Who hasn't heard their elders wax nostalgic for the unspoiled vacation spots of yesteryear? Few places are as often the subject of such memories as Cape Cod, which, though still a delightful retreat in many respects, strikes many of today's summer visitors as crowded, expensive and overdeveloped.
Which is why we recommend heading north instead of south out of Boston, to the southern coastal towns of Maine. The region's beaches, fishing villages and lobster shacks come close to recapturing the flavor of Cape Cod a generation ago.
York and Ogunquit are two of the southernmost in Maine's chain of coastal communities. Each has miles of pristine, sandy beaches and a distinctive personality. York, which celebrates its 350th birthday this year, is the oldest town in Maine. Born as a fishing community, the town became an important mercantile port in the 18th century and a summer retreat for wealthy Bostonians in the 19th. Today you can stay in the same inns the brahmins did. The York Harbor Inn, for example, parts of which are more than 300 years old, was expanded through the 1900s and is now a perfectly appointed Victorian-style hotel with four-poster beds and fireplaces. Prices range from $109 to $319 a night. For glimpses into the town's past, the Old York Historical Society will conduct private tours of colonial homes in June. And the Fourth of July will feature the dramatization of a Revolutionary War encampment at a wharf once owned by John Hancock.
Twenty minutes north is Ogunquit, which has a long tradition as a haven of artists and craftsmen. Its small downtown section is full of specialty shops and galleries. Three miles of white sand beach and a mile-and-a-half-long cliff walk (known as the Marginal Way) line the coast. While Ogunquit's historic B&Bs are popular--many charge less than $100 a night--families with kids will like Meadowmere Resort (800-633-8718), a smallish hotel with two swimming pools that is located steps from the town trolley line. Standard room rates during the week range from $139 to $289 a night for a two-room suite with two double beds and two singles.