Yes, the entire village of Northeast Harbor and surrounding area look like a car commercial. You may be hesitant to get out of your car for fear of breaking something that costs 3 million dollars you do not have, or simply because the place looks a little too stuffy for your liking. Have no fear; you will not be arrested if you are not wearing a polo shirt or seersucker, and the place does indeed have more heart and soul than a casual cruise through town may suggest.
Northeast Harbor is the largest village in the town of Mount Desert, a municipality consisting of the middle section of Mount Desert Island (oddly when referring to the town, Desert is pronounced like “dessert” and when referring to the island, it is pronounced like the arid biome). Since it is the largest village, it is home to both the town office and the largest library, the Northeast Harbor Library.
The Northeast Harbor Library is not your typical sleepy Maine coast library. Not only does it offer a wide selection of material and cozy places to read for hours, it has facets of its being that are unique to its time and place in the universe, physical rooms and extraordinary programming. Upstairs, the library has a Garden room (this part of Maine is a landscaping epicenter) and a Maine room, perfect for perusing on a rainy day. It also has an archive in the basement that includes old national park trail signs (ask for directions to the bathroom for a taste of them). Although the library may be the last place you would think to go at night, this library is also an evening destination, hosting open mikes and garden talks and poetry readings.
Northeast Harbor has lots of shops to poke in and out of, but one will lure you to linger like no other: Swallowfield, a little shop on north Main Street owned and operated by an artist of epic proportions, Jennifer Judd-McGee. Judd-McGee creates prints of which any traveler will want to pack as many as possible into their suitcase to bring home. The vibrant happy space also reflects Judd-McGee’s spot-on and ever current taste: Nikki McClure books and journals, cards for every occasion and non-occasion, atypical Maine souvenirs, gifts for people who do not typically like giving or receiving.
On the other end of Main Street lies art of a different kind: the Colonel’s Restaurant and Bakery. The restaurant is standard American fare sure to please the youngest and oldest palate, but the bakery in front is worthy of its own centerfold of a magazine. The Colonel’s is famous island-wide for the best carrot cake and it’s donuts–different kinds every day but typically chocolate glaze, plain, blueberry, cinnamon sugar–and whatever else the baker has concocted.
In search of other meal options? If you want to sit on a deck and crack open a lobster overlooking the Northeast Harbor Marina, the Tanned Turtle Tavern is the place to go. For a more sophisticated palate around lunchtime, it is worth seeking out Milk and Honey, tucked away at 3 Old Firehouse Lane, worthy of a Vogue photo shoot or reminiscent of a Japanese teahouse. Milk and Honey is typically open 10-4 for sandwiches (for example, turkey and gruyere, chicken schnitzel, Banh mi), sides (lemon-horseradish potato salad, cabbage-fennel slaw) and sweets. The exception is Thursday nights, roughly mid-June through September, when Thursday night patio parties happen, gourmet comfort food and drinks al fresco.
After all, to feel the salty breeze on bare skin is a pleasure enjoyable to everyone. The best place to do that passively is on a bench at the Northeast Harbor Marina, where you can watch the yacht hands hustle and bustle and admire the boats. Wait though; do not simply admire the boats. Maine is best seen from the water. Hop on board the Bunker and Beal mailboat to the Cranberry Islands, see Mount Desert Island from the perspective of a lobster boat, and disembark at Isleford, where the Isleford Dock Restaurant is in a class of its own.
Of course, the vast majority of visitors will choose to exit town via land and head to the surrounding carriage roads and hiking trails of Acadia National Park. From the top of Bald Peak or Sargent, you cannot see the hamlet of Northeast Harbor, only the surrounding water. The village will always be small and unassuming with an element of pleasant surprise to anyone who offers it a closer look.