SUMMER VACATION IDEAS: ROAD TRIP
New England's "Other" Capes
For secret beaches and amazing summer deals, look beyond the better-known Cape to the glorious spits of land jutting out into the Atlantic just up the coast.
The next cape, Maine’s Cape Neddick, extends one mile from Route 1 to the coast. I arrive just before dusk, excited to settle in at Dixon’s Campground (1740 U.S. Route 1, Cape Neddick, Maine, dixonscampground.com, camper with water and electricity $40/night). It’s set in a shady thicket and is completely peaceful, with nothing but the rustle of the wind in the trees and the faint French murmurings of Quebecois guests lulling me to sleep in my tent. For those seeking a more solid roof over their heads, the Kathadin Inn, a 19th century guesthouse, is right on the beach in nearby York (11 Ocean Ave., York, Maine, thekatahdininn.com, doubles from $105).
Cape Neddick to Cape Porpoise to Cape Elizabeth
When I step onto the wet sand at Cape Neddick’s Long Sands Beach—a putty-colored expanse in the nostalgia-laced small town of York, a 10-minute drive from my campground—it’s so shockingly icy (in midsummer!) that I don’t even dip a toe into the ocean. But it doesn’t stop hardy Mainers, who bob and swim and bodysurf as if they’re in the Caribbean. The beach’s tidepools are rich with periwinkles, and the crowded beach feels surprisingly empty thanks to what I’m told is an only-in-Maine phenomenon: folks sitting just about as far back from the water as they possibly can in anticipation of the rising tide. “We just don’t want to move,” chuckles Joe Sousa, a Boston-area native who’s been vacationing here for 40 years.
From the beach I’m drawn to a view in the distance of a rocky peninsula leading to the dramatic 1879 Cape Neddick “Nubble” Lighthouse. Though you can’t go inside—it sits perched on its own tiny, rocky island—a park created in its honor draws a steady crowd of visitors who photograph, paint, or in my case just stare at the sea spray, the Hopper-esque beacon, and its dainty keeper’s house perched precariously on a cliff.
Two very much on-the-radar towns are next, but I skirt most of their gravitational pull. In artsy Ogunquit, refuel with a panini on fresh focaccia at Bread and Roses Bakery (246 Main St., Ogunquit, Maine, breadandrosesbakery.com, panini $8) and stroll along Marginal Way, an oceanfront footpath edging the town’s coastal cliffs. Then comes Kennebunkport, of preppy, Bush-family fame. You should make a beeline to the quieter side of town, a bucolic fishing community on Cape Porpoise—home to Pier 77, with waterside tables that provide views of the working lobster boats in Cape Porpoise Harbor.
Local friends sang the praises of the Lobster Shack at Two Lights, in tony Cape Elizabeth, renowned for its classic New England split-top lobster roll. But first I savor a gem of a mile-long hike in Biddeford Pool at East Point Sanctuary (18 Ocean Ave., Biddeford, Maine, sacobaytrails.org), through stands of pine and sugar maples, ending at a rocky beach where I finally get up the nerve to wade into the exhilaratingly chilly water. Then it’s dinner at the Lobster Shack (225 Two Lights Rd., Cape Elizabeth, Maine, lobstershacktwolights.com, lobster roll market price), where I get a table on a rocky bluff flush with the Atlantic, breeze in my face. They say “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.” Delightful indeed.