York, Maine is a New England summer destination for all the right reasons: great beaches, restaurants, walks and activities. As residents, we’d like to share more about some of our favorite destinations for kids, couples and families and reveal some hidden gems like the Cliff Trail in York Harbor. And, if you’re still pondering whether you’ll pursue a New England camper van rental, we’ll share some tips about where you can take your Westfalia in York, Maine.
In the off-season, the four “Yorks” (York Harbor, York Beach, Cape Nedick and York Village) are inhabited by about 13,000 people. Turn up the temperature in June, and the population swells to three or four times its off-peak average. As residents of York, we’ve always felt that the crowds only add to the vibe as you stroll on Long Sands Beach, throw your fishing line into York River or take your place in line for some New England ice cream at the Goldenrod, Dunne’s or Wicked Good Ice Cream.
Everyone you bump into has the same child-like sparkle in their eye as the ocean, mild weather, fresh seafood and outdoor activities conspire to relax even the weariest visitor. There’s something for everyone. And, whatever you do, don’t underestimate the charm of the people you’ll meet as you bump into townies, short-term transplants from Massachusetts and visitors from Quebec and other parts of the New England and the Mid Atlantic. If you’re willing to instigate conversation with people you pass on the beach or in town, you’ll be thoroughly impressed (and at times entertained) with the warmth and chattiness of the typical York visitor or resident. We don’t own a dog, but one of our favorite activities in York is walking Long Sands in the early evening so we can meet the many dogs and their owners who take over the beach. Read more about dog restrictions and allowed walking times.
If you’re starting your New England trip with one of our Firefly Vans rental vehicles, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t log some time at the beginning or end of your trip in York. Here’s what we recommend in terms of local sights and things to do. As much as possible, we’ve ranked our ideas from high to low.
Strangely enough, although there isn’t really anything particularly special about this location, it’s our favorite destination in York, Maine. There’s always something to do here and even on the busiest of days in the middle of summer, there’s usually parking (try the lot near the high school if it’s packed on the beach), decent restaurants nearby, lots of free activities and 360 degrees of stunning views. If you want to rent a camper van in New England, Firefly Vans can equip you with a fully restored VW bus or vanagon. And, when it comes to parking at Long Sands, the goal is to arrive early in the morning so you can park your vehicle in one of the coveted metered spots with views of the ocean. Keep feeding the meter ($2 per hour) and smile as you take in the sights from a front row seat. And if you’ve rented a Volkswagen bus, pop up the top and nap in style.
Some benefits of throwing your towel down at Long Sands: The surfing or skim boarding here is great for newbies (sand bottom beach), the water isn’t terribly cold in the latter part of the summer, public bathrooms, bocci ball-size stretches of sand, dogs in the evening, BBQ-friendly space, fishing for bass and rock fish off the rocks on either side of the beach and most importantly, lots of room for walks. Stones Throw Café is a winner if you’re looking for a solid food option in this part of York and you’ll also find the York Beach Dairy Bar here with its long list of soft serve and some wicked good fried dough.
Recommendation #2 – Golf Courses
We’re not avid golfers, but York, Maine is something of a golfing town. If you visit in the Fall, expect your peripheral vision to be slightly distracted by brilliant colors as you tee off. Below are some golfing options in the York, Maine.
Many locals consider this the “local’s beach,” since it’s less accessible and there’s a well-hidden pathway that hugs the coast for about a half a mile. If you have enough time, make sure you kick your feet up while enjoying the crescent-shaped beach that is envelops the small harbor. It may be the prettiest spot in town, so once you secure a spot, relax, read a book, let your kids splash in the water and spend some time walking along the York Harbor Cliff Walk. To find this “secret” spot, walk over to the York Harbor Reading Room (the beautiful building across the street from the York Harbor Inn). You can see the Cliff Walk on this map, but you’ll also find the trail right behind the York Harbor Reading Room. After you go through the little gate, the narrow trail stretches along the coast until you wind your way to the backyards of some mansions. You’ll see a sign advising you to turn around. Along the way, you’ll enjoy some of the most beautiful coastline in the area. If you decide to eat at the York Harbor Inn, we suggest you have breakfast or brunch at 1637. Most of the tables in the restaurant are bathed in light and many have dazzling views of the nearby harbor. While the pub below is usually open year round, it’s a little bit like eating in the hull of a ship compared to being on the upper deck of the restaurant. To raise the bar on either option, you’ll often find a few local craft beer options from places like the nearby Tributary Brewery.
Flying Your Drone in York Harbor
This is one of the better places to fly your drone in York, Maine. If you walk down the Cliff Walk for about 10 minutes, you’ll enter a protected harbor area with far fewer people and some good places to land and take off. Don’t fly over the private homes or passerbys, but you’ll have plenty of open space over the water and along the coast to fly.
York Harbor Inn
The York Harbor Inn has been a fixture in York, Maine for hundreds of years. Explore the various rooms and hallways of the inn and you’ll find architectural remnants from the colonial period as well as modern amenities like jacuzzi tubs, flat screen TVs and king-sized beds. As mentioned, the 1637 restaurant is a winner if you’re looking for a comfortable meal with a view of the harbor.
Recommendation #4 – Short Sands Beach
Most people who live in York year round have a love-hate relationship with Short Sands. Short Sands Beach is ground zero for all things tourist. You’ll find Wicked Good Ice Cream, the taffy twisting display at the Goldenrod restaurant, expensive fried foods and the York Zoo. You’ll also see an alarmingly high ratio of burned skin to healthy skin on the packed little beach that absorbs the bulk of the southern hordes. In truth, the crowds are almost always bearable and the large metered parking lot next to the retail area and beach supports most of the visitors during the summer periods.
If you have kids, there’s a wonderful fenced park that will entertain toddlers and pre-teens and an adjacent basketball course for older kids. Walks along Short Sands beach are rewarding and the best walk extends to the nearby Nubble Lighthouse along Ocean Avenue Extension. Again, a great place to fly drones and fish for creatures of the deep in the channel. You unfortunately can’t visit the island or climb the lighthouse tower, but the stately Nubble Lighthouse is still a sight to behold in the summer or winter season. Parking here on a summer weekend isn’t easy, so be prepared to get creative.
As you walk through some beautiful neighborhoods on the way to the lighthouse, you’ll have to exercise some serious willpower to pass by a well-placed ice cream stand called Dunne’s Ice Cream. Don’t feel bad if you lose this battle. It’s definitely a destination in the summer, so prepare to wait. If you’re looking for a good place to enjoy a dinner, we recommend you check out the Union Bluff, which has some solid food choices, a view from inside the restaurant and a sprawling lawn that overlooks Short Sands.
If you’d like to extend your stay in Short Sands and you have some kids in tow, make sure you stop at Fun-O-Rama. Throw down some money on arcades and don’t miss the candle pin bowling from a bygone era. You’ll find numerous arcade games here, a never-ending digital audio storm and packs of kids running to and fro. If nothing else, the Fun-O-Rama is a time machine that will transport you back to a pre-Internet era where kids (and their parents) can still get their game on without a smart phone or VR goggles.
Recommendation #5 – Mount Agamenticus
Mount Agamenticus is a gem for hikers, mountain bikers, those looking for a picnic location or dog walkers. It’s also a destination if you fly drones as you’ll be up above the trees with a 360 degree view. On most days, you’ll be able to make out York, Ogunquit and Kennebunkport. If you’re looking for a leisurely hike, Turtle Loop winds around the a good portion of the mount and makes for a solid one-mile walk. They recently improved this trail, so it’s worth your time if you’ve already made the drive up. Once at the summit, you’ll find a large open field, some picnic tables and trailheads that lead down or around the hill. Less known, is the fact that you can find more than 8 miles of trails for motorcycling, horse back riding and ATVs nearby.
Favorite Food in York, Maine
Our list is eclectic, but here are some of our food favorites in York, Maine.
St. Joe’s Coffee – The breakfast sandwich and bennies are local favs.
First Hill – A new restaurant opened by the chef/owner of St. Joe’s Coffee and York 54. As of the posting date for this article, there was still no sign for this establishment. Fresh food with a focus on fusion. Solid choice of local craft beer on tap.
Anthony’s Food Shop (at the gas station) – Don’t ask me why this is in our top 5 options, but, they have legit pizza, sandwiches, pastries and the best coffee in town. For pizza, we consider this the second best in the area after When Pig’s Fly. They also have a solid selection of bottled craft beer. Great place to fuel up, grab food for a beach picnic and refresh your coffee cup.
Rossi’s Italian Bakery – Bring your cash since cards aren’t accepted. Although there are lots of calorie-busting desserts to be found here, don’t drive by without getting a few lemon macaroons—perhaps the best dessert in the state of Maine. Warning, be prepared to develop an addiction and try not to throw a fit if they’re out of the macaroons.
When Pig’s Fly (Kittery) – This is our top choice for pizza in the area. It is really amazing pizza. Among other food choices, When Pig’s Fly also has solid draught beer and salads. Plenty of room for groups and if you swing by the bakery next door, the German Country Sourdough is our favorite. Make your way to the back of the bakery, and you’ll be able to sample other flavors.
York 54 – The salads here are especially good. Not a lot of room to dine in, so be prepared to grab your food and dine elsewhere.
Central Restaurant & Bar – Great food and a local favorite. Even though the TripAdvisor rankings don’t do this restaurant justice, it’s a top 3 picks for the locals.
Off the Boat Lobster – There’s nothing like picking up your lobsters from Off the Boat Lobster. Good service and some stunning views of York River. Make sure you pick the soft shell lobster and finding a cull (missing a claw) is one ways to keep your cost down. Great photo opportunity, so don’t forget your camera.
1637 – This is the place to have breakfast while taking in a view of York Harbor. Walk off the extra pastry roll with a stroll on the nearby Cliff Walk. If you’re in the mood for a romantic night out, this will also fit perfectly for some ambiance creation.
Wicked Good Ice Cream – This is our go-to ice cream shop. No frills, but great ice cream in downtown Short Sands. Perfect starting point for an evening summer walk if you head towards the lighthouse.
Wild Willy’s Burgers – Great burgers and some seriously good root beer on tap. Another local establishment that is in a funky structure.
Craft Breweries in York, Maine
SoMe Brewery is currently the only craft brewery in York. It’s owned by a father, son duo who have done a great job creating an enjoyable environment in their brewery. Located on highway 1 behind a small retail outlet, you’ll find beer flights, free popcorn and an outdoor patio.
Everything good, everything magical happens between the months of June and August.
Bring your camera and your bound to capture some beautiful landscapes.