York, Maine

I'm lucky enough to have first cousins all over the country. We've been trying to get everyone together every few years and this past month, we reconvened in York, Maine for "CousinFest". The oceanside community did not disappoint. The people were so friendly and welcoming, and I have never met a more pedestrian friendly place in all of my travels. York, Maine consists of four distinct areas: York Village, rich in history; York Harbor, with lots of cottages looking out at Long Sands Beach; York Beach, with many tourist attractions; and Cape Neddick, mostly residential, ocean front properties.  Here's a list of some things we all enjoyed in York: 

1. The beach: The house we rented was one street and two houses in from Long Sands Beach. When it's low tide, there is tons of space to run around and spread out. High tide is much rockier and only certain sections of the beach are accessible. We saw lots of people climbing around the rocks search for sea life, but it's very slippery and little ones (or adults carrying little ones AND beach necessities) will find it challenging. Our kids loved using the boogie boards I had previously purchased at my local Five Below (see my tips of items to purchase ahead of time here). They thought they were real surfers "catching the waves" (the waves are small and calmer and good for beginners).

2. Nubble Lighthouse: It's probably the most photographed spot in York and you have great views of it from Long Sands Beach. The official name is the Cape Neddick Light Station and it's located on Cape Neddick Peninsula. You can't actual go to the lighthouse, or explore the grounds.  Follow the signs on the main road, hugging the beach on your right, and you'll end up at a large parking lot. You can get a little closer by walking on large, uneven boulders.  I would NOT suggest it for little ones. There are no safety barriers or fencing and there are big gaps between the boulders. You can get a nice photo from the safety of the parking lot and then distract little ones with a treat from the gift shop, or a snack at Fox's Lobster House (they have a takeout counter and full service restaurant) or Dunne's Ice Cream (it seems like they have a MILLION varieties!).

3. The Wiggly Bridge is considered the world's smallest suspension bridge and does, indeed, wiggle when you cross it. You can park directly on Route 1, but there are only about 6 public spots- the rest have a sign stating Permit Parking only. We walked over the suspension bridge to the Steedman Woods and took a mile walk loop back to the bridge. The kids had fun picking walking sticks (which we left for future explorers) and skipping rocks in the shallow water. The path leading up to the bridge has no railing, so you'll want to keep a close watch on little ones, and the guard rails on the actual bridge have big gaps. However, the drop from both the path and the bridge is less than 3 feet, so it wasn't too scary.

York Beach is a couple of miles northeast of where we were staying. There is a big parking lot (bring your quarters for the meters!) and a public bathroom just up from the Short Sands Beach. The small beach seemed very calm. From the parking lot, you can walk to:

4. The Goldenrod: A must stop for salt water taffy lovers. The restaurant and candy store, established in 1896, offers soda fountain and full service restaurant style seating and serves meals all day. It's a must to pick a box full of "kisses" (salt water taffy); there were about a dozen varieties when we stopped. Children will like peering from the outside to watch them make the taffy. You can cross the street and get a shaved ice snow cone (and pick your favorite flavoring) from Hawaiian Jim's.

5. Right down the street is York's Wild Kingdom, which has over 20 carnival rides (geared towards the younger set), and a zoo with over 50 different animals. There's also a daily animal presentations where you can get up close and personal with a variety of animals. We also spied a mini golf course, batting cages, and an arcade. There is a parking lot on site.

5. Mount Agamenticus offers a great opportunities for the hikers and bikers in the family. There are more than 40 miles of hiking and biking trails and you can begin at the Learning Lodge, where they have lots of displays and informational material and maps.

6. History buffs will want to check out York Village to explore the Old York Historical Society, with three properties: The Emerson- Wilcox House, the Old Gaol (jailhouse), and Old Burying Ground. One ticket allows you entrance at all three spots (which make a nice triangle in the village and are in easy walking distance of one another) or you can pay to explore individual spots. The Emerson- Wilcox House authentically displays the daily life of the Emerson family, who lived in the home in the 1750s and then the Wilcox family, who lived there in the mid 1800s.  There is an unusual hallway behind the chimney that children will enjoy checking out. The jailhouse was added in the late 1700s, and has a stone cell on the first floor and three cells on the upper levels. Adults might find this building more interesting than children, who will probably just want to stick their head and arms in the pillory outside.  The cemetery is easy to navigate, both for little feet and for strollers. Make sure to grab the "Set in Stone" guide from the Museum Center, which provides interesting facts about the individuals buried there and commentary on the architectural details of the tombstones. The Old York Historical Society also has many other properties throughout York.

Eating with the locals: We rented a house and had a blast cooking together. But we did manage to get out for a few special treats. Our favorites:

  • We had scheduled a lobster bake with Foster's, which a few locals had highly recommended.  They have a variety of options to coincide with your cooking capabilities, including catering to go (they cook everything for you) or options to order from the restaurant on site and eat on the patio. (They also host celebratory events for hundreds of people on their private pavilion).  My enthusiastic cousin Laura was determined to pull the whole thing off herself, and found the Maine Lobster Outlet on Route 1 in York. The price was very reasonable and the people at the Outlet were super friendly and very reassuring in answering our questions about properly cooking the steamers and lobsters. They even loaned us some necessary lobster "tools" for our bake at the house. The clam chowder was delicious and ps- our lobster bake was a success.
  • Sand and Surf Restaurant, located right in the middle of Long Sands Beach. Awesome clam chowder, my kids loved the fried seafood, and there was a decent selection for land blubbers.
  • SoMe Brewing Company: Located in town, on Route 1, they have 10 rotating beers on tap, and offer 4 ounce (and larger) tastings for a nominal cost. I wouldn't normally put a brewery on a family centered trip, but SoMe provides a ton of board games (like Jenga), a huge chalk wall, and a foosball table to entertain children while you check out the brews. My family (collectively) enjoyed our visit to the brewery. Plus, you can walk across the parking lot and bribe the children with:
  • Wicked Mini Donuts: They.are.amazing. And come in dozens of flavors. I ordered ahead of time and was the hero for Sunday morning breakfast. PS- they are quite filling!

Important to note: Some of these places have varying hours based on the season. Be sure to call ahead before you visit.