Picture the archetypical seaside amusement park of yesteryear—boardwalk vendors, tented arcades, wooden rides—and you’ve got Old Orchard Beach. Of course, plenty of modern (not to mention cheesy) elements have found their way here, too: tattoo parlors and bikers sit beside kids lapping ice cream and scantily bathing-suited senior couples holding hands. Forget the amusement rides; the march of humanity doesn’t get more entertaining than this.
Also worth a detour for nature lovers: the nearby small town of Saco. Once a well-to-do mill town, it’s still blessed with plenty of large, pretty homes and a bustling downtown—particularly these days on its island (plunk in the middle of Saco River), home to an increasing number of charming retailers. But largely, it’s the undeveloped areas of Saco that visitors are after: the gushing waters of the Saco River, and the well-kept trails of its parks, which provide year-round activities.
Little-known but highly regarded among the antiquities community, the Saco Museum (371 Main St., Saco, 207/283-0684, noon–4 p.m. Tues.–Thu., 12–8 p.m. Fri., 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Sat. year-round; noon–4 p.m. Sun. Jun.–Dec., $4 adults, $3 seniors, $2 students and children 7–18, free children under 6, free Fri. 4–8 p.m.) houses a treasure trove of historic American paintings, hand-crafted furniture, and old tools of the 18th through the mid-19th century.
Mondays and Tuesdays at 7 p.m. during summer, there are free live concerts and comedy acts at Orchard’s Seaside Pavillion, Square, followed by fireworks every Thursday at 9:30 p.m. And every August, the Beach Olympics come to town, filling the streets with music, games, and crafts exhibits.
The Pier (1 Old Orchard St., 207/934-2001) on Old Orchard Beach is a boardwalk-cum-arcade that stretches out across the water and peddles every kind of kitschy junk: blow-up Bart Simpson dolls, pennies stamped into pendants, and photos of you posed in front of a fake wave.
On the more elegant end of retail, Saco has handmade crafts made by a collective of upwards of 50 local artists at Stone Soup Artisans (232 Main St., Saco, 207/283-4715, 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m. Mon.–Sat. Memorial Day to New Year’s).
Food at this fair is exactly what you’d expect: fried, fried, and fried some more. You’ll find a (relative) break from all the junk food at Lisa’s Pizza (17 Old Orchard St., 207/934-7655), though it’s hardly health food. It’s hardly worth complaining, however; what else is a carnival for?