A perfect long weekend in Acadia

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The National Parks are more popular than ever this year, due to COVID worries and a desire for wide open spaces, and for those of us in the Northeast the most popular and accessible park is Maine’s Acadia National Park.  Just 4 ½ hours’ drive from Boston, Acadia can easily be done in a long weekend, it offers attractions for all ages, and it’s equally enticing in spring, summer and fall {while the park remains open in winter, many of the roads are closed, and it wouldn’t be the best time to visit}  

I recently spent a few days exploring the area with my daughter, and here are our tips on how to plan the perfect “escape” to Acadia National Park:

woman sitting and admiring the rocky beach of Acadia National Park Maine

You do need to plan ahead

  • Entrance passes for the park should be purchased online before the trip, and if you’re travelling during peak leaf-peeping season (the first half of October) you’ll need to make timed reservations for certain sections of the park. 
  • Some of the key sights/experiences are very dependent on sunrise/sunset times and on the high/low tides, so you’ll want to be sure to check those times before you plan out your days. 

Where to stay

The park is on an island (Mt Desert Island) and, while you can save some money by staying along the coast nearby (in Ellsworth or other towns) it really is better to stay on the island itself rather than driving back and forth. Bar Harbor, on the eastern side of Mt Desert Island, is the main town. There are lots of hotels, inns and B&Bs. The west side of the island, near the town of Southwest Harbor, is much quieter, with a handful of charming B&Bs and guest cottages. Sprinkled around the island you’ll also find campgrounds and rental properties. 

To me, the main decision was whether to be right IN town, in Bar Harbor, so that we could walk to shops and restaurants or to be just outside town, away from the foot traffic. In this COVID world, since we knew we wanted to stay away from crowds, we opted for the Hampton Inn Bar Harbor. It was the perfect choice – a five-minute drive from town, with an included breakfast, a pool, and free parking – and it’s very popular with families.  In another time, if I were traveling with my husband and wanted to be able to stroll to bars and restaurants in the evening, I would probably have chosen the West Street Hotel on the waterfront, the Harborside Hotel, or the Balance Rock Inn. 

Where to eat

Local dining is normally the highlight of a vacation for me, and probably the part that I spend the most time planning, but that was not the case with this trip. Due to the pandemic, we were not comfortable dining in any restaurants, so we stuck to takeout meals and picnics. The meals that we ordered from Side Street Café, Rosalie’s Pizza, and Leary’s Landing Irish Pub were all perfectly good, but I don’t think they were a fair representation of Bar Harbor’s restaurant scene.

exterior of Thurstons lobster shack in Bar Harbor Maine

That being said, we did try the obligatory lobster roll from Thurston’s Lobster Pound, and it was delicious!

What to see and do

You’ll find plenty of “must do” lists online, and they all tend to include the same things – sunrise at Cadillac Mountain, popovers at the Jordan Pond House, hiking the Beehive Trail, etc.  We combed through those lists, crossed off the things that were not COVID appropriate or were too ambitious for our timeframe and/or fitness level, checked our sunrise and tide tables, and then grouped our wish list by geography so that we wouldn’t be crisscrossing the island back and forth all day. 

Here’s what our itinerary ended up looking like:

to-go food on a blue blanket with the sand, sea and pine trees in the background a picnic on Seal Beach in Maine

Day 1 –  We arrived late in the afternoon, checked in, picked up a to-go dinner, and headed to Seal Beach for a sunset picnic.

Day 2 – We hiked the Gorham Mountain Trail, did a scenic drive along Somes Sound, stopped at Echo Lake, explored Southwest Harbor, visited Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, got a lobster roll at Thurston’s Lobster Pound, and made it back to Bar Harbor in time for the late-afternoon low tide so that we could walk out to Bar Island. NOTE: we did not leave enough time to get out there and hike around the island before heading back, so I would give myself more time next time.

mother-daughter hiking trip up Gorham Mountain in Acadia National Park Maine
The views from Gorham Mountain
Serene and beautiful, Echo Lake is worth the stop

Day 3 – Today was entirely planned around sunrise at Cadillac Mountain, and it was more than worth it.

sunrise over Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park on Cadillac Mountain Maine

We had read online that you need to get to the peak an hour before sunrise, so we were there by 4:30 am and it was magical. We sat in the dark and the cold, wrapped in blankets, watching the first rays warm up the sky.

People were still streaming in at 5:30 am when the sun was already risen, and I didn’t have the heart to tell them they had missed the best part! Plus, they had to contend with traffic and parking issues. We avoided all of that, and were already driving back down the mountain before 6am. Afterwards, we visited Sand Beach and hiked along the Ocean Path to Thunder Hole, and then drove the rest of the Park Loop Trail. That afternoon, we walked the scenic trails at Ship Bottom and Wonderland.

woman looking over the rocky bay and evergreen pine trees along the Ocean Path of Acadia National Park Maine
Enjoying the views while hiking along the Ocean Path
rocky beach stones, green pine trees against a bright blue sky in Acadia National Park Wonderland
Bright blue skies, dark evergreen trees and sandy stones painted a perfect picture in Wonderland

Day 4 – We had planned to do the Jordan Pond Loop Trail, and stop at the Jordan Pond House for the famous popovers, but were reading online reviews about crazy crowds and lines, and we opted to just have some breakfast and get on the road back home to Rhode Island.

Overall, we had a fabulous time. And I think we packed a lot into a quick three-night stay. We definitely got our fill of outdoorsy activities and gorgeous scenery, and were – for the most part – able to maintain social distance.

seating over the harbor with the harbor in the background at Thurstons in Bar Harbor Maine

The town of Bar Harbor itself was too busy for our purposes, but I would LOVE to go back there some other time, when crowds don’t feel so scary, so that I can really enjoy the shops, bars and cafes.

In the meantime, if you want some help planning your own “escape” to Acadia National Park, let me know!

Weekend in LA

Anniversary Escape, part 1

“Weekend in L.A.”

In celebration of our 25th wedding anniversary and my husband’s 50th birthday, we had planned a trip to Hawaii for the first two weeks in September.  Unfortunately, un unprecedented TWO hurricanes also decided to threaten the Hawaiian Islands over Labor Day weekend, so we had to make some last-minute adjustments in the itinerary – substituting a weekend in Los Angeles for our stay in Oahu.

Annie on the beach

Considering the LA portion of the trip was planned on VERY short notice (less than 48 hours prior to departure), it turned out to be a fabulous weekend in a place we probably would never have visited otherwise.  I got a great last-minute deal on a two night stay at the Ritz-Carlton Marina del Rey, which is just 15 minutes from the Los Angeles airport, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone looking for a brief stopover like ours.

Ritz Carlton view

We flew from Boston on Friday morning, and landed at LAX just after noon. First impressions weren’t great, as the Hertz counter was swamped that holiday weekend, and the line wrapped around the inside of the building. When we finally got our car, we tried to hit an In N Out Burger on our way to the hotel, but that parking lot was absolute chaos as well, so we decided to just go check in.

Once we arrived at the Ritz Carlton, all was forgiven!  They welcomed us graciously, upgraded our room, poured us some celebratory champagne, and promised to deliver the bags while we went and had some lunch. The hotel restaurant staff was equally amazing. They chatted with us about LA, gave us some great restaurant recommendations, and were so excited about our onward plans to Hawaii that they treated us to complimentary Mai Tais 🙂 Not a bad way to start the weekend!

Mai Tai #1

After lunch, we freshened up and headed out for a drive south down the coast. We stopped in Manhattan Beach to walk around the pier and the shops, drove through some adorable neighborhoods along the coast (Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach, Palos Verdes) and then had a quick dinner in a local pizza place and went back for an early bedtime. The hotel had left us a bottle of champagne and a very nice anniversary note 🙂

Manhattan Beach

Not yet having adjusted to the time difference, we were up and out EARLY on Saturday morning for some more sightseeing.  We grabbed breakfast at a nearby Panera and headed into the city to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and the Walk of Fame (touristy, but you have to do it, lol); drove through Hollywood; and visited Griffith Park for the gorgeous views over the city and the obligatory photos of the Hollywood sign (I really wished we were dressed for a hike, as there were tons of people out enjoying some exercise on a sunny Saturday).

Griffith Park view 2 Griffith Park view

After that we wound our way down Rodeo Drive and poked around Beverly Hills; we spent some time sunning ourselves at the Santa Monica Pier, and strolled the Third St Promenade, stopping for fish tacos for lunch.  That afternoon, we took a scenic drive through the surrounding canyons and hills, and then headed back through Venice Beach to the hotel.

Rte 66 santa monica sign Ferris wheel at santa monica pier LA Santa Monica pier

Back in Marina del Rey, we grabbed a quick nap, and then wandered around the marina to daydream about boats. The weather was absolutely perfect (75 and sunny), and we enjoyed a cocktail and some great So-Cal people watching at the pool bar 🙂  We had dinner reservations at Moonshadows  in Malibu, so we took a little drive through Malibu before our sunset dinner overlooking the Pacific.


The food was good, the atmosphere was lovely, and I would definitely recommend it.  The traffic on the Pacific Coast Highway heading back that evening was rough. Couldn’t face that every day, but we really enjoyed being Californians for a weekend!

A gold-medal-winning weekend

Our good friends Dean and Laura recently marked their 30th wedding anniversary, and asked us if we’d like to come along for a weekend in Lake Placid to celebrate. Didn’t take long to say yes to that!  Despite growing up in New York, and spending lots of time in Burlington, VT, I had never been to the NY side of Lake Champlain, the Adirondacks, etc. and I have to say that this trip was a major revelation to me.  It is absolutely gorgeous up there!


We drove about five hours from Rhode Island, heading west into Massachusetts and then taking a sharp northern turn at Albany, past Saratoga, Glens Falls and Lake George, before arriving in the lovely little town of Lake Placid. It’s hard to imagine that this was the site of two Olympic Games (1932 and 1980) as I have no idea where they put everyone. The town itself basically consists of one main street overlooking Mirror Lake, and then a series of gorgeous homes (and a couple of lodges) built around the edges of Lake Placid.

We stayed at the High Peaks Resort, which has an ideal location in the center of town, walkable to everything. Our rooms were spacious, the lake view was fantastic, and the onsite restaurant/bar was very welcoming after a long drive.  There was a major wrestling tournament going on in town while we were there, and our hotel was hosting both a wedding and a military retreat of some kind, but it never felt crowded or busy. In fact, the common theme for the whole weekend was “it’s so quiet and peaceful up here!”


On Saturday, we started with a two-mile walk around the lake, and then indulged in a decadent breakfast at the Breakfast Club. We were lucky enough to be there the day that the boat tours at Lake Placid Marina started up for the summer, so we were the very first passengers of the season. The tour was about a 90-minute ride around the lake in a pontoon boat, with commentary about the “Camps” along the shore (kind of like calling the Newport Mansions “Cottages”) and the history of the area.


Afterwards, we visited the Lake Placid Olympic Ski Jumping Complex, and rode the elevator 25 stories up to the top of the jump to take in the view.


After a lunch overlooking the lake, we window-shopped down Main Street and then hopped back in the car to go check out the nearby Whiteface Lodge (definitely worth a return visit, to stay in one of their luxurious suites, or just dine at KANU).  Our evening started with some fabulous cocktails and charcuterie at the Lake Placid Lodge, where we lingered for a while, watching the boats on the lake, and then we had a late dinner at The Cottage, a cozy little lakeside restaurant that’s part of the Mirror Lake Inn. I really could not imagine a more perfect day!


Sunday morning we took another walk around the lake (trying to work off all those decadent meals) and then checked out and headed back towards Rhode Island. Along the way, we made a detour to Fort Ticonderoga, and a scenic drive around Lake George.  Despite some serious traffic in Massachusetts, we were home by dinner time.


If you go:

–          You can do it in a weekend, like we did, but one extra day would really have been better.

–          May is the “shoulder season” and we lucked out with very nice weather, and the opening of the boat tours, but there probably would have been more to do if we came later into the summer. Or in the winter, when we could have tried the toboggan chute onto frozen Mirror Lake!

–          If you’re really into the Olympic experience, take a look at the “Olympic Passport”, which gets you discounted admission to a whole host of exhibits and activities.

–          There are a range of accommodations right in town, from mom and pop motels, to branded chain hotels, and more luxurious resorts/inns. The High Peaks was perfect for us, but the Mirror Lake Inn about a block away would be great for a romantic getaway and the two five-star lodges on Lake Placid (Whiteface and Lake Placid) are now firmly on my bucket list.



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