This post includes information about our personal experience traveling to Maine during the COVID-19 Pandemic; from what to expect to how we safely managed our stay to the best of our abilities. Once the following information is no longer needed, it’ll be removed from the post (hopefully by next year!)
After 5 months of feeling stuck-in-place emotionally/mentally/physically, especially living in the NJ/NYC area, it was time for a road trip. Back in early July, our efforts to take a trip up to Vermont failed due to The State of VT not allowing visitors from NJ. Learning this news was so defeating at the time because we truly started to feel like we couldn’t leave just to briefly escape everything happening in this particular part of the country (let alone the world.) Luckily by the end of the month of July, things began to change & states started to lift non-essential travel restrictions to those in select states (NJ being one of them.) Thomas suggested a different road trip, one neither of us have experienced entirely and always kept in the back of our minds to visit someday – Maine.
After reading up on Maine’s COVID-19 Protection Plan, we learned that The State of Maine has exempted residents from the following states from the testing and 14-day quarantine requirement for travel and lodging: Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey (as of August 16 – subject to change with any upcoming developments regarding the Pandemic.)
Seeing that we were in the clear instantly boosted our moods; we needed this trip so bad for the sake of our sanity, as I’m sure many of you reading this can attest to on a personal level as well. And I gotta tell you, we had the best week of vacation the year 2020 could probably ever give us. If you have the opportunity to take a road trip up to Maine, or anywhere you’re allowed to freely enter, I highly recommend doing so just for your emotional health. I honestly had no idea how much we would benefit from just 7 days outside of where we’ve been cooped up. This is the best I’ve felt in a loooong time, since returning & writing up this post :]
So here we go! Our 7-day Maine Travel Guide, from where we visited & stayed to where we dined & what we experienced, is now live for you to enjoy and hopefully reference in your upcoming trip or if you have plans to visit this amazing state in the future!
If I can have any input on how you organize your trip North, I strongly recommend considering how we split up the hours between each town. Bar Harbor is a loooong 8 hour drive from NJ if doing it in one day, so we opted to break it up so we weren’t driving any more than ~5 hours at a time, in a given day. Plus, it allowed for us to visit some cool places we wouldn’t have seen otherwise!
TRAVEL TIME FROM HOBOKEN, NJ – 5 HOURS
We visited Kennebunkport twice during our week-long trip; the first night on our way North, and the last night on our way back to NJ. Although we only had 2 half days & evenings here, we felt like it was enough time to see and explore all that we could during this particular time. In terms of the town activity, it was certainly busy with visitors – which was reassuring to witness if thinking about these small businesses relying on summer tourism to stay afloat, in general and especially this year. Masks were worn on the more congested streets by 98% of the people in town; you were free to take your mask off when not around people on the sidewalk (rare occurrence), but everyone masked up once another human was approaching or passing by. There were ZERO vibes of entitlement; Everyone was doing his/her part to keep themselves & others safe, making the visit to this beautiful yet crowded town very approachable & doable during the Pandemic.
WHERE WE STAYED
I have to give credit to Thomas for finding all the hotels we stayed at during our entire Maine trip. This was our first stop and he couldn’t have picked a cuter place to spend the night. The Beach House Inn is a gorgeous, remodeled Victorian overlooking the Ocean just across the street. There was nothing more pleasant than sipping coffee on the porch or in the Adirondack chairs on the lawn each morning, taking in that salty air and people watching those walking their dogs or heading to the beach. Although it’s not right in the main downtown area, we loved that it was closer to the beach and a lot quieter without hearing the pedestrian or street traffic. However its sister hotel, The Breakwater Inn & Spa, is located just a few blocks away from the heart of town center if you crave a closer location.
WHAT WE DID
As mentioned above, we loved how close our hotel was to the sandy Gooch’s Beach just down & around the road bend, only 7 minutes by foot. If you’re unfamiliar with Maine beaches, most of them are rocky and the water can be ultra icy in given spots. However, the ocean water in Kennebunkport was a lot warmer than that water in Northern Bar Harbor (something to keep in mind.) I recommend packing beach chairs & towels if you intend on making a day at the beach, as most places aren’t lending those items out these days (if at all.) Luckily, Gooch’s Beach is so large that you can safely sunbathe and relax without worrying about an overcrowding situation (like most NJ/NYC beaches unfortunately are dealing with this summer.)
Biked Around Town
Our hotel’s sister location had several bikes available for borrowing, which we took advantage of during our second stay while en route back to NJ. We took them for a cruise around the peak outside of the downtown area, passing landmark sights like St. Ann’s Episcopal Church as well as famous residences like the Bush Family Compound on Walker’s Point.
WHERE WE DRANK + DINED
An adorable spot offering lobster dinners & other classic coastal fare plus blueberry pie in a casual setting. Open for both indoor & outdoor dining, as well as for beverages from the bar which we enjoyed on the Adirondack chairs outside behind the restaurant overlooking a pond & tennis courts.
This spot wasn’t recommended to us but after spending an hour getting rejected from place after place (all restaurants had waitlists that exceeded the 9pm mandatory kitchen closure), we walked inside here and asked to just get a drink to reevaluate our options. By a stroke of luck, we were able to eat at a cocktail bar table and honestly, it was one of our best/fave meals throughout the entire trip! However, I recommend making a reservation in advance since this place has that option. It’ll save you a major stress headache knowing you have a confirmed dinner location lol.
This airy, seminal Maine tavern offers upscale grub & gorgeous water views of the Kennebunkport Marina. We stopped here for a drink before dinner and enjoyed 2 of their signature housemade ales on the front porch while listening to live music. Highly recommend stopping by here even if just for a drink!
The next morning after our first night in Kennebunkport, we stopped at this cute outdoor spot just a few blocks on a quieter road just outside the main drag. Offering healthy food options made in-house, including Vegan/Vegetarian selections & delicious smoothies!
This was clearly the hot spot restaurant in town during our stay, with a waitlist beginning for dinner at 4:30! We stopped by after cruising on the bikes just for a drink around 4pm and got the last two spots available at the socially-distanced bar. Although we didn’t eat a full meal here, we did split a happy hour app plate and wished we had one more day to try having dinner here because the menu looked bomb. Next time!
On our way out of town before heading back to NJ, we stopped at this cute deli for breakfast & lunch sandwiches we’d enjoy later on the road. It’s a tiny spot but the two boys working in there were HUSTLING! Totally worth the 15 minute wait for those sammies because they were delish and beat the other option of waiting 40 minutes for a table someplace; we were eager to get on the road so this was a better choice for us.
Hands-down the most beautiful, delicious, and the only dinner on the fancier side we experienced during our entire trip (^ Hurricane was the top pick in terms of casual options.) If you see a reservation spot available during your stay, you MUST go to Little Barn! The inner horse girl in me was majorly triggered as I sipped on a glass of wine inside an old historical barn. Little Barn is the more “casual” dining option out of the two available at The White Barn Inn (the other being categorized as “fine dining.” However, despite the menus being different, there’s only one chef for the two side-by-side venues separated by a wall. So you’re pretty much getting an incredible 5-star quality meal at a “friendlier price.” I’m still craving all the food & wine we enjoyed there, it was all simply marvelous.
WHERE WE STOPPED ALONG THE WAY [HEADING NORTH TO BAR HARBOR]
TRAVEL TIME FROM KENNEBUNKPORT, ME – 1 HOUR
On our way to Bar Harbor from Kennebunkport, we planned to make two stops to help break up the hours. First was checking out the L.L.Bean Flagship Store in Freeport, ME, which might as well be a variation of Google’s Campus for the outdoorsmen & women. We got our hiking boots here, which I STRONGLY suggest getting if you plan to hike in Acadia National Park while in Bar Harbor. If you don’t have any or happened to forget them at home, at least you have the option to get a reliable pair on the way up!
TRAVEL TIME FROM FREEPORT, ME – 45 MIN
When researching our trip route prior, Thomas learned that the town of Damariscotta was known to have some of the best, if not THE BEST, oysters in Maine. So naturally, we made the plan to stop there for lunch and ended up having it at this spot on the water overlooking the town’s marina while listening to live music. Out of all the lobster & crab rolls we had, THESE WERE THE BEST! Nothing else compared, even the ones at the hot spot places most recommended to us. If you want to experience the best oysters AND rolls, you have to stop here.
TRAVEL TIME FROM DAMARISCOTTA, ME – 2 HOURS 15 MIN
TRAVEL TIME (DIRECT) FROM KENNEBUNKPORT, ME – 3.5 HOURS
We spent 4 days in Bar Harbor, the most amount of time consecutively during this trip. As beautiful as the town is, I’ll admit it didn’t meet my heightened expectations I had going into this first time visiting. Everyone I’ve spoken to talked so highly about Bar Harbor, which led me to believe it would be our favorite place of the trip and I can absolutely see that there’s something very special about it. But if I’m being honest, I wasn’t as “wowed” by it as I expected I’d probably be – at least not during this COVID time.
Don’t get me wrong, the town and its businesses did a terrific job to manage the crowds in a safe & effective manner; but every single meal was about a 40+ minute wait, even for two people! We learned that most of the restaurants that were open (some were not FYI) only had limited hours, meaning 6-11am or 12pm for breakfast and then they’d close either for the day or until 5pm to reopen for dinner, with a strict closing time of 9pm as per the State government rule. So that meant every person in Bar Harbor was eating at the same handful of spots in a limited time frame, which you can imagine got frustrating after a day of dealing with it for every meal.
Thomas & I figured out a system by the 3rd day; we’d eat an early breakfast, skip lunch, and then have an early dinner (i.e. 5pm) OR we’d wait for a spot to eat breakfast/lunch around 11am and then get a takeout order from a restaurant to eat in the hotel room for dinner. Honestly, we didn’t mind either of the strategies – they worked and allowed us to eat when we wanted to, not when we could be accomodated. Just something to think about/consider if you plan to visit BH during these COVID times; it’ll help prevent a potential other stress headache lol.
WHERE WE STAYED
After considering all the options, we ultimately decided that we’d like to stay in downtown Bar Harbor for the duration of our visit here. Thomas booked us a room at the West Street Hotel, a gorgeous coastal retreat overlooking the harbor complete with dining, fitness facilities (yes – the gym was open here thank the Lord) and best part yet: a rooftop pool!! It was walking distance from every spot in town, as well as only 15 min from Acadia by car, and even had one restaurant attached that we ended up getting dinner from twice. They even accommodated rooftop beverage and meal deliveries in partnership with the hotel too.
We didn’t pay up for a room with a water view, but our cozy king-size room came with a decent size balcony and we found ourselves really enjoying each night quietly looking at the stars while sipping glasses of wine. Having a private lot to park our car was such a treat too, as you can imagine finding street parking anywhere in town was cutthroat this particular August week.
I have to say the best part was that rooftop pool overlooking the harbor (only for adults 18 years & older.) There was nothing nicer than sitting up there after our morning hike and decompressing in the sunshine. The weather in BH was so warm (+80°F) but the ocean waters are like 40°F, so having a body of water that was the perfect temperature to cool off in was a dream. West Street Hotel also has a partnership with the Bar Harbor Club across the street and down one block, which has another pool that’s kid-friendly & several hot tubs that overlook the Harbor as well. There’s also a bar to order drinks from as well, although I’m not sure about food options. We only checked it out, preferring the quiet luxury of the rooftop pool option more for our party of 2.
WHAT WE DID
When we take a trip up to BH again, we’re absolutely dedicating a full-day to hiking in Acadia National Park. What’s so great about the trails is that they can all be lengthened and merged, should you decide to hike a longer loop than initially intended. We also found that getting up super early was a BIG WIN – as the park began to get packed by 9am. So we made sure to be on the mountain and starting our hikes by 6:30am latest so we had the trail to ourselves 90% of the time, passing 1-2 other hikers along the way. Trust me – there’s nothing more annoying than masking up every 1-2 minutes passing people once it got crowded, which we would find at the conclusion of every one of our hikes. But totally fine in comparison to the amazing morning we’d just have to ourselves. Plus, you’re practically guaranteed a parking spot at the base of the trailhead at this dawn-breaking hour – early bird gets the worm, right?
On top of that early morning tip, you absolutely need a pair of hiking boots if you intend to take on some of the moderate/hard trails. We found ourselves on a trail that practically scaled a mountain head (not suggested if you have a fear of heights) as well as on another trail that was a straight rock climb incline & steep decline. The whole time I thought to myself, “I’d be f*cked if I were in my sneakers.” So if you don’t have a pair of real hiking boots, I HIGHLY suggest you get yourself a pair before your trip (or at the L.L.Bean store on the way up!) Thomas and I both ended up with the M/F version of the KEEN Targhee III boots completely coincidentally; we tried several pairs separately & ended up liking the same exact one (here’s the link for the men’s version.) We both couldn’t love them more! I’ve had KEEN boots for a few years and needed a new pair for this trip; they fit TTS with a thicker sock, & were so comfortable to wear the first time out, zero blisters & waterproof as well. I wouldn’t recommend anything else!
Trails We Hiked & Loved
Definitely the most thrilling trail I’ve ever hiked, complete with iron rings and ladders to hold onto. As challenging as this trail is, it’s extremely popular so you absolutely want to get there early to tackle the portion of scaling the mountainside without tons of hikers pressuring you to hurry up. Once you get passed the climb, the views of the ocean are apparently beautiful (sadly it was so foggy on our day that we didn’t see it.) The rest of the trail is very easy (in my opinion) afterward too.
After Beehive, we extended our hike by merging onto Gorham Mountain Trail and so glad we did. This trail is rated moderate, beginning as an easy steady climb through a spruce forest, gradually becoming more rugged as it opens to a granite ascent with beautiful, intimate views. GM Trail then spits you out onto the Ocean Path at the bottom of the mountain, which is absolutely stunning and a nice cool down from all the elevation hiked prior. Although I’ll say this path gets SUPER crowded by 9am, just a heads up to be sure to have your mask handy when passing a ton of people on your way back to complete the full loop.
This was our 2nd hike tackled the morning before checking out & heading to Camden, located on the other side of the park (~30 min to get there from the hotel, not 15min like the other trailhead we did.) After reading the trail reviews, we were told it was better to complete it counter-clockwise & I’m SO GLAD we did. This trail was beautiful & rewarding but man, absolutely grueling at points. You basically have a steady, easy incline and overlook the water pretty quickly, but then are making a steep rocky decline to the base of the other side of the mountain, only to cruise for a moment before then going right back up again. Great workout though – would definitely do it again! Afterward, we jumped in Echo Lake which is across the street from the trailhead and OMG it was AMAZING! You’d think it would be freezing but it was so delightfully cool and refreshing, prob 65°F – definitely treat yourself to a dip post-hike.
Pro-Tip: Download AllTrails Before Your Hike
You won’t have great service once in the park and you definitely won’t have any while on your hike, so definitely make sure to download and consult the AllTrails app in advance / screenshot a photo of the map route so you have it handy. I also suggest reading the reviews for each hike of interest, as we found it super helpful to know what to sort of expect in advance, as well as got tips on whether the trail should be hiked in reverse, etc. Lastly – some trails are closed due to restoration or nesting falcons, so be sure to check the AllTrails website/app for updates on whether or not a particular trail you’re interested in hiking is open.
We considered getting a boat for the day, but ultimately figured it wouldn’t be the best use of our time. I told Thomas if we were going to do any sort of boat tour, with other people, I wanted it to at least be an educational experience & something I wouldn’t be able to do at home. So we opted for a Lobster Boat Tour & I’m so glad we did because it was so cool! We learned how the traps are set up & collected, how they measure a lobster (shown above) and determine if its large enough to keep or throw back, as well as got to take a sightseeing tour of some of the most beautiful homes I’ve ever seen. Oh, and we saw TONS of harbor seals too!
There are plenty of Lobster Boat Tours out there, but we truly had the best experience booking ours through Sail Acadia. What we loved so much about it was that it felt way more intimate & private, only sharing the boat with 3 other groups + the captain & guide – allowing all of us to social distance and comfortably take our masks off while underway in a breezy open-air boat. Sail Acadia is located in a completely different harbor, but only a 20 minute drive. From what we saw out of all the boats going out of Bar Harbor directly, it appeared like packed cattle and even if they were doing it safely (which I’m sure they were) the idea of being on a crowded boat with a bunch of tourists & not being able to ask questions isn’t my idea of a fun 2 hours well spent. Just my opinion!
WHERE WE DRANK + DINED
Quirky cafe nestled in an artsy, cottage-like space offers globally influenced breakfasts & dinners. We had a 30-40 min wait but it was worth it! I suggest getting there around 11am, as it seemed to slow down before its closing hour of 12pm & you might be able to get a table quicker that way, depending on the size of your party though.
Ample portions of American breakfast classics are dished up in this homey, familiar digs. If you’re going to get breakfast anywhere in BH, THIS IS THE PLACE! They open up early too so if you happen to hike or catch the sunrise (we didn’t due to fog but heard it’s beautiful) then you should absolutely stop here for a bite afterward.
We got so many recommendations to go here and lucky for us, it was located right across the street from the hotel. Another big hot spot for dining so definitely aim to get there on the earlier side if you can. After dinner, we were able to go to the upper deck for a drink which was such a delight during these COVID times.
Thomas told me about this bar as one of the dive spots he went to a few years back when he sailed up to BH for a weekend. They’ve made some changes since he’s last been, now having a physical building over the shack-scene it used to be housed in (apparently) and removing the bar games due to COVID. But it was so great to be able to go to a bar and have a beer, especially at this sort of hidden spot. It was never crowded when we went the 2x during our trip and the local beers on tap are SO GOOD.
Upscale-casual restaurant at the Bar Harbor Inn, offering seafood, steaks & live piano music. I was able to grab a last minute reservation here to treat ourselves on our last night in BH. We had a great table next to the window where we were able to watch the boats go by. Although if I’m being honest, I expected the food to be a little better – or at least, made with some passion. We both were satisfied with our meals but they definitely weren’t something to remember. Figured I should let you know if you plan to dine here, I’m sure there are other great things on the menu we could’ve been happier with. The views and atmosphere definitely make this place enjoyable though & afterward, we cozied up with a couple drinks outside on the Adirondack chairs overlooking the water.
Warm, welcoming eatery/bar provides burgers & other bar fare plus a variety of lobster dishes + a killer mac n’ cheese situation!. This spot is right near the Dog & Pony Tavern, relatively out of the main drag and less crowded as a result. Although we definitely saw this place pack up quick after 12pm.
Seasonal, family-run restaurant serving locally caught lobster & crab dishes amid harbor views. You won’t find this amazing spot in the heart of Bar Harbor, but instead down a few residential roads tucked away in the neighboring town of Bernard, ME. We stopped here after our lobster boat tour due to multiple recommendations to try it out. So glad we did! FYI – you won’t have great service on this side of the island so I recommend plugging the address into your GPS prior to leaving. If you forget to like we did, thankfully there are wooden signs to follow – if you feel like you’re going the wrong way into a neighborhood, then you’re in good shape!
Casual spot at West Street Hotel for contemporary Irish-American fare, local seafood & live music. This is the restaurant we got dinner from twice, once at the pub and the other time as takeout. Great food & cocktail menu! It definitely gets crowded here though so I recommend going early or putting your name down in advance if you can, as they don’t take reservations.
TRAVEL TIME FROM BAR HARBOR, ME – 1 HOUR 45 MIN
TRAVEL TIME (DIRECT) TO KENNEBUNKPORT, ME – 2 HOURS
If charming towns semi off the mainstream tourist route is something you appreciate, then you’ll want to stop in Camden on your way traveling between Kennebunkport & Bar Harbor. We LOVED Camden and seriously feel like its a place we could retire someday, no joke. There’s something so magical about this tiny town that has it on our hearts probably forever now. It was moderately busy, but nothing compared to the crowds in Kennebunkport or Bar Harbor. Of course, masks were worn in congested areas outside and everything felt super safe, as well as accomodating.
WHERE WE STAYED
Out of all the hotels we stayed at, this one was the most charming and unique one of them all. 16 Bay View is a new 21-room boutique luxury hotel, transformed from a 100-year-old industrial building in the heart of downtown Camden. Our room came with a small terrace where we enjoyed breakfast (& our takeout dinner the night prior) overlooking the Harbor, as well as the most amazing bathtub/shower situation ever (insert heart eyes.) Another great perk was the rooftop bar, which we promptly went to at 4pm opening time to enjoy several margaritas.
WHAT WE DID
Explored & Shopped in Town
I’m not big on spending time shopping during vacation, especially with a man lol, but the fact that Thomas enjoyed every store we stopped at says something. From home decor to bookstores, there wasn’t an adorable shop we disliked. We came home with a lot more “gifts” than we expected to & I have zero buyer’s remorse. Here are some of our fave shops:
WHERE WE DRANK + DINED
Traditional seafood dishes get a twist at this revered eatery & bar that is indeed by the water. It was so nice to sit outside and watch all the gorgeous boats go by over lunch and beers following our drive from BH.
As mentioned above, our hotel has a great rooftop bar overlooking the harbor. You can enjoy small plates here as well, should you choose to drink & dine. I personally recommend getting the Mango Margarita!
Simple, family-owned standby for Italian & Greek comfort bites like pizza, pasta, gyros & salads. If you can imagine, we were both pretty much done with seafood options at the conclusion of our trip haha. So pizza sounded like a great change of pace. We got ours to go and enjoyed on the balcony of our room, a perfect evening. Pizza was amazing too – def recommend!