This has been the heart of the Islesford community for 100 years, and where the residents gather for potlucks, dances and other events all throughout the year. The youngsters from the tiny island school also come here for PE. One end contains the local library and the librarian - married to a lobsterman and a resident of Little Cranberry - spent some time telling us about life on the island. For the very modest fee of $1.00, she sold us a great little pamphlet with a brief history of the Cranberries and map of Little Cranberry Island with numbered places of interest to look for on our walk. Make this your first stop after the museum.
The island has four of these and they're peaceful places to wander plus a good way to get a handle on local family names. Stanley/Hadlock (pictured) is the oldest and dates to 1830, Sandbeach is the newest (1913), Stanley/Gilley dates to 1864, and there's another small one behind the Catholic chapel. Genealogists looking for ancestors will find the attached website helpful. Use a map purchased from the Islesford library to find these or ask a local but the island is not very large so you'll probably run into them on your own.
Islesford has a very good little museum that explores what life was like on the Cranberries in the 19th century. The exhibits are well presented and shouldn't take more than an hour to get through. The day we were there, an Acadia N.P. ranger was giving a lecture on the lawn to a group of schoolchildren, and another was attending the museum and answering questions for visitors. Hours vary but it's open every day from mid-June - Sept and there's no admission (but donations are most welcome).
Great Cranberry Island has a museum of their own as well as two cafes and a small arts center. You can reach the island via the same mailboat that services Little Cranberry.
Islesford's only restaurant is open from mid-June through Labor Day so was closed when we were there in late September. It has a great setting (virtually over the water!), small outdoor deck and the food is supposed to be very good. Hey, it passed the test for Mount Desert Island neighbor Martha Stewart. They serve lunch (except on Mondays) and dinner during the season, plus a Sunday brunch. Reservations are recommended. Also on the dock are several nice galleries (also closed in the fall) and free public restrooms.
There are several boat companies that serve the Cranberries; we chose this one because it's the way the locals go and was also the least expensive. Beal and Bunker has been ferrying residents and mail around the islands for decades and are a very friendly, family-owned business. They don't take cars (which you don't need anyway) but there's room for your bike.
The ferry leaves from the dock at Northeast Harbor and makes stops at 3 of the islands - although Great and Little Cranberry are the only two with facilities for visitors. Fees as of 2013 are $24 RT for adults, $12 for children up to age 11, free for under age 3, and $7.00 for bikes. Schedules change depending on the season but in the summer/early fall they make the circuit several times a day.
I highly recommend taking the first boat out in the morning and then picking it up for return on one of its next circuits, about 3 hours apart. If you just want to go for the cruise, round trip from the dock and back takes about an hour and a half. This was fun as we traveled out in the morning with locals going to work and they chatted with us about about area life plus pointed out some landmarks as we went by. Reservations might be a good idea during peak season.