Posts tagged ‘Travel’

November 28, 2009

The Guilty Pleasures of a New England Island: Notes from a Labor Day Rendezvous 2008

I have confession to make.


As we headed down the path to the cliff-rimmed sand beach, I saw a white board scrawled with a quote from John D. Rockefeller, Jr. reminding us that every possession implies a duty.  We kicked off our L.L. Bean sandals at the end of the path.  Here we were on this New England island, so beautiful and varied in its 100 square miles that it attracts visitors from around the world.


But why feel guilty about this?  My confession is: I was on Martha’s Vineyard, not Mount Desert Island.


I know that harboring affection for “another” island isn’t exactly like cheating on your husband.  As a resident of Mount Desert, I have every right to spend Labor Day in Menemsha.  So, why did I feel so guilty? 


It was probably because I liked it so much.  The crushed shell driveways, ubiquitous beach plums, and stonewalls marking rolling meadows brought something back from my Massachusetts childhood.  With no projects for my 1890 Mount Desert home to worry about, I lounged carefree, albeit conflicted, on a second-story porch listening to the catbirds in the nearby scrub oak and the harbor buoy bell in the distance.


Mount Desert Island and Martha’s Vineyard actually have a lot in common.  They vie for second and third place as the largest islands on the eastern seaboard.  They are made up of a variety of towns with distinct and different characters.  While Bar Harbor and Oak Bluffs resemble each other in their Victoriana and commercialism, Bass Harbor and Menemsha attract visitors to their fishing villages for harborside photographs and lobster dinners.  White clapboard houses and iconic steepled churches adorn the streets of both Somesville and Edgartown.  And among these towns buses bustle too many summer visitors from here to there (though L.L. Bean makes it free on MDI).  While a fiord divides our island, Martha’s Vineyard has a state forest in the middle of hers.  We tend to think of our island in terms of the two sides, east and west. Similarly, the Martha’s Vineyard towns divide east and west, with the western villages on their “quiet side” known as “up island” not because they are north, but higher in longitude. This is a carryover characterization from the Vineyard’s nautical past, just as “downeast” is for Maine.


Both islands offer great dining as part of the summer recreation.  We bought lobsters from Menemsha Fish Market and ate them on the beach at sunset.  Let me just say that this is so popular (i.e., crowded) that I would be wary of doing it before Labor Day.  We also had wonderful “special night out” meals at Sweet Life Café in Oak Bluffs and the Beach Plum Inn in Menemsha.  The menu at Sweet Life, where we ate in the garden, was deliciously innovative – for example, we had a white gazpacho made with grapes and garnished with steamed clams drizzled in smoked paprika oil. I must admit, though, that at the Beach Plum Inn I opted for a salad starter because I just couldn’t bear to spend $20 for an appetizer of scallops or crab cakes and then $40 for a lamp chop or grilled salmon entrée.  We knew we were paying for the honeymoon-worthy view.  Make special note that the up-island restaurants, such as Beach Plum, are dry, but you may bring your own wine, which appeals to my thrifty side.  On MDI I generally opt for one of Elizabeth’s martinis at Red Sky or a mojito at Havana, but wine nicely sufficed up island on the Vineyard.


The greatest difference between MDI and the Vineyard for me is that I am able to work off all of the calories from my indulgences on Acadia’s 130 miles of hiking trails.  Alas, that is not the case on Martha’s Vineyard, but the biking is good.


Residents on the Vineyard strongly recommended the bike paths to me for safety reasons.  However, the paths around the perimeter of the state forest of scrub pine and oak were unappealing.  We took the bike ferry ($5 per bike for the 100 yards across the inlet to Menemsha Pond) and then biked along the road with only banks of beach plums separating us from Vineyard Sound.  It was Labor Day afternoon so even the lookout at Aquinnah Cliffs (formerly Gay Head) wasn’t crowded and the roads felt safe enough.  It wasn’t the same as Acadia’s network of car-free carriage roads, but this was a really lovely loop back past Menemsha Pond to Menemsha Inn where we were staying.


Massachusetts beaches make me euphoric.  To the white sand and grass-covered dunes, the Vineyard adds dramatic cliffs.  A refreshing plunge in the ocean soon becomes so comfortable that I stay in longer and longer, floating over the waves, remembering how my mom used to have to gesture from the shoreline, “It’s time to come in.”  It was a bummer to have to stop then and equally so Labor Day weekend on Lucy Vincent Beach when we were told by a security guard that we couldn’t continue our walk on the beach because it was private property.  “Even if we walk in the water?”  “Yes.”


It was at this moment that I thought again about the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. quote at the entrance to this beach.  For all of us who love Mount Desert Island – very loyally, if not exclusively – how fortunate we are that in 1901 a group of wealthy individuals began a trust of private land holdings that, combined with land from John D. Rockefeller, Jr., was deeded to create a national park in 1935.  That these individuals chose to preserve one of the world’s most beautiful islands for all to share makes Acadia truly a rare wonder.


If you love Martha’s Vineyard, you may want to learn more about Mount Desert Island.  OUR ACADIA offers tips for exploring, eating, and relaxing.



July 28, 2008

Best Restaurants in Bar Harbor, Maine — from a New Yorker’s Point-of-View

First of all, my favorite Bar Harbor restaurants aren’t in Bar Harbor. 

For those unfamiliar with the area, Bar Harbor is the best-known among Mount Desert Island’s towns, but there are several other villages on this island of 100 square miles (roughly the same size as Martha’s Vineyard).  Exploring beyond Bar Harbor will not only yield delectable dining, but also introduce you to the charms of what the locals call “the quiet side” of the island.

Restaurants on Mount Desert Island absolutely live up to the standard of the best restaurants in the world.  And, as a New Yorker, I can say that in my opinion they are often better because everything is fresher in the relevant seasons.  For example, last spring at the recitation of specials at my favorite restaurant in Southwest Harbor, the owner announced they were offering asparagus that had been “in the ground that afternoon.”

Unfortunately, I no longer eat lobster in Manhattan, only in Maine.  There’s a sweet and salty flavor that comes from the freshness and the saltwater boiling method that makes lobster anywhere else disappointing.

All this doesn’t mean that all of the restaurants on Mount Desert Island are good, however.  Frankly, you have to plan ahead a bit because reservations may be hard to get and walking into a random spot may give you the unwanted experience of a “tourist trap.”  OUR ACADIA reviews the top spots from Trenton to Bar Harbor that range from wine bars to sandwich shops, beloved by locals and visitors alike.  But here are three that we go to every time we visit Acadia National Park.

Thurston’s Lobster PoundThurston’s Lobster Pound
Steamboat Wharf Road, Bernard, 207-244-7600

You can get waitress service if you sit downstairs at this postcard-perfect lobster pound overlooking the working fishing docks of Bass Harbor. However, for us it’s a rite of summer to stand in line upstairs with a beer (we really like the local micro-brew Harbor Lighthouse Ale) and begin the debate: Should we have hard shell or soft shell? How many pounds? Steamers or chowder? Standing in line heightens the anticipation of the sweetest lobsters we know anywhere. You can opt to have your lobster alone or with a “basic dinner” of corn, coleslaw, roll, and Thurston’s blueberry spice cake (so good you’ll want to buy extra for tomorrow’s breakfast). Or you can enhance the experience with steamers, the chowder of the day, lobster stew, or crab cakes with chipotle sauce. There are lots of things for seafood-averse kids, too, including grilled cheese, burgers, and a grilled chicken sandwich with Boursin.

Red Sky Restaurant Sky
14 Clark Point Road, Southwest Harbor, 207-244-0476

A favorite of both locals and visitors to Mount Desert Island, it draws guests not only from Southwest Harbor and other communities on the “quiet side,” but also regulars from Seal Harbor and Northeast Harbor. Balancing warmth with culinary expertise, the owners James and Elizabeth Lindquist set a white table cloth for an excellent menu that features local products and seasonal produce. The pan-roasted breast of duck and grilled marinated lamb are among my favorites, as is Elizabeth’s martini. When we visited in June, we also indulged in the light lemon soufflé cake, another reason that Red Sky at night is a sailor’s delight, and everyone else’s, too.


Town Hill BistroTown Hill Bistro
Route 102 and Crooked Road/West Eden Commons, 207-288-1011

The first time we all went to Town Hill Bistro, only four months after their opening in 2007, there was a chalk board outside the front door announcing the restaurant was totally booked. Since Town Hill is off the beaten path, this is no small feat, but it’s no wonder once you experience the creative cuisine and very friendly, but competent service here. The restaurant serves about 30 guests in a cabin-like dining room that has a pitched, beamed ceiling and bar at one end and fireplace at the other. Guests include large and small parties, out-of-towners who rave (see TripAdvisor!), and locals who are regulars. Town Hill Bistro offers starters, small plates, and large plates that generally represent fish, steak, chicken, pasta, and vegetarian selections. We highly recommend the Asian Barbecue Salmon Filet over Udon Noodles!

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July 20, 2008

22 Great Things To Do with Your Kids in Maine’s Acadia National Park

Last year friends of mine from New York took their two boys, 8 and 11, out of school for a year to travel the world. Since their dad was formerly the publisher of National Geographic Kids, they had a pretty wonderful itinerary. Acadia National Park was their second stop, and after two days younger son Stefan asked if they could just stay there for the rest of the year.


Stefan may have a future himself in travel publishing. Even at his age, he concurs with the editors of Travel and Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler who consistently rank Mount Desert Island as one of the most beautiful islands in the world. Its rocky coastline, boreal forests, spectacular fiord, and multitude of mountains apparently hold appeal for every age.


My daughter started visiting Acadia National Park regularly at the age of 14. She liked kayaking and the hikes with rock scrambling a lot. But what she loved was the rock climbing. Having grown up on New York City’s rock climbing walls, she felt comfortable with a 60-foot cliff and loved the fact that at its base was the pounding surf. Booking in advance for a climb or two with Acadia Mountain Guides became a standard part of our vacation planning.


Here are 22 great things to do with your kids if you visit Acadia National Park this summer:


1. Attend a ranger-led program – Offered free by the National Park Service, these are fun, interactive programs on subjects ranging from the constellations to birds of prey. (Did you know that owls and peregrines eat their prey whole and then regurgitate what’s not digestible in pellets?) Ranger-led programs include hikes, cruises, and simple drop-ins at interesting places. Find out more

2. Go hiking – Acadia National Park is unique in how its mountains rise out of the sea, so hiking should be high on your “must see” list. Considering that there are over 130 miles of trail, select a hike that’s right for your family by check out a guidebook, Web site (, or the Park Service’s hiking difficulty sheet. You might consider Wonderland and Ship Harbor because of their flatter terrain. The Bubbles (South Trail) and Bubble Rock are also very popular with kids.

3. Learn about lobsters – On the Lulu Lobster Boat tour, kids can learn about lobstering from Captain John and look for harbor seals in Frenchman Bay off of Bar Harbor. Or, for a rainy day activity, visit the lobster hatchery and museum at the Mount Desert Oceanarium.

4. Sail on a Friendship Sloop – These graceful sloops were actually the hard-working lobstering boats of the late 1800s. Today there is no lovelier way to experience Mount Desert Island and the many islands surrounding it than from the water on one of the charters offered by Downeast Friendship Sloop.

5. Go sea kayaking – For the more athletic, get out on the water in a kayak. Maine State Kayak offers breathtakingly beautiful tours, which are also educational, on “the quiet side” of Acadia National Park. There’s only one wrinkle: each child is required to paddle in tandem with an adult and must be at least 8-years-old (and 4 feet, 8 inches).

6. Take a horse-drawn carriage drive – Another unique feature of Acadia National Park is the carriage road system, conceived of and built by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. These picturesque car-free roads wind up mountains, along brooks, and through spruce forests. One great way to explore them is to take a horse-drawn carriage trip from Wildwood Stables in the park.  Try to book early enough to get spots on the sunset drive to Day Mountain, which is a favorite. Call 877-276-3622 for more information. 

7. Bike on a carriage road – Get some exercise and do some peddling! Eagle Lake is very popular and thus more crowded. I actually prefer exploring around Witch Hole Pond and Aunt Betty’s Pond, and the hills aren’t bad.

8. Go to a lumber jack show – This sounds tacky, but it gets great recommendations. The show is a demonstration of what a logging camp competition would have been in the Maine woods over 100 years ago…except the host of the show is Timber Tina (

9. Go miniature golfing – No family vacation would be complete without a couple of hours of mini-golfing. Bar Harbor’s “award-winning” adventure golf has a pirates theme (

10. Pick blueberries – Next to lobster, this is Maine’s best edible. They grow everywhere. Pick some, have them over ice cream, and read Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey, well-known for Make Way for Ducklings, who chose the Maine coast as the settings for many of his children’s books.

11. Go rock climbing – The competent team at Acadia Mountain Guides  can customize a special, affordable climb for your family. After meeting you and learning about everyone’s goals, your guide will select an area – from a lower angled climb to a cliff rising out of Frenchman’s Bay. For me this was an exhilarating experience, and my daughter loved it.

12. Visit a lighthouse – If you don’t want to do a technical climb, the kids will love rock scrambling on the huge granite boulders on the harbor side of the Bass Harbor Head Light. Constructed in 1876, the tower itself is off-limits, but the views here are wonderful – a perfect setting for the photo of this year’s holiday card.

13. Touch a starfish…and more. The Dive-In Theatre gets rave reviews (“educational,” “fantastic,” “extremely fun”). After a cruise in Frenchmen’s Bay, Diver Ed takes the plunge, explores the bay while on view on a topside LCD screen, and surfaces to provide a hands-on experience of what he has found. If the price is too steep for a larger family, Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory provides free touch tank demonstrations.  

14. Explore the tidepools – Sea stars, barnacles, mussels, anemones, crabs, and young lobsters live in the intertidal zone and are exposed twice each day by the withdrawing tide. Focused, quiet observation will open up a whole new world for your kids and provide a special kind of experience that’s an interesting alternative to some of the more commercialized options. Acadia National Park provides more information at

15. Have lemonade at Jordan Pond House – Ask for a table on the lawn and order popovers and strawberry ice cream, too. If there’s a wait (which is likely in July and August), go to the gift shop and buy blueberry jam to take home. Better still, skip rocks in Jordan Pond and explore the trail around its shoreline. (There’s more about Jordan Pond House at

16. Swim in Echo Lake – After a hike on Beech Mountain or Acadia Mountain, take a refreshing plunge. You can relax in the sun on a beach at the lake’s southern end or on wide granite cliffs on the eastern shoreline.

17. Build sand castles at Sand Beach – You may find it a little too chilly to swim, but the kids probably won’t. The setting itself is stunning with cliffs arching around the beach and Beehive Mountain as a backdrop. Hey, after all of that hiking and biking, pull out a paperback and take a quick doze if someone else is supervising the castle construction.

18. Let teenagers explore the island alone – If your teenagers are itching for some independence, suggest they take the Island Explorer Bus and meet the rest of the family at a given destination. Eight routes link hotels, inns, and campgrounds with destinations in Acadia National Park and neighboring village centers (for details see Since the buses are propane-powered, this is nice not only for parents’ nerves, but also for the environment.

19. Take in a show Acadia Repertory Theatre in picturesque Somesville offers a children’s program in the summertime. Every Wednesday and Saturday at 10:30am they are performing “Snow White and Rose Red,” a new adaptation of the children’s classic. Another option: see a movie at Reel Pizza in Bar Harbor where, in addition to theatre seats, there are couches and recliners and, in addition to popcorn and soda, there is delicious fresh-dough gourmet pizza.

20. Go to Seawall for an evening cookout – Seawall in Acadia National Park is a natural granite and rock seawall on the southwestern side of Mount Desert Island. Nearby on the ocean is a beautiful, spruce-studded picnic area where you can make a fire and grill. Check out the National Park program at the nearby campground that evening. Or just watch the night sky overtake the sea.

21. Enjoy Bar Harbor at night – It’s a great seaside resort town that attracts crowds for ice cream, fudge, T-shirts, and maybe even a quick reading by the local psychic. There are also excellent shops for guidebooks and outfitters if you forgot your fleece or want new hiking boots.

22. Reward the parents with a lobster dinner – Having arranged and managed such a wonderful family vacation, you deserve a special night out. How about lobster? For reviews of two of my favorite lobster pounds, Thurston’s and Abel’s, see (By the way, Thurston’s even has PB&J for fussier eaters.)


Writing this reminds me why I love Mount Desert Island so much. You don’t need kids to enjoy these New England summertime delights. Acadia National Park is also summer camp for adults.  When’s the best time to visit Acadia?  Should you rent a cottage or stay at a B&B?  What should you do if it rains?  Get answers to these questions and more at OUR ACADIA.


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June 28, 2008

Do Eco-Tourists Go to Acadia National Park?

If you are an ethical traveler, do you only go to Borneo or Belize?  Why not Bar Harbor?


I was thinking about this the other day as a read an article about “green travel.”


Someone said, “The essence of eco-tourism is deep respect for the place.”  If you go to Acadia National Park, you can’t help but be awe-struck by the craggy coastline, pines punctuating a quiet harbor, or a lichen-laden forest.  What should impress the eco-tourist is not only the astounding natural beauty – which drew rusticators way back in the mid-1800s – but also the harmony of sometimes opposing forces.  There’s a working lobster trade that balances natural abundance with commercialism.  In fact, even the tourism trades (such as the rock climbing and kayaking outfitters) operate respecting nature and protecting it.


This isn’t new.  In the 1920s John D. Rockefeller, Jr. feared the impact of automobiles on Mount Desert Island.  Collaborating with Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., the son of the designer of Central Park in New York, he helped develop the 27-mile Park Loop Road, a stunning roadway encircling Mount Desert Island and presenting breathtaking views to motorists – while protecting the island’s forests and wildlife.


Today L.L. Bean continues this tradition.  They support a network of propane-fueled buses to transport hikers, bikers, and sightseers around Acadia National Park, free of charge.  Called the Island Explorer, this system has carried over 2 million passengers, reduced smog-causing pollutants by more than 11 tons, and prevented the release of over 7,300 tons of greenhouse gases.


Acadia National Park has the only fiord in North America.  It has the highest peak on the eastern coast of the U.S.  And there are 23 more mountains on this island!  There are park rangers there who will teach you about peregrines and show you the stars over Sand Beach.  Somehow, it’s a particularly fitting place for Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory, a marine research institution founded in 1898, The Jackson Laboratory, another independent, non-profit organization focusing on mammalian genetics research to advance human health, and the College of the Atlantic, where all students major in Human Ecology, the study of our relationship with our environment.


Environmentally aware travelers to Acadia National Park have their choice of 130 miles of hiking trails or 57 miles of carriage roads for biking.  If you’d like to find the guides and outfitters who will help you explore Acadia National Park in a respectful way and with as much awe as a first-time visitor, I recommend you contact Acadia Mountain Guides or Maine State Sea Kayak.  Details for both are available at, where you will find more information about “our national park on one of the world’s most beautiful islands.”  There are also tips about lodging, restaurants, and local markets for lobster, crabmeat, local cheeses, and organic produce.


Conde Nast Traveler recently ranked Mount Desert Island among the “Enduring Edens,” twelve islands that remain beautiful, despite their popularity.  Bali and Capri are also on that list, but they are certainly a lot further away.  If you are genuinely concerned about the disastrous impact of air travel on the environment, you might want to opt for Maine instead of Madagascar for your next eco-adventure.  There are even eight ways to get there without a car.