It was the best of times.
And then it got better.
Sorry to riff on poor Charles Dickens, who gets it every time there’s a half-baked comparison to be made, but the story of Winter Harbor, Maine, is such a surprise that it deserves something at least as poetic as Dickens’ words, even modified.
Winter Harbor is the real deal—a Downeast Maine fishing village that’s off the beaten path, with a handful of beautiful little shops, a 5&10, a friendly vibe…and it’s right on the edge of Acadia National Park.
Not the park you’re thinking of—the one everyone knows on Mount Desert Island, with Bar Harbor in its pocket. This one is across the harbor from Bar Harbor, on the Schoodic Peninsula mainland, and it feels wild, untamed, forgotten. In other words, Winter Harbor’s back yard is acres of stunning ocean coastline. The perfect place to get lost.
But first, there’s town. The Winter Harbor boat landing on Henry Cove reaches right into the middle of the village and grabs it—here’s how it looks at low tide.
Now here’s high.
Fabulous either way. From the boat launch, you look straight out to the Bar Harbor Ferry landing—more on that later, but if you’re a resident you ride for half price. Other notable stops in town: Serendipity, a pretty shop filled with cool stuff from local artisans, who are clearly a talented bunch, plus books and an art gallery.
Owner Kathryn Balteff is a potter/writer and hosts all kinds of workshops, from felting to writing. The cozy café serves coffee and scones, and her mugs (for sale) hang overhead.
Across the street, Wendilee Heath O’Brien’s bohemian Whopaints Studio & Gallery (paintings for sale at Serendipity, too) is a fun place to be inspired—by both the range of beautiful painting styles and the artist’s dedication to environmentalism.
If you happen to be traveling with a canine companion (we are, if you hadn’t guessed), you can rest your paws right in the center of town at the pet-friendly Winter Harbor Inn, where proprietor Pam Di Ruggiero will even groom your dog. From here it’s an easy walk to J.M. Gerrish for ice cream…
and the Winter Harbor 5&10, a fascinating place to stock up on anything, including Maine-themed baubles, or talk property with owner/realtor Pete Drinkwater.
Now, back to the water. The town’s actual harbor is a quick walk down Harbor Road, where lobster boats and traps make for very picturesque photos, and if you’d like to watch the harbor empty out first thing in the morning, you probably need to be there by 6 am. I certainly had good intentions, but in fact this is what it looks like at dusk.
I told you I’d get back to the ferry—it’s a half-hour trip to Bar Harbor by water, instead of the slower drive along Route 1 by land. Either way, you’ll come to the same place, which is about as far from Winter Harbor as you can get anyway, and its own kind of fun.
Booming Bar Harbor has a sort of Key West vibe crossed with Nantucket pretty—kind of the best of both.
Rudy gave a big thumbs-up to Cesar at Cafe This Way for the two pieces of bacon that came his way.
All in all, a very satisfying contrast between Harbors.
Which Maine harbor is your favorite?
This post was first published in 2014 and has been updated.