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Ogunquit: The Little Town That Starts With The Big 'O'
by Jennifer Belkus
July 9, 2008
Endowed with lengthy beaches, pristine coves and fastidiously manicured gardens, the towns of southern coastal Maine bedazzle, in both raw and refined ways. Just ask the unofficial local “women’s concierge,” Leanne Cusimano, the owner-operator of Amore Breakfast, where you can get the best Naked around (a scandalously yummy omelet sans cheese). She admits that from the outside, Ogunquit appears conservative, safe, squeaky-clean and oozing with charm. “That's all true,” she says, “except for the conservative part.”

A long-time summer destination for Speedo-clad French Canadians, generations of New England families, and—yes—oodles of gay boys, the seaside and wetlands share a cross-tide of cultures. Often likened to P-Town, Ogunquit is not so in-your-face, and locals say they don’t want it to be. They’ve got a good thing going with an easy, genuine kind of acceptance built in. They're devoted to the region for the same reasons you'll be: for its sweeping blues and greens, its clatter of plates and salty aromas and its community of real people.

The undercurrent of a women’s scene is making waves. Locals sigh when a swell of gal pals comes to port looking to soak up sun and air, and Sappho-filled events are taking off, encouraging business owners to draw more and more female visitors. The typical season for New England seaside resorts falls between Memorial and Labor Day, but don’t discount off-season stays.

Wherever DJ Jodi’s at, that’s where the party is (djjodi.com). The monthly Women’s T-dance has run at Maine Street Video Bar and Night Club for six years. New dates are added all the time, so get on the mailing list (mainestreetogunquit.com). Flit past ponytails and flipped-back baseball caps by the pool table, pick up an elixir at one of two bars, slip onto the dance floor, then take a break on the starlit terrace. DJ Jodi organized the first annual Women’s Weekend to coincide with a T-dance last year, and tickets are already going fast for this year's (Sep 26–28).

T-dancers receive a special discount on nightly rates at The Admiral’s Inn (from $59, 87 Main Street, theadmiralsinn.com). Women splash poolside or hang at the hot tub all day, particularly during Women’s Weekend.

Another set of soirees kicks off at Clay Hill Farm on June 6 ($55 includes dinner/tax/gratuity/ dancing, clayhillfarm.com). The Party of the Season will be situated amid 30 sprawling acres of protected woodlands, rolling lawns and blooming gardens. Clay Hill Farm is wildlife habitat and bird sanctuary certified, and offers a wondrous environ for a commitment ceremony.

A full program of women’s music and entertainment packs them in at Jonathan’s (jonathansrestaurant.com). This year’s headliners include Patty Larkin and Olivia-favorite comedian Suzanne Westenhoefer, showcased in Jonathan’s spacious rooms alongside the quirky and alluring sculptural garden. Keep in mind Westenhoefer’s tout, “Ogunquit is the P-Town of Maine without the annoying people handing out flyers for shows...love Jonathan’s!” [Editor's Note: Ms. Westenhoefer has been a fixture on the P-Town Flyer Scene for years.]

Flanking either end of prime season, packages are offered with John Lane’s Ogunquit Playhouse—your ticket to Broadway away from Broadway—and the all-inclusive Meadowmere Resort (from $65, 74 Main St, meadowmere.com). After the show, recline by your private fireplace and jacuzzi, or join the party at Meadowmere’s indoor/outdoor pools, hot tub, spa, billiards and game room or cozy movie theater.

Rumor has it that rooms at the queer-owned guesthouse, Heritage of Ogunquit, go like hotcakes (51 Marginal Ave, heritageogunquit.com). Rates are based on group reservations of 10–15 in private, tastefully decorated quarters named “Lily,” “Martina,” Jodie” or “Gertrude” (from $2,900/week).

The Loop
The layout of what-to-do and where-to-do-it in Ogunquit works on a loop: the main beaches and The Village start at one end, with Perkins Cove on the other. Marginal Way and Shore Road connect the dots.

The seashore extends for miles, water meeting white sand bordered by natural dunes. Yes, there is a gay section up on your left about two miles past bronzed bathers and the last volleyball net. Though heavily populated by the gay boys, women that make the trek are always welcome.

Beach Street connects from the shore to the heart of The Village at the foot of the Front Porch Restaurant and Piano Bar (9 Shore Road, thefrontporch.net). Glasses twinkle with the colorful liquids of early evening brews and martinis. Party girls and bois will tell you that central square and the surrounding micro-district is where the queer action happens later at bars such as the aptly named InsideOUT (237 Main St, clubinsideout.com).

Coffee shops and specialty boutiques abound. The Village Market (230 Main St, villagefoodmarket.com) serves picture-perfect pastries—cheese drop biscuits and powdered sugar-dusted shortbread. Mosey down the prettiest paved mile in the Northeast by continuing along Shore Road, until you come to Five-O lounge (50 Shore Rd, fiveoshore road.com), a perfect spot for snacking and girl-watching. Walk it off continuing in the same direction on Shore Road, and pass a pebble stone library and Amore Breakfast (178 Shore Rd, amorebreakfast.com) as you make a mental note to stop in later.

Signage will direct you towards Perkins Cove, past artisan galleries and historic homes converted into guesthouses. Stop and stare at the impressive pastel edifice of Pink Blossoms Family Resorts, offering exceptional suites with kitchenettes ideal for couples and little ones (from $85, 210-222 Shore Rd, pinkb.com).

On the way back, pop in for classic fish and chips ($6.95) or native Maine lobster (market price), then follow your instincts to the ocean. A path leads you down Marginal Way, through sporadic ocean spray and the scent of ripening rose hips.

The Yorks & Greater  Ogunquit Area

Ogunquit sits among other regional gems—Wells, Cape Neddick and The Yorks—vibrant, sun-glittering destinations in their own right which make for excellent day excursions. The communities connect with a trolley system for the hottest, most attractive weeks starting in late June. The Ogunquit Touring Map at the Welcome Center (36 Maine St) designates in-town stops.

If you’re traveling with Fido or Fifi, pooches are welcome to walk at many parks (ogunquit.org/dogwalk.php). Mount Agamenticus offers short, marked trails and the only steep incline in the lowlands (parksandrec.yorkmaine.org/mtagamenticus.html).

An exquisite tour unfolds along southbound Route 1-A if you swish past the opposite direction from Perkins Cove. Cape Neddick’s gleaming white “Nubble” lighthouse—one of Maine’s 63 along its 5,000 miles of coast—is tucked off the road, but you’ll be able to see it from Sohier Park. Pass the lobster shack and cross the harbor, and you’re in The Yorks.

At Long Sands in York Beach, kick off your flip-flops and play with your feet in the sand. A green horizon spreads ahead. A slow boulevard sits behind with families and teens trolling to and from the overlooking rentals. Stride through the York’s Wild Animal Kingdom Zoo and Amusement Park (yorkzoo.com) or watch saltwater taffy pulled through the mechanical wonder at The Goldenrod (2 Railroad Ave, thegoldenrod.com). For a late afternoon treat, the intimate and cozy Blue Sky on York Beach (2 Beach St, blueskyonyorkbeach.com) beckons. The restaurant, which boasts a creative menu designed by internationally recognized chef, Lydia Shire, is part of the recently restored, historic Atlantic House Hotel.

Cut inland when you’re ready to head back. You won’t have a choice but to tumble right into Route 1. The area is rich with antiquing. You’ll uncover mom-and-pop’s (mom-and-mom’s?) and dealer collectives up and down on either side of the highway.

The Vacation State is a straight shot up Interstate 95, six hours northbound from New York City. Amtrak offers trains in and out of Boston (take the Chinatown buses for the NYC-Boston legs—chinatown-bus.com), but you’ll need to switch from South Station’s Acela Express and Regional lines to the Downeaster at North Station. Disembark in Wells, one town over from Ogunquit.
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