Tiny Ogunquit, Maine, offers a low-key alternative to the hubbub of P’town

HIT THE SHORE | New England summers on Ogunquit Beach make the hard winters worth the wait. (Photo courtesy Ogunquit CVB)

You have to wonder why New Englanders choose to live much of the year in the cold, ice and darkness. One hypothesis: They live for the summer.

There’s nothing quite like that window between spring and fall when the area’s weather is perfect.

That small stretch of Cape Cod called  Provincetown, Mass., is synonymous with gay paradise worldwide but it’s certainly not the only gay destination in the region. Drive four hours north and you’ll find the crown jewel of LGBT Maine, Ogunquit.

The town’s year-round population is fewer than 2,000, but in the summer and early fall this quaint, charming beach community comes alive, catering to gay travelers. Ogunquit differs from other resort towns in Maine in that most of the restaurants, galleries, hotels and dance clubs are gay-owned and -operated.

Whether you live in nearby Portland or Boston, or are vacationing, every sunny day in Ogunquit starts the same: Lather on the sunscreen, sink into your sexiest Speedo and strut down to the beach. Just a half-mile down the strand you’ll go from the family area to the “family” area. Cruisy older gents, sexy volleyball-playing college studs and ladies frolicking in the waves define Ogunquit Beach.

Bear in mind, this is New England and the weather can go from sunny and gorgeous to rainy and miserable in a moment. If you do have to make a quick exit from the beach, don’t fret — there are countless ways to occupy yourself.

If you’re a sucker for art, incredible galleries, including The Barn Gallery and Art & Soul Gallery (both located on Shore Road), feature the work of local artists. In Ogunquit, most of the shops, museums, hotels and restaurants are located within walking distance to the beach. This is a blessing — parking can be a nightmare and if you time your entrance or escape out of town at the wrong time, it could take the better part of an hour to get back to the highway.

A cloudy day is also the perfect time to check out John Lane’s Ogunquit Playhouse. Located just a few miles outside of the center of the action heading back toward the highway, this is a terrific venue at which to enjoy popular shows like Avenue Q, The Music Man or Chicago.

Ogunquit may be a small town, but most of the local businesses thrive on tourist dollars, so there’s no shortage of dining options for foodies looking for everything from a quick bite to an extravagant romantic meal. Angelina’s is a delightful restaurant and wine bar if you’re looking for something tres romantique, while Cape Neddick Lobster Pound is ideal for experiencing local cuisine.

Keep in mind: Ogunquit isn’t the big city; ordering a mojito may get you stares from the bar staff. But if anything can redeem a lackluster cocktail, it’s a night out on the town. Ogunquit’s clubs are incredibly fun and can get packed. Start your evening at Front Porch, a piano bar filled with locals,

Bostonians and visitors from points beyond. Even if you aren’t a singer, the mood is infectious, the waiters … adorable and the drinks are potent.

Head across the street to either prolong your buzz or dance the night away. MaineStreet, the staple of gay and lesbian Ogunquit, features dance music, drag shows, pool playing and sexy bartenders. There’s also a spacious porch if you want to have an audible conversation with some friends.

Nearby Oxygen is “that gay bar” that’s been in business for years but constantly changes ownership. Plan to end your night here, whether you’re still in the mood to dance or want to grab a drunken bite at the rooftop café.

Maine isn’t just lobster and lighthouses. If you’re looking for New England charm without the redundancy of P’town or the size of Boston, Ogunquit is a refreshing option with smaller crowds and lower prices.

— Jon Fairbanks

For more information, visit GayTravel.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 9, 2012.