Where we’re at: I’m recapping my travels in 2019, including this trip to Portland, Maine in May.
When I first started daydreaming about my trip to Acadia National Park, I pictured vast wilderness, rugged views, and remote campsites. What I didn’t imagine? That I’d fall so hard for the picturesque town that acts as the year-round gateway to all of Mount Desert Island: Bar Harbor.
My high school bestie Liz and I’s three night trip to Acadia was tacked on to a conference I keynoted in Portland, and thus we did not quite realize at first how cold the first weekend of May can be in Northern Maine. When a glance at a weather chart scrapped all plans of tent camping, we started to orient our plans towards a more off-season friendly experience.
Where To Stay in Bar Harbor
Our next accommodation idea, trailer camping, seemed ambitious but viable for a while but got scrapped at the last second — a story for the next roundup post — leaving us scrambling. We totally lucked out, in my opinion, when we booked The Badger’s Cottage, an insanely charming and perfectly located Airbnb right around the corner from the epicenter of town.
I know Airbnb can get a bad rap in the travel world but this was a feel good story — the owner was a young, native Bar Harbian who’s work as a carpenter kept him afloat. But converting the downstairs of his dream house into two traveler-haven Airbnbs and the upstairs into his bachelor pad allowed him to be a homeowner and second business owner, too.
We absolutely adored the attention to detail and all the local touches. While our unit lacked a full kitchen, we had everything we needed for snacks and mini-meals on the go.
When we realized that our second night in the cottage, Angie and Rachel were going to be in the area for one night, we invited them to crash with us. The pullout couch was perfect.
There was even a hand-built fire-pit and bocce ball court outside! While I’d been determined to use both, our days were packed and the evenings were simply frigid. I guess that’s something to go back for.
Can’t find the right Airbnb in high season? We also noted that the Acadia Hotel, which we peeked in the lobby of, was primely location and more modern than most.
What To Do in Bar Harbor
Much of the appear of Bar Harbor is in what surrounds it — the Northeast’s first National Park. Stay tuned for a post coming up on Acadia!
Yet Bar Harbor has its own charms. Bar Harbor reminded me very much of Oak Bluffs, where my family has a home and happy place in Martha’s Vineyard — and so I liked it instantly. It’s obviously a seasonal town and some of the businesses were just starting to crack open their doors, while more still remained shuttered. Still, the establishments that we did visit were extremely friendly and eager for business — a huge benefit to traveling in the early shoulder season!
It didn’t take long to cover the entire downtown on foot — I’m absolutely fascinated by teeny towns like this one.
Outside of the quaint urban charms, the borders of Bar Harbor are beautiful. We walked one morning to the Bar Harbor Land Bridge, which allows you to explore a nearby island if you time the tides right, and the Bar Harbor Shore Path, where we lapped up views and ogled impressive homes.
One of the many similarities with Oak Bluffs? The amount of ice cream parlors! And no, we did not let the cold temperatures stop us from imbibing. I actually kind of geeked out when I saw Ben & Bill’s Emporium, which I would have sworn was a Martha’s Vineyard original. Our favorite of the trip was Mount Desert Ice Cream, which I’d also tried in Portland but which was born right here in Bar Harbor, and which had many vegan flavors for Liz to enjoy.
And candy lovers, don’t feel left out: needless to say, there’s a handmade gourmet chocolate shop too in The Chocolate Moose Bar Harbor (where we were sad to learn that realistically this was the only moose we were going to see on this trip — the proprietor told us the best places to spot them are several hours north.)
Where To Eat in Bar Harbor
Much of our dining plan in Bar Harbor was dictated by what was open. We arrived in town on what we were delighted to realize was Cinco de Mayo, and so made a festive b-line for Jalapenos, decent join Mexican with a lively local’s vibe. The next day we had lunch at the touristy but jovial Geddy’s, where the decor was kitschy and the service fantastic, and when Angie and Rae joined us we headed to the hip Side Street Cafe, a fun spot for a girl’s night.
Our favorite meal perhaps was a charming breakfast at Mount Dessert Bakery, an example of the excellent pun work we found all across the state.
Nightlight in Bar Harbor
Needless to say, Bar Harbor isn’t much of a bar-hopping town — the nightlife around here consists mostly of stargazing. While I’m sure there are some great dives to get down in, our trip was decidedly low-key. Our evening highlights were sunset from Grant Park followed by microwave smore’s and a roaring fire courtesy of Netflix.
We were however enamored with our one major evening entertainment discovery of the trip: Reel Pizza Cinerama. In fact, it may just have been my absolute favorite aspect of life in Bar Harbor.
Between the movie selection that reminded me of my own hometown indie theater The Spectrum, the local art shows in the lobby, the make-your-own pizza and local beer and wine delivered to your personal couch, and the website featuring frequently asked questions and frequently asked stupid questions, I was pretty much obsessed.
I mean, please enjoy the beauty of this warning from their homepage, capitalizations and italicizing intact:
We took a gamble on Woman At War, a delightfully quirky and activism inspiring Icelandic film that I never would have seen had I not been so eager to experience Reel Pizza. And Liz was thrilled with the menu — they had not just vegan cheese but also gluten free crusts.
On my list for next time? A trip back to Reel Pizza (duh), but as a movie lover I wouldn’t mind also checking out The Criterion Theatre, one of only two Art Deco theaters in the state of Maine built in 1932 and today showing blockbuster hits.
Because one thing’s for sure. There will absolutely be a next time.
Stay tuned for beyond Bar Harbor — my highlights from Acadia National Park!