“The beauty of Maine is such that you can’t really see it clearly while you live there. But now that I’ve moved away, with each return it all becomes almost hallucinatory: the dark blue water, the rocky coast with occasional flashes of white sand, the jasper stone beaches along the coast, the pine and fir forests somehow vivid in their stillness.” ~ Alexander Chee
Hello Bar Harbor
By now y’all know my love for Maine, and that if it was warmer, I would probably live there. Alas, I just have to visit, which isn’t difficult to do since I grew up ten minutes from the Maine border. I have visited Bar Harbor ALOT, in part due to my best friend living near there, as well as being blessed with some pretty amazing work opportunities last year. Many people think Bar Harbor IS Acadia, or the island, but it actually isn’t. It is a town on Mount Desert Island and only makes up a quarter of the island. That being said it is the most popular town and often referred to albite, inaccurately, as Acadia.
It is honestly one of my favorite beach towns in Maine. In fact I love all of Mount Desert Island, and it is filled with the cutest places and ALL of the history. Bar Harbor might be the most historic though, it is definitely the most built up of the towns on MDI as well as home to some of the countries wealthiest families. First settled in 1763, it was originally known by the name of Eden but renamed Bar Harbor in 1918 due to the sand bar that led out to Bar island at low tide, in the harbor. The downtown is filled with shops and inns that have been around for decades, and some even survived the fire of 1947 which saw 10,000 acres of Acadia burned as well as many summer cottages and inns, though the business district and much of the downtown were spared and many of those buildings are now on the historical registry.
As I mentioned Bar Harbor is home to some of the most well known families in the country, as well as celebrities (MDI as a whole has a very illustrious residence list). In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s it was used as an escape from the city during the hot summers and to this day many vacation here in the warmer months. The downtown especially is certainly bustling in the summer, and thanks to the pandemic the last two years, it became even more so, with many people choosing to quarantine on the island, so that the busy season continued year round. There is so much to see and do, especially in Bar Harbor, and it has lots of shops to peruse.
This past year, I had the privilege to be able to travel and explore Bar Harbor extensively, and experience it in ALL the seasons, which was actually quite a shockingly enjoyable experience. Yes I even enjoyed it in the cold friends! These next couple blog posts will take you along to the must see spots, and even give you a seasonal guide which is super helpful when visiting Bar Harbor anytime of year. First up is Bar Harbor during the summer, which is definitely making me incredibly nostalgic as we are currently going through an extreme cold snap!
Sherman’s Book Shop
One of the most popular, and historic places in Bar Harbor is Sherman’s Book Shop, which isn’t just ANY bookstore, but a market filled with a smorgasbord of goods, gifts, and an ode to Maine crafters and creators. Originally opened as a printing press and then bookstore in 1886, it was sold in 1962, and from there a Maine staple was born. The new owner would take requests for products that weren’t found anywhere in Bar Harbor and then stock them in his store growing his inventory AND his business, into an eclectic store which has now expanded to four other cities and towns in Maine. But Bar Harbor will ALWAYS be the OG. If you are looking for souvenirs or gifts, it is the perfect place to find something. I always have to stop in on my visits, and I always end up buying something for my nephews and nieces!
The Bar Harbor Inn
The Bar Harbor Inn is iconic, if for nothing else it stands out as one of the places you immediately see when you visit Bar Harbor’s waterfront. It stands right there resolute and absolutely grand in its history. Founded in 1887 it began as a yacht club, with a restaurant called the Reading Room which is still in existence today and even in its original building. After surviving the fire of 1947, and because not a single hotel survived, they proceeded to expand the original structure and build an inn. Over the years that has grown to what has become the beautiful and elegant Bar Harbor Inn which over looks the Harbor as well as the Shore Path. There is a spa on the grounds, and it is adjacent to the famous Agamont Park, which is home to the gazebo and Adirondack chairs I am always taking pictures in.
One of my favorite restaurants in Bar Harbor is Paddy’s located in the West Street Hotel (which is also stunning and home to the only roof top pool in Maine) it mixes Irish and Maine fare with a bit of time travel. The restaurant is paneled in oak and lined with books to make you feel like you entered an old fashioned den, yet much of the menu is the height of culinary decadence and trends. It was my favorite place for brunch, but alas they did away with that during the pandemic. It is still amazing for lunch and dinner and I always go there at least once!
Coffee is always a must, but the Independent is one of my favorites and it is located right on Maine Street for easy accessibility! It also serves food, and has a cute little speciality foods section you can peruse for gifts or your own taste buds as they make your maple latte. That is right friends, they have a MAPLE latte! And it is just as yummy if not yummier then many of the ones I have had. The baristas are also super nice, extremely helpful when you have a question about drinks or food (my best friend is pregnant and was wondering how much caffeine was in a chai, and the barista looked it up for us. Because I know you were wondering, it has about 35 to 55 mg compared to coffee which has 120 mg) and are always up for a chat.
The Sand Bar
You can’t visit Bar Harbor and not walk down to the namesake of the town! There is a sand bar that leads to Bar Island, and at low tide you can walk across! Of course be careful, you can get stuck if the tide starts to come in, and it does come in quickly! It is a great little spot to dip your toes in, and play in the sand. It also offers stunning views of the town from the Harbor which I love.
Bar Harbor Shore Path
Bar Harbor has their own version of the Cliff Walk, much like Ogunquit and Newport have. It loops around downtown Bar Harbor and around the eastern tip of the island. It is just under a mile if you walk the whole thing, but it certainly doesn’t feel like it, with the rocky coast and beaches to explore at low tide. It was originally built in 1880 as a way to entertain people with a stroll, while still preserving the landscape and eventually educating people about Bar Harbor’s history. The fact that it weaves around the Bar Harbor Inn only enhances its’ history. While Cadillac Mountain is the place to be if you want to be the first to see the sunrise in the nation, watching it from the Shore Path is just as much of a treat, if not more so.
One of my favorite restaurants and the best way to finish a day in Bar Harbor is visiting Bella Vita which is located in the Bar Harbor Regency Hotel. Once again the decor takes you back to a time where there were horse drawn carriages and everyone summered at the beach in their finest summer dresses. The restaurant looks out at both the pool area (which is stunning) as well as part fo downtown and it makes it the perfect spot to people watch while you are sipping a cocktail. The food is delicious and after a busy day of walking around the town, it is the perfect way to finish it off, dessert included!
Have you been to Bar Harbor? Have you been to MDI? What is your favorite place to do and see there?