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Living In Portland

After work, the beach

Surfboard on a bike at Higgins Beach

"Sous les pavés, la plage"
— Situationist graffiti, 1968  

One of the best things about living in Portland in the summer is getting home from work at 5 p.m. and still having nearly four hours of daylight left to hit the beach. In the height of the summer, my wife and I will hop on our bikes for a quick dip in the ocean on an almost daily basis. The destination is great, but so is the journey, from the city's busy harborfront, past the farm fields of Cape Elizabeth with their bumper crop of pretentious McMansions, and on through the marshy meadows of the Rachel Carson Wildlife Refuge.

The city's closest beaches happen to have bike paths that lead right up to their edges. In Portland, the East End Beach, located on the eastern edge of the peninsula at the foot of Munjoy Hill, is just a mile from downtown on the Eastern Promenade Trail. In South Portland, Willard Beach is on the edge of the Southern Maine Community College campus, just 6 blocks from the end of the South Portland Greenbelt Trail. Unfortunately, both of these beaches pay a price for their proximity. With hordes of dogs and stormwater runoff pipes, these aren't the most pristine beaches in Maine, although they're usually safe for swimming.

CRESCENT BEACH STATE PARK and KETTLE COVE You're better off riding a bit further, beyond Cape Elizabeth, to the beaches that face the open ocean to the south. Among these, the closest are Crescent Beach and Kettle Cove, which are about 7.4 miles from downtown Portland (45 minutes by bike). From the Casco Bay Bridge, take the South Portland Greenbelt Trail, then take your first right onto Ocean Street/Route 77. From there it's a straight, 5 mile ride to Ocean House Road (right before Kettle Cove ice cream stand), which leads 1/2 a mile to the beaches. Crescent Beach is on your right, Kettle Cove is a little further on, to the left.

Route 77 isn't particularly scenic, so you can also take Cottage Road from South Portland past Fort Williams Park. It adds about a mile to the trip.

View Bike to the Beaches in a larger map

HIGGINS BEACH is a popular surfing beach at the mouth of the Spurwink River, surrounded by a friendly neighborhood of summer vacation homes, about 8.3 miles/50 minutes from downtown Portland. On the other side of the Casco Bay Bridge, take a right turn onto the Greenbelt Trail for one block, then cross straight across Broadway onto Anthoine at the first traffic light. Climb the hill to the end of Anthoine and take a right on Highland. Past South Portland High School and look for Fickett Street, which will turn into Sawyer Road as you cross the town line into Cape Elizabeth. Follow Sawyer to its end, then take a right on Spurwink Road. Spurwink Road is narrow but it gets a lot of bike traffic; ride confidently in the middle of the lane, where you're most likely to be seen, and motorists will wait behind you until there's a safe place to pass. When you see the Higgins Beach Market, take a left turn and ride one more half mile to the beach itself. Note that motorists have to pay $10 to park here; cyclists, on the other hand, can spend their savings on ice cream.

SCARBOROUGH BEACH STATE PARK10 miles/1 hour from downtown Portland
There's an entry fee to get into this park through the main entrance, but bikes can legally sneak in on a public right-of-way a bit further down the road. To get there, follow the directions to Higgins Beach, above, but continue past the Higgins Beach Market for 1 more mile to the end of the road. There, take a left on Black Point Road, then ride one more mile. You'll pass the Scarborough Beach State Park entrance gate and parking area (there's a big sign), but keep going to turn on Massacre Lane instead, where there's a public path to the beach at the end.

FERRY BEACH and WESTERN BEACH10.5 miles/65 minutes from downtown Portland
These beaches sit at the mouth of the Scarborough Marsh, where the water's a bit warmer. For Ferry Beach, ride 1/2 a mile past the entrance to Scarborough Beach State Park and take a right onto Ferry Road, which ends at the beach parking lot. For Western Beach, which is more secluded (there's not parking area, so you only have to share it with the bluebloods who summer on Prouts Neck) look for the footpath on the right side of the road just before you reach the Black Point Inn.

Now get off the internet — I'll see you on the beach.

Photo: a surfboard on a bike at Higgins Beach. Photo licensed under Creative Commons via Joe Shlabotnick's Flickr page.

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