As I’ve mentioned before, Maine is a neighboring state I’ve spent very little time in. Short of a family vacation to Ogunquit circa elementary school, and a very brief stop in Portland a few years back in which more time was spent in traffic than in the city, I haven’t experienced Vacationland much at all.
After completing an all-time favorite branding project for The Belmont Inn last winter, and further enticed by a Lord Huron concert happening in Portland, Jake and I decided to plan a July long weekend. We’d catch the concert first, head to The Belmont Inn, and round out the stay with some hiking up in Acadia and add another National Park notch to our belts.
So last Friday, on the dawn of a heat wave, we headed North. We largely avoided the apocalyptic traffic of my memories and arrived in Portland just after lunchtime. It was hot there too. We strolled along the docks, up and down the hilly streets, and in and out of quirky shops. I lusted after summer hats and bags in Peyote Moon, and marveled at the branding (and bread) at Standard Baking Co. We noted many delicious-looking restaurants along they way; in case you hadn’t heard, Portland has good food.
But we had reservations set at Little Giant over in the West End, which had come highly recommended by my girl Ariel. We were so glad that the restaurant brought us out of downtown, and into a quieter, more residential neighborhood that had all kinds of Maine charm. The restaurant itself was set just perfectly on a corner, door wide open and framed by cottage roses. Inside was minimal and classy, with the prettiest gilded cocktails to match. We ordered buttered radishes on thick toast, a citrusy farro salad, a dreamy green goddess salad, and salmon. Each plate was a gem.
We headed to the Lord Huron concert over at Thompson’s Point afterwards, and the atmospheric songs seemed just perfectly set to the glowy sunset over the coast.
After that was a sleepy drive to Camden, with one stop to pick up a toothbrush (my bad). We arrived at The Belmont Inn later than is typically courteous, but the lovely innkeeper, my Godmother Kim, waited up for us. It was so wonderful to see her.
Biased or no, The Belmont Inn is hands down the nicest bed and breakfast I have ever stayed at. Jake agreed. Tastefully styled, impeccably clean, delicious breakfast, complementary blondie treats, bursting gardens…I could go on and on. I was so proud that my branding represented such an excellent establishment; Kim had really made this place shine. We would have happily stayed three more nights.
But Acadia called! First, we spent Saturday morning around Camden, admiring the Schooners setting sail, poking around the local farmers market, and driving the top of Mount Battie to take in the harbor town from above. Camden is just adorable.
Heading up Route 1, we stopped in Belfast for lunch, another cute costal town. We wandered into Chase’s Daily, which was part farm market part restaurant, and marveled over the crates of fresh summer veg. I had a delicious cold cucumber dill soup, which was particularly refreshing in the sweltering heat. Maine was definitely not spared of the heat wave.
Back in the car, we continued to wind our way North, lobster shack after lobster shack guiding our path. Arriving in Bar Harbor a few hours later, we checked into The Primrose Inn. This was also a lovely accommodation, but we had definitely been spoiled by The Belmont.
Kim had given us a hot tip on the way out the door to eat dinner on the terrace at The Bar Harbor Inn. National Parks are amazing, but one typical symptom of these tourist inundated spots is that food options leave something to be desired. We took her word for it and found a great seat overlooking the bay, and were not disappointed. I enjoyed fresh fish tacos and Jake indulged in a lobster roll, and toasted blueberry sangrias as we watched every sort of sea vessel come in and out.
After dinner, we took a walk on a “sometimes” path out to Bar Island. It’s a sand bar that only reveals itself at low tide, providing pedestrian access to the nearby island. Don’t get stranded though! We turned over rocks to hunt for crabs which was a good feeling I’d forgotten about.
The next day was just as hot, and although we were ready to start exploring Acadia, we nixed some harder hikes we had planned and decided it would be best to go easy. So we set off on the Jordan Pond Loop, an easy going three mile trail around the idyllic Jordan Pond. The views of The Bubbles (majestic butt-shaped mountains) were gorgeous, and most of the trail was shaded and pleasant. The only frustration is that swimming isn’t allowed at Jordan Pond, and it is borderline torture to hike around the crystal clear waters for hours on a 95 degree day. It was all too tempting.
Completing the loop, we arrived at the Jordan Pond House, one of the top-rated restaurants of any National Park in the country (I’ll say it again, this isn’t exactly a competitive category). They are famous for their popovers, of all things. We ordered up two popovers with a side of blueberry jam and a pair of blueberry lemonades, and they totally lived up to the buttery hype. The Jordan Pond popovers are not to be missed.
But we were still very, very sweaty. It was kind of them to serve us, actually. If we couldn’t swim in the Jordan, we were going to need to find another water source. We scoped out Lakewood Pond, and took a quick dip before a little thunderstorm rolled in. It brought to mind that E.B. White essay.
After a good shower, we went to dinner at Project Social Kitchen & Bar. We had prime seats on a little front porch and enjoyed a spread of small plates. The crab cakes were some of the tastiest I’ve had. We took another stroll around Bar Harbor afterwards and finished up the evening at Mount Desert Island Ice Cream, which offered genuinely creative flavors. Jake’s Cardamom Cinnamon was the winner.
We went to bed way early because our alarm was set for 2:00 a.m. That’s the time you gotta wake up if you want to hike to sunrise on Cadillac Mountain! We managed the early wake up call, which involved me blow drying my sports bra still wet from the pond swim (ew) and drove to the dark, dark North Ridge trailhead.
This was my first night hike and I wasn’t as spooked as I thought I might be. The headlamp gives you a sort of tunnel vision and I just followed Jake right on up to the top. It took us about two hours, and after seeing just two other happy hikers out on the trail, it’s a little strange when you arrive at the summit and suddenly find 200 friends. They all drove to the top and were awaiting the sunrise in the their PJs. I felt accomplished snacking on my granola bar, anyhow.
The sunrise was completely worth it - absolutely breathtaking. We watched the red, glowing ball hover above the water and all of its little islands, casting beams of color every which way. It was special.
We descended the Gorge Path, which was just beautiful and lined with wild blueberries. Did you know blueberries are the only thing you can take out of the park? Up to two quarts! We were at the bottom by 6:30 a.m. and had only one thing on our minds: blueberry pancakes.
Our needs were met at Cafe This Way, which served up two larger-than-your-face blueberry pancakes each complete with the crispy, raggedy edges. So so so so good. 10/10. Better than I could have hoped for.
We napped after that.
And woke up for a carriage tour of the park! I was so excited about this. Acadia offers horse-drawn tours along the famous carriage roads designed by John D. Rockefeller Jr. Wildwood Stables is home to about 30 draft horses of all breeds that pull the carriages. This is a must-do in Acadia; all of the best views are from the carriage roads - it’s designed that way. And, we learned so much about the history behind the park along the way. Most importantly, I got to love on the drafties.
After a little more exploring and a visit to the picturesque Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse (and a cute seal sighting!) we turned in early, still beat from the high energy morning. The next day we began the journey home - Jeeze, when did we get so far North?
Our lunch stop en route home was by far the most highly anticipated food event of our trip. I’ve had a brand crush on Rose Foods of Portland LONG TIME, and wanted to try their bagels, too.
Everything about this place. Is perfect. The unassuming brick storefront, the takeout menu, the little apple juices, the fucking tote bag. I fan-girled out (I wasn’t the only one, this is a destination) and then the bagel sandwich about put me over the edge. Art. I got The Good Deal, Jake got the Classic Nova. I wish I could go there right now and eat it all over again.
But instead, I’ve got a pink souvenir mug that is keeping me inspired for a restaurant branding project of my own I’ve got going on. Maine as a whole totally inspired me; it’s always refreshing to get out of your backyard. Glad I finally got up there, and can’t wait to return.