48 Hours in Saco + Biddeford

These oceanfront communities have evolved from their industrial pasts, with their historic mill buildings and downtowns on either side of the Saco River now housing artisans, specialized manufacturers, and culinary upstarts.

Finding the way

When my roommate Anna and I arrive in Saco, our first stop is for dinner at The Run of the Mill. The pub’s atmosphere is laid-back. We opt for outside seating and split some dishes: Saco’s Tacos, a side of sweet potato fries, and duck poutine. It’s enough to keep us satisfied while we explore the area for the rest of the evening.

We head toward the Saco Heath Preserve, which features a mile-long trail and boardwalk that cuts through a bog, but it’s becoming too dark to walk. We turn around then stop at Way Way Store. The store’s inside is every bit eclectic as the its red and white concrete brick exterior—there’s so much to look at, and there is every candy imaginable. We order ice cream cones, the perfect dessert on this hot, muggy day.

After our ice cream, we drive back into town and stop at Up & Up, a cocktail lounge in downtown Saco. The setting is dark but relaxed and welcoming. Board games line the walls and rest on various tables. We grab a spot on some couches in the corner and order drinks from the whiskey-drinks menu—I get a mint julep, Anna gets a Sazerac—and we play several rounds of Connect Four and Guess Who?. A waitress points out the snack station, where everything is free. I grab some nachos to munch on before we head home.

Biddeford bagels and museums

I start my morning at Rover Wood Fired Bagels and Pizza. I order a poppy seed bagel with lemon, honey, and thyme cream cheese and an iced coffee. The cream cheese is sweet but not overpowering, and the bagel is fresh-baked and crispy in all the right places. I grab a seat in the window and pass some time before my tour of the Pepperell Mill Campus. I meet up with the tour group for the Biddeford Mills Museum outside the mill, near Portland Pie Company. As we get started, our tour guides, Ray and David, give us some background. They are both very knowledgeable and funny, and they have had firsthand experience working in the former textile mills. I am led through many corridors, rooms, and stairwells, each one with its own intriguing story.

Rose-colored drinks and vintage dreams

My friend Maria joins me for lunch, but we decide
to get dessert first, at Sweetcream Dairy in the Pepperell Mill Campus. I order strawberry ice cream with handmade whipped cream and sprinkles; Maria orders the coffee ice cream, which is made with Speckled Ax coffee and coffee beans and topped with salted caramel sauce and whipped cream. The ice cream is perfectly delicious. We eat at the tables outside before walking over to Banded Brewing Company. Maria and I both decide on the Alternate Rhizomes sour ale, which is light and crisp and has just the right amount of flavor. We sit at a side bar overlooking the brewery and snack on pretzel bites.

Next we make our way to Dreaming Tree Vintage in downtown Saco. The store’s bright exterior and quirky window displays draw me in like a moth to the flame. Inside, there is much to see and find. I could easily spend hours in there looking through a treasure trove of vintage goods. Maria and I spend time shopping, trying on clothes, and chatting with an old friend, Belle, who is working behind the counter.

Rainy night in Saco

Maria has to leave for work, so I make my way alone to Bay View Beach in Saco. By now, a light rain has started, but I don’t mind. There are only a few families on the beach in this weather. The tide is low, and I walk the shoreline. I stumble across a large tidal pool filled with hermit crabs. I watch as some bury themselves in the sand while others wrestle each other for a larger shell.

For dinner, I consider Elda, a small restaurant in downtown Biddeford that’s garnered praise since opening at the end of 2017, but it’s already booked with reservations for the night. New Moon Restaurant, located just off Main Street on the Saco side of the river, also comes highly recommended and is open for dinner on Friday and Saturday nights. The hosts help me find my cozy seat, and I order the baked haddock. It comes with a cracker-crumb topping and lemon-butter sauce and is served with garlic mashed potatoes, roasted carrots, and cream-corn sauce.

Breakfast and books

My other roommate, Nicole, and I are up early for breakfast at Palace Diner. Inside it’s a midcentury dream with counter-only seating. We order pancakes, eggs with corned beef hash, a side of bacon, and orange juice. The pancakes are fluffy with an unexpected kick of lemon; the eggs and corned beef hash are cooked perfectly, and the orange juice is a generous size.

After eating, we make our way to Elements: Books, Coffee, Beer. I fall in love the second I walk inside. Bookshelves line the walls, and a barista behind a counter that wraps around the center of
the store is waiting to take our order. The bookstore-coffeeshop-bar also hosts live music and other events. We browse the shelves and find some books to take home.

Cloudy-day sanctuaries

The weather is overcast, but Nicole and I drive to the East Point Audubon Sanctuary at the edge of Biddeford Pool and park on the side of the road. Along the winding trail, we find a pebble beach and take in the views for a moment. The sound of the waves crashing and pulling pebbles back into the water is captivating. After completing the 1.5-mile loop, we head back into town for lunch.

At George’s Sandwich Shop we grab some of the best Italians either of us have eaten—I order salami, she orders ham. To conclude our trip, we make our way back to the Pepperell Mill Campus and climb the stairs to Just a Moment Gallery, which is owned by nature photographer Stephen Maka and filled with art and optical illusions. Stephen gives us a quick tour of the space and tells us a bit about his work. After talking with Stephen, we say goodbye to these former mill towns and make our way back home.