Dragging the Airstream down narrow, low-clearance, steephilly New England roads was completely worth it: Bar Harbor, and specifically Acadia National Park, is a spectacular vacation destination. We ate an absurd number of lobster rolls, drank as much local beer as we could get our hands on, and hiked and hiked and hiked. For trip-planning reference, we were in Bar Harbor the week before Memorial Day weekend, so most (but not all) restaurants were open for the season, and it wasn’t crazy crowded with tourists (yet–it gets insane in the summer).
Our goal was to stay as close to downtown Bar Harbor as possible; the campground we had targeted, Bar Harbor Campground, hadn’t yet opened for the season, so we stayed a couple miles up the road at Mt Desert Narrows Camping Resort. It had just opened for the summer and was still empty and quiet. The campground is big, well-run, and offers all sorts of activities (starting after Memorial Day). The oceanfront campsites don’t have sewer hookups; we opted for sewer instead and were content with our distant view of the water. For a free ride into town the Island Explorer shuttle bus stops in front of the resort (also seasonal, starting in mid-June), and from downtown you can hop on a different Island Explorer bus to get to destinations within the National Park.
Obviously, when visiting Maine, you should eat as much lobster as possible. Our preferred format of lobster intake is a lobster roll, specifically a classic lobster roll: chilled lobster combined with mayo and heaped into a buttered, toasted bun, lettuce optional. Researching the best lobster roll in Bar Harbor, we found the heavily-recommended Travelin’ Lobster, one of a gazillion tiny roadside lobster shacks in the Bar Harbor area, and luckily for us, it opened for the season the day before we were leaving town. The classic lobster roll was SO GOOD, and they have lots of other lobstery delights on the menu if you aren’t as into lobster rolls as we are.
The locals at the bar at Atlantic told us to get clam chowder at Peekytoe Provisions in downtown Bar Harbor. The interior of the store was cute and stocked with local products, but we chose to sit outside on the patio now that the weather was warming up. We sampled several items from the sustainably-sourced seafood menu: the seafood chowder, a classic lobster roll, and Maine blueberry pie. It was all marvelous!
We have two more lobster rolls to report on: the Atlantic bar peeps recommended full belly clams at Geddy’s, a kitschy family-owned restaurant in downtown, so we went… and ordered lobster rolls. It was our first night in Maine, and we sought to answer the question of which type of lobster roll is better: classic cold with mayo, or warm with drawn butter. We ordered one of each, and for us the classic is the winner, but both were delicious. Randomly, Geddy’s features pain killers on their cocktail list, a surprise like at the restaurant in Beverly… of course I got one.
Not Lobster Rolls
Yes, we ate non-lobster roll food too in Bar Harbor. The best dining experience we had was a sophisticated dinner at Havana, serving local, organic, sustainable, humane food that is also, according to my cocktail-enhanced notes from the evening, “super super.” A fellow bar patron at Lompoc (see under “Drinking”) recommended Havana, and we inhaled lobster appetizers, fish entrees, and mojitos.
Close to the campground, Town Hill Market is a sweet little market with a deli, coffee, local goods, and a surprising selection of alcohol. It’s a great place to stop for lunch to pack for hiking: the meaty sandwiches are heavy on the meat, and they do a solid PBJ (can you guess which of us ordered which sandwich).
Also recommended to us but we did not visit: Parrilla, the outdoor tapas bar and grill at Havana. Parrilla wasn’t yet open when we visited, which was too bad because it looked fabulous!
On day 1, after our initial exploration of the National Park, we headed into Bar Harbor and sampled beers at Atlantic Brewing Company. The beer was pretty good, and the taproom was bustling and modern. I particularly liked the IPA made with hop terpenes instead of dry hopping, although the novelty may have contributed to my enjoyment. There’s also an Atlantic taproom close to the campground, Atlantic Brewing Town Hill; we were told that the Bar Harbor location is more experimental while the Town Hill location is more traditional, and apparently the Mainely Meat BBQ served at the Town Hill taproom is to die for. Unfortunately, their pre-season hours didn’t mesh with our hiking schedule so we weren’t able to check it out.
We hit two other breweries 20 minutes north of the campground, away from Bar Harbor: Airline Brewing Company and Fogtown Brewing Company.
Airline is a cozy little English pub, where everyone was very friendly, but they had run out of IPA and flight glasses. We tried a couple non-IPAs but the English-style beers were not for us. The atmosphere wasn’t our jam either–didn’t seem like a taproom as much as someone’s rec room.
Fogtown was great! They focus on sourcing ingredients from the area and cultivating the local arts scene. I couldn’t resist trying the saison brewed with seaweed… it was a good saison, but I couldn’t taste seaweed. Maybe that’s a good thing? Fogtown also does some brewing with terpenes; why had we not heard of that technique before? My favorite Fogtown beer was The Notion, a double IPA with guava and lactose.
A local bar patron at Atlantic recommended getting a beer at Lompoc Cafe, a quirky, vaguely Southeast Asian restaurant in Bar Harbor. The shady outdoor beer garden wasn’t yet open, so we sat at the small bar tucked off to the side of the dining room. They had a good local beer selection and a cool vibe and we liked it a lot, but the beer garden is probably where it’s at.
Cottage St Pub is a super cool, super tiny cocktail joint mixing unique drinks (last month’s special included fruity vodka and rainbow sherbet! right up my alley) using their own flavored liquors and syrups made in-house. This was a recommendation from a local (pro tip: if you enjoy an establishment, ask people there–especially bartenders–where else they frequent, because you probably have similar taste) and we loved it enough to return on another night.
We had a nice coffee at Choco-latte and were thrilled to sit outside at a patio table! Remember, we were early tourists, and the weather was a little all over the place. The people-watching was fun, and the coffee tasty.
Also recommended to us but we did not visit: fancy cocktails with a view of Frenchman’s Bay at The Veranda Bar at Balance Rock Inn.
Obviously, the main draw of Bar Harbor is its proximity to Acadia National Park. I mean, Bar Harbor is a charming town and all, but Acadia is absolutely stunning and so close by. We were in Acadia for hours each day hiking, driving, eating popovers, and watching the sunrise. I’ll be writing about our Acadia adventures in a separate post, but in general:
- BUGSY IS ALLOWED ON MOST HIKES IN ACADIA!!!
- We went for nine hikes; Bugsy did all but two with us
- We did the touristy eating of popovers at Jordan Pond House and they were scrumptious
- We also did the touristy watching of sunrise from the top of Cadillac Mountain and it was lovely… and cold
- We did not bicycle on any of the carriage roads, as they were still too wet from Spring rains and no bikes were allowed
In Bar Harbor, we strolled and admired the harbor views as we went from one eating or drinking venue to the next. Many people were toodling around town on bikes–a wonderful option especially once the season heats up and parking in town becomes an issue.
For a vacation combining incredible outdoor experiences with a home base in a delightful coastal town, complete with a top-notch eating and drinking scene, Bar Harbor is a fantastic option to consider!