Travel Feature: Bar Harbor and Beyond

Editor's note: We're STILL waiting for the Little Lainsbury to arrive, and The Maven is under midwife's orders to lay low in preparation. Please note that we'll be posting less frequently for the next several weeks, but don't worry — we're not going away, we're just nesting.

A few days ago, The Maven discovered that one of her oldest, dearest friends and her family will be spending a week in Milbridge this summer. Hooray! They wanted recommendations on where to eat, sightsee and do the tourist thing — specifically in Ellsworth and Bar Harbor. And they were looking for options that are family-friendly. Of course, we had plenty of suggestions. Here is our reply to her e-mail. Let us know if you have any other suggestions by posting a comment below or e-mailing us at

Dear J & M,

For the uninitiated, Bar Harbor is on an island called Mount Desert Island, and the other towns on the island are beautiful as well. You guys would love Northeast Harbor, which is a small village where a lot of sailboats dock and spend the day (Martha Stewart lives right nearby in Seal Harbor). It's a bit like Kennebunkport only much smaller, but the shops are great (especially Shaw Contemporary Jewelry, Local Color and The Kimball Shop). In town, across from and next to the Asticou Inn, are two spectacular gardens: the Asticou Azalea Garden and Thuya Garden. Definitely worth a stroll. On the other side of the island is Southwest Harbor, which is home to several major yacht-building operations. One of our favorite casual restaurants is located on Main Street. It's called Little Notch Bakery and the pizza and sandwiches are DIVINE. You'll also want to take back a few loaves of their focaccia and baguettes for your cottage. So good, and the kids would love it.

In Bar Harbor proper, you of course need to see Acadia National Park. Not sure how active you guys will feel, but there are tons of "carriage trails" which were built by the Rockefellers for — you guessed it — horse and carriage rides, but are now perfect for walking and biking. Everybody usually goes to Sand Beach, which is the only true ocean beach in the area (most of the coast up here is rocky) but the water is numbingly cold and it's usually packed there. There's great hiking throughout the park. In the mid- to late afternoon, tea and popovers at Jordan Pond House are a MUST if you have the kids with you. It's so great there, and then you guys can walk around the pond, which is lovely.

As for restaurants in town, we usually go to Rupununi on Main Street for lunch — it's casual (the menu is perfect for kids) and if the weather is nice, you can sit outside. For something a little more formal, try lunch on the patio at the Bar Harbor Inn. For something a little more funky with lots of vegetarian and organic options, we love Cafe This Way as well — wonderful for breakfast. And one place that is always a blast is the Lompoc Cafe, which has a bier garden where you can play bocce. As for shopping, you have to hit Macey's for designer labels and Window Panes for gorgeous home goods.

In Ellsworth, Cleonice is fabulous — though chef Rich Hanson is a James Beard Award nominee, it's casual enough for the kids. It's one of our favorite restaurants in Maine. If  you're looking for a great brunch or more casual, kid-friendly food like grilled cheese, try Riverside Cafe (no website, but it's right on Main Street and you can't miss it). There's not much in Ellsworth in terms of sightseeing, but we do love Rooster Brother, which is a fantastic kitchen/cookware shop. There's a great gallery called SevenArts, also on Main Street, in the building that houses The Maine Grind, a great cafe with a small but yummy lunch selection. If you're stocking up on food for your cabin, there are both a Shaw's and a Hannaford on High Street (you'll pass by them before the turnoff to Milbridge/Route 1). For gourmet cheeses and great wine, John Edwards Market on Main Street is a good bet.

On Route 1, between Ellsworth and Milbridge, there are a few places you may want to check out. Mexican Restaurant (yes, that's really the name) in Hancock is owned by a family of migrant workers who came here for the blueberry harvest and settled in the area. You'll find VERY authentic Mexican food (it might be too authentic for the kids, because it's not exactly a taco-and-burrito type of place) and it's BYOB. In Gouldsboro, you'll see a sign for Bartlett Maine Estate Winery. They make elegant fruit wines there, and it makes for a fun tour. You'll also see signs for Schoodic Peninsula, which is part of Acadia National Park and is absolutely gorgeous. It's not touristy at all, and the scenery is quite dramatic — worth the detour.

I'm sure we've left a few things out, but this should get you started. Enjoy your vacation Down East!

Kristen, Jason and the Maven crew


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