A woman rides a bicycle along Long Beach Avenue in York as the sun begins to burn off a mist hanging over the beach on the summer solstice in 2017.

York is a quintessentially New England beach vacation town. But, lucky for locals, it’s easy to drop by for a little fun in the sun. In a single day in York, it’s easy to fit in all the beach vacation essentials: swimming and sunbathing, shopping for saltwater taffy, visiting an arcade, eating lobster rolls and ice cream and photographing a lighthouse. The York Beach area includes Short Sands Beach and Long Sands Beach, which are separated by Cape Neddick, as well as York Harbor Beach.

Short Sands Beach

If your family gets bored with a quiet beach, Short Sands is perfect. All the stuff of a retro family beach vacation tradition is within walking distance: the Fun-O-Rama arcade, a playground, take-out and sit-down (air-conditioned) restaurants and The Goldenrod candy shop and soda fountain, where saltwater taffy has been pulled every summer since 1896. Just around the bend is York’s Wild Kingdom Amusement Park (which is for sale – so, if this zoo and amusement park is a family favorite, visit while you can). From the Ferris wheel, you can get a great overview of York Beach.

Visitors enjoy the beach by the arcade at Short Sands Beach during particularly pleasant weather for Memorial Day weekend. Photo by Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald

Short Sands Beach itself is just a quarter mile long, and the waves are gentle. The beach is mostly sandy, with some rocky areas where tidepools form. Lifeguards are on duty from the end of June through Labor Day. There’s a metered parking lot right at the beach, off Route 1, as well as restrooms, a changing area and showers. This beach is also said to be a good spot to hunt for sea glass.

Short Sands Beach is on the north side of Cape Neddick and is a 1.25-mile drive to Sohier Park, where you can get the best view of Cape Neddick Light, more commonly known as Nubble Light, one of the most frequently photographed lighthouses in the world. Sohier Park has a parking lot, gift shop and restrooms and is in the neighborhood of vacation destinations Fox’s Lobster House and Dunne’s Ice Cream.

Long Sands Beach

If you’re really all about the beach itself, not all the surrounding attractions, Long Sands may be more to your liking. As its name implies, it’s longer – 1.5 miles – and everyone tends to spread out a bit more. There’s metered parking, and rafts and umbrellas are available for rent. There’s a designated surfing area between two orange buoys in front of the bathhouse. Lifeguards are on duty from the last week of June through Labor Day.

York Harbor Beach

At York Harbor Beach, just off Route 1A, the surf is gentle, the atmosphere quiet and the parking free. But, without a beach sticker available to town residents, parking is limited to two hours. If that doesn’t put you off, stop here for a quick dip or to explore the tidepools in some rockier spots. Lifeguards are on duty from the last week of June through Labor Day, and portable restrooms are at the end of Harbor Beach Road for the summer.

Another treasure in this part of York, across the street from the York Harbor Inn, is the 4-acre seaside Hartley Mason Reserve, with walking paths, gorgeous views of York Harbor Beach and shaded benches for resting.

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. 

Surfing is a popular activity at Long Sands Beach in York. Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald


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