Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Acadia Isn't All: The Places Around Acadia NP

When you're not in Acadia...

...you could still have an entire vacation in the surrounding area.  By now you've read our post on Acadia, but there was really so much going on, we had to make it two (okay, three) separate entries. Here are some of the experiences we had outside of Acadia.

Bar Harbor

Bar Harbor Inn
Bar Harbor is the bigger, more well-known harbor town in the area.  It's full of shops and restaurants, and has a nice ocean-side park space that people hang out in.  Food prices are pretty high, especially for the more attractive places near the water.

Speaking of the water, there are plenty of options for tours of all sorts by boat, including whale watching, deep sea fishing, and a pretty neat looking four-masted schooner.  Tabitha and I had taken our first sailing lessons earlier in the summer, so I've been nursing a growing fascination with sailboats.  Despite us having not planned ahead, Tabitha worked her magic and found a company that still had a couple seats available.  We had the choice between the much larger schooner and a small, antique converted lobster sloop. 

"Tabitha" can be hard to spell
We of course chose the smaller one, and I think we made the right choice.  The person sailing the boat (captain?) was a 20-something-year-old young woman, who clearly knew her stuff.  She was friendly, knowledgeable, and happily answered even our most ignorant questions.

Hosting the sail, I think it's called

The weather was excellent: partly sunny, with enough breeze to move us along but not so much that we couldn't use the full sail.  The sloop was originally a working lobster boat from before the days of diesel, and had a larger-than-normal sail so that the lobstermen could move about even when there was little breeze.

Full sail.  Nice.
What that means typically is that she has to run with a partially-furled sail most of the time.  The boat was made in the early part of the 20th century (I think she said in the 1910s) and had been modified with a small diesel motor for low speeds and to accommodate passengers.

The trip was a 1.5-2 hour tour (thankfully not a three-hour tour - I hear those can be rough), and you could bring a cooler with food and drink.  Sipping a beer on a boat, in the sun, on the water, was simply fantastic.

Four-masted schooner

We saw some harbor porpoises, seals, and quite a few birds as we sailed around the harbor and its islands.  We liked the tour enough that I'll provide a link to it here: Chrissy Lobster Sloop Cruises.

Trying to find an unobstructed view of the harbor was difficult.

The Boston Yacht Club was also in the harbor, which our captain said is a rarity since yacht clubs usually anchor in other nearby harbors that have better shelter, like Southwest Harbor.

This boat is so special it has a big boat with a couple little boats to follow the boat!

Judging from the radio chatter, the harbormaster was much busier than he was used to, and we were able to see quite a few insanely expensive-looking boats as we sailed in and out of the harbor.

Bar Harbor Brewing

Switching to our brew-tourism mode, we made a point to stop in "Bar Harbor Brewing" seen above, and were surprised that this was really just a little shop, a storefront affiliated with Atlantic Brewing Company.  They were nice enough to direct us to the Atlantic Brewing Company base of operations further inland. 

Atlantic Brewing Company

Atlantic Brewing Co. Storefront

Despite the beauty of nature all around us, we couldn't make it through the trip without making the trip to a local microbrewery.  From Bar Harbor Brewing, we traveled directly to Atlantic Brewing Company.  Atlantic has a surprisingly good barbeque restaurant on site called Mainely Meat.  There they serve all of the main Atlantic brews plus a few of their seasonals as well.  The food quality was above average, with generous quantities, and reasonably priced as well, so we ate lunch and celebrated the place as a win while we waited for the next Atlantic tour to begin.

Fermenters have a nice window

Atlantic is a pretty small brewery, but their beer is very solid.  Among my favorites were a blueberry ale that tastes so genuine and unassuming that it solidly blows that Atlanta-based blueberry beer out of the water, a high-gravity honey Belgian that totally rocked our socks off, and a delicious coffee stout.  Don't get me wrong; their "regular" beers were great, too.

On the Atlantic brewery tour

Atlantic's brewhouse is a smaller shop with a handful of fermenters in the 30 BBL range.  It seemed like an open, airy building that I couldn't help but think would probably only work in a cooler clime.  Despite the small size, it's amazing what they are producing.  The tour itself was fairly standard, but you did get to taste most of their brews, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, most of which we had just tried at lunch.

Their bottling setup.  Don't laugh; we've been to breweries small enough to hand-cap.

On the tour we learned that they had some quality issues in the past, perhaps due to transportation, so they scaled back their distribution area and regrouped.  For the local folks, that is great news.  For those of us way outside their distribution area, it really is a shame.  There are several of their beers that would become regular go-tos for us particularly because of their uniqueness and quality.

Fantastic Blueberry Soda

The skill with which Atlantic incorporates local, fresh ingredients into a widely-varied lineup impressed me the most.  They also make the most sensational blueberry soda I've ever tasted.  We had to snag a six pack and bring some back with us!

Bass Harbor

Bass Harbor

Bass Harbor is west of Acadia, and let me assure you the beauty of the area pervades here as well.  Checking the map for a good place to view the sunset, we settled on Bass Harbor lighthouse, which was fortunate because we also had a friend who asked us to take pictures of lighthouses.

Bass Harbor Lighthouse

The lighthouse was a small affair, but high on a cliff.  The view was excellent, but there were several families who had the same idea as us.  It took me a while to get a good clear shot of the lighthouse.

Watching the sunset at Bass Harbor Lighthouse

This lighthouse is still owned by the US Coast Guard and occupied by a Coast Guard officer and his family.  Pretty cool gig, I figure.  We were actually standing a few feet from their front door.  Most of the kids of the other tourists were playing on their lawn, despite the signs.

With a sign like this I would not be able to resist yelling at kids to "get off my lawn!"

Some of the other folks claimed to have seen a whale, or maybe a dolphin, in the water.  I missed it, but I did snap a quick picture of a bald eagle as it flew into the sunset.  As he flew by before I took the picture, we could see his white head.

Bald eagle at sunset

Some friends were camping in the Bass Harbor area, and we met them at a local restaurant named Cap'n Nemos.  We had previously driven by the place while touring around Bass Harbor, and Tabitha's exact reaction had been something akin to exclaiming, "What is THAT?"  It was all the more ironic that our friends suggested meeting up there the next night!

"What is THAT?"

The decor on the inside of Cap'n Nemos was even more eclectic than these outside photos.  But I didn't take pictures, so you'll have to go see it for yourself!  The food was good, standard Maine fare (I think everyone ordered some variant of fish or shellfish and thoroughly enjoyed it).

Oh, it's Cap'n Nemos

For a local-looking place, the prices were the same as nicer places in Southwest Harbor that we'd eaten at, but the service was good, and we definitely had a good time.  The most popular drinks were the Atlantic Blue and blueberry habanero margaritas. When we walked out after dark, they actually had a little firepit going with people hanging out outside.  Knowing we had a busy day the next day, we didn't stay, but that was something you don't normally see, at a place that was definitely something different.

Wonderland Beach

A friend of Tabitha's is from Maine, and he recommended a nice little hike with a beach that's not very busy with tourists.  Knowing it was a short hike, and on the water, we decided to check it out one day near sunset. 

Wonderland trail to the beach

It's a short hike on a nicely-graded path of about a mile or less to the beach.  As you grow near, you can see the water through the trees.

Wonderland beach - practically deserted

The beach was rocky, with shelly sand at spots.  Plenty of tidepools await on the rocks.  It's more the sort of beach that you go for a walk rather than a swim.

Wonderland beach at sunset

Southwest Harbor

We stayed in Southwest Harbor and there we also dined three of the nights.  Southwest Harbor made a great base for our trip.  It's a pretty little town that's central to most everything: about a 30 minute drive from the main Acadia activities, about the same to Bar Harbor and close to Bass Harbor in the other direction.

Our room at Cafe Drydock & Inn

When traveling to touristy areas, we have come to realize that hotels, while convenient, are often expensive and generally lacking in any character.  For that reason, we often compare hotel prices with local bed and breakfast type places.  

We didn't realize it had a mini fridge - bonus!

In this case, we ended up staying at a nice little inn that cost about the same as a standard hotel room, but it was located in the heart of a nice little New England town, with plenty of food and shops right outside the door.
Remodeled bathroom was excellent

The place was called Cafe Drydock & Inn.  We had a great stay there, and the restaurant was excellent as well.  We saw the bartender making some blueberry martinis with real Maine blueberries, so we had to try some.  They were fantastic!

This is what a Maine blueberry Martini looks like.  To taste one, you'll have to go to Maine!

Coming next...

Next, there is an awesome app for Acadia, and I'll discuss why.

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