When you arrive in York you discover it has four sections -York Village, York Harbor, York Beach and Nubble Light – each priding itself with its distinct personalities. That’s why it’s more accurate to call this historic and popular vacation area “The Yorks.”
Settled in 1624, its original name was Agamenticus in tribute to the Indian tribe that abandoned the area. It took on the name of Bristol in 1638 after the home of new settlers who established a thriving plantation. In 1642 it received another name – Gorgeana – and was granted the first city charter for a city in America.
After years of server hardships, Indian raids and conflicting land grants, in 1692 the citizens joined Massachusetts, which renamed the town York. After years of struggle prosperity came to the region in the late 1800’s when affluent tourists discovered its colonial charm.
In York Village you find quaint tree-lined streets, the village green, buildings dating back to pre-Revolution times and history preserved in its architecture and character. Look for the Old York Historical Society in the heart of the village. It maintains seven historic buildings where stories of the vexing times early villagers had to endure are dramatized.
The picturesque downtown area has restaurants, antique shops, art galleries, businesses and classic white churches with towering steeples. For an encounter with history visit the Old Gaol, rebuilt in 1719 and believed to be the oldest public building in the U.S. Until 1860 it served as the jailhouse where debtors and criminals were imprisoned.
Other notable buildings include Jefferd’s Tavern, where tours begin, the Emerson-Wilcox House, with outstanding examples of furniture and décor of the day – and perhaps a wandering ghost, the 1745 School House and the John Hancock Warehouse, once owned by the signer of the Declaration of Independence.
York Harbor echoes the colonial atmosphere of the village with the addition of old-world mansions and estates. Some have been converted to inns and bed and breakfasts complete with an old world flavor.
You’ll see some breathtaking sights when you stroll along the famous Cliff Walk at the end of the harbor. Be surefooted as you follow along the rocky shoreline path that meanders between the ocean and vacation cottages and large residences. Fisherman’s Walk, stretching out along the northern shore of the harbor, provides another opportunity to enjoy the scenery. Check the harbor for working lobster boats along with luxurious yachts of various sizes. The beach in the harbor offers a serene view and gentle surf.
Visit boisterous York Beach when you’re ready for a more upbeat and playful mood. It offers a zoo, amusement rides, arcades, gift shops, restaurants, taffy candy and a more animated summer attitude. At Ellis Park you can enjoy a summer concert performed from the gazebo.
Families gather on Long Sands and Short Sands beaches for swimming, sunning, sailing, kayaking and other seaside activities or just relaxing with some light reading.
Be sure to bring your camera to Cape Neddick where you can take spectacular photos of Nubble Light, the renowned lighthouse at Sohier Park. Just offshore on a small rocky island, the lighthouse was built in 1879 and towers 88 feet above the high water mark. You may want to visit during “Christmas in July” or the winter holiday season. That’s when the lighthouse and service buildings get festooned with thousands of white lights to celebrate the season.
One of most curious sights you’ll see is the Wiggly Bridge, a 75-foot long pedestrian bridge. It’s billed as the world smallest suspension bridge and leads to the 16-acre Stedman Woods Preserve . If you’re not alert you’ll think you’re watching a movie production where they’re filming with miniature sets.
Further inland, Mount Agamenticus provides great hiking, biking and horseback riding. When the weather is clear you have a panoramic view of the coast, New Hampshire’s Mount Washington to the west and Boston to the south from its 692-foot peak.
Sports fans can tee-up at one of four golf courses, play tennis and other outdoor events, while ocean lovers can enjoy deep sea fishing, whale watching and sailing.