Summer travel season is here! We’re celebrating with a look back on one of our favorite summer trips of all time – a road trip from Washington DC to Bar Harbor, Maine. We broke the trip down with individual posts back when we had our old blog, but thought it would be fun to compile it all into one post here on The Tasty Escape. I hope you enjoy!
A 7-Day Road Trip from DC to Maine
This New England road trip was a jam-packed seven days of beautiful scenery, delicious food and family time. Here’s the rundown of where we went, where we stayed and what we did on our week-long New England road trip.
Day 1 – DC to Manchester, Vermont
It took us a while to decide on our first stop of the trip. But after stumbling upon a great deal at the gorgeous Taconic Inn in Manchester, Vermont the decision was easy.
Pit Stop in Princeton
Tom and I left DC the Thursday before the Fourth of July (2016) to avoid traffic. We had our dog Ashton with us, and an epic road trip playlist – what more do you need?
Our first stop was in Princeton to grab sandwiches at The Red Onion and ate them on the Princeton campus nearby. It was a beautiful day, and a great way to stretch our legs in the middle of all the driving. And also, what is a New England road trip without a stop at one of the Ivies?
We spent a little over an hour exploring the campus and eating, before loading back into the car. Other than a quick bathroom and coffee stop at a rest station somewhere in Vermont, the drive was beautiful but uneventful.
One Night in Manchester, Vermont
We made it to Manchester just before sunset. Though we could have driven further that day, we wanted a slower pace to our road trip where we could take our time and have a few hours to explore areas along the way.
Our first stop was for a drink and a snack at Seasons Restaurant, a cute and casual eatery with a lovely dog-friendly patio. We enjoyed the lingering sunlight and sublime weather paired with Vermont beers and a hummus plate. After the sun went down, we pried ourselves away from the flower-filled patio to check into our hotel.
The Taconic Hotel is a beautiful Kimpton property with lodge-style decor and all of the bright, cozy rooms. We loved that they don’t charge a fee for pets and even provided Ashton with dog bowls and a treat upon arrival.
Dinner at the Copper Grouse
We had a late dinner at the on site restaurant, The Copper Grouse. While hotel restaurants are often uninspired and lackluster, Kimpton tends to raise the bar with high-quality eateries at their properties.
Even if we hadn’t stayed at the Taconic Hotel, I still would have been drawn to this restaurant with its seasonal and locally focused menu full of healthy options. It was incredibly convenient, and Ashton was again allowed on the gorgeous patio complete with fire pits and couches.
Day 2 – Manchester, Vermont to Bar Harbor, Maine
The next morning came too soon, as we had to hurry and get on the road in order to arrive in Maine around the same time as my family. But we had one stop to make first. When we learned that our hotel was right by Mount Equinox, the highest peak in the Taconic mountain range, we had to take a gander.
Scenic Skyline Drive in the Taconic Mountain Range
A hike would have been ideal, but there wasn’t enough time. So we settled on doing the Skyline Drive, a private toll road to the top of the peak.
The drive is absolutely stunning, with several overlooks to stop at along the way offering views of the Green, White, Adirondack, Berkshire and Taconic mountain ranges. They don’t call it the Green Mountain State for nothing!
About halfway up the mountain, you can get a distant view of the Charterhouse of Transfiguration, the only Carthusian monastery in the U.S. It’s incredible to imagine such a remote life of solitude. Beyond the monastery lies New York State and the Adirondacks.
We left Vermont excited to meet up with my family, who were flying in from Oklahoma to New Hampshire that morning. We hadn’t expected to see them until we arrived in Bar Harbor later in the evening, but luck was on our side and we happened to be passing through New Hampshire at around the same time. They were able to join us for lunch at Fisherman’s Catch in Wells, our first meal in Maine!
Lunch at Fisherman’s Catch in Wells, Maine
Dog-friendly patios were clutch during this trip, and Fisherman’s Catch had a great one. I was hoping for an ocean view, but the charming seaside vibe and chill marsh scenery sufficed just fine.
We hopped right on the fresh seafood train and stayed on it pretty much the entire trip. I had haddock tacos with tangy slaw and a delicious chipotle aioli.
Bar Harbor Accommodations
After lunch, we hit the road again to head to Bar Harbor. We had to stay in different hotels due to the dog (he really is worth it, though). Both places had their own charm, but I preferred the one my family stayed in, the Ullikana Inn. It was right on the water, and very charming. If you’re looking for a place to stay in Bar Harbor, I would definitely recommend it.
Day 3 – Full Day in Bar Harbor
Cadillac Mountain Hike in Acadia National Park
The next morning, we were up early for a hike. Cadillac Mountain, part of Acadia National Park, is the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard. There are several hikes you can choose on Cadillac Mountain ranging from very easy to strenuous. We knew we wanted a good workout and good views so the Cadillac North Ridge Trail was the perfect choice.
This is a hike up a mountain, so it’s definitely a heart-pumping climb! But we hardly noticed the effort with all of the eye candy around every corner.
This hike was definitely one I’ll never forget. No matter how you do it, a visit to Cadillac Mountain at Acadia National Park is definitely a must-see if you’re in Bar Harbor.
Lobster Lunch at Stewman’s Lobster Pound
We had worked up quite an appetite hiking and were ready to indulge in a blueberry beer and all of the seafood at Stewman’s Lobster Pound. Several at the table got and shared “The Downeast Lobster Experience” that came with a half ladle of New England clam chowder, a big steamed Maine lobster, local mussels, buttered sweet corn and potatoes with homemade blueberry pie. When in Maine!
We spent the rest of the day walking around Bar Harbor’s impossibly charming downtown. For dinner, we walked over to Terrace Grill as the sun was setting. Bar Harbor is indeed a gorgeous place.
Day 4 – Bar Harbor to Portland, Maine
Before we knew it, the time had come to hit the road again. Before we left, Tom and I took one last stroll downtown to pick up breakfast burritos at Coffee Cup Diner. We took them down to the park for one more dose of Bar Harbor beauty. The skies there are incredible. You really feel like you could reach up and touch the clouds.
While the town was definitely bustling due to summer tourism, the crowds in Bar Harbor were extremely manageable – even over a holiday weekend. I loved the slow-paced feel of the town and the lack of big restaurant chains and other major retailers. Everything felt very local and authentic, and the people were super nice. With its easy access to Acadia National Park and endless ocean views, it’s hard to find a more peaceful spot in Maine.
Next, we hit the road for a leisurely drive to Portland. We took the longer, coastal route and made a couple of fun stops along the way.
Wine Tasting at Cellardoor Winery in Lincolnville
First up, a visit to Cellardoor Winery in Lincolnville. This beautiful property features an immaculately renovated barn from the 1790s and a gorgeous sprawling lawn with serene mountain views, proof that there’s a benefit to leaving the Maine coastline for a bit.
Cellardoor is a very sophisticated operation, and we loved the old barn and the excellent customer service. They source their grapes from around the U.S. so they offer a little bit of everything. I was shocked to find that tastings were free as well as your first glass of wine. The rest of the family also enjoyed a wine tasting paired with local cheeses, which received rave reviews.
We couldn’t stay away from the water for too long, though. We enjoyed a dog-friendly lunch on the shaded patio of Schooner Landing, overlooking the Damariscotta River.
After all our detours, we made it into Portland around dark and checked into our cozy home for the next two nights, The Inn at St. John. It was a change of pace to go from Bar Harbor, where pretty much everything was within walking distance, to a proper city. We tried to see as much as we could, but two days definitely wasn’t long enough.
Day 5 – Full Day in Portland
Visiting Portland Head Light & Fort Williams Park
The next day we had a light and tasty lunch at Sebago Brew Pub before heading to one of Portland’s most iconic sites. Portland Head Light and Fort Williams Park on Cape Elizabeth is just a short drive outside the city. If you’re looking for postcard views, this is your spot.
Portland Head Light is the oldest lighthouse in Maine, dating back to 1791, and the surrounding 90-acre park is full of walking paths, historical sites and never-ending beauty.
A Cruise in the Casco Bay
The highlight event of our time in Maine was a 4th of July fireworks cruise in the Casco Bay. I’m a big fan of boats on the 4th of July. In 2011, I took my parents on a cruise on the Potomac out of Alexandria and again took my brother on a dinner boat in DC in 2013. It was nice to get the whole gang together this time around.
It was our last night with my family before they returned to Oklahoma and we continued our road trip, and I can’t think of a better way to have ended such a special trip.
Day 6 – Portland, Maine to Providence, Rhode Island
The next morning, we got back on the road for the long journey back to DC by way of Rhode Island. We stopped first in beautiful Newport, Rhode Island for lunch and a wander.
Several people recommended a stop in Newport during this trip, so we knew we had to make it happen. Sadly, it didn’t work out to stay there overnight, geographically or financially, but the few hours we were able to spend in this adorable city by the sea were a delight.
A Scenic Stop in Newport
We had lunch at Belle’s Cafe, a casual waterfront cafe at the Newport Shipyard. The food was tasty and reasonably priced, and seemed to be more of a local hot spot than a tourist attraction. The shipyard was a bustling place and it was fun to gawk at the huge boats and people watch for a bit.
After lunch we walked over to Bowen’s Wharf for ice cream at Sprinkles.
A Chic Overnight at The Dean Hotel in Providence
While there was much more we’d liked to have seen in Newport, our energy levels were starting to wane. So we cut the exploration short and headed to our final destination for the night – The Dean Hotel in Providence.
This is such a cool, funky hotel in a great location. I loved the minimalist decor and the eco-friendly focus. They also allow pets with no fee and even provide each canine with a free, organic treat. In my next life I want to come back as a traveling dog.
A Quick Exploration of Providence
Of all the towns we visited over the course of the road trip, I found Providence to be the most intriguing. It doesn’t have the small town mystique of Manchester or the laid-back vibe of Bar Harbor, but there was something about it that felt almost electric.
While I would love to “summer” in Bar Harbor, return to Manchester for the Fall foliage and spend a week exploring Portland’s food scene – Providence is a place I could actually see myself living full-time.
Of course, this is a snap judgement based on our very short visit. We saw very little of the city, and missed out completely on the riverfront action, so take my impressions with a grain of salt. There are five colleges in Providence, resulting in an overtly creative atmosphere. The street art and numerous sculptures we stumbled upon in just a short walk around our hotel’s neighborhood were incredibly inspiring.
There’s something really wonderful about wandering around a city you’ve never been to before with absolutely no agenda and your eyes wide open.
Dinner at Rosalina
After a couple hours of roaming, we hit up Rosalina for dinner. This restaurant is a lot like Providence itself, a quirky combination of old world charm and modern industry, and most importantly, delicious Italian food.
After dinner we returned to The Dean for a laid-back last night of an amazing trip. It was sad to see this vacation coming to an end, but we had one final day on the road to look forward to and a lifetime of memories in the rear view.
Day 7 – Providence, Rhode Island back to DC
Our final day on the road started with coffee and pastries at Bolt Coffee at our hotel, before we loaded back into the car. By this point, we were pretty ready to just get on home. But it’s not like we ever miss a meal, so around lunch time we stopped in New Haven for one last glimpse at the New England lifestyle.
Lunch in New Haven
After a week of indulgent eating, we were in the mood for something a little lighter. Cedarhurst Cafe was exactly what we needed.
Cedarhurst Cafe is your quintessential college town coffee shop, but with a laid back vibe and incredibly friendly staff. They even allowed Ashton inside the cafe because it was so hot out and gave him water and copious treats as we perused the menu.
After lunch, we went for a quick walk around New Haven. These little walks really helped offset all the sitting that comes along with a road trip.
And with that, our road trip was complete. We went full steam ahead and drove to DC without a single stop. Overall, I think a week was adequate for this trip but if you have more time, definitely take it! There are so many places we missed or wished we could have stayed at longer.
New England is such a special place, and after getting acquainted with several of its beautiful and charming cities I can’t help but want to do it all over again and see even more of this gorgeous part of the U.S.
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