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Nancy Heiser

Nancy Heiser is a freelance writer and editor. She can be reached at: nancyheiser.com

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Posted: September 1, 2014

Bar Harbor on a budget: 14 free (or cheap) things to do in Maine’s famous coastal town

Written by: Nancy Heiser
From coastal trails to cheap eats and free samples, you can do Bar Harbor on a budget. Nancy Heiser photos

From coastal trails to cheap eats and free samples, you can do Bar Harbor on a budget. Nancy Heiser photos

Ah, Bar Harbor. Gorgeous. So let’s get this out of the way first: The cheapest thing you can do here is simply enjoy the jaw-dropping natural beauty. You are surrounded by landscapes that folks from all over the world come to see. Just crossing the bridge from Trenton qualifies as a postcard moment. But there are plenty of free – or really cheap – things to do here that will help make sure your visit to Bar Harbor leaves you with an overflow of fond memories and zero vacation debt.

Nancy Heiser photos

Nancy Heiser photos

Sample the wine at Bar Harbor Cellars winery

Bar Harbor Cellars winery offers free tastes in a barn-like retail store. Find the winery along Route 3, about ten minutes from downtown. The tasting room on Sweet Pea Farm features specialty foods as well as free tastes of the whites, reds, and fruit wines made on site.
Bar Harbor Cellars Winery, 854 State Highway 3, Bar Harbor | Free tastings | Open until 6 p.m. daily,  in season | 207-288.3907 or www.barharborcellars.com


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The scenic Shore Path, left. Some folks take in the view from atop Balance Rock, right. Nancy Heiser photos

Walk the Shore Path

We rolled into town and headed to the Shore Path, a mile-long walking trail along the water’s edge. Here you can stroll alongside the historic inns and homes on one side, the waters of Frenchman Bay on the other. Watch the marine action, everything from lobster boats to sailing schooners to cruise ships. Keep an eye out for harbor seals and sea birds. Take in the view of the Porcupine islands. Dogs on leash are welcome.
Shore Path begins at the Town Pier next to Agamont Park | Parking available at public pier near the intersection of West Street and Main Street | .75 miles long (15 minute walk) | www.acadiamagic.com/ShorePath


Nancy Heiser photos

Nancy Heiser photos

Catch a free outdoor movie (free popcorn!) at Agamont Park

Here’s a family-friendly freebie: Wednesday movie nights at Agamont Park, near the Bar Harbor waterfront. Unfold a chair or settle on a blanket at 8:30 and enjoy an open-air classic movie such as Into the West, showing the night we stopped by. Boxed popcorn is free, courtesy of the Camden National Bank. This old-fashioned activity gives the tourist destination a small-town feel. The last film, Seven Chances, is September 3.
Movies in Agamont Park | Free | Movies start at 8:30 pm Wednesday, August into September | www.barharborinfo.com


Nancy Heiser photo

Nancy Heiser photo

Take in the view from the rooftop at Jackson Labs

For extra science credit, reserve ahead and take a free tour at Jackson Labs, just outside of town, offered at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays through September. You may be a little disappointed that you don’t get to see the mice or any labs in action, but the story of this world-renowned nonprofit genetics research center and the scope of the campus tucked into the hills of Mt. Desert Island is impressive.
The Jackson Laboratory, 600 Main Street, Bar Harbor | Free tours at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday and Thursdays June through September | www.jax.org/about/tours


Nancy Heiser photos

Nancy Heiser photos

Take a tour – and a taste – at Atlantic Brewing Company

Take a libation break at Atlantic Brewing Company in the hamlet of Town Hill. Free tasting and tours are at 2 p.m., 3 p.m., and 4 p.m. in season. We were too late in arriving to take in the last tour on a rainy afternoon, but had a fine time tasting the microbrews.
Atlantic Brewing Co., 15 Knox Rd, Bar Harbor | Free tastings and tours at 2 p.m., 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. daily, in season | 207-288-2337 or www.atlanticbrewing.com


Nancy Heiser photo

Nancy Heiser photo

Chow down at Mainely Meat

Located right next door to Atlantic Brewing (brilliant!) is Mainely Meat, a barbeque spot on the brewery premises with open-air courtyard and tented seating. Add this spot to your bargain food list. Portions are ample and there’s a fenced playground for the little ones while you partake. We had an excellent pulled pork sandwich.
Mainely Meat, 15 Knox Road, Bar Harbor | 207-288-2337 or www.atlanticbrewing.com/mainely-meat-bbq | Check out the menu


Nancy Heiser photos

Nancy Heiser photos

Take a self-guided tour

You can trace historic sites in town by following the Museum in the Streets markers. Pick up a map at most information kiosks or just stumble upon them as you go. There are 29 stops.


Nancy Heiser photo

Nancy Heiser photo

Get ice cream at Ben and Bill’s Chocolate Emporium

We shared a red velvet whoopee pie from Pink Pastry Shop – an indulgence that did excellent justice to the state’s official treat.
Ben & Bill’s Chocolate Emporium, 66 Main St, Bar Harbor |Open March through December | 207-288-3281 or www.benandbills.com


Nancy Heiser photos

Nancy Heiser photos

Have a treat

For a vacation treat, skip the expensive dinner and indulge in a peachy cocktail at Havana or a croissant at Choco-latte. (If you’re obliged to spend your hard-earned dollars anywhere, shouldn’t it be on cocktails and dessert?
Havana Restaurant, 318 Main St, Bar Harbor | 207-288-2822 or www.havanamaine.com
Choco-Latte, 240 Main Street, Bar Harbor | 207-801-9179 or www.choco-lattecafe.com



Inside Acadia National Park

Ok, so it’s not free, but you’d be crazy not to enter Acadia National Park while you are here. It’s the main attraction. So pony up $20 for a group pass good for seven days, payable at a few kiosks (we bought our car pass at the Thompson Island Information Center, just over the bridge, where the line was short) and you’re entitled to enjoy all corners of the park, which covers much of Mt. Desert Island. That may be all you ever spend on entertainment in this area. FMI: www.nps.gov



Nancy Heiser photo

Nancy Heiser photo

Ride the Island Explorer

Want to ditch the car but get around the park? Hello, Island Explorer, best freebie on the island. The van shuttle system drives all over Mt. Desert Island on a schedule. Rides originate at Bar Harbor’s Village Green, but you can hop on or off anywhere along the route and even bring your bike. Ten bucks of your admission to the park covered this service, so use it – you won’t be sorry. It’s convenient, comfortable, and so much better than navigating the popular parking spots in your car, which can be nearly impossible in high season.
The Island Explorer | Rides originate at Bar Harbor’s Village Green | Rides are on the honor system | 288-4573 or www.exploreacadia.com


Nancy Heiser photo

Nancy Heiser photo

Have a picnic on Thompson Island

Pack a picnic lunch and stop to hang out in the picnic area on Thompson Island at Mount Desert Narrows. There are picnic tables and plenty of grassy areas to lounge about or toss a Frisbee.
Thompson Island picnic area, located on the left or eastern side of Thompson Island | www.acadiamagic.com/acadia-picnic


Nancy Heiser photo

Nancy Heiser photo

Enjoy the Cadillac Mountain summit view at dusk

You must – must! – go to the top of Cadillac Mountain for the panoramic views in all directions. You’ll find visitors from all over the globe here at the summit, strolling the paths, scrambling across the rocks, photographing, or simply taking in the panorama with reverence. At sunset, it’s a small community of fellow nature worshipers. Take a blanket to sit on or wrap up in. Cool nights are common on the Down East coast, but on the open summit it’s downright chilly. (Fun fact: From October 7 through March 6, it is the first place to view a sunrise in the United States.)
Cadillac Mountain at Acadia National Park | 1,530 feet – and the tallest mountain on Mount Desert Island | Park Loop Road winds approximately 3.5 miles to the summit and provides several key spots along the way where you can stop and take in the spectacular panoramic views | www.acadia.ws/cadillac-mountain


Nancy Heiser photo

Nancy Heiser photo

Lounge on Sand Beach

Plop yourself at Sand Beach in Acadia for a bit of sun, which was no hassle to get to because you took the Island Explorer, right? If you’re feeling energetic, find the steps at the far end of the beach that lead you to the Great Head trail (read ahead for more info on that).
Sand Beach at Acadia National Park | 290-yard-long sandy beach | Access from Park Loop Road just after the park fee entrance station on the northeastern side of the island | www.acadia.ws/sand-beach

 


Nancy Heiser photo

Nancy Heiser photo

Hike the Great Head Trail

From Sand Beach (which I mentioned above), find the steps at the far end of the beach that lead you to a moderate, 45-minute hike on the Great Head trail. It’s a bit of a scramble at times (go clockwise for an easier ascent) but not hardcore. And the view is magnificent. There are many hikes in the park that will blow your mind.
Great Head Trail in Acadia National Park | 1.4-mile hike | Rated as “moderate” | www.acadiamagic.com/great-head-trail


Lodging

Lodging options for the budget minded are plentiful and include campgrounds, efficiency units, and small vintage motels along the main drag with rock bottom prices. A friend swears by The Colony, another likes Edenbrook. For suggestions in all price points, contact the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce, www.barharborinfo.com.

Nighttime

Summer nights in Bar Harbor are lively, with visitors of all ages mixing it up in shops (most stay open until 9 p.m.) and numerous cafes and bars. Among the latter is Carmen Verandah at 119 Main St., an indoor/outdoor place for music, dancing and drinks, and Geddy’s, at 19 Main St., famous for its kitschy atmosphere. For a different feel, get to the Bluenose Inn, 90 Eden St., where Bill Trowell rolls out popular jazz medleys, show tunes and classical pieces on the grand piano in the spacious lounge with fireplace (and no TV). Everyone is welcome.

And there’s no charge to explore the downtown, of course, and the scene is lively day and night. Window shop, drop in an art gallery, or just watch the action on the wharf.

There, now. You’ve hardly spent a thing.

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