As one the most bustling towns in Maine, we wanted to figure out what it is that gives Bar Harbor such widespread appeal. In conversation with Jessica Donahue, we discovered the town’s plethora of cultural attractions, along with the vibrant beauty of its lakes and forests – qualities which provide any visitor with a gorgeous escape.
Culture lovers will find themselves at home in every nook and cranny of Bar Harbor. Founded in 1946, the Bar Harbor Historical Society oversees collections and exhibits that include photographs, paintings, and clothing from the Gilded Age. Here, visitors are able to immerse themselves in the rich and engaging history and heritage of Mount Desert Island.
The Abbe Museum celebrates the heritage, culture, history and archaeology of Maine’s Native Americans. There are changing exhibitions and educational programs for visitors of every age here. Within the College of the Atlantic, visitors can find the George B. Dorr Museum of Natural History. This museum is entirely designed and produced by the students at the college, and focuses on the natural world of Maine. Culture and adventure lovers will also find that Bar Harbor has a variety of walking, boat and plane tours of the island.
Bar Harbor’s proudest moment has actually not happened yet, but is extremely close. Acadia National Park, less than a five-mile drive from downtown Bar Harbor, will be celebrating its centennial in 2016. There are many events planned throughout the year, and more than two hundred organizations, businesses, and individuals have come together to plan a community-based and world-welcoming celebration.
While there are many worthwhile activities in Bar Harbor and on Mount Desert Island, here are a few that can’t be missed when visiting. Hop aboard a catamaran or windjammer to cruise around Frenchmen’s Bay and see Maine’s rocky coastline spotted with wildlife and natural wonders. Bar Harbor and Mount Desert Island also offer the finest sea kayaking and canoeing in the nation. All skill levels will find an opportunity to test their abilities. Whether you have your own equipment or join in on a guided tour leading you through the Porcupine Islands, families and individuals will enjoy sightseeing along the rocky Maine coast. The Mount Desert Oceanarium features the Maine Lobster Museum, marsh tours, and a one-of-a-kind lobster hatchery.
A whale clearing its blowhole is only one of the amazing sights to enjoy on a summer whale-watching tour. Off the coast of Bar Harbor, migratory animals and whales travel to Maine’s cooler waters to feed for the summer and then they return to warmer climates to mate and give birth. You’re almost sure to spot a shark, dolphin, seals or puffins, too! Only a single lighthouse stands on Mount Desert Island: Bass Harbor Head Light. Still fully operational, the light guards the southern entrance of Blue Hill Bay. This lighthouse is still operated by the US Coast Guard and is on the National Historic Register. Visitors can tour the lighthouse grounds but, because it is operational, they cannot go into the lighthouse itself. There are five other lighthouses nearby that can be viewed on one of the scenic cruises leaving from downtown Bar Harbor.
Bar Harbor, Acadia National Park and Mount Desert Island are gems within the state of Maine. While not a well-guarded secret, visitors find that the area is not overrun with tourism and is a comfortable vacation spot. Acadia National Park features over 50 square miles of mountains, lakes, hiking, biking and dramatic views of the coastline and Atlantic Ocean. Having welcomed billions of visitors over the past 200 years, the area is one that can’t be missed on any trip to Maine.
Lobster, lobster, lobster, and more lobster! Our succulent Maine lobster, caught right off the coast of Mount Desert Island, is the reason that many people travel to Bar Harbor. You could eat a different lobster dish every day of your vacation!
If you’re searching for the best lobster in Bar Harbor, stop by the West Street Café, a popular family restaurant specializing in fresh lobster and other local seafood. And don’t forget to stop for dessert at Mount Desert Island Ice Cream. Their Maine sea salt caramel ice cream is what dreams are made of! One of Acadia National Park’s unique manmade gems is the Jordan Pond House, serving an afternoon tea with popovers and jam (as well as a full menu) since the 1890s. This is a tradition for returning visitors.
There is a special mystique to Bar Harbor. Being surrounded by Acadia National Park and located on an island, Mount Desert Island, Bar Harbor is home to not only adventure but romance, and is nestled perfectly between the rock-bound coast and soaring granite mountains and cliffs. It is a spot beyond compare that draws visitors back year after year.
One of the best and latest attractions are the walking tours that are now available in downtown Bar Harbor — learn more about the people, heritage and landscapes that shaped current-day Bar Harbor. If you’re up for it, there are even tours celebrating the haunted history of the area.
Acadia National Park is a huge draw for visitors coming to Mount Desert Island and Bar Harbor. On the island, Bar Harbor is the main service center for the region. Here you’ll find restaurants, attractions, and accommodations.
Bar Harbor always has something happening! In January, there will be a beer festival featuring local craft brews, music and lively fun at Atlantic Brewing Company. May brings the Taste of Bar Harbor event, which is a three-day celebration of Maine food. Downtown Bar Harbor’s Village Green is also home to many Maine-made craft fairs, live concerts and even outdoor movie nights.
The community is also host to one of the premier night sky events on the eastern seaboard of the United States. Every year, the annual Acadia Night Sky Festival happens in September and features a full schedule of events, from nationally recognized speakers to workshops and hands-on experiences. There is something for everyone, from families to the serious astronomer!
Your last $5 should be spent on an ice cream cone. Not just any ice cream cone though, we would beeline to Ben & Bill’s Chocolate Emporium and order up a chocolate-coated waffle cone filled with decadent and rich homemade lobster ice cream, made with real Maine lobster.
Have you ever seen a team of costumed runners pushing a bed down the street, running at full steam? The Bar Harbor Early Bird Pajama Sale & Bed Races happens every year in November. This is the only time of year where you’re encouraged to shop in your pajamas. Prizes are awarded for the fastest bed and best decorated, to name a couple.
Bar Harbor Historical Society is one of the winners of The Culture Trip’s Maine Local Favorite 2015 Award. The Local Favorite badge is awarded to our favorite local towns, restaurants, artists, galleries, and everything in between. We are passionate about showcasing popular local talents on a global scale, so we have cultivated a carefully selected, but growing community.
Interview by Isabelle Pitman