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If Maine is the way life should be (as the state slogan states), does that mean our family is living it wrong when we aren’t there? To be honest, that’s how it feels, particularly in the summer months. To truly max out summer vibes, we need sun, spray, seafood, and sunrises — four things Maine has in abundance. And the best place in the whole state to spend the summer is a small, coastal Maine town named Bar Harbor.
The town of Bar Harbor is known for many things: succulent lobster rolls, primordial pine tree forests, stellar weather … the list goes on. Life there is slow, pleasant, and healthy, with abundant fresh seafood and hiking galore. Our family is never happier than when we’re vacationing in Bar Harbor in the summer, enjoying blueberry pancakes, watching the sunrise on top of Cadillac Mountain (more on that later), or kayaking in Frenchman’s Bay.
And it’s not just our family that loves it there! Over two million people visit Bar Harbor every year to enjoy life the way it should be. Clearly, Bar Harbor is a great place, but how do you get there, and what do you do? As someone who has visited Bar Harbor many times throughout my life (with and without kids), I’m here to give you the lowdown on everything there is to do and see.
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Run Wild in Acadia National Park
Known for its stunning natural scenery, cozy coves, and jagged coastline, Acadia National Park is in the running to be the best national park for kids in the country! With over 47,000 acres of Maine wilderness, Acadia is a boreal garden of Eden, boasting mountains, beaches, forests, and lakes just waiting to be explored; and you want to know the best part? It’s within walking distance of downtown Bar Harbor!
For those with younger kids, the perfect place to take them is Gorham Mountain. This lesser-known 500-footer is ideal for ramblers just getting used to hiking. From the top, there are panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean, Mount Desert Island, and Acadia National Park. This is one of the first places we ever took our girls hiking in Maine.
Another popular spot in Acadia is the Thunder Hole, a cove whose unique features cause the waves to absolutely pound against the rocks. The resulting sound resembles something like a cross between an earthquake and a thunderstorm, hence the name. Frightening, fun, and ferocious, paying a trip to the Thunder Hole is one of our favorite things to do with our girls in Acadia.
Watch the Sunrise Over Cadillac Mountain
Situated in the heart of Acadia National Park, Cadillac Mountain is a popular place to visit in Bar Harbor — and for good reason! Every morning during the summer, brave hikers get up before dawn and make their way to the top of this 1,500-ft mountain. Why? To get one of the best views of one of the most spectacular sunrises on the East Coast!
We did the trek last time we were in Bar Harbor and were nearly bowled over by the stunning scenery. For a few moments, everything is quiet and peaceful, and then BAM! the sun crests the horizon and bathes the world in a tender, golden glow. The shadows recede as the sun fills the valleys and dells of Acadia with molten sunshine. It made us feel oddly attached to the natural world in a way that’s hard to describe.
And just so you know, the Cadillac Mountain sunrise isn’t reserved only for hikers (although that is the best way to see it). The conveniently located Cadillac Mountain Road makes it easy to reach the top for anyone who’d like a peek.
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Dive Into Nature at Diver Ed’s Dive-In Theater
Why take your kids to an aquarium when they can learn about aquatic critters in their natural habitats? (The sea life, not your kids.) That’s exactly what Diver Ed’s Dive-In Theater aims to do. From atop the Starfish Enterprise, they’ll have a front-row seat to some of Maine’s most fascinating marine life.
While Ed dives, another guide narrates what he’s seeing, answering questions and explaining fun facts along the way. At the end of the show, Ed resurfaces and shows off a few treasures that he found on the ocean floor. As you might imagine, this was one of our youngest daughter’s favorite things we did.
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Visit Abbe Museum
While we’re on the subject of fun, educational places for kids, it’d be remiss of me not to mention one of the best learning centers in Bar Harbor, the Abbe Museum. Dedicated to the preservation and exploration of indigenous Maine cultures, the Abbe Museum hosts several stellar exhibits and activities to help kids learn more about the region’s native peoples.
From a scrappy, trail-side museum, the Abbe Museum has expanded to include two locations: the original at Sieur de Monts Spring in Acadia National Park and the other larger one in downtown Bar Harbor.
Beam Up at a Lighthouse
What can I say? I’m a sucker for lighthouses: Always have been, always will be. So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that I’m recommending you pay a visit to a couple while you’re in the Bar Harbor area.
With over 180,000 annual visitors, Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse is one of the most popular places to visit on Mount Desert Island — and little wonder! We got to the lighthouse around sunset and were treated to gorgeous panoramic views of Bass Harbor and that quintessentially craggy Maine coastline.
Somehow, I’ve discovered a way to sneak a second lighthouse recommendation on this list! I guess Maine is just known for lighthouses or something … Anyway, Egg Rock Lighthouse is another absolutely do-not-miss destination near Bar Harbor. Its rare architecture (square instead of round), remote location (it’s on an island!), and abundance of wildlife (it isn’t called “Egg Rock” for nothing) make it a fun and exciting visit for the whole family.
Watch Out for Whales — and More!
One of the best things to do in Bar Harbor is to get out on the water and keep your eyes peeled for whales. If you’ve never gone whale watching before and are a little skeptical, let me set your heart at rest. Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co. is so confident you’ll see a whale, they guarantee you vouchers valid for three years if you don’t. Not a bad deal.
But really, the likelihood of not spotting a whale is pretty darn slim! They congregate up and down the Maine coastline during the summer, making it a mere informality even to have to “watch out” for them. The first time we went on this boat tour, we couldn’t believe how many we spotted. Our girls were practically hopping up and down on the deck with excitement. Add in the odd sea bird, dolphin, and lovely Maine coastline, and it’s guaranteed to be a successful couple of hours spent out on the water.
In addition to whale watching, the Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co. offers other guided tours around the Bar Harbor area. My personal favorite is the Lighthouse Cruise (surprise! surprise!), my wife loves — LOVES! — the Puffin Cruise, and we all love the Sunset Nature Cruise. No matter what, it’s bound to be an unforgettable time spent with the family, and that’s what it’s all about.
Chow Down On Freshly Caught Lobster
No trip to the seaside town of Bar Harbor, Maine, is complete without enjoying a succulent lobster feast freshly caught that day. And there’s really no better place to get that quintessential Maine dinner than at Jordan Pond House in Acadia.
Don’t forget to work off that lobster pot with a brisk romp around Jordan Pond on the Jordan Pond Path. The trailhead for this 3-mile loop is conveniently located less than a stone’s throw away from Jordan Pond House.
Another popular spot for tucking into delicious seafood is the Fish House Grill in downtown Bar Harbor. This little spot, located right on the waterfront, is ideal for anyone craving that small-town Maine lobster shack vibe. We love coming here, not only for the laid-back aesthetic but also because the food is so fresh! Pair a lobster with a blueberry daiquiri, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you started talking in a thick Maine accent.
Chow down on a lobster roll, witness a whale breach, and watch the sunrise on top of a mountain when you visit Bar Harbor, ME this summer! 🦞🐳🌄
Paddle Around Mount Desert Island
With its many coves, hidden harbors, and abundant wildlife, Mount Desert Island is the perfect place for a kayak tour. We take our girls every time we go, and it’s always one of the highlights of the trip. There’s something so incredibly peaceful about gliding through the water, the sky above, and the ocean below, and who knows what interesting find just waiting round the next corner.
Coastal Kayaking has a ton of great tours, perfect for kids of all ages. Our family’s favorite is the Sunset Tour, as that’s the best time when most animals are starting to get out and about. The chance of seeing a bald eagle, deer, moose, or even bobcat is heightened during those magical moments as dusk settles.
Explore Downtown Bar Harbor
Packed with cafes, restaurants, souvenir stores, galleries, and antique shops, downtown Bar Harbor has enough fun things to satisfy every member of the family. In fact, walking up and down Main Street, you might be forgiven for thinking you’ve stepped onto the set of a Steven Spielberg movie, so quaint and peaceful is Bar Harbor’s town center.
Our family always reserves at least an afternoon to toodle around and take in the sights. There’s Agamont Park, which is an ideal spot to take a family photo, have a picnic, and watch the boats glide in and out. Next, pop into Mount Desert Island Ice Cream, where you’ll find handmade ice cream with flavors like Callebaut Chocolate, Lemon Poppy Berry Jam, and my personal favorite, Maine Sea Salt Caramel.
Take A Ride On Oli’s Trolley
There’s no better (nor relaxing) way to get around Bar Harbor than by hopping on Oli’s Trolley for a sightseeing tour. Whether you’d like to learn more about Bar Harbor’s quaint downtown or the sights of Acadia National Park, you and your kids are guaranteed to have a blast — and learn a little too!
Our favorite Oli Trolley tour is the one of Downtown Bar Harbor, as it’s short, sweet, and informative. Plus, if you’re a newcomer, it’s an excellent way to get the lay of the land around Bar Harbor. Just ask the guide for tips on local restaurants, bars, and shops to visit. And, if you’re a nerd like me, you’ll enjoy the historical aspect of the tour as well, getting to learn all about the establishment of Bar Harbor in 1796 all the way up to the present day.
When You Go
Getting To Bar Harbor From LA
Three major airports service the Maine area. The largest is Boston Logan. This is where our family flies whenever we visit Maine. It’s further from Bar Harbor but more flexible and convenient when it comes to flight options. The drive from Boston to Bar Harbor is about 5 hours.
The second option is to fly into the Portland International Jetport. This quaint, old-timey airport will occasionally have flights from LA, but don’t count on flying direct! However, flying into PWM will shave your driving time down to 3 hours.
The closest airport to Bar Harbor is the Bangor International Airport. And while I wouldn’t be optimistic about finding a flight from LA to BGR, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility. Like PWM, Bangor’s airport is small but serviceable. And it makes you feel a bit as if you’re still living in the 1990s. The drive from BGR to Bar Harbor is only an hour and fifteen minutes.
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Where To Stay In Bar Harbor
The ultimate Bar Harbor vacation experience can be found at the Bar Harbor Inn. This historic Bar Harbor Inn has been servicing Mount Desert Island since 1887, so they know a little something about comfort and quality service. In addition, the inn overlooks Frenchman Bay and the Porcupine Islands, guaranteeing you a gorgeous view from every window of your room. Let me tell you, there’s nothing better than stepping out on your hotel room deck and sipping your first cup-o-joe as the mists clear over the ocean.
Situated atop a granite-terraced hillside is the Bluenose Inn, a classic Bar Harbor hotel dedicated to high-quality service, luxury, and a little pazzazz. Live music, fine dining, and exceptional location all set this 4-star hotel ahead of the pack. The indoor heated pool is one of the best places to retire to after a long day of hiking, sailing, or whale watching. The beautiful arched windows and luxurious decor make it a unique and memorable swimming experience. You won’t find another pool like it in all of New England!
Elegant and tranquil, the Bar Harbor Manor is perfect for those looking to retreat to a secluded, cozy room after a long day of adventuring. Surrounded by two stunning acres, this resort gives you all the peaceful solitude of a country cabin but with the modern convenience of a 3-star hotel. What’s more, it’s within easy walking distance of the major destinations of downtown Bar Harbor, so you can get up and get cracking on another unforgettable day.
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