Coastal Meander: Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine; Finding the best beach towns in New England

Coastal Meander: Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine
Where are the best beach towns in New England

A trip to include Salisbury Beach (Mass.), Hampton Beach, Rye & Portsmouth (N.H.),

For some incredibly scenic views and plenty of places to stop along the way, try the coastal road from Salisbury Beach, Massachusetts north to Old Orchard Beach, Maine. This route takes you along a stretch of road that gives you plenty of opportunity to stop along the way and do whatever you like from upscale dining and shopping to pretty basic family fun to nature photography to learning more about the history of some of these locations.

Start your northbound coastal trip at old time Salisbury Beach, Massachusetts which is about as original as a beach destination gets.

If coming from the south, take I-495 around Boston and get off at the Salisbury Beach exit just before the 495 and the 95 come together. It frequently backs up here and the problem seems to be happening in Massachusetts but the solution to the traffic is probably in New Hampshire or Maine. Take the 110 east all the way to Salisbury Beach. It meanders a bit and becomes Beach Road/1A in Salisbury. As you get closer to the coast the businesses become more and more tourism-oriented.

Typical stunning view of the coastline as you travel from Salisbury Beach, Mass. through New Hampshire and on into Maine.  This is just south of York Beach, Maine.

The Knotty Pine Motel is one of several that are classic old school accommodations that in many places, like Florida or New Jersey, have vanished. There are cottages and motels as well as campgrounds. The classic Pines Campground is one we’ve stayed in twice and most of its sites have no sewer hookups and you can’t get a cell or satellite signal in much of the campground but its old fashioned feel is what is attractive about it. Though certainly the low prices are attractive to some campers. This is Beach Road or 1A which you’ll take north once you reach the mid-century town center of Salisbury Beach. It is fairly well preserved with some modern additions and a place where the smell of beach pizza and skee bowl signs take you instantly back in time.


The road isn’t all coastal but it is all beautiful – this stretch of road was cool and covered with nice curves and gorgeous houses along the way too.

Follow 1A north past some great examples of laid back, old school, beach cottages on the way up to New Hampshire where you’ll pass some variations of look and feel along the way past Hampton Beach and Rye Beach until you veer inland and follow the signs to US1 or US1 Bypass.  You’ll come to Portsmouth which is a large town and we visited here on a different day trip but you can stop if you like – that’s the beauty of a day trip with many options.   Either one heads north and takes you through Kittery, Maine where there are a variety of outlet stores that have seen better days. No real reason to stop unless you’ve never been to an outlet mall in your life. We then took Haley Road to Route 103 which cuts into 1A about York Harbour.  Before long you’ll come up to York Harbour Beach and then the town of York and  York Beach. Again, easily you’ll have opportunities to stop and eat if you desire or just prowl around and do some shopping or stop and take some great nature shots with your camera.

No visit to Ogunquit, Maine is complete without a stroll along the Marginal Way with no time pressures and the reward of a cocktail and lobster roll at the end.

Continue north to Ogunquit and stop here to walk the Marginal Way and soak up the town’s well preserved summer experience. I’ve written about Ogunquit before and it is a must do if anywhere in the area. Continue north along the US1 and follow signs to Kennebunkport (you’ll stray from US1 onto Route 9 and follow that into the town) which is another charming little town on the water with ample restaurants and shops to keep you busy on your stop.

Passing through Saco, Maine on the way to Old Orchard Beach.

All along this route you can detour to any number of places but eventually you come upon Saco (taking Route 9 back to 1 via Biddeford) which is an old mill town that has repurposed its mills and preserved them. The town is quite attractive and charmingly has very few T-shirt shops and ice cream shops though there are at least one of each that we found.

Kennebunkport is a charming little town that is easy to walk around and soak in.  It is well worth a stop as is a lot of the towns on this route.

Carry on along Route 9 and you’ll eventually enter the town of Old Orchard Beach. There are some shorter options too.  This is an amazing place that is jam packed with every tacky tourist thing in America. There are amusements along the seafront as well as a historic pier that has some attractions you’ve not seen in decades such as beach caricatures and air brushed license plates. No shortage of things to do here and there are plenty of campgrounds within range of all the action.

The Pier at Old Orchard Beach is full of people and old school attractions with a bar at the end.  It is definitely worth a stroll out.

Somewhere along this stretch of road you’ll have found something that is perfect for you and what you’re looking for. It could be for an overnight or a week or a season. There are campgrounds on the water, cabins within walking distance of towns, there’s upscale, down market, honkey tonk and toffee nosed. This is America and a section of New England that is diverse, beautiful and historic. You can easily do this route in a day with plenty of stops and this route is easily customized to whatever you want to do and see.  You can even go up along this route and back on the expressway in a day without hurrying yourself too much.  Enjoy it all and soak it in because there are many people taking the I-95 who are missing this entire experience.  And you could do variations of this route each day for a week and still not see it all.  So get off the main road and explore.


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