Old Orchard Beach: The Maine Riviera

by Brian Westbye /
Brian Westbye's picture
Aug 25, 2008 / 1 comments

The Maine Riviera

Take a pinch of Asbury Park. Add a good dash of Coney Island. Season with Quebec. That’s pretty much Old Orchard Beach, Maine in a nutshell. OOB, as it’s locally known, is THE go-to Maine beach in the summer for pilgrims from Quebec Provence to Portland. And on a resplendent late August end-of-spiritual-summer weekend with a slight bite in the air, it’s as good as the Jersey Shore, Coney and Florida combined. Let’s go.

Surf, Sand, Sun

Take I-95 to exit 36, and get on I-195. Go five miles, and you’re there. WARNING: Parking can be an expensive nightmare in Old Orchard Beach. If you can, take the Downeaster train from Portland or Boston. The ride from Portland is only fifteen minutes, and the station is a two-minute walk to the beach. If you must drive, skip all the $15 lots. From Old Orchard St., take a left on Milliken St. Drive right by the $10 lot to Steve’s Parking. There you’ll pay $7.00 to park on Steve’s lawn. But, for the price of one extra block on your walk, you’ve got an extra $3.00 to invest in a pizza slice.

And you’ll need that slice right away. OOB is known for two dishes: Pier Pizza and Pier Fries. Your two best pizza bets are actually not on The Pier, but we’ll get to the pier in a minute.

Rocco’s (4 W. Grand Ave, 207-934-7552) offers a thin New York style slice: $3.00 with tax for cheese, toppings extra.


Lisa’s Pizza (17 Old Orchard Rd., 207-934-7655) is an Old Orchard Beach institution, offering much thicker, gooier slices: $2.65 with tax for cheese, toppings extra.

Lisa's(Our slices mysteriously disappeared before our cameras were ready)

Apples and apples. Both offer Pier Fries, but both are stands with limited sidewalk bench seating, and who wants to eat standing up holding a scalding slice in one hand and a scalding box of fries in the other? Walk over to The Pier instead and get a medium (for two, of course) box of thick hand-cut fries for $4. Add plenty of vinegar and sea salt, grab a bench and enjoy.

Pier Fries

Keep walking The Pier.

The Pier

This incarnation, built in 1980, is the fifth pier built since 1898, and it’s a wealth of sensory stimulation, with myriad fried dough and clam stands, t-shirt shops, temporary tattoo stands and bars. Earlier versions of The Pier saw greats such as Sinatra, Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington sell out the ballroom. Live music can still be heard nightly at The Pier Patio Pub. It’s summer at the shore. Perfect.

Now that you’re fueled, hit the sand. (You did pack sunscreen…right?) Old Orchard Beach proudly proclaims seven miles of pristine white sand beach. I’m not sure about pristine; a little toe digging brings up plenty of cigarette butts, jagged pail remnants and other scary bits of miscellanea. But that’s par for the course, and a small bit of collateral damage for a generally very clean and pleasant beach.

Pristine White Sand

And the water?  I was born and raised in Maine, but living near Jacksonville Beach from ages 9–14 spoiled me for warm ocean water, and I’ve refused to enter the frigid Atlantic north of the Carolinas. Well, I put a toe in this weekend. Then I was ankle deep. Then calf deep. And had I been wearing appropriate shorts without my wallet, I would’ve gone all in. It’s actually not that bad – cold, but a quick adjustment. Getting out is another story, of
course. But I was pleasantly surprised.

A dip in foreign water

The shadows are starting to fall. Time for a cold one! There are several pubs on The Pier, from The Sunset Deck, to Hooligans Landing and Big Kahuna Dance Club. All cater to slightly different crowds, so pick your spot and enjoy.

A break in the action

All day as you’ve enjoyed the sand and surf, you’ve heard the sounds in the background, those great sounds of clanking tracks and whistles and happy screams. Now that the lights are coming on, walk a few feet past the sand to Palace Playland.

Palace Playland

With over 25 rides and 200 arcade games, Palace Playland is a little slice of Coney Island’s legendary Steeplechase Park.  Admission to the park is free (of course attractions aren’t, but they do have some attractive ticket packages), and it’s great to just walk around and people-watch. Ride the Matterhorn, shoot down a water slide, win a prize. Step right up. Really, is there anything more summer than the smell of dogs and dough and the sounds of arcades and ring tosses?

Amusements by the Sea

So, we’ve spent all of three hours at Old Orchard Beach, Maine, and it’s been a trip we’ll remember fondly when the snow flies. It’s not quite Coney, it’s a far cry from the Outer Bank, and it definitely ain’t the French Riviera. But it’s a great seaside resort, and it’s a great time. Easily accessible, hard to forget. Take it all in for the last time. Until next summer…

So long, summer


Comments (1)

  • Dr. Jessie Voigts

    15 years 9 months ago

    Made me want to follow in your footsteps (and eat with you)! Fantastic review. WOW! thanks for sharing!


    Jessie Voigts

    Publisher, wanderingeducators.com

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