Nestled in the mountains of western Maine, Bethel provides more than just winter sports. The vibrant small town has great food and shops, and the surrounding area offers unlimited outdoor activities year-round.
My husband, Trent, and I check into our spacious room at Jordan Hotel and spend a few minutes admiring the breathtaking view from our balcony. On our way out, we stop by the front desk for some area recommendations before we head down the mountain.
Our first stop in Bethel is the Maine Mineral and Gem Museum. The inside is bright and spacious, and features Maine gems such as tourmaline, meteorites from Mars, and a recently dedicated outdoor rock garden. The museum is in the process of expanding to feature exhibits and educational programs incorporating history, culture, and research.
After some window shopping at Ruthie’s Boutique, we head to Nabos, an eclectic gift shop located in an old gas station. Owner Amanda Moran’s black lab, Martina, greets us at the door. Inside we find a basket of free produce harvested from the store’s garden beds, located where the gas pumps once were.
Just a quick drive away, we stop at Harvest Bar Eatery and Alehouse. On Friday and Saturday nights, the restaurant serves a tapas menu with 100-percent organic food cooked in its kitchen. The marinated olives and roasted cashews are amazing, and since the Northside Ramblers are setting up for their weekly open mic night, we stick around to catch a few songs.
Just down the road in downtown Bethel, we arrive for our reservation at Cho Sun, a Korean and Japanese restaurant started by Pok Sun Lane and her son, Scott Lane. The restaurant features a cozy mix of lanterns, natural birch branches, and vintage ski decor, which makes us feel instantly welcome. We start with the evening’s complementary small appetizers and try out the Japanese mule, made with sake, ginger beer, and lime. Next up, we split the mandu steamed pork dumplings and dolsot bibimbap—a dish composed of bulgoki, vegetables, rice, and fried egg. It’s a house favorite for good reason.
We start the morning with the breakfast included with our stay at Jordan Hotel, which features a hot buffet and several breakfast stations. I custom-order an omelet and enjoy a cup of hot coffee to start the day.
Before we head down the mountain, we drive to the nearby Sunday River Bridge, also known as the Artists’ Bridge. We stop for a while to explore and plan on returning in fall to see the view with changing leaves.
Bethel’s downtown area is very walkable, so we find a spot on Main Street and park for the morning. Our first stop is the Philbrook Place. A co-op shop of sorts, it offers two floors of toys, crafts, custom art, and vintage items to explore.
Right next door is Bonnema Potters, featuring beautiful work by husband-and-wife team Garret and Melody Dalessando Bonnema. The showroom and studio is both peaceful and inspiring. In addition to their colorful pottery, Melody creates ceramic landscapes and prints inspired by nature.
For lunch we stop at Smokin’ Good BBQ, a food truck located next to the Good Food Store. We split the Pork Sundae—cornbread piled high with pulled pork, barbecue sauce, beans, coleslaw, pickles, and smoked cashews.
It’s a beautiful day, so we head to Bethel Outdoor Adventure and Campground. Rental options include canoes, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboard rentals. We pick a canoe and spend the afternoon floating down the Androscoggin River.
We have a couple hours left before dinner, so we decide to check out the Sunday River Country Club, an 18-hole public golf club designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr., and located in nearby Newry. We don’t have enough time to play a round, but we rent a cart and drive the course. The course is a mix of immaculately groomed greens and natural woods and streams, with the backdrop of beautiful mountains.
After a busy day, we decide to check out happy hour at Brian’s. Everything from the large patio to the interior feels modern and refreshed, and we settle in for a quick snack. The spinach and artichoke dip we order is creamy and delicious and comes with garlic crostini and shaved parmesan on top.
We have reservations at 22 Broad Street, an Italian restaurant located in a historic Greek Revival house across from the town common and the Bethel Inn Resort. We are seated near one of the fireplaces and take a moment to admire how well the house has been maintained and restored. The wine and martini list is extensive and features more than 18 varieties of martinis. Several of the dishes come in smaller portions, perfect for splitting and trying more items on the menu. We start our meal with the stuffed mushrooms, made with walnuts, aged cheddar, parsley, and focaccia crumbs, and finish with the spaghetti bolognese with a housemade classic sauce.
For breakfast, we drop in at DiCocoa’s Market and Bakery, which has handmade pastries and sandwiches, plus organic fair trade coffee and espresso drinks. Even early in the morning, the dog-friendly patio is full of people enjoying the sunshine.
During the off-season, Sunday River’s ski slopes pull double-duty as an outdoor activity center. For the more adventurous, there is a lift-serviced bike park, zip-line course, climbing wall, and bungee trampoline. Taking advantage of the natural surroundings, there are also hiking trails, electric bikes, and disc golf. We ride the Chondola scenic lift up to North Peak to take in the view and hike.
Off the mountain and having spotted an antique store on Route 2 yesterday, we find our way back to Steam Mill Antiques, where the farmhouse and barn are full of great finds. We end our weekend with lunch at Sunday River Brewing. The brewpub has six varieties of beer on tap, and flights are a popular choice for the patio crowd. Our barbecue chicken pizza hits the spot, and we grab housemade doughnuts for the road.