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Northeast Harbor, Maine

Photo by Robert L. Drake

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Millions of years ago, geological forces created Maine’s Somes Sound, steep-sided Northeast Harbor at its mouth and superb sailing waters all around. A century ago, John D. Rockefeller and other wealthy summer residents made Northeast Harbor the yachting center of Mount Desert Island. Today, their descendants and Morris Yachts’ service yard keep this protected bight filled with impeccably maintained sailing and power yachts.
Although the harbor may seem full when you arrive, hail the harbormaster agents on channel 9, and they’ll direct you to a mooring. Several facilities in the harbor offer fuel, water, ice and pumpout.

It’s tempting to remain on deck for hours watching the harbor, but you’ll miss out on a lot of the region’s charm if you don’t walk up the hill from the docks to the refined yet bustling village. You can browse art galleries, boutiques and variety stores that carry most everything, from sundries to coveted luxuries. The Great Harbor Maritime Museum on Main Street showcases the area’s heritage, from lighthouses and boat models to the steam-powered ferries that served Northeast Harbor in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Then give in to cravings for finger-lickin’-good baked goodies or a meal at Colonel’s Restaurant and Bakery. Nearer the docks, Dockside Restaurant specializes in Down East fare — seafood, including lobster, blueberry pie and regional ales. Eat and people-watch at Full Belli Deli’s outdoor tables or feast on one of their super sandwiches. The Main Sail Restaurant also serves up live entertainment on weekends.
It’s worth a dinghy trip across the harbor (tie up at the Asticou Terraces Landing float) to climb the meandering terraced stone paths to the famed Thuya Gardens on the cliff top. En route, you’ll have panoramic vistas of the harbor from the stone observation platforms. And the gardens are a joy throughout the season.
If you’re looking for something less strenuous, try wandering through Asticou Inn’s Azalea Gardens at the head of the harbor. With drink in hand or food on the table, the porch of the 128-year-old inn is a fine place from which to survey harbor activity and absorb the “rusticator” ambience that still permeates Northeast Harbor.
The spectacular scenery of the surrounding mountains, which dwarf the village, prompted early residents to donate land that became Acadia National Park. The park’s pristine mountains, forests, streams, ponds and rugged coast are at your fingertips. Just hop aboard the free propane-powered buses that stop at the public landing (by the docks). They regularly circle to Bar Harbor, Ocean Drive, Jordan Pond House, many trailheads, and even to Southwest and Bass harbors on the western, “quiet side” of Mount Desert Island.
Within the park lie most of the 55 miles of carriage trails Rockefeller built between 1913 and 1940 from his nearby “cottage” to Bar Harbor, passing through the east side’s most striking scenery. These days, most folks hike. But some bike, some ride horseback and some take a carriage (rentals available).
Golf or tennis, anyone? Hail a cab or rent a car to reach Northeast Harbor Golf Club (tee times for visitors are limited, (207) 276-5335). At the Yachtsmen’s Building by the docks you can reserve one of the town marina’s free tennis courts. The Chamber of Commerce provides showers, information, Cranberry Isles ferry schedules and Acadia National Park passes.
Of course, cruise the area — perhaps up Somes Sound or the waters south to the Cranberry Isles, where Acadia’s spruce-clad mountains form a dramatic backdrop. By land or sea, Northeast Harbor embodies coastal Maine at its finest.

See related articles:

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- Marblehead, Mass.

- Mystic, Conn.

- Chestertown, Md.

- Oriental, N.C.

- Flamingo, Fla.

This article originally appeared in the August 2011 issue.