Guide to Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor and Mount Desert Island

 

Page 3 of 3


In Town:
Bar Harbor

Village Green:
Village Green on a quiet spring day



Visitor Center
Visitors Center

Shopping

Looking north on Main Street
Looking north on Main Street

Looking south on Main Street
Looking south on Main Street

The West End Drugstore on Main Street:
The West End Drug Store on Main Street

 

 

Newport Drive at the
entrance to Agamont Park
Newport Drive

For better or worse, downtown Bar Harbor is populated with endless touristy little shops. Many are nice to browse through but certainly no different from the same you'd find in any similar town. Some are quite tacky and seem to be targeted solely towards the cruise ship denizens and tend to bring the downtown ambience down a few notches. Fortunately, this doesn't apply to many of the shops, and a few stand out:

  • Eclipse on Mount Desert Street across from the village green sells astonishingly beautiful one-of-a-kind jewelry, sculptures, and furniture. Their inventory varies, but seems to get more beautiful every year.
  • Alpenglow Adventure Sports on Main Street just south of Atlantic Avenue is an excellent source of equipment and clothing for serious hikers and climbers, and they also offer guided climbs and hikes at all skill levels.
  • Island Artisans on Main Street represents a cooperative of several of the area's extremely skilled craftspersons and artists. Most of its jewelry, objets d'art and other offerings are unique, unusual and tasteful.
  • Window Panes on Main Street at the corner of Mount Desert Street offers an excellent collection of home furnishings, gifts and crafts
  • Eden Rising on Cottage Street offers an eclectic collection of clothing, jewelry, music, crafts, books, and spiritual offerings. It's a warm and welcoming shop with much to offer.
  • Cool as A Moose on Main Street has a great selection of tee and sweat shirts, and lots of dopey souvenir clothing that the kids will love. It's a tourist staple, but so what? It's fun.
  • Cadillac Mountain Sports on Cottage Street is a good outdoor sports supply store, with a large selection of climbing, camping and hiking equipment, shoes, boots, raingear, etc.
  • Jekyll and Hyde on Main Street at the corner of Cottage Street is a throwback to 8th and Macdougal in Greenwich Village, with racks of tie-dye clothes, jeans, hats, and jewelry, electronics, knives, and other unexpected surprises.
  • Bark Harbor on Main Street toward the south end of downtown is a pet-lover's paradise, with gifts and goodies and useful accoutrements personalized for just about every breed of dog and cat you could think of.
  • Fiore Artisan Olive Oils at the north edge of the Village Green (behind the fire house) offers an extraordinary selection of olive oils and vinegars, all available for tasting. The range of flavors is staggering and they make excellent (although pricey) gifts for foodies.
  • West End Pharmacy on Main Street; in the age of mega-drug stores like Rite-Aid and CVS, this little place is a refreshing holdout from the days when pharmacies were family owned and run, with a soda fountain (yes, they have one) and a thoughtful, friendly pharmacist filling prescriptions.
The bottom line is that if you want to, you can spend a lot of time shopping; there are literally hundreds of stores in town. Most prices are quite reasonable.

Restaurants

Most restaurants on the island are informal (hiking boots, jeans, etc.), although you can find a few stuffy old-fashioned snooty places if you want to. We tend to stay away from that type of place; we're no longer impressed. (For our personal favorite, check below under Southwest Harbor.)

  • McKay's Public House on Main Street offers a very accomodating selection including typical pub fare like hamburgers and fries, a wide range of salads, and seasonal entrees typical of more upscale restaurants.
  • Paddy's Irish Pub on West Street (part of the West Street Hotel) is a huge restaurant with a very extensive menu, excellent food and terrific service. The outdoor seating looks out over the harbor.
  • Guinness & Porcelli's just down the block on Main Street has a reasonably-priced menu of well-prepared southern Italian fare as well as some good seafood dishes.
  • Poor Boy's Gourmet on Main Street as you head south towards Cromwell Harbor offers all-you-can-eat pasta platters, but the rest of the menu is so good you should go at least twice. Their desserts are all homemade and sinfully excellent.
  • The Chart House on Route 3 in Hull's Cove is a very family-friendly place with good food and service and excellent views of Frenchman's Bay from its outdoor terrace.
  • Miguel's on Rodick Street may seem like a typical Mexican restaurant, but most of their dishes are cooked with an unusual flair that stands out among the rest. Their steak fajitas are extraordinary, especially if you like garlic!
  • Rupununi on Main Street has an eclectic menu, a large outdoor dining area, great service and excellent food. Dog owners can park their pups next to them on the sidewalk-side of the dining area while they eat. Upstairs is Carmen Veranda, which offers entertainment, dancing, billiards, and a good place to see and be seen by the twenty-something crowd.
  • The Lompoc Cafe & Brewpub on Rodick Street has an outdoor/indoor dining room, standard pub fare, extremely friendly service, and reasonable prices. The kids can play bocce while you have a few drinks. They brew their own ale, have live entertainment, and they're open very late.
  • Jordan's Restaurant on Cottage Street is a good place for a late breakfast, since it's served all day. Unfortunately, the quality of the food has deteriorated recently (watery syrup, overcooked bacon, etc.), so you may want to consider alternatives.
  • For a goof, take the kids to Route 66 on Cottage Street. A tourist trap, yes, but they know it and so do you. It's silly and fun, and the food is good! Not the place for a romantic dinner, however.
  • Geddy's on north Main Street across from Agamont Park is one of the few mainstays that's opened year 'round. It's a friendly, boistrous combination of bar/roadhouse/restaurant with lively entertainment at night, and hearty food from an extensive menu.

  • Honeymooners and Others Looking for a Romantic Dinner: While we used to recommend a few restaurants in Bar Harbor that were upscale and elegant, recent visits have shown that their high prices, spotty service and mediocre food no longer merit our mention. Essentially, upscale dining is antithetical to the Mount Desert Island experience. You can find some nice restaurants with views and perhaps a bit of pretention thrown in, but we recommend you look for your own special place and keep it informal.

Ben and Bill's

Making the impossible decision
at Ben and Bill's...
Ben & Bill's on Main Street



Ben and Bill's is a sweet shop on Main Street at the end of Cottage Street. It is sweets-heaven (or hell, if you're dieting), with a large selection of homemade ice cream, as well as every imaginable (and unimaginable) confection you've ever dreamed of. Almost everything for sale that is edible is made on site, and you can watch the candies being made through the opening at the rear of the display cases. Early evenings during the summer, there is usually a considerable line to get in to this shop. Most of the time, it moves fast, and is generally worth the wait. Try the lobster ice cream if you're feeling astronomically adventurous. They also sell a Doggie special for your pup: two scoops of Ice cream and a dog bone (seriously).

Other Places in Town

An aerial view of the "bar"
from Bar Harbor to Bar Island:
The Bar at Low Tide

The Shore Path:
The Shore Path

Agamont Park
and the Town Pier:
Agamont Park

The Criterion Theater on Cottage Street:
Criterion Theater





Explore and experiment - it's a fairly large town. There's too much to list here, but here's a sampling: Check out the Village Green (there are concerts on the bandstand during the summer), the 1932 Criterion Movie Theater, Agamont Park at the bottom of town, the Bar Harbor Ale micro-brewery, the Shore Path, the "bar", which at low tide allows you to walk (or drive) across the bay to Bar Island (check the tide schedule closely or you'll get stranded). An interesting diversion is Reel Pizza Cinerama, a movie theater/pizzaria at the back of the Village Green. Instead of rows of stiff seats in the auditorium, there are large comfy chairs and couches, TV-tables, dinette-style tables and chairs, and movie seats with tables in front of them. Place your order for pizza and enjoy it while watching recently released films.



The Margaret Todd sailing
among the Porcupines:
The Margaret Todd sailing among the Porcupines






Other Towns on the Island

Somesville

The arched bridge
in Somesville:
Arched bridge in Somesville

The outdoor "reading room"
behind the Somesville Library:
Reading Room Behind the Somesville Library




On your way to Echo Lake, you'll pass through Somesville, the oldest town on the island. Other than a general store and a seasonal theater, most of Somesville is residential, but be sure to investigate the Somesville Library, outside of which is a reading area at the mouth of Somes Sound, the only natural fjord in the U.S.A. Across the street is an arched bridge that is quite picture perfect. Bring your camera to this spot.

Southwest Harbor

 

Haute cuisine á la Beal's:
Haute cuisine a la Beal's

 

 

 

 

Lobster Boats at Beal's, 2009:
Lobster Boats at Beal's





If you continue south on Route 102 past Echo Lake, you'll come to Southwest Harbor, famous in sailing circles as the home of Hinckley Yachts. It's the second-largest town on the island but still retains its little fishing village persona. There are several nice shops, a terrific ice-cream parlor, and a few excellent restaurants.

In our opinion, Fiddler's Green Restaurant on Main Street (Route 102) in Southwest Harbor is one of the better restaurants on the island, and one of our favorites anywhere. If you're interested in imaginative, creative and highly-skilled cooking, very friendly service and a wonderful culinary experience, be sure to make dinner reservations here. You won't be disappointed.

Southwest Harbor is also the home of Beal's Lobster Pound. For many years we touted Beal's as the most down-East, purely Maine coast eating experience you could have, but alas, like so many other things, it's changed...and not for the better. High prices, unfriendly staff imported from Eastern Europe and inconsistent quality have marred this old gem. However, it's still worth a visit. The ambience is more or less the same, with very informal dining on wooden tables on the piers among fishermen, lobster boats and seagulls. Order your lobsters, steamers, corn on the cob and wine, and enjoy a harborside dinner as the sun goes down.

Northeast Harbor and Seal Harbor

Northeast Harbor
Northeast Harbor



On the way up to Thuya Garden, 2015
On the way up to Thuya Garden





Northeast Harbor is a very small, upscale community with a 2-block downtown area that has some shops certainly worth a look. The harbor itself is beautiful and the launch point for some of the National Park Service's tours. The Asticou Gardens in Northeast Harbor are quite beautiful and worth a visit.





The Thuya Garden, atop a hillside overlooking Northeast Harbor, is a beautiful collection of well-maintained annuals and perennials amid a very bucolic setting. The trek up the terraced stairs and path to reach the garden from the road is itself an enjoyable short hike, with views of the harbor from various stations and gazebos along the way up.


Where To Stay

This is a difficult topic for us to address (no pun intended). The island offers lots of guest houses, some resort-style hotels, several smaller hotels, many motels, a few private campgrounds, trailer parks and such, two unusually beautiful national park campgrounds and in every town on every corner of the island, houses for rent. Recently, there has been a flurry of large-scale hotels taking over major parts of the heart of Bar Harbor. In our opinion, this is not a good thing, although we understand that there is a market for it, and many people prefer this type of accommodation.

For the first few years, we camped out. Then we started renting houses in various towns on the island. With very few exceptions (see below), our experience is primarily limited to renting, and not to staying at commercial properties. For an extended stay of one week or more, rentals seem to be the most comfortable and economically practical, especially if you're traveling with a family or group of four or more, or with pets. So, with that in mind, let's first talk about rentals.

There are hundreds of well-maintained, privately owned homes available for rent on a weekly, monthly or seasonal basis on the island. Rentals have a very broad range of prices, from a few hundred to several thousand dollars per week. Like real estate anywhere, location is a primary factor. Accommodations, furnishings, amenities and perqs also have a great effect on the price. Shore access is extremely rare; many "shore front" properties are perched atop cliffs or set back in woods. Expect a high premium for a rental where you can step out of the back door onto a beach. Most rental property owners are very skittish about bringing pets, and this has been a sore spot for us over the years. We've offered additional deposits, guaranteed to keep our dog outside, and begged and pleaded with many an owner with little success. The irony is that our kids were more of a liability to the property than our dogs, but many owners seem to be extremely narrow-minded and stubborn about this issue.

We can not and will not recommend specific properties for you to rent. If you're interested in renting a house, we can steer you to some agents, and offer some advice on what to expect in terms of price and specific towns and locations. Rather than go into all the caveats about rentals that we can share, we'll be happy to discuss your questions via email to Larry@acadiabarharbor.com only after you've contacted the agencies and have been offerred one or more properties. Please do not email us with requests for specific places to rent. Our one recommendation is to be flexible: there are lots of very nice rentals in areas and towns that you may not know about. If you insist on a shore front property within walking distance of Bar Harbor, you'll be significantly limiting your options and missing some very wonderful opportunities elsewhere. Remember, you're going to this island to be outdoors (we assume), so keep your rental needs within that perspective. By the way...if you do intend to rent during the summer, get started in January!

Following are some reputable agencies that handle rentals with whom we have experience:

The Bar Harbor Inn
at the edge of town: Bar Harbor Inn

A few times withing the past few years, we (or our children) broke our tradition of renting homes and stayed at The Bar Harbor Inn. This beautiful hotel is located at the foot of Main Street in downtown Bar Harbor, overlooking Frenchman's Bay, directly on the Shore Path. It is extremely well-maintained and well-staffed, and our stays have always been a pleasure. If you're looking for a very superior stay at a perfect location, you need not look any further than this hotel. There are other hotels on the island that we've been told are "very nice" or "comfortable" or "reasonably priced." You may want to find those on your own by checking the AAA or Mobil Guides, or checking other online resources.

Other Things to Do

Bartlett's Landing at low tide:
Bartlett's Landing at Low Tide

  • Try the Naturalist Cruise around the island. It leaves regularly from the town pier in Bar Harbor. It's a two-hour cruise, very refreshing, and you'll see porpoises, seals, possibly whales, bald eagles, and who knows what else.

  • There's a cruise that leaves from Northeast Harbor to Baker Island. It's guided by the National Park Service, and includes a dinghy-ride from the ship to the island, and then a guided hike inland with a fascinating oral history of the island's unusual inhabitants. Different and fun. Reservations are required.

  • The National Park Service conducts a Star Show on Sand Beach on clear evenings during the summer. What better "planetarium" that the real thing, sitting on a blanket on a warm evening with the surf gently lapping the shore? Check the schedule at the ANP Visitor center. Bring blankets, flashlights, some snacks and sweaters or sweatshirts.

  • Bartlett's Landing: On the west side of the island, Pretty Marsh is essentially a quiet, rural residential area. When the tide is out, the harbor landing area there is one of the best places to go crabbing among the seaweed and tidal pools. We always find lots of sea life there: crabs, sea stars (starfish), jellyfish, clams, mussels, etc. Take Route 102 to Pretty Marsh and follow the signs to Bartlett's Harbor Landing.

  • Glider Rides are available at the airport just across the bridge on the mainland in the town of Trenton We recommend the sunset ride. Reservations well in advance are necessary for that time slot, but it's worth it. A ride cosists of you and the glider pilot ride, and in good conditions will last about a half-hour long.

  • Scenic Flights and tours over the island are also available for up to 3 people to view various aspects of the island. Like the glider rides, they're expensive, but if your budget allows it, it's an unforgettable experience.

  • Kayak Rentals and Tours are available on Cottage Street in Bar Harbor. For a half or full day, groups go out and paddle around the shoreline.

  • The Oceanarium is actually three small museums, two in Bar Harbor, and one across the street from Beal's in Southwest Harbor. Kids love it, and it's a nice diversion on rainy days.

  • While looking at the maps, you'll notice that there are other towns on the island, specifically along the Western Shore. These are primarily residential, blue-collar areas which don't offer much in the way of tourism. However, you never know when you'll run into that quaint little tag sale.

  • Also on the western edge of the island is the Seal Cove Auto Museum, a privately-owned collection of almost 100 automobiles and trucks. It's open from 10AM to 5PM every day from June 1st through September 15th.



And Finally...

 

Chloë and her friend
at Otter Point:
The author and Chloë

 

Michele & Larry

Keep in mind that this is all very subjective. If you're looking to be entertained, or looking for glitz, or seeking a Disneyworld-type vacation, you may be disappointed. This is an island where you do your own thing, most of it outdoors. Even at the height of the season, when there are a zillion people on the island, you can always find a quiet and beautiful place somewhere. If you just visit the tourist traps and hang out in town, you may miss all that's brought us back there for over 40 years. There's karma in this place, and you don't have to look hard to find it. Don't be disarmed by how friendly everyone is in Bar Harbor, or by how many people are wearing tie-dyed clothes, or by the folk music clubs in town, or all the dogs running around, or the children frolicing just about everywhere... It may seem like 1969, but it's just the way life is supposed to be!





Some WWW Links

The links listed here were all active as of March 2016. You may want to use a search tool to find others.





LETTERS

...from people who have visited this site.

BAR HARBOR

...as seen from above.