The deal about York
Seaside and dense with activities, the Yorks have plenty of everything
YORK, Maine - It’s hard to choose among York’s summer delights. I’m standing between six ancient wooden lanes of candlepin bowling and Short Sands Beach, where little kids are shoveling wet sand into neon green pails for castles that will soon wash away. Singles and couples are ambling along the water’s edge, and clusters of teens eye each other in the timeless rituals of a day at the shore. Freshly made saltwater taffy beckons around the corner. Being here takes me back to childhood when my favorite uncle, Murray, brought my cousins and me to a beach much like this for ice cream cones, swimming, and 25-cent games of Skee-Ball. I hear the thump thump of Skee-Ball now, at Fun-O-Rama next door.
The Yorks - York Village, York Harbor, Cape Neddick, and York Beach - with their three ocean beaches, two camera-ready lighthouses, folk and contemporary art, historic homes, river byways, and forested mountain trails, offer plenty of retro relaxation for two people on a two-day getaway with $200 to spend (not counting gas). In July and August, lodging makes the budget a challenge, but it can work.
Morning: Mount Agamenticus (186 York St.): Pack bug spray and a lunch for this half-day hike with panoramic views. Mount Agamenticus Conservation Region (www.agamenticus.org) off Route 1 is a 10,000-acre forested wilderness with 40 miles of hiking, equestrian, ATV, and mountain bike trails. It’s the largest unfragmented coastal forest between Acadia National Park and the New Jersey Pine Barrens. At the 692-foot-high summit, on clear days you can see from the White Mountains to the Atlantic. Trails are rated easy to moderate on free maps at trailheads.
If hiking isn’t your thing, head to Long Sands Beach (Route 1A), a 1.5-mile sweep of shoreline with a split personality. At low tide, this smooth expanse of coarse gray sand, pebbles and boulders, accented with tidal pools, is perfect for long walks and kite flying. When the tide rolls in, the beach disappears. Surfers love this beach. Nearby is Cape Neddick Light Station, or “Nubble Light,’’ among the most photographed beacons in Maine. And bring plenty of quarters. In season, York’s beachfront parking meters annoyingly demand 25 cents for 15 minutes, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. No lunch in your bag? There’s a deli in The General Store tucked among the cottages and motels that parallel Route 1A.
Chelmsford residents Paul and Jeanne Bartel, both 65, have been coming here for the last 45 years, usually for long weekends in the cooler off-seasons. Side-by-side in their beach chairs, legs outstretched, they are the picture of relaxation. “We come here rain or shine,’’ says Paul. “The stress level is like zero. When the tide’s out, the sand’s perfect for boccie ball.’’ Putting aside her novel, Jeanne says “There’s no sense of time. We walk the beach end to end.’’
Afternoon: Short Sands Beach (Route 1A north past The Nubble): Shop for souvenirs, try candlepin bowling, and win tiny plastic toys at Fun-O-Rama. Buy ice cream, pizza, and homemade fudge in shops that close from Labor Day or Columbus Day to Memorial Day. Most of the action is in the block between the Ferris wheel at York’s Wild Animal Kingdom & Amusement Park and The Goldenrod restaurant, where for more than 110 years, saltwater taffy has been made fresh daily. The owners estimate that 9 million of those taffy kisses are produced every year. The Goldenrod’s penny candy counter, soda fountain, and large dining room of beamed ceilings and polished oak seem unchanged for decades.
“This is one of the last family resort areas,’’ says Bill Burnham, who owns the candlepin lanes and is chairman of the board of Ellis Short Sands Park. “One hundred years ago, the park was left to the town under a Board of Trustees to operate it for families. Our job is to maintain the traditions of this old-time beach, like holiday fireworks and that new playground by the bandstand. Many of the businesses have been handed down within families for generations, like The Goldenrod, Whispering Sands Gift Shop, and Garfield’s News, which has been here since 1918.’’
Late afternoon: The Katahdin Inn’s regular-season prices are the lowest around, $95 with shared bath or $145 with private full or half-bath. Each has a small fridge. “We call ourselves a bed-and-beach B&B,’’ says innkeeper Rae LeBlanc. “No breakfast.’’ Just coffee. The cozy guest house, circa 1880s, has a giant chessboard table on the enclosed porch that overlooks Short Sands Beach.
Room rates jump in high season but last-minute midweek and Internet specials can be found. The new 123 Restaurant & Inn has one such deal. Their Internet special, a king room for $123 a night, includes $20 credit toward a meal at their indoor/outdoor restaurant. Chef/innkeeper Tom Perron says owners Bob and Elaine Stone bought the building at auction last winter and opened in May after a full renovation. Guest rooms have private glassed-in balconies with ocean views, “even from bed,’’ says Perron.
Evening: Try the sirloin tips at the pub at the Union Bluff Hotel facing Short Sands. If an ocean view matters more than the meal, dine at sunset at Sun & Surf on Long Sands. Complete the night with a cone at Brown’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream on The Nubble and a visit to the lighthouse, where you may see scuba divers near Fox’s Lobster House. At Ellis Park, there are free concerts nightly from 7-9.
Midday: Be inspired. The George Marshall Store Gallery, a wonderful contemporary art gallery featuring Maine artists, shares its bucolic spot on the river with a warehouse and wharf once owned by John Hancock. The properties are part of the Museums of Old York, a collection of historic homes, buildings, gardens, and special exhibits that bring 300 years of history to life.
Near the museum’s visitors center in town is Rick’s All-Season Restaurant, a local hangout that serves breakfast starting at 5 a.m., and is open through dinner (closed Mondays). Or, have a casual gourmet lunch at the flagship Stonewall Kitchen Company Store on Route 1, near Interstate 95 before heading home.
Janet Mendelsohn can be reached at email@example.com.