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Bar Harbor, Maine is one of those places where if you want a family vacation full of adventure, relaxation, the ocean and the mountains, town life and good food, this is your place. Located on Mount Desert Island on the northern coast of Maine, and surrounded by Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor is unique in its beauty – with its sea meets mountain landscape – and abundant in its outdoor activity.
If you are a lover of nature, the scenery is exquisite; think rugged coastline, harbor sunsets and forested hills. It is the perfect spot to bring the kids for all that it offers – from water activities to shoreline walks to dining in town, and to, of course, its access to Acadia National Park. Bar Harbor is now up there with one of our top favorite vacations, and below are my top things to see and do with kids.
Things to See and Do in Bar Harbor with Kids
I cannot say enough about this totally unique experience aboard the Starfish Enterprise with “Diver Ed” and his Superhero crew. A bit under the radar, it is not in all the guide books, but after doing some research, we discovered this is a not-to-be- missed attraction. Indeed it is. The highly entertaining Diver Ed takes you out into Frenchmen Bay, where he dives in with video and sound equipment to the bottom of the ocean floor to collect sea creatures.
While he’s down there, the video screen, or theatre, is playing aboard the boat so you can see and hear in real time all of his encounters with the marine wildlife. Fascinating to watch, Ed eventually brings the sea creatures aboard so the kids can see, feel and hear about what lies beneath. Educational, funny and entertaining, Diver Ed was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. Open from Memorial Day – Labor day. Book tickets in advance at 207. 288-DIVE (3483).
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Bar Harbor, naturally, got its name from its famous sandbar that comes about at low tide. Just northwest of the town pier, the sandbar can be accessed two hours prior to and two hours after low tide. It’s quite big and is a launching point for kayakers as well as those wanting to walk across to Bar Island (part of Acadia National Park) and hike to the top. The hike is a short one, about 20 minutes, where you have views of Bar Harbor and the hills and mountains beyond. The sandbar itself is fun for the kids to run around and play in and dig for shells in this otherwise under the sea location.
Bar Harbor’s park by the water, the sloping green grass set against the backdrop of the harbor makes for a great spot to rest or watch the sunset. A place of convergence for many people as it’s right next to Main Street, we would go there pre-dinner and watch the sun go down while the girls ran around on the grass. Terrific views.
Starting at the Town pier next to Agamont Park, this ½ mile path takes you along the shore with spectacular views of the coastline. An easy walk, many locals say walking this path is part of their weekly – or daily – routine.
We did not do this as we did Diver Ed’s, but hear this lobster boat ride is fantastic. With Captain John Nicolai, you will see and learn about the art of lobster fishing and learn more lobster facts than you could ever imagine! The ride includes seal watching as well as a tour of the area for all that picture perfect scenery you think of when you think of Maine.
This is who you contact if you want to go whale watching. We chose not to whale watch, as it takes up a lot of time – at least 3 hours – but we talked to families who enjoyed it. If your kids want to go whale watching, Bar Harbor is a great place to do it.
This is a super-fun mini golf course if you want to switch things up with the kids. We drove by it on our way into Bar Harbor, and the girls eyed it immediately..
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There are a lot of restaurants in Bar Harbor and seeing as it is not a fancy town, they all seemed to be family-friendly and low-key. Our favorites included:
A lively restaurant with kitschy décor and colors swirling, it’s the perfect ambience for kids. The food (burgers, salads, pasta, etc.) was good and the prices to match. There is also a super fun gift shop underneath.
This quirky, charming restaurant serves breakfast all day and was a big hit with our girls.
Great seafood in a pretty part of town near the water.
As the name suggests, go here for an awesome not-to-be-forgotten breakfast.
From the outside it looks like tourist central – and is (but everywhere is) – but it actually has really good food and lobster.
Come hungry (or not) – chocolate, ice cream and more.
CJ’s Big Dipper
Ice cream and frozen yogurt. Always a line!
There are many hotels, motels and b & b’s in Bar Harbor, that deciding on one can be difficult. Do you want to stay in town so you can walk around everywhere, or outside of town to a more serene location? For us, we didn’t have much of a choice since we booked our trip last minute and there weren’t many rooms available. We decided to go with the Holiday Inn Resort Bar Harbor, just outside of town, and much to our delight, it was perfect for us. Just look at that photo! The rooms were typical Holiday Inn no-frills rooms, but the setting was stunning, with ocean front pool, hot tub and tikki bar.
At the end of each day, we wound up poolside with a beer in tow and beautiful views. It really made the trip that much more relaxing. And the kids, they loved it. There is a Stewman’s Lobster there right on the water if you want to stay in and dine one night. The food was great. Though the hotel could use some updating and is by no means fancy, it had everything we wanted. And if you’re wondering – in the end we preferred to be outside of town, away from it all, in the serenity of the ocean and peace and quiet.
Around Bar Harbor
There are a few other places worth mentioning outside of town:
You can’t go to Maine without taking down a few lobstahs. The two most well-known, real-deal lobster pounds in the area are Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound in Trenton and Thurston’s lobster pound in Bass Harbor. For the best lobster around, head to these two places. Thurston’s is especially great as it’s in a scenic location with nice views of the harbor.
A bit run down, but my girls loved this place. Water slides, go-karts, rock climbing, arcade and obstacle course make up this park, located in Trenton Bridge. If you’re there toward the end of summer, call before you go – the obstacle course was closed because some of the staff had gone back to school.
As you can see, we packed a lot in. If you’re into the outdoors, Bar Harbor has a lot to offer in one of the most beautiful settings on the East Coast.
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