Maine’s beaches get a lot of attention, and rightfully so. With 3,478 miles of coastline — stretches of open sand, granite headlands, and pleated shale cliffs — it is, without a doubt, an arresting stretch of scenery. And yet, with the summer upon us, I can’t help but recall last summer when, still getting oriented, I found myself longing for the West Coast. Not for want of beauty, but for want of — how to put it? — free beauty, which is, of course, my favorite kind of beauty.
Scouting the coast just south of Portland during my first July, I kept wondering, “Where are all the free beaches?” Out West, all you have to do is drive, well, west, and you’ll inevitably arrive at some parking lot swept with sand and the roiling Pacific beyond. Okay, maybe I’m being a little utopic here. There are plenty of beaches that require fees out West, and there are also many beaches fenced in by private property. Nonetheless, fees for coastal access seem more common out here than there. So, for those of you who are either broke, like me, or just cheap, I’ve compiled a sampling of a few local, free beaches. The list is by no means exhaustive. In fact, if you are local and want to add to it or find any offensive oversights in the below listicle — that illustrious, literary form — by all means, please add what I have left out on the Phoenix Facebook page. You can even mock my ignorance, if you feel so inclined. And then we can all be cheap together.
To start, I offer my personal favorite, earning first place on the listicle:
#1) Two Lights State Park: Yes, I know, there is a fee to get into the park. But, if you follow Two Lights Road to its inevitable conclusion at the eminent Lobster Shack, you can park for free. And once there, you can, as the saying seems to be out here, “cliff walk” your way into Two Lights State Park. Though, as I am writing this now, it occurs to me that perhaps you would be cliff walking across private property, which, surely, I should not advocate in print. Nonetheless, even the immediate coastal access from the parking lot is delightful. There you can amble out onto the rocks and marvel at how layered shale resembles petrified wood. Beyond that, I recommend sitting on a rock, staring at Two Lights lighthouse, and letting the Atlantic make you feel lonely and remote, for there is nothing better than feeling lonely and remote, at least in my experience. Also, once you are done emoting (should you chose to emote), you can get yourself a lobster roll or some chowder from The Lobster Shack and cry into it. Taking the 77, Two Lights is more or less a twenty-minute drive from downtown Portland.
#2) For those less inclined to sit on rocks and emote and more interested in the classic, open-sands beach experience, I recommend Ocean Park Beach, in Old Orchard Beach. Here you can surf, swim, lay out on a towel and get a sunburn, or just walk around on the sand and sweat. All for free. And when you are done doing any of the above, you can get an ice cream from The Soda Fountain, a quaint ice cream shop with a quaint sign. Sadly, however, the ice cream is not free. Taking the 295 from downtown Portland, Ocean Park is roughly a twenty-five minute drive.
#3) For those interested in striking a balance between emoting and lazing around on the sand, I recommend Willard Beach. Here you have sand and rocks, and you can lay around freely or walk, contemplatively, in search of shells and sea glass mixed in with the pebbly shoreline. Plus, if you have a dog, you can walk it on the beach, so long as you do so before 9 a.m. or after 6 p.m. Willard Beach is a neighborhood beach in South Portland, just eleven minutes from downtown via the 77. There’s a fair amount of parking, and it’s an easy walk to Fort Preble and Spring Point Lighthouse, one of the iconic, local lighthouses. There are also public bathrooms, a couple of spartan showers, and ice cream close by.
#4) Kettle Cove is another favorite of mine, though be warned, parking can get tight. The cove is a relatively small stretch of sand cradled between two rocky outcroppings — technically “Parrot Point” and “Fort Point,” though I’m not sure that I would call either “points.” Still, the rocky arms on either side of the cove shelter it from the surf, making it ideal for swimming and tide pooling. Though Kettle Cove itself is small and can get crowded, there are easy trails that connect it to Crescent Beach State Park and its longer stretches of sand. Along with Two Lights, I find Kettle Cove to be one of the most aesthetically pleasing local beaches. With its view across the bay of Richmond Island and the backdrop of open fields and marshland, the place resembles a painting of coastal Maine, replete with a boat launch and fishermen trolling the bay. And, obviously, there’s ice cream at Kettle Cove Creamery.
#5) Finally, I offer the choose-your-own-adventure of free beaches: The great majority of the beaches on Peaks Island, Long Island, and Great Diamond Island are free (those that aren’t private, anyway) and offer sprawling stretches of sand and coves that trace the island’s perimeters; often times access is as easy as stepping off the ferry. That said, you have to pay for the ferry ride, which makes these beaches only sort of free. But the ferry ride is nice, and a good place to emote, should you, like me, be a fan of emoting on the open sea.