marginal Way is a nature lover’s dream: the perfect place to take a brisk walk, smell the sea air and have a rest (on one of 39 landmark benches).
Overlooking the stony cliffside below, the path begins at Ogunquit Beach, a gorgeous strip of white sand that extends more than three miles. The tide ebbs and flows significantly, however, so be sure to ask ahead to maximize your beach time.
Now that you’ve seen the water from the sand, it’s time to see the land from the sea. We took a delightful lobstering trip along the shoreline with Finestkind Scenic Cruises, learned firsthand how lobstermen trap and haul their catch, and picked up other fun facts about Maine’s favorite crustaceans. Grant and Amy Hubbard run 15 excursions per day, continuing the business handed down to them from Oscar Hubbard, who started taking tourists out on his boat back in 1956. It’s especially fun for kids, who get to pose with live lobsters fresh out of the ocean (claws banded, of course). If you’re still in the mood for more sightseeing, hop on board one of the frequent trolleys that run throughout the town.
Let’s face it. The beach is vast and beautiful, the town is adorable, and there’s something here for the whole family. But you came here for lobster, and lobster you will have. Here are your best options:
The Ogunquit Lobster Pound (504 Main St). These folks have been doing it since 1931, serving up lobsters that you can pick from a large tank just outside the entrance. A tree-lined lawn out front also serves as a great hide-and-seek playfield for the kids. And don’t sleep on the phenomenal lobster fettuccine; it’s all that lobster goodness without the pliers or the shells.
The Perkins Cove Lobster Pound (324 Shore Rd) Don’t feel like dragging the family out to a restaurant, but you still want your lobster? No problem, just call these guys up for a fresh-boiled crustacean delivered by scooter right to your hotel room — bibs and all. Great prices, super convenience, wonderful lobster. Heaven!
Still haven’t had your fill? Walk down to Perkins Cove for your choice of scenic coastline restaurants serving up lobster and fresh seafood. Try Barnacle Billy’s, MC Perkins Cove or the Lobster Shack.
And speaking of Perkins Cove, there’s a lot more to do there than eat lobster. Aside from numerous restaurants and inns, this quintessential side village has stores galore, from local crafts, jewelry and clothing to ice cream and candy shops. A few of our favorite spots are the Pottery Shop for stoneware, Perkins & Perkins for wine and cheese (including local wines), and Perkins Cove Candles for–you guessed it–all your candling needs.
Downtown highlights include the Village Food Market & Café, as well as the Animal Instinct right next door, which carries an impressive selection of both toys and books. And for a happy ending to a day of shopping, Sweet Pea’s Ice Cream is not to be missed.
One of the few remaining summer stock theaters in existence, the Ogunquit Playhouse is a charming operation now in its 81st year. The playhouse is committed to putting together big shows on a less-than-Broadway scale, attracting seasoned professionals to its (usually musical) productions. When in town we hit the jackpot and saw Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat starring Clay Aiken. (Yes, it was as fabulous as it sounds.)
The playhouse isn’t just for grownups: this local institution offers numerous programs for kids and runs its own theater camp.
Ask some people about Ogunquit and the first thing they’ll mention is its legendary art colony. The painter Henry Strater founded a museum in the colony’s wake, and today OMAA is the town’s crown jewel, its lush and meticulously landscaped grounds dotted with sculptures are perched on a cliffside overlooking the ocean.
The museum boasts carefully curated exhibitions, as well as an impressive permanent collection boasted works by artists such as Edward Hopper and Alexander Calder, much of which is from Strater’s estate. Run, don’t walk, as they say (but no running inside the museum!).
8. Arrows restaurant
37 Ogunquit Rd
Cape Neddick, ME
Ogunquit is the quintessential family beach town, but do yourself a favor: Book a babysitter one night and head up Ogunquit Road for a truly unforgettable meal at Arrows. This James Beard Award-winning mainstay has been thrilling gastronomes for more than two decades, as gay power-couple chefs Clark Frasier and Mark Gaier (who you may recognize from Top Chef Masters) infuse a love of food in every dish they serve.
Arrows is only open from mid-April through late November, and the lion’s share of its produce comes directly from the farm behind the restaurant. This is true farm-to-table dining, pioneered here long before it was in fashion.
Facing out to a lush garden and orchard, the main dining room extends off the cozy, 18th-Century farmhouse that is home to Arrows. The exquisite, softly-lit room is attended to by a friendly and knowledgeable staff. They present a diverse menu sprinkled with whimsical flourishes like the “Deviled Green Eggs and Ham” amuse bouche, an entree of “Peking Duck in Three Preparations,” and “Ain’t Life a Peach” for dessert.
The menu changes daily, so your best bet is to surrender to the chef and go for the six-course tasting menu. It will not disappoint–the summertime salad and the plancha-seared salmon still have my taste buds soaring.
Arrows also hosts a Sunday jazz brunch, as well a several special events (Jean Baptiste Day, a Titanic-themed dinner, Oktoberfest) throughout the summer and fall. This is a true food-lover’s oasis, created by a couple that delights in bringing fine dining back to its roots.
9. Stop on the way to Ogunquit
If you’re making the trip by car and you have some extra time, consider at least one of these excursions:
* Portsmouth, NH: Founded in 1623, Portsmouch is the third-oldest city in the country, and it’s wonderfully scenic town en route. Shops, bookstores and restaurants line the historically-preserved streets. An active port lends an salty, maritime backdrop to the Yankee town. Strawbery Banke is great spot for kids; the 10-acre “living museum” boasts period details, old-time crafts, and dressed-up role-players from the 17th century.
* York, ME: Ogunquit’s neighboring town doesn’t have quite the same small-town charm and quaint beauty. But it offers a bunch of activities worthy of a few days’ exploration. First off, is the sixty — yes, sixty! — antique shops that line Route 1. Check out Antiques Map, and if you have to pick just one shop, go to Withington and Co. York’s Wild Kingdom is a 25-acre zoo and amusement park, perfect for an afternoon of fun. And finally, the Nubble Lighthouse offers amazing views of the coastline.
* Salem, NH: Home to America’s Stonehenge, an ancient and mysterious 30-acre attraction tucked into the forests of southeastern New Hampshire. Sprawling trails lead out from the entrance of the archaeological site, winding their way to rock formations and dwellings that date back 4000 years. Some contend that the origin of the astrologically-positioned structures is nothing more than an elaborate 18th-century hoax, but others point to carbon-dating to confirm that the site was once was home to early Native American inhabitants.