Mount Desert Island, Maine

Lobster pounds and lakeside cottages where the Rockefellers once roamed.
Block Island, Rhode Island
Ocean Grove/Asbury Park, N.J.
Cape May, New Jersey
Great Barrington, Mass.
Salisbury, Connecticut
Milford, Pennsylvania
Mount Desert Island, Maine
Margaretville, New York
Beacon Hill: The Bass Harbor Head lighthouse on Mount Desert Island.


First of all, it's "de-sert" -- as in what you might want to forgo after you've put away that four-pound lobster all by yourself. Mount Desert's popularity rests in part on the fact that (as one native puts it) "it's about as far as you can go on the highway without going through Customs," but mainly on its breathtaking mountains, lakes, streams, and seashore. In the first half of the twentieth century, it was the summer destination for well-to-do families from all over the East Coast. Mia Thompson Brown, whose grandmother first began leaving Philadelphia to summer on Mount Desert in 1905 ("They called it Philadelphia-on-the-rocks"), says simply that it's "the beauty of the island" that has kept her family coming for generations. "As a child, I was completely independent here," says Brown. "I'd go out on my bike in the morning and ride back home in time for dinner."

Lay of the Land: The main town of Bar Harbor is a charming tourist mecca for shopping and eating; but with 3,000 hotel rooms, it's not the place to seek solitude, at least not during the summer months. Southwest Harbor calls itself the Quietside and is more local in flavor -- plenty of lobster pounds and boat-building shops -- though some galleries and inns have popped up in recent years. Northeast Harbor and Seal Harbor? Old money and old money.

Familiar Faces: "New Yorkers are in luck," reports Earl Brechlin, editor of the Mount Desert Islander. "New Yorkers are just fine. It's Massachusetts plates that get local blood boiling." (Some locals have been known to call them Massholes.) Mainers are even less impressed by celebrities than they are by Massachusetts. "The only thing wealthy people can't buy is acceptance," Brechlin continues, "and that's the one thing Mainers hold back. They're warm and friendly, but you have to earn it." Among those who've been earning it over the years are Brooke Astor, Julia Child, Martha Stewart, Caspar Weinberger, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Norman Mailer, Connie Chung, and native son Maury Povich, who was born in Bar Harbor.

Things To Do: In spectacular, 30,000-acre Acadia National Park -- that's half the island -- there's hiking, picnicking, and, best of all, biking along the 45 miles of wide, smooth gravel carriage roads, which were built by John D. Rockefeller and which regularly offer up Kodak-moment vistas. On the island's ponds, lakes, and streams, there's canoeing; off the coast, sea-kayaking, sailing, and whale-watching. Elsewhere: golfing, camping, and, of course, lobster-eating.

Last Summer's Gossip: Martha Stewart's confrontation with a limo driver she discovered driving through her estate one night (he said he was lost) was widely and enthusiastically discussed.

Park it: Acadia National Park.

This Year's Talking Points: It remains to be seen, of course, what will displace the traditional how-much-growth-is-too-much-growth issue, though something surely will (Martha . . . ?). Right now, it's reportedly hard for anyone to resist batting around the pros and cons of the Cat, the new, whiskered high-speed ferry to Canada. "That's got folks talking," says one resident.

Property Values: The most appealing, and expensive, summer house here is a "classic" shingle on the shore. "There's nothing on the ocean that you can touch for under a million and a half," says one Realtor. For a "decent, suburban-type three-bedroom house" farther inland, expect to pay around $250,000. As for rentals during July and August, Joe Wright at L. S. Robinson says that "lakefront and oceanfront go the quickest, and you're looking at a minimum of two weeks" (prices are $2,000 a week and up for those). For a two-bedroom in the town of Bar Harbor, you might pay $1,300 a week.

Recommended Realtors: A few of the big ones: the Knowles Company, Northeast Harbor (207-276-3322); Lynam Real Estate, Bar Harbor (207-288-3334); Swan Agency Real Estate, Bar Harbor (207-288-5818).

Weekend Visits: The centrally located Bar Harbor Inn (207-288-3351 or; doubles start at $99) was a popular, um, "reading room" during Prohibition. And the Claremont Hotel (207-244-5036 or; doubles start at $115), in Southwest Harbor, the island's oldest hotel (established 1884), is a resort in the grand style: huge porch, lawns, and jackets at dinner.

Next: A rustic playground in the Catskills>>>
Photos: Top by Russell Kaye, bottom courtesy of Acadia National Park.
From the June 3, 2002 issue of New York Magazine.