In Ogunquit, folks plan each summer day according to the tides. Halfway between high tide and low tide, when the current of the Ogunquit River flows swiftly out to the Atlantic, people congregate on the flat stretch of sand that rolls down to the riverbank. They carry an assortment of flotation devices: rafts, boogie boards, and inner tubes. I lie on my back, take my wife’s hand, and laugh like a 6-year-old as a fast current carries us around a bend. The ride ends far too quickly, and I wade through the shallow waters back to shore. When the little girl in front of me shouts, “Let’s do it again,” I echo her enthusiasm.
Though the ocean temperature averages a bracing 63 degrees in August, Ogunquit rates as our top beach town in New England. Want to plop down your towel? Ogunquit Beach stretches some three and a half miles from the center of town all the way to more remote sections called Footbridge and North beaches.
No matter where you stay in Ogunquit, it’s an easy walk to the beach. That’s a prerequisite for being a world-class beach town; the ability to walk from your hotel to the beach, and onward to classic seafood shacks and boutiques lined with the wares of local artisans.
I like to stay on the lower portion of Shore Road, which juts out from Route 1, where I can stroll to the main beach, stores, and restaurants in the town center, with the added pleasure of being only steps away from the Marginal Way’s mile-long cliff walk. As the trail climbs, glorious vistas open up onto a rugged Maine coastline, a scene that Winslow Homer would convey brilliantly a half-hour drive up the road in Prouts Neck.
I smell sweet beach plums as I walk past the twisted branches of a century-old cedar tree, dwarf pines that somehow have survived the brunt of winter gales, and benches atop the bluffs, perfect for watching cormorants and sailboats. Below, small beaches favored by young families are buttressed between jagged rocks. On one of these spits of sand, I meet Al Korman drying off after a swim. “On a hot day, there’s nothing like a jump in that water,” Korman says. “The ocean breeze is the best kind of air conditioning.” Retired now, he spends winters in Florida but returns to the Maine village every summer. “When I’m in Florida,” he adds, “I dream about this place.”
Eventually I reach Perkins Cove at the top of the Marginal Way (south of the town center), home to a handful of seafood restaurants. Place your order for clam chowder, lobster rolls, and steamed clams, and grab a table outside overlooking the lobster boats.
There are only two reasons I’d set foot in my car in Ogunquit. The first was to enjoy a meal at Arrows (now closed), the James Beard Foundation Award–winning restaurant two miles from the town center. As you overlook the establishment’s expansive vegetable and flower gardens, it’s easy to understand how Arrows became one of the first restaurants of the farm-to-fork movement more than two decades ago.
And the second reason? When it rains, I’m not at a loss. I can head 45 minutes north to Portland, to visit the latest exhibition at the Portland Museum of Art and to enjoy dining in one of the finest cities for foodies in the country. That’s a rarity, however. Most of the time, you’ll find me riding the tide, laughing, as I watch the clouds roll by and let the sea wash over me.