The rocky shores, the scattered islands lined with pine trees, the tall white sailboats and colorfully painted buoys. These are only a few of the of the sights that make Maine’s coastal views so beautiful. Add a few mountains and multiply all that by a national park surrounded by the ocean and you have one of the most breathtakingly scenic places in the country: Acadia National Park. (Yes, I’m extremely biased since I’ve been coming here since age 8.)
Like any vacationing family, mine has become partial to the views we fell in love with 13 years ago and have returned to see every summer since. And after coming back to see them after spending 6 months on the west coast, I’m able to confirm my family’s previous suspicions: Maine is the best. Well, more accurately, there’s just no place like home.
Bar Harbor is this vacationland’s town for food, lodging, pine-tree-scented souvenirs and ice cream. While we look forward each summer to the park’s beautiful sights and outdoor activities, our time eating, drinking and lounging through Bar Harbor’s main street and post-card views is just as cherished. After 13 years, our favorite places for delicious brunches, relaxing lunches and the most scenic dinners have become as much a part of our activities as the hikes and boat rides. So I’ll let you worry about packing for the humid days and cool nights, lathering on your mosquito repellent and following the right trail signs on your hikes so you don’t end up accidentally climbing up a mountain on what you thought was a stroll around a lake. I warn you because we absolutely did that this year. Oh well, I’m no trail guide. So I’ll stick to helping you with what I know best. Here are our aforementioned favorites.
1. Two Cats Inn & Cafe, 130 Cottage St. Bar Harbor, ME
This is my family’s all-time favorite breakfast spot from any of our vacations ever. The Two Cats Inn serves up organic omelets, irresistible pancakes and world-class (according to the people who eat here) homemade biscuits and strawberry butter. You can sit cozily inside where you feel like you’re breakfasting in your own home, or outside on the patio watching the happenings on the street. In either spot you feel the energy of fellow vacationers planning their adventures into nature for the day over eggs and coffee out of a bright yellow mug. During the busy season there’s usually a wait — from the end of June to end of August –but the line moves along quickly and this food is oh-so worth it.
You’re surrounded by color, from the table cloths to the staff’s tie-died shirts to the fresh squeezed orange juice and fruit on your plate. Whether you choose savory or sweet, and go with a lighter scramble or order the whole menu, every component is thoughtfully put together. We went on the last morning of our stay this year and after sampling, um, everything, we caught ourselves lingering as long as we could, slowly munching away on the tiny bites left on our plates. Our favorite dishess have become the Summer Scramble (above), the Farmer’s Breakfast – a heartier scramble with spicy sausage, and the Elvis Pancakes – with banana, peanut butter and chocolate chips.
I promise you your dreams will be filled with dancing biscuits and strawberry butter after this.
2. Jordan Pond House – Park Loop Rd, Mt. Desert Island, ME
Ready for lunch?
“They’re a little bigger than a muffin but they’re hollow.” You can hear the servers explaining the consistency of a popover all throughout the tea house. Jordan Pond House (formerly Jordan Pond Tea House) is situated right on the bank of Jordan Pond, one of the beautiful bodies of water in Acadia National Park. People come all over the world both to visit and work at the Tea House for that reason. Oh, and because of its popovers of course.
The beloved fueling spot for Acadia’s hikers, bikers, walkers and warm-blooded swimmers is as much a part of the plan for anyone’s day as their athletic outings. The walk around Jordan Pond is stunningly beautiful, as are its surrounding mountains. The trail around the pond is a sufficient 3 mile walk if you’d rather look at the mountains than climb them. Though there are many hiking trails that veer off from this pond to tempt the more adventurous. (Cough — pay attention). Perhaps the best part is that these many hiking trails lead back to the Pond House, where people gather after their explorations for blueberry lemonade, warm popovers with butter and jam, lobster stew and hopefully a bite of blueberry crisp.
Sit indoors in the lodge or outside in the grassy lawn overlooking the pond. After 80 years, The Pond House recently changed management. While reviews claim the quality might have dropped a tiny bit, this is the home away from home for many loyal Acadia vacationers and that’s not changing anytime soon.
3. Cafe This Way – 14 1/2 Mt. Desert St. Bar Harbor, ME
Dinner time. A recent addition to the Bar Harbor must-dos, this is a high quality, all-organic eatery you might find in any food-loving city. Here you can get your fix of fresh Maine fish. Instead of heavily fried or paired with sides of rice and fries that you probably overdosed on at other Maine tourist spots along the way (which are indeed worth a trip) Cafe This Way is all about the veggies. Lots and lots of fresh veggies. The dishes sound like this: Zucchini “Noodles” with kale-sunflower seed pesto, and Brussel Sprouts with bacon, pumpkin seeds, honey and Sriracha. It’s a vegetarian’s heaven in a unique small-town vacation spot.
My dad orders wedge salads like its his job. This one got stellar reviews from him. Cafe This Way has a brunch menu as well and if it’s anything like it’s dinner menu, it’s a real treat. Remember your first choice for brunch, though. (Hint: #1)
4. Terrace Grill at the Bar Harbor Inn, Newport Dr. Bar Harbor, ME
This is your classic ‘we have arrived on vacation’ spot. Your cares will drift away with the wind as you sit beneath an umbrella out on the grassy lawn overlooking sailboats floating in and out of the harbor. The view and atmosphere is most definitely the best part; they’re better than the quality of the food. But you can’t have everything. On an overall scale this place wins. Here’s why. They have a large cocktail list of drinks made to be enjoyed outside on a patio. They serve you warm freshly baked Maine-blueberry muffins with butter to start your meal. They offer all the essentials. This is your chance to take advantage of your location — indulge with New England Chowder (the best style), order shrimp cocktail to share for the table, and have the pecan-crusted Halibut for your main course. They also have plenty of non-seafood, as well as kid friendly, items since they’re used to families of travelers.
Last step? Relax. You’re in vacationland.