Battle of the Beaches

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Yes, I know- Summer 2015 is unfortunately coming to an end. In just a couple more weeks there will be an undeniable chill in the air, the leaves will begin their gradual change from green to orange, red, and yellow- and the pumpkin spice latte will be making it’s triumphant return to coffee shops around the country. Autumn is almost here- and right behind it is sure to be another gruesome Winter- especially for those of us here in New England who typically get buried under feet of snow each and every year.

If you’re like me, you’re trying to savor these final Summer days as much as possible- and that can range from throwing one last backyard BBQ and bonfire with your friends, to heading out for one final weekend at the beach to say goodbye to the season before it’s gone at one of the many popular spots along the coast. If that’s the case- then picking the perfect location might prove to be a little difficult. For that reason, I’ve broken down the pros and cons of two of my longtime favorite beaches: Hampton Beach in New Hampshire, and Old Orchard Beach in Maine.

I’ve been working on this comparison post little by little over the past couple of months, unsure of when to actually publish it, but now seems a good time as any- not just for those who are looking to have a memorable Labor Day weekend- but for those who want to get an early start on planning their 2016 Summer season, too!

First, let’s take a look at the contenders:

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Hampton Beach (and my decade-old high tops)

Hampton Beach (New Hampshire)

Having been born and raised in Massachusetts, Hampton Beach was always the go-to Summer destination for my friends and I from the time we were little kids until the time we were old enough to drive ourselves. Just over an hour North of Boston, and about twenty minutes away from scenic Portsmouth, New Hampshire- Hampton Beach is one of the more populated beach destinations during the hotter months- and plays host to multiple restaurants, bars, entertainment venues, arcades, motels and shops that stretch across it’s boardwalk and side streets. While many establishments close in the off-season, certain areas at Hampton Beach stay open year-round- making it ideal for those who want a more quiet and less crowded beach getaway- and who don’t mind colder temperatures.

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The Pier, Old Orchard Beach

Old Orchard Beach (Maine)

A little further North from Hampton Beach lies Old Orchard Beach (OOB) in Maine. While considerably less populated than Hampton Beach- OOB offers a more “classic” beach experience- including an old wooden pier that stretches out over the ocean and numerous beach-side surf and souvenir shops mixed in among motels and seafood shacks. My very first trip to OOB was with my best friend in high school when we were both 16. We spent nearly a week there (with minimal supervision) and the place made a lasting impression. So much, in fact- that I’ve been going back regularly- not minding the nearly 2 hour long drive it takes to get there in the least.

I’ve broken down each of these beaches, the good and the bad, into a few different categories. Each one was carefully considered based on my personal experiences at each location, what I’ve seen, and what I’ve liked and haven’t liked. I tried to be as thorough as possible when comparing the two- and I hope it’s helpful!

SCENERY:

I love the ocean in general (it’s my place of zen and inner peace) so having to make a decision as to which beach offers a more pleasant and unobstructed visual of it proved to be a bit difficult. Hampton Beach, with it’s winding roads along the coast past beautiful mansions and gardens, is perfect for those looking for a peaceful drive with breathtaking views- while Old Orchard Beach gives retro-fanatics an eyeful of classic and weathered shops, shacks, and motel-fronts for as far as the eye can see- like something right out of a postcard.

Beach cleanliness comes into account, as well. While cleanup crews work ’round the clock and to the best of their abilities to keep the sand and sidewalks in spotless conditions- sometimes Hampton Beach can feel a little gross. In all the times I’ve been to OOB- I’ve never once hesitated to put my bare toes in the sand, but on more than one occasion while visiting Hampton- I’ve spotted trash (specifically lots of Dunkin’ Donuts cups. Ugh.) strewn across the beach and eventually being picked at by seagulls before anyone bothers to pick it up.

Winner: Old Orchard Beach. As a big fan of Ocean Beach in San Diego, and it’s overall laid-back atmosphere- OOB is the closest thing to it I’ve found thus far here on the East Coast. I love the pier, I love the seaside shops and restaurants, I love the lights from the amusement park and arcades (especially at sunset)-and I really love how clean everything is. OOB may not have the beautiful scenic drive leading to Portsmouth that Hampton Beach offers, but it’s wonderful for long, relaxing walks and for taking photographs.

CROWD CONTROL:

Nobody wants to go to a beach to relax and soak up the sun when they can’t even move without tripping over someone else- and all that traffic just to get there? Ew. While both Hampton Beach and Old Orchard Beach can get crowded (especially during popular Summer holidays like the Fourth of July), OOB is considerably less crowded than Hampton Beach at any given time. Hampton Beach’s pedestrian and automobile traffic can get so heavy that circling the boardwalk just to find a parking spot can take anywhere from a half hour to 45 minutes (sometimes longer.)

If you’re lucky enough to find parking in Hampton and you’re braving the beach-side attractions on foot- be sure to stay close to your party as it’s very easy to get separated in the throngs of people, with pedestrians often spilling out into the roadways due to lack of sidewalk space.

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Hampton Beach

Winner: Old Orchard Beach. While the arcade areas and the pier can sometimes get a little packed from time to time- it’s nothing like Hampton Beach’s daily overcrowding. Parking is usually easy to find (and is relatively cheap and easy, unlike Hampton Beach’s standard $20+ parking fees where you’ll be packed into a motel lot like sardines)– and you can move about freely with your friends without risking being separated from them and having to send a series of texts to try and find them.

FOOD:

I love fried dough, clam strips, and soft-serve ice cream as much as the next person- but I can usually only eat them for an afternoon, maximum. If I’m going to be spending a weekend at the beach, I’d like some meal options that I’m not going to regret by the time I’m heading home. OOB has plenty of seaside shacks that serve up lots of fried foods and sweet treats- and sure, a couple of decent beach-side restaurants and bars scattered here and there, too- but Hampton has a ton of great places to eat an actual meal (and the fried goods, too!) along the boardwalk and a couple of miles inland, too- like the Old Salt restaurant or the Beach Plum.

If you’re feeling a little adventurous- you can make that twenty minute drive North to Portsmouth, too- where you’ll find even more dine-in and take-out options.

Winner: Hampton Beach. I can’t recall ever having a bad meal here- be it a more healthy and filling dinner, to a quick mid-afternoon snack. The wait time might be a little long depending on where you go and how crowded it is at the time- but you won’t go hungry in Hampton. There’s simply too many options to prevent that from happening.

SHOPPING:

I don’t do a lot of shopping when I go to the beach, unless it’s the end-of-the-season sale time and I’m stocking up on discounted clothing, jewelry, or bath & beauty products. What could I possibly need to purchase, right? I usually already have my essentials and my bikini packed with me. Even still, I know many people like to shop while they’re on vacation- be it for themselves or others. Like most beaches, OOB has it’s fair share of novelty t-shirt and souvenir shops/stands- which is just fine when you’re looking for quick and cheap gifts in a pinch- but if you want something more thoughtful and maybe a bit more unique- Hampton Beach has you covered.

Amid Hampton’s own sea of cheesy and often unfunny t-shirt, caricature and airbrushing stands- there’s a few hidden gems along the boardwalk like the Deja Vu boutique and The Cow’s Ass (it’s a leather goods store. Just try to look beyond the name.) There is also a shop, Rock Palace, that used to cater to fans of classic rock, 80’s hair metal and the early 90’s grunge movement with t-shirts, collectibles, posters, etc. It’s since been taken over by Insane Clown Posse merchandise- but if you’re feeling daring- you might still be able to find some good stuff in there!

Winner: Hampton Beach. Every Fall during Hampton’s annual Seafood Festival, nearly every store puts their entire inventory on sale in order to make room for the following Summer season’s products. I like to go up and browse because you can find incredible deals on a variety of different things for a fraction of the price. It’s a great time to pick up those things that may have caught your eye in July or August- but without having to pay an arm and a leg for them.

LODGING:

Like the ‘SCENERY’ category- picking a winner for lodging proved to be difficult. Both Hampton Beach and Old Orchard Beach have a wide selection of oceanfront motels and beach-side bungalows that are fairly priced and tended to (meaning the rooms and the grounds aren’t gross.) To make my decision, I factored in the aforementioned crowd control. While Hampton has beautiful rooms for rent that overlook the beach and the boardwalk- getting to and from the motels can be problematic with the pedestrian traffic, and the peaceful sounds of the ocean can often be drowned out by rowdy crowds and screaming kids during and after events in the area.

Old Orchard Beach offers motels that are a short walk to and from the beach- but are also still far away enough from the actual pier and adjacent amusement park where any much needed rest and in-room relaxation won’t be disturbed. Best of all? Parking is so much easier at these locations.

Winner: Old Orchard Beach. I love to walk, so taking a brisk stroll a few blocks to get to where the action is doesn’t bother me at all when I know that I’ll be able to sleep soundly and easily in nice room conditions when I get back- and not have to worry about anything happening to my car in the motel parking lot.

FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT:

The amusement park at Old Orchard Beach

The amusement park at Old Orchard Beach

When I was a little kid, one of the biggest draws to Hampton Beach was it’s indoor amusement park. It didn’t boast a roller coaster or a ferris wheel like Old Orchard Beach does- but there was a merry-go-round, bumper cars, and plenty of smaller, safer rides to keep a kid amused and entertained for hours. Hampton has since done away with that section of the boardwalk, replacing it with a casino for adults only- but the beach still hosts a couple of arcades and an updated playground right on the sand. Every Friday night throughout the Summer- Hampton also has it’s own fireworks display, which is great to watch for all ages if you can secure yourself a spot along the beach- and each Summer visitors are invited to view the annual sand sculpture contest winners- which are pretty incredible most of the time.

If you’re looking to bring your child to the water, let them play some pinball, and use whatever prize tickets they win to trade in for penny candy or a stuffed bear- then they’d probably enjoy Hampton Beach the way I did when I was a kid- but if you plan on spending any time longer than an afternoon or an evening in the area- OOB might be better for you and your family. Old Orchard Beach has an amusement park (with an old wooden roller coaster that I LOVE) and it’s own large arcade- which is perfect when you or your kids need a break from the sand and the sun for a while. Everything is within walking distance from places to eat and motels, too- which is also tremendously convenient.

Winner: Old Orchard Beach. My love of bumper cars aside, and looking at this from the perspective of someone who does not have kids of her own but has watched plenty of parents struggle with fussy toddlers while at Hampton- OOB is a lot more kid-friendly than Hampton Beach is these days. There’s more for kids of all ages to do, and it’s less crowded- which means parents aren’t losing their minds trying to keep track of their little ones as they weave in-between arcade games and carnival rides.

21+ ENTERTAINMENT:

On the flip-side, Hampton Beach is a much better weekend option for the 21+ crowd. Old Orchard Beach has some nice little bars and pubs, including two on the actual pier itself- but Hampton also has the added bonus of the Casino Ballroom, a music venue where some pretty good artists (and some not-so-good ones, let’s be real) have performed throughout the years. With raunchy t-shirts clearly on display along the boardwalk, a popular smoke shop right in the middle of everything, multiple bars, the small casino and the Casino Ballroom easily accessible from nearly every direction-  Hampton Beach is definitely the more adult-friendly option for beach-goers.

Winner: Hampton Beach, by a landslide. While I love Old Orchard Beach’s amusement park and overall relaxed look/feel, I go to Hampton when I want to have a few drinks and sprawl out in the sand with my friends and not have to worry about negatively influencing any small children within the vicinity.

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Me hamming it up in OOB, 2014.

SUMMARY:

It was definitely close, but my love of Old Orchard Beach surpassed that of Hampton Beach by just a little bit. OOB is infinitely more laid-back, less-crowded, less expensive, and much cleaner than Hampton Beach presently is- which makes it my favorite destination when I’m just looking to get away and relax for a few days, but Hampton has more to offer foodies and adults looking to have a fun-filled weekend of boozing and shopping- so it really comes down to what exactly it is you’re looking for and for how long you plan to stay.

If you’re from New England and you frequent either one of these beaches- I’d love to hear your opinion. Do you agree or disagree? Are there any other two beaches in the area you think I should compare in a future post? Feel free to leave a comment or contact me!

Have a great Labor Day weekend, everyone!

xo

Memorial Day 2015.

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I hope everyone had a wonderful weekend! I spent most of the past few days going from beach to beach throughout New Hampshire and Maine- rounding out my overcast Memorial Day at Old Orchard Beach, where I spent a couple of hours watching the waves crash in beneath the pier (the water was freezing, by the way!) and doing a little window browsing at some of the seaside surf shops.

One of the things I love about OOB is that while most, if not all of the action is located primarily at the pier and the boardwalk arcade/amusement park- making finding whatever you want to do for fun very convenient- you can walk 10-15 minutes in any direction and be in a more quiet, less-crowded area without losing that “beach town” charm. There’s still plenty of cozy motels, bungalows, little stores and restaurants scattered around to check out.

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One restaurant in particular, the Sunset Bar & Grill, located just down the road from the pier, happened to be one of the places I stopped to grab a quick bite to eat and people watch from the outdoor patio. Although there were quite a few inebriated people seated around me who were growing increasingly louder and belligerent (Memorial Day weekend and all,) the food was good enough to distract me and my waitress was so sweet!

I’ve mentioned spending weekends this Summer in Concord and Upstate New York, among other places- but I’d really love to take a few days to head back up to OOB to swim, surf, and lounge. The sea air feels wonderful (although it does tend to make my hair huge.) Even though I was only there for a few hours- I left feeling so relaxed.

I’d actually like to do a comparison post this Summer of all the pros/cons of Old Orchard Beach and what I consider to be it’s biggest competitor- Hampton Beach, New Hampshire- since I usually frequent both throughout the Summer. It looks like I’ll just have to take a couple of  weekends to do some more thorough research. Poor me!

xx

Top 10 Photographs of 2014.

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Last year around this time, in the midst of drafting my summary of 2013, I had compiled a list of my ten favorite photographs that I had taken/were taken of me throughout the year. I’ve recently completed my “In a Nutshell” post for 2014- due to be published on New Year’s Eve, and thought that I would put together another post ’til then of my ten favorite photographs from this year!

It was hard to narrow it down to just ten photos, because I saw so many great places, did so many fun things, and met so many wonderful people this past year- so I was frequently re-arranging my list- adding and omitting things- but I think I finally have it sorted. Here’s my “Top 10” pictures that span the course of 2014!

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# 10: Fireworks in Cape Cod (July 5th)

The best thing about the Fourth of July landing on a Friday this year was that any and all celebrations of the holiday were extended well into the weekend. Such was the case when my girlfriends and I headed to Cape Cod on Saturday, July 5th, to spend a day at the beach and watch some delayed fireworks displays. The shot above, taken as the sun was setting over nearby Hyannis, captured a group of teenagers setting off some smaller firecrackers near where my friends and I were lounging. It was a beautiful, memorable night.

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# 9: Brighton Sharbino smothering me at Boston’s “Walker Stalker Convention” (June 14th)

While I met a lot of really fun actors and actresses at Boston’s very first “Walking Dead” centric-convention (Jon Bernthal and Steven Yeun being two of my favorites,) I had the most fun posing with Brighton Sharbino- the beautiful young lady who portrayed the unhinged Lizzie Samuels in Season 4. Brighton was a sweetheart, and was more than happy to oblige me when I asked her if she could smother me for the photo the way her character attempted to do to baby Judith in one of the most unnerving scenes of the show to date.

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# 8: Abandoned House, Rhode Island (May 24th)

On a beautiful, sunny Spring day, after cleaning out and washing my car- I found myself traveling along the back roads heading towards Rhode Island to spend an afternoon in Newport. On the way, I passed this abandoned house- nearly being taken over by the elements and plants growing around it- and had to stop to snap a few photos of it, the partially collapsed garage next to it, and the abandoned VW Bus tucked away under a tree across the street. This was my favorite picture out of the bunch that I took that day.

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# 7; The William H. Mason House. Thompson, CT. (March 16th)

This was another find while driving aimlessly one Sunday afternoon after grabbing a coffee and running some errands. I found myself in Connecticut, and spotted this beautiful (and unfortunately decaying) home off the side of the road. Some research into the area turned up information- specifically that this beautiful structure was once known as The William H. Mason House, and is currently scheduled for demolition due in part to the current owner (a wealthy New York-based interior designer,) failing at any attempt to preserve it. It’s a shame, really- because the building is gorgeous and could be turned into a number of things.

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# 6: “Is my grin cheesy enough?” Old Orchard Beach (June 22nd)

While I visit Hampton Beach a lot throughout the year (it’s one of the easiest beaches to get to, after all-) June 2014 saw me returning to one of my favorite locations, Old Orchard Beach in Maine, for the first time since my teens. In the photo above, taken by my best friend Sean, I attempted to re-create an identical picture of me that was taken in the exact same spot when I was 16. Although my hair is much redder and my fashion sense is considerably better than it was at the time of the first photo- my big, cheesy grin is pretty much the same.

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# 5: My favorite Starbucks date (October 2nd)

In the Fall of 2014, my niece began kindergarten and my brother started a new job. Because of scheduling conflicts- he recruited me to bring my niece to school a couple days every week. Since then, we’ve mastered making pancakes or french toast sticks in the a.m. while still getting her to her classroom on time. Sometimes, on the days we’re running a little behind and don’t have time to cook in my kitchen- we stop at Starbucks. I snapped this picture of her, mid-sip of her hot chocolate (because I’m not giving caffeine to a six year old,) while we were walking to her school.

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# 4: Sleeping Red Panda, Roger Williams Park Zoo (May 18th)

As someone who has to bribe my dog with treats to get him to hold still for photos, it was a pleasant surprise to be able to snap a couple of pictures of some Red Pandas during a Springtime visit to the zoo/conservation society in Rhode Island. Granted, they were sleeping soundly at the time, so it wasn’t a challenge getting good shots- but this one, taken from a distance- is my favorite. His/Her little face is just so precious!

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# 3: The Lizzie Borden Sofa, Fall River (February 15th)

I traveled, on a whim, to quite a few places in 2014. One of my earlier outings in the year, a short drive to Fall River, brought me to the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast one snowy afternoon where I, and maybe 5-6 other people, were given a tour of the legendary crime scene. I took this picture of the couch where, in 1892, Lizzie’s father Andrew was found murdered (the picture of the scene is easily available on Google- if any curious minds have the stomach to see it for themselves.) The tour was fun and informative, and the home is beautiful, if not a little bit creepy- and this will always be my favorite photo from the day.

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# 2: Oliver’s Sunday Best (April 20th)

As a joke to surprise my mom this year, I dressed up my miniature schnauzer, Oliver, in a button up dress shirt, vest, and bow tie that I had picked up in the children’s department of a clothing store for Easter dinner at her house. I only kept the outfit on him long enough to take the photo above while he sat on her couch, but all of my relatives that were present at the time thought it was the cutest thing ever. Since then, I’ve turned this picture into a greeting card for friends and family alike. My little guy looks like such a dapper gentleman!

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# 1: Ashley Dixon, San Diego Comic-Con (July 27th)

I hope a photo of myself ranking at #1 doesn’t come across as conceited or egotistical- I just really had the time of my life dressed as Daryl Dixon from “The Walking Dead” while at the biggest comic convention in the world over the Summer. This picture, snapped on the last day of SDCC by a stranger who had asked me to pose with his children a few minutes earlier outside the convention center- was taken just a half hour or so before the event and weekend came to a close. I was tired, hungry, and my feet hurt more than a little- but it was worth it and I really hope I can do it again someday.

And there they are- my top 10 photos from 2014! It’s been a blast going through all of my photos and albums from this year. So many good memories and great pictures from throughout the months.

Here’s hoping there’s even more of them next year!

Tales From Old Orchard Beach…

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In the Summer before my junior year of high school, I traveled to Maine with my best friend at the time, Kristi, and her mother and step-father for a week long vacation in Old Orchard Beach. It was the first and only time I’d ever been, and it was one of the most memorable vacations I’d ever gone on. Be it because of OOB’s classically cool, old-fashioned pier and boardwalk where we spent most of our time, their amusement park (which includes some pretty outdated rides that don’t feel all that safe but are still a thrill nonetheless,) or the fact that Kristi and I were both mending our broken teen-aged hearts at the time of our trip (and nothing is more devastating or overly dramatic than a broken teen-aged heart.) Whatever the reason, or maybe a combination of all of them- I always look back on that week, and that entire Summer, fondly.

This past weekend, a little more than twelve years later and with a considerably less broken heart, I decided to head back to Old Orchard Beach for a day. Although Kristi, at home with her son (but very much with me in spirit,) was absent- my best friend Sean came with me to enjoy the slightly modified but still very cool pier, and hop on nearly all of the still rickety carnival rides until we thought we were going to throw up our order of boardwalk french fries.

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OOB also has a pretty big arcade, and much like the Summer of 2002, I spent a good amount of time (and quarters) perfecting my skee-ball skills and re-visiting The Simpsons pinball game- which I hadn’t seen in ages. I used to play it ALL THE TIME at Hampton Beach when I was a kid, and then it just disappeared one Summer, never to be seen again until this past weekend. I was so entranced by playing it that Sean ended up snapping a few photos of me, lost in concentration.

When we ran out of quarters, Sean and I combined our measly ticket total and cashed them in for the grand prize of a plastic top, two erasers, and a bouncy ball which undeniably made us the envy of everyone in the arcade:

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Of course, you can’t end a day at the beach without heading down to the actual ocean and without grabbing some homemade ice cream. As the afternoon was coming to an end, I kicked off my flats and sprinted down to the surf by the pier to attempt to re-create a photo that exists somewhere in the abyss that is my old photo albums, of me, posed with a gigantic grin- with the surf and boardwalk behind me. My hair is a lot more red in this most recent photo, and I’m missing my old glasses and sequin-covered tube top- but my expression of sheer giddiness is still very much present.

After I rinsed the sand off of my feet, it was a quick walk back into town to stuff myself with peanut butter cup ice cream while sitting outside a cute little general store/cafe- and then from there- back to the car to head home to Boston as the sun was setting.

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If you live in the area and/or don’t mind a bit of a drive, then I highly recommend visiting Old Orchard Beach. It’s a lot less crowded than some of the other popular New England beach destinations in the Summer, there’s more to do, the beach is clean, parking is convenient and cheap (everything is surprisingly inexpensive, really,) and there’s a lot of cute motels and inns in the area that are within walking distance to the boardwalk and pier. I fell in love with this place twelve years ago and have been kicking myself for not going back sooner- but I’m sure glad I did this past weekend- and I’d like to go again before the Summer is over.