Updated: May 20, 2020
Portland Maine, being a peninsula, is surrounded by water and not surprising—beaches and state parks. Some are just a quick bike ride, while a few of the others, may require a short car ride. Here’s a sampling of what’s to offer within 15 minutes of Portland.
The Eastern Promenade, in Portland, has stunning views of Casco Bay and is an historic, grassy, harbor side reserve. There are great expanses for sun-bathing, kite flying, and picnicking. On one side of the park there are tennis courts, basketball courts, and a children’s play area. This park began being constructed in 1836 and was competed in 1934. Residents and visitors can play for free on over 68 acres. On July 4th experience a full festival with live music, food, and festivities. The firework display is amazing.
East End Beach is located off of the Eastern Promenade Trail. This beach offers kayak rentals and tours. If you’re a brave soul, and like a “chilling” experience, you can also participate in the ‘Polar Bear Dip and Dash’ on December 31, raising money for local charities. This beach is dog friendly from Labor Day to Memorial Day offering off-leash hours from 5:00 AM to 9:00 AM and 5:00 PM to 10:00 PM. Other amenities at this beach include walking trails, a boat launch, a sandy beach and scenic views.
Across the bridge in South Portland, you will find Willard Beach. This beach is a neighborhood beach with great views of Casco Bay and the Casco Bay Islands. There is limited parking in a small lot or park on the street. There is a playground for the kids and this beach is adjacent to the local greenbelt walkway.
Close by you will find Bug Light Park which got its name from the small size of the lighthouse. This is the Eastern terminus of the Greenbelt Walkway. Experience 8.78 Acres of land that was originally the site of major shipbuilding during WWII. From the many benches along the path you can experience stunning and expansive views of Portland Harbor. Many activities go on in the summer at this location like the Kite Festival, summer movie nights, an annual car show, and a big Fourth of July celebration with wonderful views of Portland’s annual firework display.
This park offers a great location for picnics, kite flying, salt water fishing, Portland Breakwater Lighthouse visits, and boat launching. Only seasonal restrooms at this location.
One smaller Park, but worth mentioning, is Thomas Knight Park at the end of Waterman Drive in South Portland. Although only 1.5 acres in size, this park offers benches, chess or checkers tables, a boat dock for tie-ups, salt water fishing from the pier and dogs are permitted. Exciting close views of large commercial ships going by.
Next to South Portland in Cape Elizabeth you’ll find a few places worth visiting. Portland Head Light and Fort Williams Park is a must-see for any visitor or resident of Maine, for that matter. This park started building in 1787 but wasn’t completed until 1791. This is the oldest lighthouse in Maine and sits on the rocky scenic coastline. This park offers free admission and its lighthouse is the most photographed in the United States. Visit the museum or the old fort. There is a cliff trail here, picnic space, kite flying, playgrounds, on very well-kept grounds. During the summer you will also find Food Trucks and a nice gift shop. Additionally, there are gardens to visit and a dog park, too.
Just a short drive from Portland Head Light and Fort Williams Park is Kettle Cove. This is a small state park that has a real neighborhood feel to it. There’s a small parking lot with free parking that fills up quickly during the summer months. Enjoy walking paths in wooded areas, tidal pools at low tide, benches, and a small sandy beach. The water is shallow here so it’s good for small children. There’s a boat launch here and an area for commercial fisherman. Restrooms open in the summer.
Further down from Kettle Cove is Crescent Beach State Park—you can actually walk here from Kettle Cove. Visit 242 Acres on a wide expanse of Atlantic Ocean. You’ll find a mile-long soft white beach to walk on—but you might want water shoes to go into the water because of rocky terrain. Since this is a state-run park—there’s parking for a fee. Additionally, there are changing rooms and showers, and kayak and paddle board rentals. During the summer you’ll find food and ice cream trucks parked in the lot. Also offers trails for walking.
A bit further south along the coast in Scarborough, there are lots of places to visit. You can start at Scarborough Beach State Park. This park offers a rolling sandy shoreline with wonderful views of the Islands and Coastline. Great waves for body surfing—but there is a bit of a rip tide and undertow—so be careful. There is a parking fee, and the parking is limited, but this beach also offers lifeguards and a snack shack.
**Because this is a protected bird nesting site for Piping Plovers, the beach restricts dogs, bikes, and kite flying from 3/1-11/1, annually.
If surfing is your thing—then head to Higgins Beach where surfing goes on year-round. Witness the surfers navigate the impressive waves on this small local beach. No high-rise motels lining this beach! This is a neighborhood location with lots of locals at the beach. Parking on-street is limited and watched. If you walk a couple of blocks, there is a nice municipal parking area offering restrooms and an outdoor shower—well worth the $10. This beach offers white sand, clean water, and at low tide a huge expanse of sand allowing a walk to the ship wreck to look for shells. Experience tidal pools, clear walking, good fishing, rocks to explore, and a bird sanctuary.
And finally, in Scarborough, visit a beach with sand dunes on a protected inlet off of Casco Bay known as Ferry Beach. This beach offers warmer water because it’s protected and a great place to bring children due to its shallowness. No waves at Ferry Beach and no lifeguard. Excellent bird-watching in the early morning hours—or nestle down in a dune and enjoy the warmth of the sun. There is also a bird sanctuary here for Piping Plovers.
Whether you’re in Maine for the summer, or whether you’re here in the off-peak season, there is always something to enjoy at a beach in Maine. Search for sand dollars or shells at low-tide, bring your dog for a stroll along the water, watch the birds, catch the sun setting or rising, or just enjoy a leisurely stroll. Breathe in the salt water and notice how the sun shimmers on the top of the water just before the sun sets. Every day at the beach is a good day.