March 16, 2010

The very best of our beaches

JENNIFER BREWER

— By

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Staff Photo by John Patriquin, Tuesday, June 13, 2006: Beach scene at Crescent Beach State Park in Cape Elizabeth today.

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STAFF PHOTO BY DOUG JONES -- Thursday, June 19, 1997 -- Cape Middle School kids frolic in the chilly surf of Crescent Beach State Park on their school's "beach Day" .

Additional Photos Below

For the Maine Sunday Telegram

The southern coast of Maine has no shortage of beautiful sandy beaches, particularly from Portland down the shoreline. There are so many, in fact, that choosing the best would be akin to picking the best slice of a delicious pizza or the best garden pea from a bursting pod.

However, although opinions certainly vary, some beaches surpass others in certain qualities. With these factors in mind, here is a selection of the best beaches in Maine.

CONVENIENCE

Crescent Beach State Park, Cape Elizabeth

Crescent Beach is one of the best all-around beaches in Maine, and perhaps the most convenient and accessible. It is well tended, with a walking trail around the perimeter.

The 700-car parking lot virtually guarantees a space. Facilities include a large bathhouse with flush toilets and several shower stalls (unheated). The nearby snack bar offers moderately priced lunch items such as hot dogs and burgers, plus ice cream and other treats.

The beach is handicapped-accessible, with a boardwalk crossing the grassy dunes from the buildings and parking lot, and beach wheelchairs available on request. Richmond Island and a breakwater help keep the waves low, and the drop-off is gradual, making the swimming safe for children.

Lifeguards are on duty seven days a week in summer, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The sand is white and quite soft, and tide pools await exploration at the western end. There's even a nice view, particularly to the east where lobster boats work out of Kettle Cove.

Although Reid State Park has similar facilities, Crescent Beach wins for convenience because of its situation close to Portland.

Location: Route 77 in Cape Elizabeth. Admission for the day: $4.50 adults and children older than 12; $1 ages 5 to 11; children under age 5 and seniors admitted free.

SCENERY

Reid State Park,

Georgetown

Georgetown is in the midcoast region, where the coastline is primarily rocky with fewer sandy beaches.

Reid State Park is a highly explorable mix of sandy beaches, rocky outcrops, tide pools and forest. Scenery includes striking views of Seguin Island Light and other islands; two scenic overlooks are equipped with viewers for visitors' use.

The park includes three ocean beaches and the ''lagoon,'' an ocean-fed sheltered area with a small sandy beach. The lagoon is favored by families with small children, because it is wave-free and the water is several degrees warmer.

The white-sanded ocean beaches include Mile, Half-Mile and East Beaches, with the finest sand to be found at Half-Mile. A contingent of surfers frequents one end of Mile Beach. Amenities include three parking lots that are rarely if ever full, five miles of trails of various grades, picnic areas with grills, snack bars, flush toilets and unheated showers.

Location: Seguinland Road in Georgetown, off Route 127 (13 miles from Route 1 in Woolwich). Admission for the day: $4.50 adults and children older than 12; $1 ages 5 to 11; children under 5 and seniors free.

FAMILY OUTING

Fort Foster, Kittery

Fort Foster is something of a hidden treasure, primarily known to residents of southern York County, and a wonderful family destination with a variety of activities appealing to children.

This inlet beach has white sand, clear water and no significant undertow. The sand slopes out very gradually, so children and adults can wade a good distance before hitting deeper water. The gradual slope also helps warm the water.

Next to the beach are restrooms, picnic tables, walking trails and a playground, and close by are the remains of military fortifications dating as far back as 1899. The only downside is the lack of lifeguards; however, for adequately attentive parents this can be a plus, as it often means a less-crowded beach.

Location: Pocahontas Road off Route 103 in Kittery Point. Admission: $10 per car for the day.

SWIMMING

Ogunquit Beaches

There's something for every swimming taste at the three linked Ogunquit Beaches: Ogunquit, Footbridge and North.

Ogunquit Beach is considered one of the best surfing locations in Maine, thanks to the force of outgoing tide from the river at each end. The tide helps form the waves, and also sets up a sandbar that helps the waves break long. Surfing is best at mid- to low tide.

Footbridge and North Beaches have more gentle waves, while children also enjoy a small beach on the river side of Ogunquit Beach (across the parking lot from the ocean), where the water is shallow and warm with almost no waves.

This 3.5-mile stretch of coastline is known for its wide expanse of white sand, and it's possible to avoid crowds if you hike away from the three entrances. Footbridge Beach was voted best in New England by Boston Magazine. Each beach has rest rooms, parking and lifeguards; Ogunquit Beach has a snack bar.

Bonus: the beautiful Marginal Way cliffside walking trail begins at the Perkins Cove end. Parking can be extremely tight at Ogunquit Beach; try Footbridge and North lots, or a lower lot a few minutes from Ogunquit Beach.

Location: Beach Street and Ocean Street in Ogunquit. Parking: $4/hour at Ogunquit Beach; $15/weekday or $20/day Saturday-Sunday at the other lots.

HANGOUT

Higgins Beach, Scarborough

Nobody quite knows why, but for generations, Higgins Beach has been the place to be for young people looking to hang out in groups or to meet new friends.

Interestingly, it has attained its ''hip'' reputation while being known as a quiet, family-oriented, largely residential community beach. Is it the great surf? Certainly the waves are some of the best around.

Is it the quaint, old-fashioned ambience? Without a doubt, this is one of the best spots to revisit the lifestyle of yore, with an active clubhouse offering breakfasts, potlucks, lobster bakes and concerts, and a corps of volunteers who come out to rake the sand each week.

The beach almost disappears at high tide, but there is ample fine sand at mid- and low tide. The sole parking lot has 150 spaces that fill quickly on good days, limiting the number of day-trippers. (Tip: have your parents drop you off).

Location: off Route 77 in Scarborough. Parking: $10/day.

Jennifer Brewer is a freelance writer who lives in Saco.

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Additional Photos

ROBILLARD
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ROBILLARD

AP

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Staff Photo by Jill Brady, Fri, Jun 08, 2001: Seniors from South Portland High School bask in the rays at Scarborough's Higgins Beach during their free time before graduation. Teens are often unaware of the dangers of tanning.

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Staff Photo by John Ewing, Fri, Aug 03, 2001: Jessica Gooley, 4, clambers over some of the rocks adjacent to Mile Beach at Reid State Park in Georgetown. Jessica and her family were visiting the beach while on a vacation to Maine from their home in Massachusetts.



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