Mount Desert Island
Acadia National Park is one of the most visited national parks in the United States and MDI’s biggest draw, but the island’s communities each offer a unique experience worth exploring.
Almost as soon as we’re on the long, flat stretch of road that bridges the mainland to Mount Desert Island, my husband, Sam, pulls over for a quick photo of Oldhouse Cove. Although it’s raining, the weather doesn’t stop the island from being beautiful. We pass foggy marshes, a centuries-old stone barn, and verdant fields before arriving at Bar Harbor’s West Street Hotel. The cozy smell of the fireplace greets us in the nautical- chic lobby, which is decorated with a classic blue-and-red color theme. Our room features maritime signal flags artwork and has a balcony with an ocean view—today, it’s dramatic clouds and puffs of fog. When we realize that we forgot our baby’s Pack ‘n Play, the front desk immediately sends one to our room and also explains that each floor has a shared pantry with a washer and dryer, board games, fruit, coffee, tea, and bottles of water.
We pick up maps (which will come in handy when we lose cell service in Acadia National Park) from the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce’s visitor center, where you can also buy park passes. We sample half a dozen olive oils and vinegars at Fiore Artisan Olive Oils and Vinegars—flavors range from basil to blood orange, harissa to herbes de Provence— and pop into Sherman’s Books and Stationery (the original of the local, family-run bookstore’s now six locations), and we browse its selection of books, toys, and gifts. We also visit Stone Soup, a children’s store that sells toys and clothes for babies on up, where we find a handmade yellow fisherman’s hat lined in flannel that, given the weather, we can’t resist. We pass Geddy’s, a local institution (you’ll know it from the moose on the roof) that serves up pub fare, on our walk down to the Bar Harbor Town Pier, where we watch lobster boats bob in the foggy harbor. Then we head back to the hotel to order room service—crab cakes, a Guinness, and a lemon ricotta cheesecake dessert with an artfully applied brushstroke of raspberry sauce— from Paddy’s, a modern Irish pub just downstairs.
We start Satuday off right with breakfast at 2 Cats Restaurant. Located in a federal-style house with lace curtains, this mom-and-pop brunch spot churns out more than 300 diners a day while elevating the breakfast classics: the fresh orange juice is squeezed on-site, biscuits are baked daily, there’s ample espresso options, and we even overhear one diner raving to their server about how good the hash is, thanks to fresh corned beef.
It’s sunny out, so after breakfast we head to the College of the Atlantic’s Turrets Sea Side Garden, which is on the grounds of the 1895 Turrets cottage and overlooking Frenchman Bay. Head gardener Barbara Meyers tells me that the formal ornamental garden was hidden and overgrown for decades until it was restored in 2005 by then-student Eamonn Hutton (who’s now a landscape architect in Cambridge, Massachusetts) as a senior project.
We pick up our Acadia National Park pass ($25 and good for a week) at Hulls Cove Visitor Center and drive the Park Loop Road, making a stop at Sand Beach—a stretch of beach nestled by surrounding cliffs—before arriving at Jordan Pond. There, we take a short hike along a wide path that borders Jordan Stream, which is gushing from the spring thaw. We exit the park and drive over to Northeast Harbor, with its small stretch of quaint shops and restaurants, check out the delicious-looking menu posted in the window of the Fork and Table, and wander around the picturesque waterside park at the Northeast Harbor visitor center. Then we head back to Bar Harbor for a late lunch at Side Street Cafe, which has recently undergone an expansion. It happens to be packed with locals celebrating the Kentucky Derby in over-the-top hats, and it always serves up favorite dishes with lots of local ingredients: lobster mac and cheese, Maine crab cakes, thick pub fries cut from Maine potatoes, and beers from local Atlantic Brewing Company.
We pop in at the Naked Blueberry, a new shop that sells organic blueberries from a farm that’s been in the owner’s family since 1868. At Window Panes Home and Garden, which caters to home cooks and gardeners (and sells all manner of kitchen gadgets, tools, home goods, and accessories), I pick up some beeswax food-saving wrap. Then we walk over for dinner at Blaze, where the wood-fired brick oven churns out pizzas in addition to entree offerings, such as wood-grilled lobster and steak. Upon returning to the hotel, we grab chocolate- chip cookies from the pantry and enjoy a bottle of chilled white wine.
Around the corner from the hotel, we stop in at Coffee Hound Coffee Bar for our caffeine fix. The galley-like space features azure walls and reclaimed barn wood from Barn Boards and More in Gardiner, as well as an array of Maine-themed espresso drinks with names such as the Acadia Turtle mocha, Lumberjack mocha, and Maple Leaf latte. We head over to Thrive Juice Bar and Kitchen, where we both get the Local Breakfast Bowl, which comes with wild Maine blueberries, strawberries, banana, hemp seeds, and a honey drizzle over granola with coconut yogurt—a delicious, healthy start to the day. Before we hit the road, I stop in to get an early look at the Atlantic Brewing Company’s Cottage Street pilot brewery, which opens this summer in a new building designed by Blue Hill’s Elliott and Elliott Architecture. The space will host a restaurant with both seating and takeout options, a rooftop garden, a bar for beer tasting, and a cutout window to watch the brewing operations. Jealous of the throngs of summer visitors who will get to unwind with a pint after a day spent exploring Acadia, we decide that we will just have to come back to see—and sample—for ourselves.