The City of Biddeford in York County, Maine, on the North East Seaboard of the USA, acts as the commercial center for the immediate region. It has a population of just over 21,000 people. With the resort districts nearby, it has become an important tourist destination for visitors wishing to enjoy the rugged coastline and pristine natural environment of Maine.
The first settlement here was constructed in the mid-17th century on either side of the Saco River. It took its name from the town of Bideford, Devon, in the UK, from where many of its inhabitants had originated. It was formerly an important textile region, evidenced today by the number of old mills that have fortunately found new uses.
Its rich history includes several skirmishes with local Native Indian tribes and struggles in the War of Independence, so there is much of interest for visitors spending time in Biddeford. Here are the 15 best things to do in Biddeford, to get you started in your exploration of this town.
1. Fortunes Rocks Beach
This large stretch of sand offers plenty of opportunity either to relax or to take part in a number of different activities. You will come across walkers, joggers, sunbathers and others enjoying the waves.
You need a permit for parking and there are no real amenities to enjoy, but lifeguards do patrol the beach during daylight hours throughout the season. Local staff and volunteers make regular checks to ensure there is no pollution and that cleanliness of the sand and water is maintained at all times.
2. Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge
This refuge honors a well-known American conservationist and stretches for 50 miles along the Maine Coast. It is located just behind Fortunes Rocks Beach.
It was established half a century ago to help preserve marsh and estuary areas, which are a habitat for migrating birds. In addition, there are a number of mammals such as deer that you can expect to encounter.
A number of well-maintained trails make the refuge a popular place for walkers, as well as for birdwatchers. It is a quiet place and biking is not permitted.
3. Old Orchard Beach
If you are looking for a beach area with amenities, Old Orchard Beach, a town in its own right just north of Biddeford, may suit you.
The beach itself is seven miles long, well maintained and clean. There are a pier and boardwalk with plenty of things to entertain the family. Restaurants offer a variety of food and shoppers will like the area as well. It does get quiet as winter approaches, but if you wrap up well, you may still enjoy walking along the beach.
4. Shevenell Park
This small open area on Main Street, in the heart of Biddeford, was created after the demolition of a building. It is only 36 feet wide and 50 feet deep but nevertheless it is seen as an asset by Biddeford residents. Ongoing discussions are aimed at improvements in the years to come.
Wrought iron tables and chairs in the shade of trees make it a lovely place to sit for a while before carrying on with your shopping or search for a restaurant.
It is maintained by volunteers who pick up litter, sweep the paths and prune the trees.
5. Biddeford and Saco Chamber of Commerce Welcome Center
The Welcome Center, run jointly for Biddeford and Saco, is the best place for getting information and maps on the immediate area. It focuses on tourism and is situated within Biddeford on Water Street.
You can learn about local restaurants, transport, businesses and imminent events in Biddeford. Its work makes it beneficial for all local businesses to become members.
The helpful staff work there on a volunteer basis and will always find an answer to your question if it is not immediately available.
6. Saint Brendan’s Chapel
This attractive little wooden Roman Catholic Chapel may lack the modern facilities of heat and insulation, but it still appeals to couples planning a wedding locally. It closes in the winter when any local congregation prays elsewhere in the Good Shepherd Parish.
It celebrated its Centenary in 2017 and is situated in the residential neighborhood of Biddeford Pool. Parking is limited and there are ramps and speed limits which visitors should observe, respecting the rights of the residents.
7. City Theater
The local players use a restored Victorian theatre on Main Street that was initially opened in 1895. The renovations have ensured that every seat is comfortable and has an uninterrupted view of the stage, while retaining the original internal architecture and design.
Visitors can expect to see performances of some kind during their time in the city, whether it is music and dance, comedy or drama. The aim of the theater is to heighten the awareness of the performing arts among the community, and the quality of performances regularly receives excellent reviews.
8. Rotary Park
This local park sits on the southern banks of the Saco River. Facilities include 2 playgrounds, a floodlit softball area, a soccer pitch, a skate park and a dog walking area.
It covers 72 acres in all and there is a place where you can launch a craft into the river. The picnic area comes complete with grills, chairs and tables.
In the summer months, there are lifeguards on duty, just in case. If you are planning to visit, keep in mind that it is only open during daylight hours in normal circumstances, and there is a speed limit. Incidentally, smoking is not allowed anywhere within the park.
9. Biddeford Mills Museum
This museum was once an important working textile mill, an important feature in the economy of York County. Some local people spent all their working lives with Pepperell Manufacturing.
The idea of a museum was developed a decade ago, with the aim of recreating the environment of a mill. It took community involvement and volunteers to make the museum a reality and visitors are certain to enjoy it and learn from what they see. Look at the stairs and floors and you will see how many people must have used them in days gone by.
10. Mechanics Park
This park on the corner of Water and Main Street is another one with river frontage. A number of open-air events are held in this park once the winter temperatures have receded.
A well-maintained park, it has plenty of seating as well as open grassy areas. The walking paths near the river are floodlit and you will find picnic tables and an impressive gazebo.
Two workout stations encourage locals to keep fit; look at the illustrations to see the range of exercises that they are suitable for.
11. Wood Island Lighthouse
The Lighthouse became operational early in the 19th century. It is situated just off Biddeford Pool in Saco Bay. It takes 15 minutes by boat to reach the Island. Once there, you can climb the tower to get some lovely photographs.
If you prefer a little more guidance, the Friends of Wood Island Lighthouse provide tours of this lighthouse over the weeks of July and August, with transport provided.
The tour, which lasts about 90 minutes in total, is free and run by volunteers, but donations are extremely welcome. It may be advisable to book the tour in advance.
12. Engine Gallery
Engine Art Gallery is very proactive in encouraging community activities in general, and certainly anything to do with art.
There is plenty to see, and evening story telling and lectures regularly attract a good audience. Tellers often select one of the gallery’s images and create their story from there. When the weather is poor, open-air events can be transferred here rather than be canceled.
The gallery’s practical classes have encouraged a number of aspiring artists to persevere with their talent.
13. Banded Horn Brewery
This brewery is located in an old mill building on Maine Street. Despite its being just a few years old, local drinkers say they could not do without it. The range of brews is excellent and all of them go well with the favorite local pies.
You can sit back and enjoy the atmosphere and music. Kids are allowed inside, while there is a nice patio to enjoy during the warmer weather. All in all, the brewery has been a great way to revitalize an old building.
14. Round Turn Distilling
This small distillery is found in a former textile mill that dates back 150 years. It uses the steam created from water to power the still, in much the same way as the original mill used water to power its looms.
The distillery gets its name from a simple but fairly strong maritime knot used by sailors. It is located on the Saco River, 5 miles inland from the Atlantic Coast. It produces award-winning Bimini Gin, 47%, which is great with tonic or in the range of cocktails that the distillery has devised.
Its success has led to it being sold in a huge number of retail outlets throughout the state.