Saco, nestled in York County, holds a significant place in the history of Maine as its oldest recorded permanent settlement. Being in such close proximity to the Canadian border adds to its unique charm. With its founding dating back to the 17th century, this enchanting city rests on the picturesque northern bank of the Saco River, and its population currently hovers around 20,000.
The city’s early days revolved around the bustling lumber industry, which served as its economic backbone. However, as the 19th century progressed, Saco experienced a transformative shift as cotton mills and iron foundries emerged, propelling the population to grow steadily.
Unfortunately, the closure of the last mill in 1958 dealt a severe blow to the local economy. Nevertheless, through determined diversification efforts, the city managed to weather the storm and emerge resilient. Walking along Main Street, one can witness the architectural tapestry that beautifully narrates the story of Saco’s rich history.
For those seeking inspiration on how to make the most of their time in this captivating city, allow me to share the 15 best things to do in Saco. These carefully curated experiences will ensure a fulfilling and memorable visit, catering to various interests and preferences.
1. Ferry Beach State Park
I highly recommend a visit to the stunning Ferry Beach State Park, an expansive recreational area that spans nearly 120 acres. Situated between Saco and Old Orchard Beach, at the mouth of the Saco River, it offers a captivating blend of natural beauty and engaging activities.
One of the park’s main attractions is its pristine sandy beach, which stretches along the coast, inviting visitors to soak up the sun and enjoy the refreshing ocean breeze. As you explore further, you’ll discover a network of scenic trekking trails that meander through the park’s diverse landscapes, allowing you to immerse yourself in the wonders of nature.
A noteworthy feature of the park is the presence of Tupelo trees, specifically the black gum variety. These trees, not commonly found at this latitude, add a touch of rarity to the park’s ecosystem, making it a fascinating destination for nature enthusiasts and avid botanists alike.
To enhance your experience, the park also boasts a well-equipped nature center, providing valuable insights into the local flora and fauna. It’s an excellent opportunity to deepen your understanding of the surrounding environment and appreciate the delicate balance of this coastal ecosystem.
Ferry Beach State Park offers convenient amenities to ensure your comfort throughout your visit. Ample picnic areas are available, allowing you to relax and enjoy a delightful outdoor meal amidst the natural splendor. Additionally, well-maintained restrooms are conveniently located within the park.
As you explore the park, be sure to take in the awe-inspiring views across the Atlantic Ocean. Imagine the bygone days when these sands served as the primary means of transportation, long before established roads existed. In fact, the park’s name is derived from the ferry crossing that once operated in this very location, serving as a vital link between coastal communities.
2. Old Orchard Beach
Located a mere five-minute drive from Saco, I suggest a visit to the vibrant Old Orchard Beach. Renowned for its well-established facilities and picturesque coastline, this destination offers a delightful retreat for beach enthusiasts and leisure seekers.
Prepare to be enchanted by the breathtaking stretch of sands that extend for seven miles, providing ample space for leisurely strolls and scenic explorations. Even during the mid-winter months, with appropriate attire, the beach maintains its charm and serves as an idyllic backdrop for a peaceful walk along the shoreline.
Old Orchard Beach boasts several iconic attractions that add to its allure. The historic pier, with its classic charm, invites visitors to take a leisurely stroll and relish in the nostalgic ambiance. Additionally, the vibrant boardwalk beckons with its lively atmosphere, lined with an array of enticing restaurants and shops. Whether you’re in the mood for a delectable meal or seeking some retail therapy, this vibrant hub has something to suit every taste.
The beach’s popularity extends beyond tourists, as locals also flock to its pristine shores. Thanks to meticulous upkeep and cleanliness, the sand remains a welcoming and well-maintained haven for families and friends to gather and enjoy the sun-soaked days of summer. Let the little ones build sandcastles, take refreshing dips in the inviting ocean waters, or simply lounge on the soft sands while relishing the warm coastal breezes.
3. The Eastern Trail
I highly recommend exploring the picturesque Eastern Trail, which connects Saco with Scarborough via the scenic Old Orchard Beach. Stretching across a total distance of eight miles, this trail offers a delightful journey through diverse landscapes, with the northern section near Scarborough renowned for its abundant wildlife.
Venturing through the salt marsh region, the largest in the state of Maine, covering over 2,000 acres, nature lovers will be captivated by the remarkable biodiversity and tranquil beauty that surrounds them. Marvel at the stunning array of flora and fauna that call this marshland home, creating a harmonious ecosystem that is a pleasure to behold.
The Eastern Trail itself forms a part of a larger trail network, but this particular eight-mile stretch provides a unique off-road experience. Following the path of a former railroad, which served as a vital transportation route from 1840 to 1945, the trail offers a blend of historical significance and natural splendor.
To ensure a convenient visit, ample parking facilities with kiosks are available at designated areas along the trail.
4. Scarborough Marsh Audubon Center
If you’re planning to explore the Eastern Trail, I highly recommend dedicating some time to discover the breathtaking beauty of the Scarborough Marsh Audubon Center. Spanning an impressive 3,000 acres, this estuary, managed by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, is a haven for both freshwater and saline habitats, making it a vital sanctuary for a diverse array of birdlife.
You’ll be enthralled by the avian inhabitants of the marsh. With some species residing here year-round and others making their migratory stopovers, the birdwatching opportunities are unparalleled. From graceful shorebirds and melodious songbirds to elegant ibises, egrets, herons, majestic raptors, and an array of waterfowl, the vibrant birdlife will mesmerize you at every turn.
To fully immerse yourself in this avian paradise, consider joining one of the guided tours led by knowledgeable Audubon staff. These experts will provide invaluable insights into the behavior, habitat, and conservation efforts concerning the marsh’s feathered residents. The guided tours offer a unique opportunity to learn from the experts while enjoying the company of fellow nature enthusiasts.
If you prefer a more leisurely exploration, you can embark on a self-guided adventure along the natural trails. These well-marked paths wind their way through the marsh, allowing you to observe the birds and other wildlife at your own pace. Keep your eyes peeled for fascinating mammals such as muskrats, otters, deer, and minks, which also call this diverse ecosystem home.
5. Pine Point Beach
One particular gem that shouldn’t be missed is Pine Point Beach, a picturesque stretch of shoreline that spans an impressive four miles, extending from Scarborough all the way down to Old Orchard Beach in the scenic Saco Bay.
The beach is well-maintained and managed by the town, ensuring that visitors have a delightful experience. Ample parking is available for a small fee, making it convenient for beachgoers to access this idyllic spot. Additionally, the town provides essential amenities such as showers and refreshments, ensuring your comfort during your beach visit.
One of the highlights of Pine Point Beach is its pristine condition, thanks to the dedicated efforts of the town. The beach is meticulously raked on a weekly basis throughout the summer months, ensuring a clean and inviting environment for sunbathers and beach enthusiasts alike. You can relax on the soft sands, basking in the warmth of the sun or take a refreshing dip in the sparkling waters of the bay.
When hunger strikes, make sure to visit the nearby Clambake, a renowned eatery offering delectable seafood dishes. Indulge in the freshest catch of the day and savor the flavors of Maine’s renowned seafood cuisine. The Clambake is the perfect spot to satisfy your cravings and enjoy a memorable dining experience by the beach.
If you’re seeking a bit more adventure, Pine Point Beach offers additional recreational options to enhance your beach day. You can rent beach cruiser bikes, allowing you to explore the coastline with ease and discover hidden gems along the way. For a unique perspective, consider renting a kayak and gliding along the gentle waves, immersing yourself in the beauty of the bay and its surrounding landscapes.
6. Saco Museum
When I visited the Saco Museum, I couldn’t help but appreciate the rich history and cultural heritage that it represents. The museum’s story dates back to 1866 when a group of passionate locals recognized the significance of preserving our local history for future generations to cherish. Their vision led to the establishment of this remarkable institution, which continues to captivate visitors with its diverse exhibits.
From its inception, the museum has focused on showcasing various forms of art, including fine art and decorative pieces. These exhibits beautifully capture the essence of our region’s artistic expression throughout the years. Additionally, the museum has diligently collected and displayed a wide range of artifacts that shed light on our regional history, allowing us to connect with our roots and better understand our past.
The artifacts on display, some of which are over a century and a half old, serve as invaluable time capsules that transport us back to different eras. It’s a testament to their foresight and commitment to ensuring that our rich heritage is not lost to time.
One of the highlights of the Saco Museum is its impressive collection of natural history exhibits. As I explored this section, I was amazed by the incredible specimens that were carefully preserved over the years. Among them is a magnificent bald eagle, captured in 1870, whose majestic presence evokes a sense of awe and admiration. Another intriguing exhibit is an alligator, originally presented alive in 1871. These remarkable displays provide a fascinating glimpse into the diverse wildlife that once inhabited our region.
7. Saco Heath Preserve
Exploring the Saco Heath Preserve, managed by The Nature Conservancy, I was left in awe at the vastness of this natural sanctuary spanning over 1,200 acres. This remarkable place is not only a haven for diverse flora and fauna but also holds captivating ecological wonders waiting to be discovered.
One of the highlights of the Saco Heath Preserve is its seasonal residents, the Hessel’s Hairstreak Butterfly. These delicate creatures add a touch of enchantment to the landscape, as they flutter gracefully among the vibrant blooms. Another sight to behold is the Atlantic White Cedar, a tree species that finds refuge in this preserve. It is truly fascinating to witness these majestic trees, especially considering that this is one of the few places where they can be found in significant numbers.
The history of the preserve is as intriguing as its natural beauty. In the past, this area was home to two lakes that gradually filled with decomposing vegetation, giving rise to the formation of peat. Over time, a unique wetland bog ecosystem emerged, with the peat layer resting above the water table. The result is a mesmerizing landscape that captivates the senses and offers a glimpse into the intricate workings of nature.
As I embarked on the hike through the Saco Heath Preserve, I was greeted by a well-maintained boardwalk that meandered above the delicate peat layer. This elevated path not only protects the fragile ecosystem but also provides visitors like me with an immersive experience amidst nature’s splendor. The boardwalk allowed me to traverse the preserve with ease, granting uninterrupted views of the colorful tapestry of flowers that carpeted the landscape, particularly during the vibrant spring season.
8. TGK Athletics Grind Labs
If you’re looking for a place that truly understands the significance of nurturing natural talent, TGK Athletics is where you need to beWhat sets TGK Athletics apart is the fact that the staff themselves have excelled in various sports, ranging from athletics and basketball to soccer, making them the perfect mentors for aspiring athletes.
At TGK Athletics, they believe in laying a strong foundation by providing comprehensive training in the fundamentals of different sports. Their ultimate mission, aptly represented by the acronym TGK (The Grind Knows), is to ensure that individuals with the potential to compete professionally are given every opportunity to fulfill their dreams.
The trainers at TGK Athletics possess a wealth of knowledge and expertise, garnered from their own personal experiences in the world of sports. They understand the importance of discipline, perseverance, and hard work, and instill these values in every athlete they work with. Through customized training programs, they cater to the specific needs and goals of each individual, pushing them to reach new heights and unlock their full potential.
They create a supportive and motivating environment where individuals can push their limits, overcome challenges, and continuously grow as athletes. Their approach is not just about physical training; it encompasses mental and emotional development as well. They understand that success in sports is not only dependent on physical prowess but also on cultivating a winning mindset and strong mental resilience.
9. Cascade Falls Trails
The enchanting Cascade Falls Trails, a timeless destination that has captivated visitors since the 19th century. The Trout Pond Loop, in particular, stood out as a serene and meticulously maintained pathway that caters to individuals of all ages, including those with mobility challenges.
The beauty of the Cascade Falls Trails lies not only in its scenic landscapes but also in the wide range of activities it offers. Whether you’re an angler seeking tranquility by the water’s edge or a family eager to savor a delightful picnic amidst nature’s embrace, this trail is sure to provide an unforgettable experience. As I explored the surroundings, I was mesmerized by the vibrant colors of blooming flowers that adorned the trail during the summer months. The presence of moss and ferns added an extra touch of natural elegance to the already picturesque setting.
While venturing along the Cascade Falls Trails, I couldn’t resist the allure of the waterfall that awaited me. However, it’s important to exercise caution as this particular section of the trail is relatively steep and not regularly maintained. Nevertheless, the breathtaking view of the cascading water is well worth the extra care and attention required.
The timeless beauty and serenity of the Cascade Falls Trails serve as a testament to the enduring allure of nature’s wonders.
10. Saco River Market
When you plan to explore the astonishing city of Saco, I recommend visiting the vibrant Saco River Market. This delightful marketplace serves as a harmonious collaboration between dedicated producers and the enthusiastic stall holders who proudly showcase their goods.
Upon stepping into the market, you’ll be greeted by a tantalizing array of locally made cheese, farm-fresh eggs, and succulent meats. It’s a haven for those seeking the finest ingredients sourced directly from the region. However, it’s important to note that the availability of produce varies with the seasons. While the summer weeks boast a bountiful assortment of vegetables, exploring the market during other times of the year often reveals a delightful diversity of offerings.
Beyond the incredible array of goods, the Saco River Market offers an enchanting ambiance filled with lively entertainment. As you meander through the stalls, you’ll be serenaded by the soulful melodies of talented musicians performing live. The rhythmic tunes provide a delightful backdrop to your shopping experience, enhancing the joyful atmosphere that permeates the market.
In addition to supporting local producers and indulging in delectable treats, the Saco River Market is also a treasure trove of handmade crafts. From intricately crafted jewelry to beautifully woven textiles, you’ll discover a wealth of artistic creations that reflect the region’s rich cultural heritage.
11. Aquaboggan Water Park
Aquaboggan holds a special place in Maine’s history as the state’s very first water park, welcoming its first guests in the late 1970s. Since then, it has become a beloved destination where visitors of all ages can revel in the exciting water attractions it has to offer.
If you’re seeking an adrenaline rush, Aquaboggan boasts a selection of high-speed water slides and thrilling tube rides that are sure to get your heart racing. For those who prefer a more relaxing experience, the wave pool is a favorite among older adults, providing a serene space to unwind and enjoy the ebb and flow of the gentle currents.
Beyond the water-based entertainment, Aquaboggan offers a range of activities that cater to diverse interests. If you’re looking to test your skills, the mini-golf course provides a fun and challenging experience for players of all ages. Meanwhile, younger visitors can revel in the excitement of go-kart racing on the small Grand Prix circuit, creating memories that will last a lifetime.
For those who appreciate a slower pace, Aquaboggan also offers boating opportunities. It caters to the varied interests of its visitors, ensuring that everyone, regardless of age or inclination, can find something enjoyable to partake in. It’s a place where families can bond, friends can create new memories, and individuals can embrace the carefree joy of being immersed in a world of water-based entertainment.
12. Funtown Splashtown USA
As a local resident of Saco, I can attest to the timeless appeal of Funtown Splashtown USA amusement park. This beloved destination has been captivating both locals and visitors for many years, offering endless entertainment for families in search of a memorable experience.
One of the highlights of Funtown Splashtown USA is its meticulously maintained water features. Whether you’re seeking exhilarating water slides or a relaxing float down the lazy river, the water park section is guaranteed to keep the whole family entertained for hours on end. Kids, in particular, will be delighted by the variety of slides available, ensuring that there’s never a dull moment in the water-filled playground.
For those seeking thrills on dry land, the park’s fun ride section offers a range of exciting attractions. The wooden roller coaster, with its twists and turns, provides a thrilling experience that is perfectly safe for riders of all ages. The initial drop may send a shiver down your spine, but rest assured, it’s a heart-pounding moment that quickly transitions into an exhilarating journey through the park.
As a family-run establishment, Funtown Splashtown USA prides itself on creating a welcoming and enjoyable environment for visitors. The fun ride section boasts a variety of attractions, including bumper cars and a casino, where families can engage in friendly competition and create lasting memories.
It’s worth noting that the park’s staff takes great care to ensure the safety and maintenance of all rides and attractions, ensuring that your visit is not only fun but also worry-free.
Whether you’re a local looking for a day of excitement or a visitor in search of unforgettable family fun, Funtown Splashtown USA is a must-visit destination in Saco. With its well-maintained water features, thrilling rides, and friendly atmosphere, this family-run amusement park promises a day filled with laughter, excitement, and cherished moments.
Don’t miss the opportunity to immerse yourself in the joy and adventure that Funtown Splashtown USA has to offer. Gather your loved ones, let your inner child run wild, and create memories that will be treasured for years to come.
13. President Bush Compound Kennebunkport
During my trip to Saco, I have familiarized myself with the coastal beauty of Maine and would recommend a visit to the President Bush Compound in Kennebunkport. While public access to the actual Bush family summer home is restricted, many visitors still make their way to this iconic destination, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Texas flag flying proudly, indicating that the family may be in residence.
The recent passing of George H. W. Bush, the 41st President of the United States, has drawn even more visitors to Kennebunkport, as people pay tribute to his legacy. Located just a short drive from Saco, this picturesque town offers a serene retreat and a chance to soak in the natural beauty that surrounds Walker’s Point.
Even if you can’t enter the compound itself, the stunning coastal scenery is worth the visit. The sight of the rugged shoreline and the crashing waves is truly awe-inspiring. Whether you’re a history enthusiast or simply appreciate the splendor of nature, a trip to the President Bush Compound is a must-do when exploring this part of Maine.
Take a leisurely stroll along the shoreline, breathe in the salty ocean air, and bask in the tranquility of the surroundings. The idyllic views are bound to leave a lasting impression and provide a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
14. St. Ann’s Church
I highly recommend a visit to the historic St. Ann’s Church on Ocean Avenue when you find yourself in Kennebunkport. This architectural gem offers another compelling reason to explore the charming town. The church holds a special place in the community, as it was built on land generously donated by the Kennebunkport Seashore Company and consecrated in 1892 by the Bishop of Maine.
What sets St. Ann’s Church apart is its remarkable construction using local stone. Originally, there were plans for a wooden structure, but with the generous land donation came the opportunity to utilize the abundant seashore stone. This unique feature adds a touch of local charm and character to both the exterior and interior walls of the church.
As you approach the church, you’ll be captivated by its stately presence and the beautiful craftsmanship that went into its creation. The use of the local stone not only adds to its visual appeal but also pays homage to the region’s natural resources.
Step inside and you’ll be greeted by an atmosphere of reverence and serenity. The interior, adorned with the same local stone, creates a sense of harmony between the sacred space and its surroundings. The craftsmanship and attention to detail are evident throughout, offering a glimpse into the rich history and architectural heritage of the area.
15. Huot’s Seafood Restaurant
If you’re in Maine and craving some mouthwatering seafood, I highly suggest checking out Huot’s Seafood Restaurant on Eastern Avenue. It’s a fantastic spot to indulge in the region’s finest seafood, conveniently located near the harbor and fishing boats.
Start your culinary journey with a bowl of their renowned clam chowder or try their delectable fishcakes, both of which are popular appetizers. When it comes to the main course, you’ll find a delightful selection of fresh fish dishes, but the real highlight is their succulent lobster. It’s a local favorite that you won’t want to miss.
On pleasant weather days, I suggest snagging a seat outside. Not only will you enjoy your delicious meal, but you’ll also have the opportunity to soak in the vibrant atmosphere of the harbor, observing the bustling activities of the fishing boats.
Do keep in mind that Huot’s Seafood Restaurant tends to be quite busy, especially during the peak season. To secure a table, I recommend calling ahead and making a reservation. This way, you can ensure a memorable dining experience without any unnecessary wait times.