Ogunquit means “beautiful place by the sea” in Algonquin. How appropriate, considering it’s been named a top beach town by Yankee, Travel and Leisure, and Coastal Living magazines—all in the last year.
The Marginal Way footpath, Perkins Cove artists’ colony, and the sprawling Ogunquit Beach (not to mention the great bar scene) draw visitors early spring through fall to the south coast of Maine. For the more leisurely crowds, there’s downtown shops and galleries, as well as summer theater in the Ogunquit Playhouse.
While only about 900 full-time residents live in the rugged seaside village, the summer population swells to an estimated daily average of 75,000 to 80,000 people (making the spring off-season a great time to avoid the crowds!). Thankfully, frequent trolleys carry tourists to their destinations, no parking required. “In fact, you can actually get away without having a car at all,” said Shari Hanson, chair of the Ogunquit Chamber of Commerce and manager of Raspberri’s restaurant inside the Gorges Grant Hotel. “Pretty much anywhere in Ogunquit you have access to a trolley.”
The area hosts couples, families, and the gay community, Hanson said. “It’s great for kids and older folks. We are very LGBT-friendly,” she said. “We welcome everyone.”
Go on a day trip or spend the whole weekend using these tips on where to eat, stay, and play in Ogunquit.
For an upscale dining experience with spectacular indoor ocean views from surrounding windows, book a table at MC Perkins Cove. The M and C stand for the chefs, Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier, who have both won James Beard Awards and are known for igniting Maine’s farm-to-table movement. “[The restaurant is] located right in the cove on the water with a beautiful view,” Hanson said. “As a classic American bistro, they do a little bit of everything.” On the menu, expect lots of local seafood, from Maine lobster to peekytoe crab cakes, as well as quality steaks and sides like “Evil Carbos” and “Virtuous Vegetables.” Note that it might not be the place to bring the little ones. “It’s higher end for sure,” Hanson said. (111 Perkins Cove Road)
If you’re not sure what Ogunquit weather looks like from Boston, just check out Barnacle Billy’s live webcam that looks out on the waterfront deck. This year, the restaurant celebrates 57 years of being a go-to Maine institution for seafood. “They are very famous for their lobster roll and the rum punch,” Hanson said. Popular menu items also include lobster dinners, steamed clams, housemade lobster stew, and clam chowder in a rustic casual atmosphere that’s perfect for families, friends, and couples. Plus, you never know who you’ll see there. “It’s a famous one because the Bush family always goes to the restaurant when they are in town,” Hanson said. (50-70 Perkins Cove Road)
How do you like your lobster roll? Chilled with mayo or warm with drawn butter? Footbridge’s little red lobster shack has both available at its takeout window. The owner’s a lobsterman, so the crustaceans are as fresh as fresh can be, straight from boat to pot to plate. “It’s a no-frills, tiny place with a couple wooden tables located right where the fishing and lobster boats come in,” Hanson said. Footbridge also often has buy-one, get-one deals on lobsters at market price. (108 Perkins Cove Road)
“The Beachmere is a beautiful location. It’s right on the Marginal Way,” Hanson said. “It really is a fantastic property.” It offers six different buildings to suit all types of travelers, from families to couples looking for a romantic stay. Choose the circa 1897 Victorian inn that was once a private residence and now has 28 immaculate rooms, or the Mayfair with its lush garden and tea house. The Bullfrog House comfortably accommodates families with kitchenettes and a swing set out back, while Beachmere West and Beachmere South provide jaw-dropping oceanfront panoramas. (62 Beachmere Place)
The recently renovated oceanfront Cliff House boasts water views from more than 130 rooms atop 70 acres of Bald Head Cliff. With a luxury spa and waterside dining, it may be hard to leave the hotel at all. The spa is 9,000 square feet. “It’s gigantic,” Hanson said. The resort first opened in 1872, but it’s been transformed with modern-day amenities to compete with the most luxurious accommodations. Three on-site dining options include Nubb’s Lobster Shack for casual fare, the Tiller Restaurant, which is suspended over the Atlantic Ocean, and Tidemark Terrace, a great spot for cocktails. (591 Shore Road)
Convenience is key at this contemporary upscale hotel with 81 rooms located right on Route One. It’s within walking distance of shops, galleries, and restaurants, and “it’s in between the Footbridge Beach and Ogunquit Beach so you have access to either one and you can take the trolley each way,” Hanson said. The hotel is family-owned and family-friendly, with outdoor and indoor pools (a plus in the off-season when it’s too chilly for the beach), plus an on-site restaurant for breakfast, Raspberri’s, where Hanson is the manager. The hotel also has special dining, theater, spa, and Stonewall Kitchen packages that offer cooking lessons in nearby York, Maine. (449 Main St.)
John Lane’s Ogunquit Playhouse, celebrating its 85th season, brings theatergoers back to a bygone era of entertainment. Although the playhouse was established in 1933 in a renovated garage in Ogunquit’s town square, the venue that exists today was built in 1937 as an exclusive summer theater that’s now on the National Historic Register. “It’s a huge draw for the town,” Hanson said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bad production there. My mother is a season ticket holder so I get to go to a lot of shows.” Hanson’s looking forward to seeing Bullets Over Broadway, Ragtime, and Heartbreak Hotel, from the creators of Million Dollar Quartet. (10 Main St.)
A lively bar scene keeps Ogunquit hopping day and night. Anywhere you go, you can find a spot to sit back and sip a margarita, martini, or craft beer, or shake your tail feather into the late-night hours. A favorite watering hole is The Front Porch Piano Bar, where the food is as tasty as the libations. “They have fantastic singalongs, and you can hear the singing as you’re walking down the street,” Hanson said. “There’s a lot of show tunes going on.” MaineStreet has dancing and drag shows, and BeachFire Bar and Grille serves up live jazz upstairs and outdoor firepits. (The Front Porch, 9 Shore Road; MaineStreet, 195 Main St.; BeachFire, 658 Main St.)
The public footpath Marginal Way is just 1.25 miles long, but the sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean go for miles. The stretch connects Ogunquit Beach to the working fishing and artists’ village Perkins Cove, with plenty of benches for sunset-watching and resting along the way. “The benches were donated in memory of loved ones, and it’s a beautiful place to sit and think, take in the air, watch the sunset, or listen to the waves,” Hanson said.
Once you’re ready for more water, check out the town’s two connected beaches, Ogunquit and Footbridge. “Ogunquit Beach is a long stretch of white sandy beach that’s so walkable, and very clean,” Hanson said. “The town takes great pride in caring for the beaches, and we have wonderful lifeguards.” You can rent beach chairs and umbrellas at the main beach, while Footbridge Beach is a little less crowded with fewer amenities. “You can access it by a footbridge that crosses the Ogunquit River,” she said. A little extra walking to get there is worth the effort to relax on the tranquil sandy shore. (Marginal Way; Beach Street)
Update: A quote in a previous version of this story stated that the spa at Cliff House is 5,000 square feet. It is 9,000 square feet.