In Biddeford, it’s relatively easy for most people to spend a food-fueled day exploring the area on foot due to the robust selection of restaurants and activities all within a mile of downtown. That means there’s no excuse not to visit the little Maine mill town, which is steadily building its own reputation as a national dining destination. After all, this tiny Vacationland spot is as charming as it is tranquil — making it ideal for a mini escape from the big city.
By Amtrak, it’s a two-hour ride from Boston’s North Station to Biddeford. Disembark at the Saco Transportation Center on Factory Island, just steps from downtown Biddeford across the Saco River. The earliest train puts you in at 10:55 a.m. — just in time for brunch.
11 a.m.: Brunch
Start your trip at Palace Diner, the 15-seat brunch spot that helped put Biddeford on the map as a food destination and earned a place on Eater’s list of the best 38 restaurants in America.
Co-founders Greg Mitchell and Chad Conley resurrected a decades-old restaurant in a historic train dining car, striking a balance between nostalgia and modern magic. Fill up on a Lumberjack breakfast of lemon-buttermilk flapjacks, over-easy eggs, bacon, and smashed potatoes, or tackle a towering tuna melt stacked with crispy iceberg lettuce and zesty pickles on griddled challah. While the setting is part of the appeal, seats can be hard to come by; thankfully, the food also makes good takeout for Mechanics Park, which overlooks the nearby river.
If you’re too hungry to wait in line at Palace, try a takeout bagel sandwich at nearby Rover Bagel, a former Salem pop-up that has become a Biddeford staple for its excellent wood-fired bagels. For a guaranteed pick-up, order online when the shop opens, as the bagels sell out quickly.
Activity interlude: Ice skating or hiking
Go less than a mile east to the century-old, volunteer-run nonprofit West Brook Skating Rink, where you’ll pay no entrance fee to access the ice — even the loaner skates are free. Or wander over to 140-acre Clifford Park, also just east of downtown, which houses a playground, basketball and tennis courts, an outdoor skatepark, and miles of wooded trails.
2 p.m.: Post-activity drinks and lunch
After braving the elements, warm up at Elements: Books Coffee Beer, where you can sip an Abundance roast benefiting the Good Shepherd Food Bank, Biddeford Food Pantry, and Maine Needs. As the store’s name suggests, you could also drink a local beer like Just Porter by Barreled Souls while searching for a new novel to keep you busy on the train ride home.
Then, sit down to a shrimp taco or massive burrito at subterranean Mexican restaurant Coco Bar and Grill, a relative newcomer winning fans with family recipes. Or how about some fried squid cradled in a tender milk bun? That’s the squidwich at Fish & Whistle, a delightful upstart from Kate Hamm and Jason Eckerson, alumni of Portland’s Leeward and Eventide, respectively. Alternatively, try dueling Italians — Maine’s signature sub — from the original George’s Sandwich Shop (open since 1948 but under new ownership as of spring 2022) and the new Original George’s (OG’s Sandwich Shop, opened in summer 2022 by relatives of the other George’s founder) so you can weigh in on a nascent sandwich war.
Activity interlude: Tour Pepperell Mill Campus
Next, tour the Pepperell Mill Campus, which comprises several former textile mill buildings now offering a mix of apartments, offices, production spaces, and retail. Take a glassblowing class at Belfire Hot Glass and Gallery, learn about the area’s textile industry at Biddeford Mills Museum, and marvel at six centuries of expertly curated rare food and drink publications at one of the top rare cookbook shops in the U.S., Rabelais.
You can also do a drinks crawl: Play skee ball and pinball at Banded Brewing Co. with a pint of German-style Pepperell Pils or Aglow, a cocoa and peppermint stout that supports the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens and nods to the annual Gardens Aglow event; try a North Woods Law cocktail highlighting house-made gin alongside spruce tips, maraschino, and lime at Round Turn Distilling; and down a gluten-free draft of English ale-influenced Little Brown Job while listening to live music at Lucky Pigeon Brewing.
6 p.m.: Dinner
Grab a reservation at Elda for a seasonal, locally influenced $160 tasting menu, which might yield stunning dishes like caviar- and spruce tip-topped razor clams in pine nut milk. Alternatively, you might dine at Magnus On Water, where innovative cocktails from beverage director Brian Catapang — such as the Perfect Dark, a blend of rums, brown butter, salted vanilla, caramelized orange, and bitters — pair well with dishes like pork coppa with stewed peppers and herbs.
8 p.m.: After-dinner drinks
Admittedly, Biddeford’s still a bit light on late-night offerings, but you’ll find several gems open till 9 or 10 p.m., including Sacred Profane Brewing, which makes just two beers — a superb dark and a light lager. This exciting Czech-style tankpub (a nod to the tankovna pubs of the Czech Republic) opened in summer 2022, a project by beer power couple Brienne Allan — former brewer and production manager of Salem’s Notch Brewing and a beer industry-abuse whistleblower — and Michael Fava, former brewer at Newcastle’s Oxbow Brewing and current beverage director of Portland’s famed Novare Res bar. They co-own the place with Erin Sheehan and Carson James, who curate as strong a wine list here as they do at nearby Lorne Wine, their cozy low-intervention wine shop and bar also worth a visit. Seasonal cocktails and beers from other breweries round out Sacred Profane’s beverage list.
9 p.m.: After after-dinner drinks
If you’re spending the night at the boutique Lincoln Hotel (or if you’re just looking for a last late-night-ish drink), grab a nightcap at the Lobby Bar, a buzzy new gathering place thanks to its elegant mid-century modern decor, ample leather and velvet seating, and creative takes on classic cocktails like three types of Old Fashioned — with soda, with muddled fruit, or with accents of ginger and smoke. Alternatively, head downstairs to Batson River Brewing & Distilling and sidle up to the bar for a draft of Canadian-style pilsner.