OGUNQUIT — It shouldn’t be surprising that a town with a name that means “beautiful place by the sea” is a destination for weddings.

But that description fits most of coastal Maine, so what makes Ogunquit so much more appealing?

Couples vacationing from outside the state, who are sure to inflate the village’s population this Valentine’s Day weekend, have helped turn Ogunquit into Maine’s marriage mecca. The quaint York County town licensed more marriages per capita last year than any municipality in the state – by sixfold.

Although passage of the state’s same-sex marriage law in 2012 has doubled the number of ceremonies in the gay-friendly community, the number of heterosexual weddings alone still would leave Bar Harbor a distant second.

All but nine of the 188 marriage licenses filed in 2014 were for out-of-state couples, according to town records. Closer than Camden and cheaper than Cape Cod, Ogunquit is most popular as a wedding spot for couples from Northeastern states, followed by those from Florida, Texas and California, according to local wedding planners.

“Most have been coming here for years,” said Frances Reed, a notary public who officiated over more than 50 weddings in town last year.

The median age of those who Reed married was 45, she said. Many of those couples had been together a long time and were eloping or wanted a small ceremony, she said. For 82 of the couples who wed in Ogunquit in 2014, it was a second marriage, according to town records.

But even when they think of it as just a formality, Reed said, “they end up crying like babies.”


For many of the couples who get married there, Ogunquit has been a romantic getaway or vacation spot they went to as kids.

For Stephanie and Jon Dickey, it was both. After they started dating, the couple from Barnstead, New Hampshire, discovered that both had frequented Ogunquit with their families. When he proposed on the beach there after they had been together for eight years, the question of the wedding venue was a “no-brainer,” said Stephanie Dickey.

They were married in the same spot just two months later, to ensure that her terminally ill mother would get to watch.

Whether couples want traditional weddings with hundreds of guests or small ceremonies by the sea, Ogunquit can accommodate, said Karen Arel, president of the Ogunquit Chamber of Commerce.

With the number of wedding inquiries that come into the chamber’s welcome center, and Arel’s experience as a mother-of-the-bride, she’s become a wedding planner of sorts, helping couples find the right venue and even offering the office as free space for a ceremony when rain ruins outdoor plans.

“It’s like the whole town, in some way, gets involved and says, ‘Look, I’m glad you chose us,’ ” Arel said.

Even when couples bring only their witnesses and get married on Marginal Way – a cliff walk that’s the town’s most popular site for ceremonies – a crowd always ends up watching, Reed said.

“Everyone is so congratulatory, so happy for them,” she said. “You always feel like you’re part of the community in a small town like this.”


Jessica and Michelle Newton of Newton, Massachusetts, found that out quickly. Although they’d been to the area on family vacations, they chose to wed in Ogunquit by chance.

After becoming fed up with planning a big wedding, the couple decided they wanted to elope on a sailboat. A friend knew a captain in Ogunquit and made it happen.

With the skipper and their photographer as witnesses, the captain married them on board, and then they took a trolley back into town for dinner. For their first anniversary in August, they’re going back with their parents.

“It’s such a welcoming, friendly, down-to-earth place,” said Jessica Newton.


The geographic size of Ogunquit – just 4 square miles – is another reason it’s conducive to weddings, said Jonathan West, owner of Jonathan’s Ogunquit, a restaurant, concert venue, banquet hall and sometimes chapel.

“It’s just a gorgeous place, and it’s really easy to get around walking,” said West, who has seen entire wedding parties traverse the town on foot.

Route 1 in Ogunquit runs a bit more than 2 miles between the Wells and York town lines. It’s lined with hotels, motels, resorts and inns, and has a cluster of restaurants, shops and bars in the center.

Shore Road shoots off from downtown, offering rooms closer to the ocean and leading to Perkins Cove, a picturesque enclave of cedar-shingled stores and lobster shacks. All of it is served by a trolley system during tourist season that picks people up downtown or at the Ogunquit Playhouse and drops them off at the beach or their hotel.

The number of available activities also makes the town ideal for a wedding, said Allyson Cavaretta, director of sales and marketing at The Meadowmere Resort on Route 1.

“It’s got that quaint, wonderful, classic Maine essence to it. You can have a lobster roll, go on a lobster cruise,” she said. “There’s stuff for your guests to enjoy, for you to enjoy.”

West, the owner of Jonathan’s, has seen couples plan weddings around shows at his restaurant – and is sure that “True Companion” singer Marc Cohn’s performance later this year will be one of them.

“People put events together for the whole weekend,” he said.

He wouldn’t be surprised if there are couples who get engaged Saturday – Valentine’s Day – and return to get married.

“I’ve had people that got married twice here,” he said.