The third oldest town in Maine, located along the southern coastline between Ogunquit and Kennebunkport, has been a summer vacation hot spot for centuries. No wonder: It boasts 7 miles of beach, one of the largest in Maine. Sprawling Route 1 runs through the city, lined with clam shacks, antique shops, souvenir stores, and restaurants. Private homes and summer rentals hug the coastline and beach but there are several public access trails, every block or so. The atmosphere is more fun-loving than fancy, where families build castles in the sand, take in a round of mini-golf, kayak in the harbor, and walk nature trails through a picturesque preserve. The Amtrak Downeaster stops here, and a seasonal trolley will get you around town and to the beach.
Families looking for room to spread out and resort-style amenities should check out the Village by the Sea (1373 Post Road, 207-646-1100, www.vbts
.com, $89-$259). The spacious and modern one- and two-bedroom condo units have full kitchens, and separate living and dining areas. The property is not on the beach, but it has pretty salt marsh views, and there are indoor and outdoor pools and a game room. Families also flock to Elmwood Resort Hotel (1351 Post Road, 800-697-8566, www.elmwood-resort.com, one bedroom $149-$219, two bedroom $249-$329), with indoor and outdoor pools, picnic area, fire pit (think s’mores!), outdoor movie theater, and playground. The resort is off the beach but on the trolley route. If you’re looking for beachfront digs, consider Lafayette’s Oceanfront Resort (393 Mile Road, 207-646-2831, www.wellsbeachmaine.com). There’s a variety of accommodations, basic but clean and functional, spread across five oceanfront buildings. Rates vary, too, starting around $90 for early summer, no-view efficiencies, to $340 for height of the season, ocean-view suites.
Don’t miss dinner at chef-owned Joshua’s (1637 Post Road, 207-646-3355, www.joshuas.biz, $24-$36), located in a historic 1774 house. Small, cozy dining areas are set in rooms of the former house, where you can dine on uber-fresh dishes, including vegetables and herbs from Joshua’s own gardens. Start with appetizers like the Maine peekytoe crab cakes or shrimp saute with roasted red peppers, and jalapenos, followed by entrees like the local haddock with a sweet caramelized onion crust, the pan-roasted chicken stuffed with Serrano ham and provolone, and the signature lobster pie. For lobster in the rough, head to family-owned Wells Beach Lobster Pound (321 Webhannet Drive, 207-646-7703, www.wellsbeachlobster
.com, market prices vary.) This come-as-you-are lobster shack has been around for more than four decades, serving fried seafood baskets, fresh fish, and just-trapped lobsters. Locals come for takeout but there are a few tables, too. We make the trip to Wells just for the seafood chowder at the Maine Diner (2265 Post Road, 207-646-4441, www.mainediner.com, dinner entrees $5.95-$23.95, breakfast $3.95-$12.95). “Just Like Grandma Used to Make” is their motto, true if your grandma cooks tasty, classic American comfort food like homemade codfish cakes and beans, lobster mac and cheese, and roast turkey sandwiches. Don’t be surprised if you have to wait to get into The Steakhouse (1205 Post Road, 207-646-4200, www.the-steakhouse.com, $14.99-$26.99). It has a big menu, including a variety of chicken dishes and seafood platters, but most people come for the steak, like the top-selling aged and hand-cut ribeye and filet mignon cuts. Varano’s Italian Restaurant (60 Mile Road, 207-641-8550, www.varanos.com, $14.95-$31.95) is a nice surprise in a city loaded with seafood places, serving classic Italian dishes with house-made sauces, in a warm dining room with deep-red painted walls and a stone fireplace. Don’t leave town without a box of fresh-made doughnuts from family-owned Congdon’s (1090 Post Road, 207-646-4219, www.congdon’s.com, baker’s dozen $13.99) voted some of the best doughnuts in the country by Food and Wine magazine.
DURING THE DAY
The Wells Estuarine Research Reserve at Rachel Carson National Wildlife Preserve (342 Laudholm Farm Road, 207-646-1555, www.wellsreserve.org, $4 adults, $1 ages 6-16) is a wonderful place to explore, and a hit with outdoorsy families. There are 7 miles of scenic trails through salt marshes, forests, and estuaries, some with interpretive signs and boardwalks. You can also walk Laudholm Beach to the mouth of the Little River for views of the barrier islands and mudflats; this is a favorite hangout for shorebirds, like the great blue heron. Be sure to pop in to Laudholm Farm at the reserve to see exhibits on the changing coastal landscape. The Reserve also offers a variety of naturalist-guided tours, family programs, and three-hour kayaking trips on the Little River (minimum age 12, $50). If you enjoy paddling, you can also rent kayaks to explore the harbor and surrounding estuaries from Webhannet River Kayak Rentals (345 Harbor Road, 207-646-9649, www.webhannetriver.com, solo kayak for two hours $25, tandem $40). Options from their launch spot include a paddle around the harbor, a trip through saltmarsh estuaries, or a short paddle to a small swimming beach. Wonder Mountain Fun Park (270 Post Road, Moody, 207-646-9655, www.wondermountainfunpark.com, $15 adults, $12 seniors and children, includes 18 holes of mini-golf, one run through the maze, and $3 in game tokens) offers good, ol’ family fun, with two mini-golf courses, a game room, and a maze. Hop aboard with Captain Satch (boats leave from town docks at Wells Harbor, 207-475-4705, www.captainsatch
.tripod.com) to fish for inshore striped bass, blues, and mackerel (six- to 10-hour trips, $75-$95 per person) or head further offshore for haddock, tuna and shark (6-10 people, $895-$1,275). They also offer two-hour family trips (six people $250, eight people $275, 10 people $300). Antique hunters should check out BoMar Hall (1622 Post Road, 207-646-4116, www.bomarhall.com) with more than 130 dealers and 8,000 square feet of collectibles. R. Jorgensen (502 US 1, 207-646-9444, www.rjorgensen.com) is a beautiful shop with high quality antiques and period furniture.
Mike’s Clam Shack (1150 Post Road, 207-646-5999, www.mikesclamshack.com) is a popular hangout. It’s a restaurant and fish market by day, but the pub gets hopping on Friday and Saturday nights, when local and regional talent provides live entertainment. Boon Island Ales (124 Post Road, 207-216-9611, www.boonislandale.com) is a friendly place for microbrews and decent pub grub. Nearby, the Front Porch (9 Shore Road, Ogunquit, 207-646-4005, www.thefrontporch.com) has an upstairs piano bar with live music on weekends.Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at email@example.com.