Head Downeast To Mount Desert Island

Paddling in the cove. Photo by Jason Casey

New England’s most northern state boasts the bold, yet wholly appropriate, slogan — The way life should be. A natural playground with a proud maritime culture and history, Maine has long drawn summer folk, leaf peepers, and hearty locals alike to its shores. A standout is Mount Desert Island, with its clusters of mountains surrounded by coves and harbors, tucked safely beneath impossibly blue skies by day and the Milky Way by night. One’s shoulders drop the moment they make it over the bridge — head Downeast to experience the coastal region’s famous lobster, endless trail loops, marine wildlife, and more.

Abbe Museum

Indigenous Heritage

While exploring the land and surrounding waters of Mount Desert Island, one must acknowledge the Wabanaki, the People of the Dawn, who have inhabited what is now known as Maine for 12,000 years. Comprised of the Abenaki, Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot tribes, the rich histories of these vibrant communities can be explored in the native-guided Abbe Museum. This Smithsonian affiliate pays tribute, and respect, to the Wabanaki people’s art, history, and culture trailside in Acadia National Park and in downtown Bar Harbor through dynamic exhibitions, workshops, and events. Fostering an awareness of the past, the museum offers visitors an understanding of real American history and present-day connection.

On The Water

With coves, sounds, harbors, and vast Atlantic Ocean surrounding this island of mountains, getting on the water is a rite of passage for Mainers. Southwest Harbor is the birthplace of the Hinckley Company, best known for its signature picnic boat. You can charter one of these vessels with Ellis Boat Charters out of Dysart’s Marina. Sail on a Friendship sloop with Captain Karl Brunner of Sail Acadia, navigating the protected waters inside the Cranberry islands as you view seals, porpoises, osprey, and bald eagles. Sample the life and work of men and women on the Downeast-style Lulu Lobster Boat. Paddle the island’s ponds and lakes for a slow afternoon.

Courtesy Brasserie Le Brun

Downtown Dining

Veer from cruise ship crowds and head to establishments boasting Maine’s notable fare. Bar Harbor’s latest downtown addition is a collaboration with restaurateur Michael Boland, who also owns Havana restaurant, and chef Zach Firestein, and is an exploration of French cuisine with a modern application. Brasserie Le Brun opened just this summer, and finds success in a series of dishes elevated by flavor and texture combinations that add intrigue to an otherwise traditional plate. Foie gras is presented in marble form, paired with the illustrious Maine blueberry, soft torn babka with poppy seeds, and a lemon purée. The flavors, which stand on their own, meld together perfectly for a starter bite. Perfectly cooked duck — a rarity, to be fair — with cassoulet is a warming fall dish. Sea scallops are served with smoked corn puree beneath shredded zucchini, warm blistered tomatoes, and a crispy farro that adds a surprising texture. 

McKays Public House touts a creative twist on classic pub fare, as most public houses do, but doesn’t lose sight of its Maine roots. This locals’ favorite offers steamed mussels, fried haddock with hand-cut fries, New England clam chowder, seafood risotto with lobster and scallops, and salmon with Dijon dill cream sauce — classic dishes, yes, but all made with local seafood right from the coast’s waters.

Vacationland Coffee Roasters canned coffee cocktail tap.

For breakfast, get in line early for 2 Cats homemade biscuits alongside omelets, scrambles, and Benedicts. When you’re on-the-go, duck into the new Vacationland Coffee Roasters “Coffee Pub” for a quick breakfast sando and canned nitro-driven lattes, which can be spiked for a greater kick.  

Courtesy Abel’s Lobster

Lobster Pounds

Sweet, tender, and incredibly fresh, Maine’s lobster is a credit to the cold Atlantic waters in which they’re hauled in from. Lobster pounds pay homage to seafaring culture, and these casual seaside eateries don’t tamper much with the crustacean. Abel’s Lobster at the end of Somes Sound serves the classics, in addition to its signature wood-fired version, cooked in seawater and served with drawn butter and lobster sauce. Come by boat to Beal’s Lobster Pier and grab lobster rolls to go as you cruise around the harbor. Just off island is Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound, a staple for more than six decades.

Where To Stay

You likely won’t spend much time indoors, but there are a few places of note. Emery’s Cottages on the shore offers traditional accommodations with incredible sunsets over Frenchman’s Bay — you’ll often find the proprietors on the beach with guests taking in the views. Also overlooking Frenchman’s Bay and just outside of the downtown area, Salt Cottages is a chic take on Maine lodging with a red and white color palette that offers a nostalgic seaside experience. The Claremont Hotel’s luxury accommodations and amenities complement breathtaking views of Southwest Harbor, and are a nod to the natural wonders that draw so many to Mount Desert Island. 


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