It only takes a few miles of driving along the coast of Maine to realize why people flock here every summer. The ocean splashes against the rocky coastline, lobster shacks alternating from tacky to homey line the beaches and the locals are friendly. Even the tollbooth operators smile at you when you pass.
“It’s a shore thing.” Cheesiness aside, OOB can be expected to deliver crowds, traffic, and gaudy souvenirs. It also offers history, beautiful beach, and perfect, blue-green waves.
Old Orchard Beach, Maine, or OOB as it’s known to the locals (and the thousands who spend their summer here in the condos that line the beach), got its name from the apple orchard planted by the area’s first settler, Thomas Rogers in 1657. The town’s 500-foot pier has served as a draw for tourists since 1898.
I arrive a little early in the season, and can only imagine the tourist hawkers pushing their wares and lines of people forming to buy them. It’s a quieter experience, but not necessarily a better one. Often, it’s the energy of the crowds that makes a place special (or, at least, dynamic.)
Seven miles of sand stretching north from the pier make this one of Maine’s premier beaches. The active breaks are a draw for east coast surfers who enjoy long rides on waves that seem to stretch in a straight line to the horizon.
OOB has a long history of providing an escape east-coasters. Since it was first promoted as “Garden by the Sea” in 1631, its been attracting people with its expanse of clean, sandy beach, low population, and comfortable climate. Even the chilly water can’t stop the kids from playing in the frothing surf.
In the early days, Thomas Rogers’ apple trees were used as navigation by passing ships. Now Palace Playland shines like a beacon on the beach with its lights and ferris wheel rising above downtown. Dating back to 1902, the amusement park had the first carousel in the United States.
The new ferris wheel dominates the skyline, but there are two-dozen other rides and arcades. Palace Playland is one of the last old-style beach-side amusement parks left in the US.
I take a walk along the beach, leaving the pier and amusement park behind. Away from the town center, the natural beauty of the beach comes into focus. Gulls fight over crabs caught at the edge of the water. Surfers dart across the waves. Opportunities for interesting photos present themselves…