It’s pretty; it’s fun, and it’s for everyone. Seaside York, along the southern coast of Maine, is filled with coastal scenery, sandy beaches, historic sites, family-friendly activities, country inns, beachfront resorts, and a wide choice of restaurants. No matter your interest, you’ll find something here to delight you.
Reserve a room at the peaceful Inn at Tanglewood Hall, located in an upscale, Gilded Age-era neighborhood, surrounded by lush gardens and sheltering trees (tanglewoodhall.com). Once the summer cottage estate of a wealthy Chicago lumber baron, the inn has six airy guest rooms, with Old World décor and period antiques. All have private baths, fireplaces, WiFi, and include breakfast.
The inn is within easy walking distance of pretty York Harbor Beach, where you can pick up the Cliff Walk, an up-and-down path skirting the coastline. Listen to the waves as they crash against the rocky cliffs, and take a selfie or two, with the ocean backdrop. We also like Fisherman’s Walk, an easy, flat stroll along the York River, where you can watch the boats come in and out of the harbor. The walk, which is about a mile and a half roundtrip, is especially charming at sunset.
The 151-acre Highland Pond Preserve (www.yorklandtrust.org/explore/highland-farm-preserve), with woodsy nature trails skirting old stone walls and vernal pools, is a nice place for a picnic. Pick up provisions at Shore Road Restaurant & Market (www.shoreroadrestaurant.com), offering lobster rolls, fresh-made sandwiches, and salads to go.
For an oh-so-romantic dinner out, try Dockside Restaurant on tiny Harris Island, with all-around water views (www.dockside-restaurant.com). Start with Chef Dennis LaPlante’s homemade mozzarella or the locally-sourced oysters. Popular entrees include Harris Island haddock with rock shrimp and herb dressing, and the lobster saute with just-caught lobster meat, sea scallops, and fresh herbs, drizzled with an Irish whiskey cream sauce.
Stop for a nightcap at the dark and cozy Ship’s Cellar Pub at the York Harbor Inn (www.yorkharborinn.com). The subterranean lounge has beautiful woodwork, Mahogany decking, leather banquettes, and a bowed ceiling mimicking a fine yacht.
For history buffs
Originally settled in 1624 by the Abenaki, who called the town “Agamenticus,” York is one of the nation’s oldest cities. Start at the Old York Museum Center in York Village (www.oldyork.org) to learn about the town’s rich past, and to purchase tickets to five of its historic buildings, including the Remick Gallery, Jefferds Tavern, the Old Gaol, York Corner Schoolhouse, and the Emerson-Wilcox House Museum. At the Remick Gallery, you’ll see objects from the museum’s collection of more than 20,000 artifacts. This summer, the gallery will host a special exhibition, “The Best of York: Treasures From the Collection.” Take a self-guided tour of Jefferds Tavern, built in 1750; the Old Gaol, Colonial Maine’s first prison, established in 1656 and a National Historic Landmark, and the 1745 York Corner Schoolhouse, one of the earliest surviving 18th-century schoolhouses in New England. Guided tours are offered at the Emerson-Wilcox House Museum, with 10 period rooms ranging in date from 1750 to 1850, and a special exhibition, “New Englanders Abroad: Souvenirs From the Grand Tour.” The Colonial-style Perkins House Museum on the York River will also be open for special tours this summer following a lengthy restoration.
For dining, try the longstanding, family-owned Fox’s Lobster House (www.foxslobster.com), where you’ll have views of the historic Nubble Light (www.nubblelight.org), constructed in 1879 to help ships navigate the dangerous, rocky Maine coastline.
York is only about an hour-and-a-half drive from Boston, but do yourself a favor and stay over at the Union Bluff Hotel (www.unionbluff.com). The prominent resort on Short Sands Beach has served travelers for more than 150 years. It’s an oldie but goody: Rooms are modern and cushy, many with fireplaces and decks overlooking the ocean.
For outdoor enthusiasts
Surrounded by conservation lands and ringed by the ocean, York is a haven for outdoor lovers. Of course, you’ll want to get on the water to enjoy some of the finest coastal paddling in the East. Harbor Adventures in York Harbor (www.harboradventures.com) offers a variety of guided kayak tours, including half-day tours along the southern Maine coastline, two-hour harbor tours, sunset and full moon tours, and a guided paddle in Chauncey Creek and around the Kittery Point peninsula, with a stop at a lobster shack for lunch.
Long Sands Beach faces the open ocean, so it’s relatively unprotected. That means waves! Grab your boogie boards, and ride the surf. You can also take longboard lessons from the folks at the Liquid Dreams Surf Shop (www.liquiddreamssurf.com). They offer stand-up paddle lessons and equipment rentals, too.
Landlubbers should check out Mount Agamenticus, known for its more than 40 miles of hiking and biking trails (www.agamenticus.org). Mt. A, as the locals call it, was once a ski resort, but now includes some 10,000 acres of conservation land. Get to the top and you’ll find the old ski lodge and views out to mountain peaks and the sea.
Refuel at the casual Central Restaurant & Bar (www.thecentralmaine.com), a lively gastro pub serving spruced-up American fare. The wood-fired grill adds smoky goodness to dishes like poutine smothered in house-smoked brisket, wood-grilled lamb sliders, wood-fired chicken thighs, and the Texas brisket sandwich.
At the end of the day, soak your weary bones in the hot tub or sauna at the Stage Neck Inn (www.stageneck.com). This upscale, pampering beachside resort has indoor and outdoor pools, fitness center, tennis courts, spa, and spacious rooms, many with water views.
Beaches, pools, arcades, animals, and amusement rides . . . do we have to say more to convince you that York is for families? How about ice cream!
Let’s start with the beaches. You have options: Long Sands Beach is the biggest, a mile-long sandy stretch between the villages of York Harbor and York Beach. Short Sands Beach is a small pocket in York Beach with restrooms, a playground, and picnic area. Pretty York Harbor Beach, popular with local families, is small and has the calmest waters, but metered parking is limited.
Leave the sand and water to visit York’s Wild Kingdom, an old-fashioned zoo and amusement park that kids love (www.yorkswildkingdom.com). There’s a butterfly atrium with hundreds of fluttering South and Central American butterflies, a zoo with live animals, a kid zone with games and activities, and more than 20 little kiddie amusement rides.
When it’s time to eat, head to the small, casual Fat Tomato Grill in York Village (www.fattomatogrill.com), serving tasty sandwiches, salads, burgers, and dogs. After, treat the brood to ice cream from Village Scoop Ice Cream (www.maineicecream.com/village-scoop-ice-cream).
A word of warning: Once you check into the Anchorage Inn (www.anchorageinn.com), your kids may not want to leave. The no-frills, 200-plus-room hotel has two indoor and two outdoor pools, and is wildly popular with families. Rooms are basic, but the location is good, right across the street from Long Sands Beach.