Forget about fancy-schmancy resorts and starred restaurants. The dog days of summer are coming and we’re craving an old-fashioned seaside escape, where the air is scented with suntan lotion and fried dough, and dressing up means donning a clean pair of cut-offs and your best Red Sox T-shirt. Welcome to New England’s favorite honky-tonk beach towns: Old Orchard Beach in Maine, and Hampton Beach along New Hampshire’s abbreviated coast. Both offer classic summer fun, centered around lazy days at the beach and grab-and-go food. Load up the cooler, pack your flip-flops, and join the fun.
OLD ORCHARD BEACH, MAINE
Generations of families flock to OOB, drawn to its 7-mile stretch of sandy seashore and rollicking, kitschy atmosphere. Spend laid-back summer days at the beach, walking The Pier, playing midway games, and riding coasters. Wake up the next day, and do it all again.
Home-style digs: The family-owned Beachwood Motel (29 West Grand Ave., 207-934-2291, www.thebeachwoodoob.com, rates $230-$325) is footsteps from all the action. Guests rave about the friendly service and the white-glove clean rooms with full kitchen facilities and cute cottage decor. The recently-renovated outdoor pool space, with picnic tables and grills, is a hit with families, and free use of beach chairs and umbrellas and complimentary coffee, popcorn, and movies are nice touches.
Couples retreat: Even in rollicking OOB, you can find peace and quiet, and perhaps a little romance. The Atlantic Birches Inn Bed and Breakfast (20 Portland Ave., 207-934-5295, www.atlanticbirches.com, $121-$151), housed in an elegant Victorian mansion, has five froufrou rooms, individually decorated with antiques, floral quilts, and lacy touches. A separate Cottage House, with three rooms and two suites, has blue-and-white beach-y accents. The front porch and comfy living room in the main house are great places to hang out, and the beach is about a 10-minute walk away.
Kid-spoilers: You’ll have a tough time dragging your kids away from Palace Playland (1 Old Orchard St., 207-934-2001, www.palaceplayland.com, $1.30 single ride, $31.96 unlimited all-day pass), the boisterous, Coney-Island-style amusement park, located smack dab on the beach. The four-acre playground has more than 25 rides, including two roller coasters, a bustling midway and a huge arcade. And what summer vacation is complete without a round of putt putt? Pirates Cove Adventure Park (70 First St., 207-934-5086, www.piratescove.net, adults $8.95, ages 4-12 $7.95) has two 18-hole courses.
Wallet-pleaser: Root, root, root for the Old Orchard Beach Raging Tide (www.ragingtide.pointstreaksites.com). Five bucks ($3 for ages 7-12) gets you into the 5,500-seat stadium to watch (and often meet) up-and-coming collegiate players. Special kid-friendly activities, giveaways, and events are held during the team’s 28 summer home games in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League.
Best junk food: There are people who come to Old Orchard Beach just for a box of hot, hand-cut, crinkly and slightly greasy fries from Pier French Fries (12 Old Orchard St., 207-934-2328). While you’re there, grab a slice of cheese-y, thin crust pie at Bill’s Pizza, located in the same building (207-934-1949, www.billspizzaportland.com).
Better eats: For lobster in the rough, try Bayley’s Lobster Pound in nearby Scarborough (9 Ave. 6, Pine Point, 207-883-4571, market prices vary). This family-owned fish shack brings in just-trapped lobsters daily from local fishermen. Place your order at the checkout window and grab a picnic table in the back. For more upscale dining, try Joseph’s by the Sea (55 West Grand Ave., 207-934-5044, www.josephsbythesea.com, $19-$33) overlooking the ocean. Start with appetizers like the lobster potato pancake or the clam and corn chowder, followed by lemon thyme risotto or the braised short ribs with a blueberry maple habanero glaze.
See the lights: It’s Thursday night. Grab your beach chairs or a blanket and head to Veterans Memorial Park (corner of Staples and First Streets) for a free concert, followed by fireworks at The Pier.
HAMPTON BEACH, N.H.
This wildly popular seaside spot is home to a string of soft, sandy beaches, a kid-loving playground, an oceanfront pavilion with nightly entertainment, and a three-mile boardwalk, flanked with restaurants, fast food joints, and souvenir shops. Fun for all ages, this festive beach village also offers some of the best people-watching north of New York.
Rooms with a view: Families looking for a little extra space should check out theAtlantic Breeze Suites (429 Ocean Blvd., 603-967-4781, www.atlanticbreezesuites.com, $250-$350), within walking distance to the beach. The spacious studios and one-bedroom suites have modern decor and kitchenettes, with balconies overlooking the ocean or salt marsh. If you like to be in the center of the action, stay at the no-frills Pelham Motel (121 Ocean Blvd., 603-926-3364, www.hamptonbeachhotelnh.com, $119-$215), across the street from the beach. The street side patio is a prime spot for people-watching.
Family-friendly freebies: Watching free movies on the beach (Monday evenings throughout the summer) is a longstanding tradition for many vacationing families, and the Wednesday night fireworks bring in fun-loving crowds. One of the biggest events in town is the annual Hampton Beach Children’s Festival (Aug. 11-15), a five-day, jam-packed schedule of free activities, including contests, parades, a magic show, story-telling, and more.
Two Steppin’: Kick the sand off your boots with a little Texas two-step. It’s country music night on Thursday at the Hampton Beach Seashell. Not into the Boot Scootin’ Boogie? There are more than 80 free, evening concerts held at the oceanfront venue, featuring a variety of music.
Pop a cold one: There is no shortage of watering holes in Hampton. Locals cram into Wally’s Pub (144 Ashworth Ave., 603-926-1810, www.wallyspubnh.com) where the prices are reasonable, beer is cold, and drinks are stiff. They host national, regional and local acts, DJ dance parties, and live band karaoke. Bernie’s Beach Bar (72 Ocean Blvd., 603-926-5050, www.berniesbeachbar.com) has a don’t-worry, be-happy vibe at its rooftop tiki bar. An older, more upscale crowd hangs at the Breakers Bar at the Ashworth by the Sea Hotel (295 Ocean Blvd., 603-926-6762, www.ashworthhotel
.com), where you can hear DJ’s and live music several nights a week, or go up to The Sandbar, the hotel’s rooftop lounge, with high energy, live music Wednesday through Sunday.
Best junk food: You can’t miss the bright orange signs and the lines for Blink’s Fry Doe (two locations, 115 and191 Ocean Blvd., 603-926-8933); this nearly addictive summertime treat comes in 20 different flavors, including the traditional powdered sugar or the savory garlic-smothered.
Alfresco dining: There are three floors of outdoor dining overlooking the ocean at Sea Ketch (127 Ocean Blvd., 603-926-0324, www.seaketch.com, dinner entrees $15.99-$34.99, lunch $7.99-$21.99), with great views and live entertainment. The food is decent, too, including fried seafood baskets, pasta, steaks, and specialties like the creamy lobster pie.
Ride the waves: Surfers hang at North Beach, known for decent peaks. The guys at Cinnamon Rainbows Surf Co.(931 Ocean Blvd., 603-929-7467, www.cinnamonrainbows.com) can hook you up with one-on-one surfing lessons ($55), board and wetsuit rentals ($25 half day/$35 full day) and stand up paddle tours ($35).