During the hottest days of summer, there’s no better place to be than the beach – toes buried in the sand, ocean surf crashing on the shore, sun shining up above.

Sand beaches are something of a rarity in Maine. Our coast is more famous for rugged, rocky coastline than sand, and the most popular stretches of beach – like Old Orchard Beach and York Beach in the south, and Acadia’s Sand Beach farther north – can get crowded pretty quickly. Where can you take your blanket if you want to enjoy beach weather without waiting in traffic, looking for parking or searching for an open spot on the sand?

If you’re willing to forego the fried food stands and T-shirt shops of southern Maine’s popular destinations, a trip up the coast to Port Clyde and Owls Head will take you to a couple of my favorite, less-crowded sand beaches in the state. And while there are no arcades near these spots, the fun doesn’t have to stop at the beach – there’s so much to do nearby that you can easily turn a beach trip into an all-day excursion.

(One note about these beaches: keep an eye on the tides. There’s plenty of space to lay out your blanket when the tide is low, but real estate disappears quickly when the tide comes in, and there’s little to no space on the sand at high tide. Aim for low tide if you want to relax on the beach, then explore the surrounding villages and attractions when the water rises.)

DRIFT INN BEACH

Drift Inn Beach, near the village of Port Clyde, is the beach my family beelined toward on every blistering summer day when I was a child. There’s sand for sunbathing, rocks for kids to scramble over and great views of the islands off the St. George peninsula – green Mosquito Island most prominent to the east and The Brothers poking out of the water to the south. Tidal pools around the rocks hold hidden treasures, both living (like snails, periwinkles and crabs) and otherwise (sea glass, clam shells and skipping stones).

To find this gem, take Route 1 to the town of Thomaston, then follow Route 131 south toward St. George. Bear left after the village of Tenant’s Harbor; in a little more than three miles you’ll find the beach parking lot, accessible from Route 131 or Drift Inn Road.

BIRCH POINT BEACH STATE PARK

In nearby Owls Head, the small state park at Birch Point Beach – a cute crescent beach known geologically as a “pocket beach” – offers a beautiful stretch of sand along a protected cove, with short trails into the trees covering the rocks of Birch Point and Otter Point on either side. Fishing is allowed at Birch Point, and human anglers aren’t the only ones who take advantage; cormorants, seagulls and other shore birds wheel through the air and try their luck in the waves. Since the beach is in a state park, there is a fee charged, but that cost pays for amenities like bathrooms, trash cans, and grills and picnic tables for preparing and enjoying a meal at water’s edge.

To reach the access road, follow Route 73 south from Rockland for about four miles, then turn onto Dublin Road at “The Keag” in South Thomaston. In about a mile and a half, look for the signs on Ballyhac Road that lead to the state park.

NEARBY ATTRACTIONS

Drift Inn Beach is less than three miles from Marshall Point Lighthouse, famous in film as the easternmost end of Forrest’s cross-country run in “Forrest Gump.” At low tide, there are plenty of tidal pools to explore (including one particularly large one at the base of the light) for visitors seeking out starfish, crabs, snails and sea cucumbers. There’s also a short, interpretive path around the lighthouse that guides you through the surrounding trees and flowers. The lighthouse museum features an engaging history of the lighthouse and the village, as well as a gift shop.

A few “points” northeast of Birch Point State Park, you’ll find Owls Head Ledge and Owls Head Light State Park, where the eponymous light sits atop a steep rise, looking out over Penobscot Bay. The short walk to the lighthouse is well worth it, as its high position offers panoramic views, looking toward Islesboro to the north, North Haven and Vinalhaven to the east, and Matinicus far to the south. The park also features a rocky beach, where it’s easy to spend hours relaxing on the water (as long as you don’t mind some bumps under your beach blanket).

Inland, between St. George and Owls Head on Route 73, the Owls Head Transportation Museum is a fun stop for visitors young and old. The huge hangar boasts more than 200 antique aircraft and automobiles, some dating to the 1800s. If you’d like to see vintage aircraft in action, their biggest event of the year – the “Wings and Wheels Spectacular” – is coming up Aug. 5-6, and will feature a B-17 Flying Fortress and many other antique planes.

Jake Christie is a freelance writer living in Portland. Along with his brother, Josh, he writes about great Maine destinations for outdoors enthusiasts. Jake can be reached at:

[email protected]