Westbrook’s 33 Elmwood has both 10-pin and candlepin bowling, so you can try them both in one trip. Photo courtesy of 33 Elmwood

In New England, going bowling can mean something different than it does in the rest of the country.

The region is the birthplace of candlepin bowling – invented in 1880 in Worcester, Massachusetts – and pretty much the only place the sport is played (as well as in neighboring parts of Canada). In the minds of many Mainers, the smaller-ball version of the sport is the only kind, but declining interest has forced many alleys to close.

Meanwhile, the retro-cool appeal of 10-pin (big-ball) bowling has fueled a resurgence in its popularity in recent years, and you can now find a smattering of hip and often design-conscious alleys that combine the activity with a smorgasbord of other entertainment, often with notably trendy dining options, making for a fun way to spend a day when the weather forces you indoors.

What are the main differences between candlepin and 10-pin bowling? In candlepin, each player uses three balls per frame rather than two, and the balls are much smaller (each ball weighs only as much as one candlepin) and have no holes. The pins are also thinner and don’t get cleared between rolls during each player’s turn. All of that makes candlepin pins harder to knock down, so most bowlers consider it a lot more challenging than 10-pin, and therefore superior.

So as you plan your rainy-day bowling outing, you have a choice between experiencing a regional tradition or having modern amenities at your fingertips. The good news is you can find both types of alleys all over the state. Here are some options near you.

Big 20 Bowling Center in Scarborough is a true old-school candlepin alley. Photo by Jill Brady/Portland Press Herald


Old-school candlepin culture meets trippy glow-in-the-dark lanes at Big 20, a community institution built in 1950. The 20 lanes (hence the name) thump with rock/pop tunes pouring from a killer sound system, while families pass the nachos and pizzas. Bumper bowling is available.

WHERE: 382 Route 1, Scarborough

HOURS: Monday through Saturday 9 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m.-7 p.m.

INFO: 883-2131, big20bowling.com, @big20bowling on Facebook


Go for the slick retro feel and family inclusivity, stay for the accessibility (20 lanes of 10-pin bowling), unusually good snacks and live music. Lanes allow up to eight players each, and have an automatic number system that brings bumpers up for kids when it’s their turn. The bar and kitchen are a magnet for families and regulars; tournaments are a big deal here, as are the live music sets on weekends. Deep-dish pizzas are don’t miss, in tasty renditions like pork carnitas and buffalo chicken.

WHERE: 725 Broadway, South Portland

HOURS: 3-11 p.m. Monday and Tuesday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday

INFO: 200-2226, easydaysopo.com, @SoPoEasyDay on Facebook and @easydaysopo on Twitter


The food and drink at Bayside Bowl in Portland are a bit more sophisticated than your typical bowling alley fare. Photo by Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald


Leaguers and walk-ins alike find bowling bliss among these 20 U.S. Bowling Congress-sanctioned lanes – all of them for games of 10-pin and using vintage Brunswick A-2 pinsetters. If the weather clears up while you’re on the lanes, head up to the roof deck and take in the views across Portland and spectacular sunsets, not to mention vittles like blackened trout tacos washed down with house-made sangria.

WHERE: 58 Alder St., Portland

HOURS: 4-11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, noon to midnight Friday, 11 a.m. to midnight Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday

INFO: 791-2695, baysidebowl.com, @BaysideBowl on Facebook, @baysidebowl on Instagram


Big-ball and candlepin fans alike find nirvana in the 14 lanes here (four are candlepin, the rest big ball). But everything going on around the lanes is just as tempting; on summer nights, parents gather ’round the fire pit on the patio deck while kids play inside or take up the abutting lawn games (bocce and corn hole are inside, too). In the lounge, don’t bypass the fried deviled eggs with scallion and pickled jalapeno. And check their schedule for upcoming live music, from DJs and blues bands to classic rock cover bands.

WHERE: 33 Elmwood Ave., Westbrook

HOURS: 4-10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 4-11 p.m. Friday; noon to 11 p.m. Saturday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday

INFO: 536-7061, 33elmwood.com, @33elmwood on Facebook, @33_Elmwood on Instagram, and @33elmwood on Twitter

Alexandra Hall is a longtime New England lifestyle writer who recently moved to Maine.

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