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The Great Northern Route

Ellsworth and Trenton

Ellsworth, chartered in 1763, began as a lumber town but is now a thriving commercial center, located southeast of Bangor at the junction of Route 3 and US-1. Downtown is marked by lots of redbrick buildings and the Riverside Café (151 Main St., 207/667-7220), an upscale retro diner that’s famous for its weekend brunch and fine slices of pie. The rest of Ellsworth is full of malls and discount stores, car lots, chain motels, and gas stations—harsh reminders of the sprawling suburban America many Maine visitors are trying to escape.

Between Ellsworth and Trenton, gateway to Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park, there’s a short but bittersweet six-mile parade of tacky roadside attractions along Route 3. If you’ve got kids with you or are in the mood to act like one, you can consider such questionable pleasures as the Great Maine Lumberjack Show in Trenton, plus go-karts, trading posts, miniature golf courses—even a zoo. Just before the bridge, you pass many lobster pounds on this stretch of highway, the best of which is the Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound (207/667-2977, Mon.-Sat. and holiday weekends May-mid-Oct.), open since 1956; just look for the billowing clouds of steam.

Bar Harbor

Once a semiprivate enclave of the very rich (can you say Rockefeller?), the town of Bar Harbor (pop. 2,552), the largest and busiest on Mount Desert Island, has turned to catering to the less-well-heeled visitor as the old money has retreated to more discreet settlements to the west, such as Northeast Harbor—a.k.a. Philadelphia on the Rocks. Bar Harbor’s principal thoroughfares, lined with gift shops, art galleries, bike rental stands, hotels, and restaurants, intersect at the lively and pleasant village green. Since most of Bar Harbor’s old mansions were destroyed in a 1947 fire, there aren’t all that many sights to search out, although the Tiffany windows of lovely little St. Saviour’s Church on the west side of the village green give some sense of the wealth that once lingered here.

There are dozens of generally good and relatively inexpensive restaurants clustered together in Bar Harbor’s few short blocks, so wander around and take your pick. Many are clearly aimed at the tourist trade, none more so than the amiable Route 66 Restaurant (21 Cottage St., 207/288-3708), a pseudo-1950s diner that’s absolutely packed with nostalgic memorabilia—jukeboxes, gas pumps, neon signs, you name it. There’s a great range of good food, including fab blueberry pie, at Poor Boy’s Gourmet (300 Main St., 207/288-4148). Another fun place is Reel Pizza Cinerama (33 Kennebec Place, 207/288-3828), across from the village green, where you can watch a classic or art-house film while kicking back in a recliner, waiting for your pizza. Lobsters, of course, are at the core of Maine cuisine; sample them at a half dozen places on and around the West Street Pier. The most authentic lobster pound around has to be Thurston’s (207/244-7600), on the water in tiny Bernard, south of Southwest Harbor.

The classic place to stay is the Bar Harbor Inn (1 Newport Dr., 207/288-3351, $105 and up), which has a lovely historic inn and standard rooms right on the water.