As we thought about where we wanted to go for our last parental leave trip before Peter went back to work, we wanted something that fit the following criteria: flight that is direct and not too long (aka not international), not too hot, somewhere we haven’t been before, and somewhere with food that is easy for Peter (rules out most of the South without careful planning). Peter brought up Maine and it seemed perfect – we met in college in Boston, but neither of us ever really made it up to Maine because we didn’t have cars and I waitressed on weekends. We debated making it into a longer road trip through the Northeast, but we were running out of time (and energy on my part, since I’m the planner) to plan and it seemed like there would be plenty to do in Maine. Based on some quick research, we ended up flying into Boston and then spending the majority of our time in Acadia National Park/Bar Harbor and Kennebunkport.
Where We Stayed
In Bar Harbor, we chose the Acadia Inn (I used Booking.com; if you use this link, you’ll receive $20 off your stay). It ended up being the (al)most perfect spot for many reasons – for $20 for our stay, we got the cutest Kids Kampout package with a mini tent, mattress, lantern and lobster stuffie for Julia. She didn’t end up wanting to sleep in it, but it provided lots of entertainment whenever we were in our room. They also have cookies and snacks every afternoon, laundry, a reasonably sized pool, a bocce court and other lawn games, a playground, almost nightly evening activities (like smores roasting and movie nights, although we never partook because they were past the kids early bedtime) and they’re a shuttle stop on the Island Explorer (line 2). The staff were so incredibly friendly when we visited, too. I found out that their small team had lost a person during our visit so everyone was picking up extra shifts (it did seem like we saw the same people most of the day), but you would never have guessed from how kind and cheerful they were. Our only minor complaints were the breakfast quality (not worse than any other hotel, but nothing to write home about, although the attendant was a true gem) and the fact that our 2nd floor room had a really noisy family right above us who enjoyed jumping off the bed and stomping around until 10 or 11 p.m. So, I would just request a 3rd floor room in the future.
In Kennebunk, we stayed at the Port Inn. While not as spectacular as the Acadia Inn, it was still a great fit for our little family. There was a pool and laundry, as well as beach accessories to borrow (chairs, umbrellas and the most important thing in Kennebunk – a beach parking pass! You can’t park on the beach front area without one, which I didn’t know). The same cons applied to this hotel as the Acadia Inn – the room above us was noisy and the breakfast was mediocre, but still adequate and it saved us some money to eat one meal that was included with our room rate.
What We Did
Our first day basically consisted of getting off a red-eye flight and driving straight from Logan Airport to Bar Harbor, which is a 5 hour drive even based on Google’s directions. Needless to say, that wasn’t our favorite part of the trip, but the scenery in Maine is really beautiful and with significant amounts of caffeine and some short rest stops, everyone made it alive. Julia was thrilled to have her Kids Kampout set up when we got to our room at the Acadia Inn (see above for details) and we took a short rest before heading into Bar Harbor via the free Island Explorer shuttle.
Pausing for a moment to tout the virtues of the shuttle – being able to look at your kids/hold them on your lap and look out the window while touring around one of the most beautiful national parks (for free!) is a priceless gift. There are several lines of the shuttle that connect in a central square in Bar Harbor and it was usually pretty easy to figure out which one to take since there are schedules posted and very kind assistants in the square to answer questions. We took the shuttle for almost all of our trips, meaning we got dropped off at the front gates everywhere, never had to look for parking, and were able to see the scenery. There was only one instance where we couldn’t get on the first shuttle to come, and it was honestly just a weird driver who just drove off when waiting passengers tried to direct him to start at the front of a line rather than the back.
Back to our itinerary – the red eye had wreaked havoc on everyone’s sleep, so we popped Julia into the stroller (you can take strollers on the shuttle as long as they’re folded up, and the Mountain Buggy Nano folds up pretty small, so we could even keep it at our seat) and James in the carrier and let them nap while we walked down by the water for a bit. When they woke up, we went to dinner and then ice cream before heading back for an early-ish bedtime.
After a fairly leisurely breakfast the next morning (we tried not to take them too far off West Coast time), we took the shuttle to Sand Beach (you do have to hike down some stairs to the beach) and let Julia splash in the waves and jump off rocks for awhile with a picnic lunch from a deli in town. The beach was busy, but didn’t feel too crowded. We were grateful to have taken the shuttle, however, once we saw people who had parked and were then schlepping giant coolers and lawn chairs from half a mile away.
As nap time approached, we rinsed everyone off at the restrooms near the parking lot and put the kids in their carriers for a hike down the Ocean Path past Thunder Hole and on to Otter Cliff. The combination of the scent of blooming wild roses and salty sea air was refreshing and it was nice to walk quietly along the cliffs while the kids napped. There are several outlets from the trail where you can pop out for views, but they weren’t protected at all and we didn’t feel comfortable walking out there with small children. There was no “thunder” at Thunder Hole while we were there (a natural phenomenon where waves crashing through underground caves make a thunder-like sound), but it was still a nice area to walk down closer to the water using the handrails. Otter Cliff offered beautiful views and there was a shuttle stop that I hadn’t realized would be there (apparently you can also flag down a driver and they’ll stop even at unofficial spots if it’s safe) so we didn’t have to back track at all. This short hike (about 1.5 miles) was really one of the most beautiful ways to see the coastline and it felt so special and unique to Maine. We rested at the hotel for a bit and then went back into town for dinner.
A month or so before our trip, I spent an hour on hold with the Jordan Pond House restaurant getting us a reservation for lunch. I hate the phone (especially with two small children) and haven’t worked that hard for a meal in awhile, but it was something that was recommended in all my research and it’s unlikely we’ll be back in the area soon, so I grinned and (mostly) bore it. Lunch really was perfect – we had beautiful weather and were able to sit on the patio and look at the pond while we enjoyed popovers and salads. The blueberry lemonade was also so delicious – they give you the simple syrup on the side so you can sweeten it to taste and I like it lip puckering.
After lunch, we packed the kids into their carriers and took the roughly 3 mile hike around Jordan Pond. It was really beautiful and relatively peaceful – we even saw a nesting loon (a type of bird – I’d never seen one in the wild before)! Julia slept for about 2/3 of the hike and woke up just in time to walk on the cool boardwalks that are towards the end of the trail if you’re completing it counter clockwise. We did see a few families attempting the hike with strollers, which I would decidedly NOT recommend. The boardwalks aren’t even wide enough for 2 people to pass each other (although there are some “pullouts” and you can technically step off the trail briefly) and there is a part with significant boulders to clamber over, so this is not a trail to take your stroller/wheelchair on if you want to go all the way around the pond.
Note: the “public” restrooms at the pond don’t have baby-changing facilities and I changed poor James on a piece of hard granite in full sun. I asked the reservationists after our hike and was directed to the restaurant bathroom and no one gave me a side eye when we were no longer customers.
Jordan Pond is a little further out on the shuttle system than some other destinations, so this was the day when we had to make a connection that didn’t work out as planned. There were tons of people waiting but the driver went to the wrong end of the line and then instead of just pulling forward to let the people who had been waiting longest get on, he drove off, worsening the problem. It was honestly the only time I felt annoyed that we’d taken the shuttle, but the ride to the pond was also really beautiful, so it was still very worth the trip to me.
Despite our best efforts to keep the kids on West Coast time in order to enjoy dinner at a more adult time, they were starting to catch on and wake up earlier, so we just tried to be flexible (and restaurants were pretty busy around standard American dinner times of ~ 7 p.m. anyway) and ended up having an early dinner. We had a pleasant surprise as we finished up our ice cream and started to think about taking a shuttle back to the hotel – there was a free concert in the square! I hadn’t heard about these at all in my research before the trip, but apparently there’s a town band that performs in the gazebo on the square (so Gilmore Girls-y) and they have concerts throughout the summer, primarily on Monday and Thursday nights. We stayed for the first 15 minutes before the kids were too tired to last longer (it was also getting chilly and we didn’t have anything warm with us), but it was so charming that I wished we had known ahead of time and could have planned accordingly.
On our last day in Bar Harbor, we drove out to Seal Harbor for some beach time. We arrived fairly early and were able to grab parking and enjoy a fairly empty beach. The tide was also starting to come in, so Julia was able to play on the floating dock before it got too deep for her to walk into the water (I didn’t wear a swimsuit, so I would only go in with her if I was unlikely to soak my pants). She loved balancing with all the other kids and digging in the sand, but we hadn’t brought a ton of beach accessories with us (we used the canopy of our stroller as shade for James, but he wanted to be out eating sand) so we headed for lunch after about an hour or so.
This was probably the hottest day of our stay, so after lunch we went to the Sieur de Monts Nature Center to try to escape from the heat and convince Julia to nap (no such luck). The Abbe Museum branch at Sieur de Monts and the Wild Gardens of Acadia are on the smaller side, so I wouldn’t prioritize visiting them over something like Jordan Pond or Sand Beach, but they were still beautiful and made a nice stopover. After some pool time at the hotel to tire out our nap-striker, we headed downtown early to catch the last hour of the downtown Abbe Museum’s opening hours (since we got discounted admission from our earlier entry at Sieur de Monts). The museum was really well done and felt like it showed Native American culture in a way that showed it’s still living and breathing, rather than something relegated to history books. There’s also a neat kids area in the basement that was even very baby-friendly (soft mats on the floor, baby books and stuffed animals, etc). The kind attendant literally had to kick us out (mainly because James decided to fill a diaper right at closing time. Sorry!) and we went to our last dinner and ice cream in Bar Harbor.
After breakfast the next morning, we drove through on-and-off furious East Coast style downpours to Kennebunk. The long drive (driving time was about 4 hours, but it took longer because of stops) meant that our day pretty much consisted of eating – stopping for lunch, ice cream, and capping it off with dinner and more ice cream. Can’t complain too much!
Even though it rained a good chunk of the time we were in Kennebunkport, there were a lot of highlights to the town and fun things to do. We started our first day with a lobster cruise in nearby Ogonquit with FinestKind Cruises. During the research phase of the trip, a lobster cruise came up a lot, but I had trouble finding one that would accept young kids (especially James, who was only 4 months old at the time). FinestKind had no age limits, though, and the boat felt very safe and secure. They were also really flexible and let us hop on an earlier cruise when we managed to pull everyone out of bed, meaning we had better weather and a less crowded boat. Our captain (a retired lobsterman) and our guide (who is a kindergarten teacher) were both wonderfully knowledgeable and the intimate setting meant that everyone could ask questions and see the lobster traps without straining. The boat ride was about 50 minutes, so just long enough to see the coastline without taxing young attention spans. Julia still talks about how she loved seeing the petite lobsters thrown back into the water. The area around where our tour boarded was also lovely to explore – there’s a manually operated draw bridge and several restaurants where you can get lobster.
Shortly after lunch, it started to rain pretty consistently, so we decided to visit the Seashore Trolley Museum, which was another highlight of the trip. Located in Kennebunkport, the museum has a huge collection of street cars and other public transit vehicles (buses, subway cars, etc), many of which you can climb into, as well as a large restoration “garage.” We had just missed the Daniel Tiger-themed event the previous weekend, and it was a good thing no one mentioned that to our DT-obsessed 3 year old. The cost of admission includes unlimited (although we only did 1) trolley rides on a 1.5 mile track. The volunteers who served as our conductor and motor man were enthusiastic and very well versed in trolley history. I don’t think there was a single question asked that they couldn’t answer in detail. The various buildings require some walking outdoors, but even with the rain, the visit was pleasant and we stayed pretty dry. We probably spent about 2.5-3 hours there and no one was particularly bored when we left, it was just close to closing time and we wanted to visit the beach before dinner.
It was still sprinkling lightly after our trolley museum visit, but it wasn’t cold, so we stopped at what we thought was Mother’s Beach, but was actually further east. The parking pass from our hotel came in handy as we were able to park right next to the beach and let Julia get completely drenched running in and out of the surf.
After changing into dry clothes (and crossing our fingers that there would be no accidents), we had dinner in town at a Mexican restaurant that was good enough we ended up going back the following night!
With rain in the forecast again the next morning, we stopped at a bakery for pastries and coffee (I can only eat mediocre hotel breakfast so many times) before heading off to try out candlepin bowling at Big 20 Bowling Center in Scarborough. The alley was charming and very informal (you don’t even pay until you’re done bowling). We lucked out with the last available lane with bumpers because we weren’t the only ones who had decided to take the kids to an indoor activity on a rainy day in summer paradise. James managed to need two massive diaper changes in the 1.5 hours we were there, which was okay because the women’s restroom was more like a retro lounge with a baby changing area and large vanity. Score! Candlepin was a lot of fun and it was relatively easy for Julia to get the smaller balls down the lane, even without the ramps she’s used to near us. We both ended up beating Peter, which will never happen again so I’m memorializing it.
After lunch, the weather cleared up just enough for us to visit the real Mother’s Beach with our hotel-lent chairs and umbrella. We had a beautiful afternoon – it wasn’t too hot or bright and Peter and I were able to take turns relaxing in the shade with James and playing in the waves with Julia. As I learned on our trip to Greece, nursing a cuddly baby on a beach under an umbrella is pretty much the best way to spend vacation time. The beach-side playground also made Julia into a big fan of the area and now she wonders why all beaches don’t have adjacent playgrounds. Me too, kid, me too.
Not needing to mess with success, and with the rain returning, we ate dinner at the same Mexican restaurant we’d been to the night before and then went back to our hotel where Julia and Peter snuck in a bit more pool time and I finished laundry.
Before leaving the area on our last morning, we took a walk around the loop trail at the Rachel Carson Wildlife Refuge. The trail was easy enough for Julia to walk and James to ride in the carrier comfortable (we could have used a heavy duty stroller) and included some truly beautiful boardwalks and lookouts over the wetlands, but it was FULL of mosquitoes. Luckily we’d read this in advance and liberally applied bug repellent, but we all ended up with a few bites anyway. Worth the price for a lovely morning walk, especially before our long drive back to Boston.
Where We Ate
We did a lot of restaurant dining on this trip, so I’ll only list places we would go back to. 90% of the places we went were delicious, but there were a few that just put food in our bellies and not much else, despite checking reviews in advance.
McKays Public House (Bar Harbor) – pretty good food (mussels!), but the setting is really lovely. We ate on a patio that felt like someone’s backyard garden, and the inside of the restaurant looks quite old and felt very homey.
Mount Desert Island Ice Cream (Bar Harbor) – wonderful flavors with a mix of inventive (basil sorbet was to die for) and vanilla (literally, but also chocolate). We had ice cream here at least once a day, sometimes twice.
Jordan Pond House (Acadia National Park) – worth the time spent on hold to get a reservation. We loved eating outside with a view of the pond and indulging in fresh blueberry lemonade, popovers and lobster nicoise salad. There’s a to-go outpost upstairs, but it didn’t look great and seemed overpriced for the value provided.
Lighthouse Inn & Restaurant (Seal Harbor; near Acadia National Park) – a lovely little neighborhood cafe near Seal Harbor and its beach. Pleasant server and surprisingly attentive to allergies given the informal setting.
Galyn’s Restaurant (Bar Harbor) – a little on the fancier side as far as atmosphere goes, but definitely the best meal we had in Bar Harbor. The kids menu even had some good options outside of the standard chicken fingers, like a baked fish with vegetables and rice. We went early, so we took advantage of a lobster deal that had chowder, lobster, vegetables and rice, and shared the vegan entree (a delicious cauliflower steak with pesto and tapenade).
Blaze (Bar Harbor) – we ate at Finback Alehouse earlier in the week and I think they might be owned by the same people (due to some suspiciously similar menu items and a lot of Blaze beers on tap), but Blaze was much better. I had a jerk-spiced fish with coconut rice that was delicious, and Peter loved their grass-fed burger. Julia appreciated a personal pizza and even ate some broccolini! The beer was also super refreshing and there were a lot of choices.
The Hoot (Northport) – we stopped in for brunch on our drive between Bar Harbor and Kennebunkport. Our primary reason for going is that they source largely from their own farm and have grass-fed beef and lamb, which really helps with Peter’s dietary restrictions (no corn and soy, including animal products with those items in their diet). They were having a bit of an off day and our food took a long time (as in over an hour, as did the food of the tables around us), but the green shakshuka with swiss chard was so delicious that I’m still salivating over it, so I can’t help but list it. The setting was also really pretty, with a charming woodsy patio out front.
Witch Spring Hill Ice Cream (Brunswick) – another stop en route between Bar Harbor and Kennebunkport. We loved the huge variety of flavors and the ice cream was delicious. It was also fun to pass along my college-gleaned East Coast lingo to Julia (jimmies = sprinkles, frappe = milkshake).
Docks Seafood (South Portland) – we ate lobster and clams at this fish market and it was among the lowest priced places we visited for seafood and still very good. The kids weren’t big fans, but everyone kindly tolerated their silliness, and we ordered extra sweet potato fries to appease Julia.
Rococo Ice Cream (Kennebunkport) – this place is recommended everywhere and rightly so. There was almost always a line, but it moved quickly and I loved the unusual flavors (like amarula pecan, goat cheese and chambord, lemon pink peppercorn, etc).
Pedros (Kennebunkport) – I hate to admit it, but after eating lobster at most meals, we wanted a little variety (apparently so did the prisoners in Maine, according to our lobster cruise guide, so they had a strike until it was only served twice a week!). The pescado a la veracruzana (mahi topped with olives, capers, and veggies and a side of fabulous green rice) was SO good that we came back two nights in a row. They also added spinach to Julia’s kids quesadilla for us, which was one of the only vegetables she willing ate. The setting is really fun with lots of brightly colored sombreros and unusual wall art to entertain the kids (a bull sculpture with horns, a giant skull, palm trees, etc).
Clam Shack (Kennebunkport) – Peter wasn’t a fan (it took FOREVER for his very simple steamed lobster to be ready and there wasn’t even a long line for those), but I loved my lobster roll here and the tiny deck between the shack and the building where whole lobsters are purchased was perfect for a light dinner on our first night in town.
Maine has a beauty that is completely one of a kind and we felt like we got a wonderful taste of it over the week we spent there. The coastline, wetlands and beaches are all gorgeous, the people are friendly and the food was unforgettable (eating ice cream at least once daily should be a requirement on vacation). It was a little hard to get to, but I’m still glad we went the route of a direct flight into Boston with a rental car rather than a layover and shorter drive from a closer airport like Portland or Bangor, especially since we had a week in the area. There were surprisingly more activities available than I would have thought when I first started researching the trip, and I appreciated that many of them seemed unique to Maine/the Northeast (lobster cruise, trolley museum, candlepin bowling, Abbe Museum with Native American art). Our stay was the perfect last hurrah of parental leave and I’m so glad we chose to spend it where we did.