Every year at Christmas I head home on a bus or train to Boston, meeting my family in the suburbs of both Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire. Holidays are always enjoyable and stressful yet I’m thankful to be able to spend brief spurts in the city.
Boston is a place I keep passing through even after three years of moving back to New York City. It’s a city for trips home or short weekends. It’s a city where my family and friends live. It’s a city I’ve known for so long as the city, that it’s funny that I live in this other big city. It is a comfort though, to always have it be a part of my trip home.
So in honor of the holidays I wrote a little rumination on what I love about Boston and its environs, things to do and eat and see and. Places change (how dare them!) but I hope these will continue to be useful. Of course, this is by no means exhaustive and just my little take on a city I keep in my heart.
I’ll keep updating it as I go back and forth with any new found favorites. Heck, I might even move back one of these years. It seems like my life will be switching between Massachusetts and New York every few years based on my track record so far.
Oh and yes, there are many touristy historic things to do I left out.
Things I love to do:
Lounging in the Copley library courtyard in summer or the reading room in the winter or fall. In the summer there is a wonderful farmer’s market in the square, too.
Walking the emerald necklace through Jamaica Plain, spending an afternoon in the arboretum and strolling Centre street.
Exploring a college campus, especially Harvard’s.
Walking that part of the Charles River esplanade where kayaks come in through a small waterway.
Spending an afternoon on Newbury Street, a sort of both lovely and overwhelming intersection of all of Boston’s shopping. I like to perch at Trident Booksellers and just people watch with coffee and a book.
Finding time to walk the Mass Ave bridge all the way into Cambridge, stopping at Flour Bakery and then seeing the robots at the MIT museum. Finish it up with dosa in Central Square.
Stoping in for a movies at The Brattle or The Coolidge Corner Theater, some of the few indie theaters left in the area.
Getting the right perch for the view of the harbor from the ICA at night, better yet on their free after hours nights.
Keeping close to the T windows on that part of the Red Line when it emerges on the Longfellow bridge and everyone is compelled to look out at the Charles river no matter their curmudgeonly.
Picking just one gallery to spend the day in at the MFA Boston.
Picnicking in Boston Common and walking down Charles Street into Beacon Hill, getting lost up and down the hill.
Being in awe of the glass flowers at The Harvard Natural History Museum.
Meandering around the cloisters courtyard at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
Browsing and shopping in the brownstones of the South End. The SoWa market is a nice reason to visit.
Putzing around the North End, eating grandma slices or at the original Regina Pizzeria.
Tracking down the food trucks!
Walking the entire length of The Rose Kennedy Greenway from end to end, which has some fabulous landscape architecture and a moving holocaust memorial near the North End. In the summer kids play in sprinklers and it’s a nice spot to rest while people watching.
Catching a ferry to one of the Harbor Islands in the summer to picnic or adventure inside old ruins that I am sure are haunted.
Attending Open Studios at The South Boston the Distillery where many artists live and work.
Touring the Sam Adams Brewery in my secret favorite neighborhood Jamaica Plain.
Things I Particularly love to Eat and Drink:
Clover Food lab in Harvard Square (or any location they just moved from their original there) has a place in my heart because no matter the multitude of food trucks turned brick and mortar I love that you can sit, drink a beer, and order a fairly cheap falafel plate for dinner with fries.
I just tried the coffee and pastries at the new location of Tatte bakery in Harvard Square. The space is so lovely and light, like a Parisian bakery with the backdrop of Harvard’s campus in the background.
Hot pot in Allston at Shabu Zen, or any of the stalls at Super 88.
For imbibing, Grendel’s Den to feel like a college kid in Harvard Square, Deep Ellum for a well crafted cocktail and silent movies on TV screens.
Tasty burger in Fenway because you can easily eat at the bar while watching Boston sports without being too obvious. Secret sports viewing is key for a non-sports obsessed New Englander.
Algiers Coffee house because it reminds me of New York City’s Cafe Reggio where I can linger for a long time without buying much and 1369 to read and people watch in Central Square.
Area Four for my most favorite pizza and garlic knots.
The Salty Pig so I could build a board of pig parts plus a fancy pizza with more pig parts. Pig is key.
Highland Kitchen in Somerville for comfort.
Chinatown eating! Especially Dumpling Cafe.
When I was feeling fancy I loved Oleana (of course I’d say this, I got married there!), Neptune Oyster, or Ten Tables in either Cambridge on Jamaica Plain. p.s. I really need to try Sarma next time I’m in the area!
Places I love to browse:
The best overall bookstore, a browser’s delight and open later than most things in sleepier than I like Boston, is the impeccable Brookline Booksmith. The delightful Globe Corner in Harvard square closed but gratefully the Booksmith assumed a great deal of their map and travel collection. Wanderlust denizens, rejoice!
For more travel, lingering, and reading literary magazines without purchasing them I actually admit I love the Barnes and Noble in disguise Harvard Coop. The down the street independent The Harvard Bookstore is not actually a part of Harvard but that doesn’t stop tourists from always asking where the sweatshirts are when they walk in. It is a great all around bookstore though, with strong academic and non-fiction sections as well as a solid used book cellar.
Every year Brian and I also find ourselves at Schoenhof’s in Harvard Square, a hidden foreign language bookstore with a deep catalogue of French and Spanish titles plus a lovely staff.
I have a special spot in my heart for Black Ink in Harvard Square or Beacon Hill for the finding the best offbeat gift, card, or special thing you are lusting after.
Oona’s in Harvard Square is for everything you dreamed your vintage closet could be someday.
For handmade gifts I’m a fan of Olive and Grace. I’ll often stop by on the days before christmas for an extra gift.
Trips out of the city:
deCordova is a hidden gem of modern art and rolling sculpture park greens making it perfect for an afternoon adventure.
West Concord has the best bread and sandwiches in a cozy shop plus of course Concord itself has charm and Walden Pond is a childhood favorite.
Mass Moca is worth that zip car trip out west.
And for the record, I actually love the cold, rocky New England beaches north of the city.
Also, most of New England isn’t far from a car trip, either. You can be in Salem, Portland Maine, the White Mountains, or the New Hampshire Seacoast in a few hours at most.