Maine has long been a getaway for travelers trying to beat the summer heat and indulge in fresh seafood like lobster rolls and raw oysters. The northeastern-most state has 3478 miles of glorious coastline on the Atlantic Ocean, with a lovely mix of flat sandy beaches and dramatic rocky cliffs dashed by whitecaps.
While it’s true that the ocean water here is a little cold for some people’s sustained comfort, Maine also has gorgeous lakes to spare, with calm bodies of warmer water surrounded by hushed pine forests and, if you’re lucky, moose.
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Speaking of which, the local sightseeing is unparalleled, from iconic lighthouses and all manner of work and leisure boats to aquatic creatures like seals and sea stars – even whales, up near the Canadian border. Bring some binoculars, lay out a towel and enjoy Maine’s best beaches.
What to pack for a Maine beach trip
When you’re packing sun protection, like sunscreen, hats, light layers, umbrellas and beach tents, for bright summer fun in Maine, you should also consider layers, like rashguards for children or even wetsuits for anyone who plans to spend a lot of time surfing or splashing in the ocean.
Even at peak warmth in August, most of Maine’s coastal southern waters hover around 60°F. If you make it to one of the country’s easternmost beaches – such as Mowry Beach Preserve in Lubec, where you can wave to Canadians across the Lubec Narrows – the summer highs are only around 50°F.
1. Mother’s Beach, Kennebunk
Best beach for all ages
Beach Avenue is far from a meaningless name in Kennebunk: the street is home to Mother’s Beach, Middle Beach and Gooch’s Beach, all in a row.
Permitted parking is limited, but Mother’s is a great bet for all ages, thanks to its sizable playground, seasonal lifeguards and a woven polyester mat laid out from the parking area that allows easier access for people who use mobility aids. You can also rent a large-tire beach wheelchair through the Kennebunk Parks & Recreation Department.
And if these three beaches aren’t enough, Colony Beach provides a scenic, rocky shoreline with idyllic boat views just across the mouth of the Kennebunk River on Ocean Avenue.
2. Fortune’s Rocks Beach, Biddeford
Best beach for solitude and sea glass
With its limited parking and amenities – in high season there might be a portable toilet and perhaps a gelato or hot-dog cart – Fortune’s Rocks Beach in Biddeford is ideal for the beachgoer in search of some solitude. (For more action, check out nearby Middle Beach or Biddeford Pool.)
Lifeguards are on duty here from late May through early September, watching over Fortune’s Rocks’ beloved 2 miles of white-sand coast, clear water and beautiful rock formations that host captivating tide pools. High tide brings decent waves for surfers and bodyboarders, while low tide reveals hard-packed sand for walkers and joggers and treasures for sea-glass and sand-dollar hunters.
Old Orchard Beach may be the closest Maine gets to the Jersey Shore © Michael Orso / Getty Images
3. Old Orchard Beach
Best beach for a hit of nostalgia
Step back in time at Old Orchard Beach, known locally as OOB, a seasonal stop on the Amtrak Downeaster train’s scenic coastal route. The resort town on 7 miles of relatively sheltered Saco Bay may be the closest Maine gets to the Jersey Shore, complete with a boardwalk-like pier and nostalgic pleasures, like fried dough, seafood shacks and mini golf, plus arcade games and amusement-park rides at Palace Playland.
The flat, sandy beach has lifeguards and stays busy all season, thanks to sunbathers, paddleboarders, surfers and even jet skiers and parasailors. You can rent equipment for all this and more at nearby shops, like Old Orchard Beach Water Sports & Rentals.
Crescent Beach is less than 10 miles from Maine’s biggest city © Alexey Stiop / Shutterstock
4. Crescent Beach State Park, Cape Elizabeth
Best beach for white sand and wild blueberries
A treat for those who like soft white sand and grassy dunes, Crescent Beach, in the Portland suburb of Cape Elizabeth, is one of the many awe-inspiring beaches less than 10 miles from Maine’s biggest city. You’ll find a playground here, as well as beach wheelchair access and sometimes a food truck or two.
When you need a break from the sun, have a picnic at tables equipped with charcoal grills in shady wooded nooks along paths lined with wild Maine blueberry bushes – forage for the famously delicious fruit when it ripens in late July and August.
Planning tip: On weekends in July and August, you can skip Crescent Beach State Park’s $8-per-person entrance fee by pre-booking a paddle board or sea-kayak rental or kayak tour with Portland Paddle.
5. Fort Williams Park, Cape Elizabeth
Best beach for perfect photos
A small swimming area at Ship Cove is bounded by round stones about the size of tennis balls. These make it tricky but entertaining to clamber to the water’s edge, where flat sand and gentle waves meet at the base of imposing cliffs. This beach is never too busy, despite the popularity of Cape Elizabeth’s Fort Williams Park itself, where people flock for pictures of Maine’s oldest and most photographed lighthouse, Portland Head Light.
Walk southeast from the Ship Cove parking lot (where there are grills, picnic tables and a portable toilet) toward the lighthouse along a wide, gently hilly cliff walk, admiring native plantings on one side and genuinely breathtaking ocean views on the other. Once you’ve captured the perfect angle of the lighthouse, sample a flight of lobster rolls from the Bite Into Maine food truck by the upper parking lot.
Detour: If you walk north instead of south from Ship Cove, you’ll reach a quieter section of the park, home to the hollowed-out stone Goddard Mansion and Battery Keyes, an abandoned concrete gun battery you can climb for a stellar look at Portland Head Light and Ram Island Ledge Light Station across the way.
6. Songo River Beach, Sebago Lake Park
Best beach for sunning on a sandbar
Families love Songo River Beach for its sandy shore lined with evergreens, abutting warm, clear freshwater that deepens gradually thanks to a natural sandbar. On the northern side of Sebago Lake in Sebago Lake State Park, this Western Maine waterfront offers lush views as well as barbecues and seasonal lifeguards, so expect a jubilant crowd in the summer.
Nearby, your kids will also love watching boats pass through the hand-operated Songo Lock – the last surviving boat lock of the 19th-century Cumberland and Oxford Canal.
If you time your visit to Popham Beach with low tide, you can walk out to Fox Island © Rush Jagoe / Lonely Planet
7. Popham Beach, Phippsburg
Best beach to walk to an island at low tide
A half-hour drive from Brunswick (home of Bowdoin College), Popham Beach in Phippsburg is a popular 3-mile span of sand and sea between the mouths of the Kennebec and Morse rivers. Bathrooms, rinse showers powered by solar energy, lifeguards, accessible parking, picnic areas and a large-tire beach wheelchair (first-come, first-served) ensure a wide range of visitors can enjoy this charmer.
If you time your visit with low tide, you can walk out to Fox Island; if you come October through March, you might see folks riding horses.
Moosehead Lake is Maine’s largest body of fresh water, covering about 75,000 acres © Dan Lewis / Shutterstock
8. Moosehead Lake, Lily Bay State Park
Best beach for wildlife
The 925-acre Lily Bay State Park offers access to the eastern shore of Moosehead Lake, Maine’s largest body of fresh water – it covers about 75,000 acres, and on a map it has a fair resemblance to a moose’s head with antlers.
White pines overlook a beach of pebbles and sand, surrounding a glacier-eroded basin filled with cool, clear water. Go for a brisk swim, walk the shoreline trails and let the kids play in the playground. Whatever you do, keep an eye out for wildlife, including deer, foxes and, of course, moose, which are said to outnumber humans here three to one.
Planning tip: If you have your fishing license, you might catch trout and salmon to grill at your campsite.
Sand Beach nestles between granite mountains and rocky shores within Acadia National Park © Jerry Monkman / Getty Images
9. Sand Beach, Acadia National Park
Best beach for epic views
The petite Sand Beach nestles between granite mountains and rocky shores within Acadia National Park, and the sandy terrain of its name is mostly composed of fragmented shells.
You can take the seasonal Explorer Shuttle Bus or park off the Loop Road and descend stairs to the beach, where you’ll be treated to stunning views of Otter Cliff and the ocean. Between the sights, the park’s popularity, the amenities – restrooms, changing rooms and a water-bottle refilling station – and Sand Beach’s small size (it’s just 290 yards long), this one can get crowded during high season.
Detour: Around high tide, take the Ocean Path to the boisterous Thunder Hole, named for the unique roar caused by waves crashing into the rocky inlet. Get a different perspective via the Great Head Trail, a moderately challenging path with views of Sand Beach in the foreground and the Beehive rung-and-ladder trail behind it.