When I was a little girl, living in the southwestern part of the United States, my parents took a vacation to Maine. They came back with stories about all the lobster they could eat, amazing fall foliage, and a scenic little town on the coast called Bar Harbor. They loved telling stories about the Maine accents and how the locals called Bar Harbor, “Bah Hahbah.” Many years went by, and like much of the rest of the United States, I sort of forgot about Maine altogether. Fast forward about 25 years when my husband got out of the military and found a job in, none other than, Maine. Although neither of us had ever been, we liked adventure, so we packed up our three kids, two dogs and two cats and drove from California to Maine.
After we had been in Maine nearly a year, we decided to drive to Bar Harbor to find out about this romantic little place that has legendary views and scrumptious dining. We were not disappointed. From our home in southern Maine, we drove up along the Route One coastal road to Bar Harbor. Much of Route One is simply farmland and a bit of suburbia once one gets past the beaches of southern Maine, but by the time we hit the Wiscasset area, we were spellbound by the beauty of the area. It was early May and all the trees were in bloom with spring time color. Route One weaved around through the hills, across inlets, and along the rocky coast until we finally found ourselves at the gateway of Mount Desert Island, home of Acadia National Park and, yes, our destination, Bar Harbor.
Bar Harbor used to be known long ago as simply a fishing village and then a ship building community. In the early part of the 20th century wealthy philanthropists and artists moved into the Bar Harbor area, building the famous cottages that dotted the coastline of the island. These “cottages” were actually mansions for the rich and famous. The fire of 1947 all but wiped out Bar Harbor, destroying most of the grand cottages on Millionaire Row. While some rebuilt, most did not, and Millionaire Row became a great place for putting up hotels and motels for the more frugal travelers of the 1950s.
We found Bar Harbor and the surrounding Mount Desert Island to be nothing short of paradise. Granted, the weather was absolutely perfect for our weekend; the sky was blue, the weather in the upper 60s, and even the evenings were warm enough to enjoy dining on the outdoor patio of one of the downtown restaurants. We walked all around town, admiring the old inns and the scenic sea port. We drove around the island, marveling at the seals, the tree-lined carriage roads for bicyclers, and of course, majestic Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the Atlantic coastline.
The town of Bar Harbor has a local population of only about 5000, although that can triple in the summer time when tourist season is at its peak. The weather is pleasant and mild for the spring, summer, and fall, but the winters are typical of the rest of Maine – cold and snowy. There are endless things to do in Bar Harbor. The aforementioned outdoor entertainment and recreation of Cadillac Mountain and the carriage roads are popular, as well as opportunities for sailing, windsurfing, fishing, whale watching, kayaking tours, bicycle tours, lobster fishing tours, horseback riding, white water rafting, mountain climbing, and of course, moose watching tours!
For indoor entertainment, Bar Harbor has a host of dining and lodging opportunities, including special hideaways for honeymooners. There is a cabaret theater and a lumberjack show. Seafood is plentiful, especially lobster, just like my parents promised all those years ago. There are romantic inns, large hotels, and small cottages. And just about every place in town gives at least a partial view of the ocean.
Go find out why Fitz Hugh Lane, Thomas Cole, and others chose to model their famous paintings after the Bar Harbor area. While their paintings are legendary, there is nothing like seeing Bar Harbor in person. The colors, the rocks, and the sea, will come alive and you will feel like you’ve stepped into one of their masterpieces. Like them, its beauty is something you will never forget.