Mount Desert Island – Off the Beaten Path
Have you ever heard of Mount Desert Island? Doesn’t ring a bell? How about Bar Harbor? Ahh. Now we’re getting somewhere. MDI is just over 100 square miles and sits just off the coast of Maine. It also happens to be home to Acadia National Park and the cute town of Bar Harbor. Those are the only two stops that many tourists make while on the island, but I found a few gems that you MUST see while you’re in town. They may seem off the beaten path, but come on. The whole island is like 15 miles wide.
We’ll start with the most important thing: food. If I were to describe my perfect day on MDI, it would start with a coffee with cream and a little sugar (#basic) at The Coffee Shop Café in Seal Harbor, an adorable little stop that has a bowl of glitter on the counter. Why? I don’t know, but I am for it. This place has a great location, and you can easily walk to the harbor for some views.
After coffee, I’d head over to Colonel’s Deli in Northeast Harbor. They’ve got great food, but the real showstopper here is their blueberry donut! I seriously didn’t know that cake donuts could be moist. I may have eaten three (#dontjudge).
When I emerged from my carb coma, I’d drive up into Acadia National Park and hit up the loop road. Gorgeous views of the emerald mountains rising above Jordan Pond await around each bend in the road, and a drive up Cadillac Mountain gives you that thousand foot view that we’re all seeking. I’d head over to Sand Beach and up the Great Head Trail. The trail is a little scrambly in places, so if you’re here with kiddos, keep that in mind. The hike over exposed pink granite boulders leads to the top of the rise overlooking Sand Beach and the Atlantic, and then further around to panoramic views of the ocean and the rocky shoreline.
After the hike, I’d drive over to Southwest Harbor to Peter Trout’s for something cold to drink and some vittles. This little tavern is new to MDI this year, and has the best vibe. Locals fill the bar and different groups mingle at the family-style tables. Kids chatter with their parents at tops that overlook the harbor, and the staff quietly tend their guests. If you make it in early enough (they open at 2pm), you may catch the lobster guy meeting the chef with today’s catch out front.
I tried most everything on the menu at Peter Trout’s (enneagram 7 much? Also, the chef’s my brother, so that helps…), and everything was great, but I definitely had a couple favs. I know we’re all here for the seafood, so I’ll start there. Peter Trouts’ crab cake was huge and, simply put, the best I’ve ever had. Upon asking chef and co-owner Ryan Lamon why it was so darn good, I learned that the locally caught and picked peekytoe crab is mixed with house-made bread and a few other delicious things to, as he put it, “let the ingredients speak for themselves.”
My absolute favorite, though, was the cold fried chicken sandwich. I know what you’re thinking: “what is this, leftovers day?” You gotta trust me on this one, though. The chef is from Georgia, so he knows his way around a fryer hen, and that paired with house-made aoli, house-made pickles, and locally made sourdough, you can’t lose. If you want something more than a sandwich, though, Peter Trout’s sells a skillet chicken for two, which is the whole dang bird chopped up and fried, served with the most delicious biscuits and a few sides. (Seriously. Get the biscuits.)
After eating my way into another food coma, I’d hit the Slacktide Shop, a nearby boutique that is carefully and beautifully curated by MDI native, Christina. This little shop has the cutest apparel and Maine-y souvineers, as well as the best baby section. I mean, I’m sure my niece doesn’t need more outfits, but who’re we kidding. I’m an aunt. It’s my job to spoil her. Bonus: everything in the Slacktide Shop was made by New England natives, so you can feel good about spending your dolla dolla bills.
The more well known stops on MDI should definitely be on your itinerary, but these lesser-traveled spots are where Maine really shines. You get a taste of what it’s like to live here, to be a local. You rub shoulders with folks who know what it’s like to work hard and fast all summer and then hunker down for the long, brutal winters (at least by this southerner’s standards). Go to Bar Harbor for sure. But don’t miss these MDI hidden gems.