How to: Bar Harbor, Maine

This is the first time I’m writing about a trip I’ve taken with John Michael. I know it’s a departure from my normal planner reviews and tips and tricks here on the blog. But I’m doing this as much for me as I am for you. Scrapbooking and memory keeping has always been important to me. I figured: Why keep a blog if I don’t plan to use it? Plus, if you find yourself in the far-northeastern reaches of the US, touring the beautiful coastline of Downeast Maine, hopefully, some of the activities and recommendations we did in Bar Harbor will fill your itinerary, too!

Traveling is the bedrock of my relationship with JM. We’ve never spent more than a year in one place together (this will change soon in NYC). Weekend getaways, longer vacations, and day trips dot our calendar in a normal year.

Moving to Boston was the first time either of us had spent any meaningful time in New England. We’re both from the South. And even though I was born into a military family, neither of my parents was stationed up north. So after our move, we quickly ticked off visits to Vermont, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire. However, it took longer for us to travel to Maine. John Michael suggested Bar Harbor. He has a few clients in the area and he had the chance to visit town solo, which made me jealous! He kept telling me how much I would love Acadia National Park, sailing in Somes Sound, lighthouses, the shopping, and particularly, the wild Maine blueberry pancakes at Jeannie’s Great Maine Breakfast. We put a long summer weekend on our calendars and started planning a trip.

Our first full summer in New England was complicated by COVID. Our planned trip to Bar Harbor got rescheduled. And rescheduled again to the fall. And rescheduled again. Eventually, we decided to postpone by a year. This gave us the chance to coordinate with John Michael’s parents, whom we invited to join us. His Dad had been to 48 states – but not Maine – so he jumped at the chance to tagalong!

We have a system for planning trips that aligns with our priorities for the vacation. The first decision we make is for accommodation – where we’ll stay in town. During a previous visit to Bar Harbor, JM came across the Ivy Manor Inn. Situated in the heart of the town, the Inn’s facade is smothered with English Ivy and features a large and well-manicured front lawn full of Adirondack chairs, gas fire rings, an outdoor bar, and the occasional live musician. We envisioned coming back from a long day hiking in Acadia National Park or a day on the water and enjoying a drink by the fire to stave off the chill of the Maine evening.

The second decision we make planning a trip is the activities. I’ve mentioned Acadia National Park twice because it’s a requisite when visiting Bar Harbor. If you’re an early bird, you can make a reservation to drive the summit road of Cadillac Mountain at 4:00am to catch the first sunrise over the eastern seaboard. We didn’t nab a reservation in time (they’re in extremely high demand), so we visited the park by day with a tour by Oli’s Trolley. Their 2.5-hour guided tour takes you through the park with expert narration and 3 stops along the way for pictures and incredible views. If trolley tours aren’t your thing and you have your own vehicle, there’s plenty of parking along the park road.

We booked a sunset cruise on the Margaret Todd, a 3-masted schooner sailed by Downeast Windjammer Cruise Lines. They offer multiple trips daily, but their best – in my opinion – is their 2-hour sunset sail in Frenchman’s Bay. The boat has live music and a bar. The view of Bar Harbor, basking in the glow of the setting sun are priceless. If you’d like a longer trip to explore the coastline, the Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company sails directly from a wharf in town and offers lighthouse cruises, nature cruises, whale watches, puffins & seals (seasonally), and more. Lulu Lobster Boat puts you on a real working lobster boat to learn about lobster fishing. All in all, there is plenty to do over the course of a long weekend or a full week in Bar Harbor!

If nature adventure isn’t your thing, there is ample shopping in town. JM’s mom and I lost track of time several times browsing from store to store…to store…to store. They have a pet store, Bark Harbor, where I bought Minnie a toy and a treat to bring home!

Inevitably, the last and most important decision we make is where to eat. I could give a million food recommendations for Bar Harbor. But I’ll stick to the most important stuff. Lobster is an institution in New England, and nowhere is that more true than Maine. Lobster pots dot the coastline of Downeast Maine and lobster boats ferry busily from trap to trap in Frenchman’s Bay. This means, of course, that every restaurant offers its fair share of lobster. The most popular vehicle for eating said lobster is the lobster roll.

I won’t wade into the debate of Maine-style (cold lobster with mayo) vs. Connecticut-style (hot lobster with butter), because you can’t go wrong with either. But you’re in Maine, so Maine-style is the way to go. One night we grabbed lobster rolls to-go from Geddy’s, bought a six-pack, and had a sunset picnic in Agamont Park on the water overlooking Frenchman’s Bay. It’s not a complete meal without a slice of wild Maine blueberry pie a la mode to finish everything off!

The thing we loved about Bar Harbor is that it’s a laid-back and friendly town. A picnic in the park after a day in the Park (Acadia National, that is) is as enjoyable as a nice dinner at Havana after a day of shopping. It’s a place that caters well to any demographic – families, retirees, couples – with nature all around? Sign me up for another trip back – this time, for a week!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *