Sunday, January 23, 2011

NOT A BIG COLLEGE TOWN: A request from commenter kennedy jane:
My 19 year old daughter and I are planning a trip to Boston over her spring break in mid-March. (My thanks to her friends' parents who decided they would do family vacations thus killing the kids-only trip to some beach!) Neither of us have ever been to Boston and I know many folks on this blog are very familiar with the area. Any suggestions on what area to target for hotel, what to see/do, where to eat? We are touristy kind of girls so we will be hitting the spots that would be listed in a travel guide but would love to hear suggestions for other not so well-known spots. Thanks for any suggestions!


  1. I moved out of Boston a decade ago, so I will have to defer to others on real specifics, but...

    1.  If the weather permits, make sure you stroll through the public gardens and the Boston Common.  (especially the gardens).  Even though she's 19 and you're older, have someone take pics of the two of you sitting on the "Make Way For Ducklings" ducks.

    2.  If you're bookish types, walk around the bookstores of Harvard Square.  There are fewer of them than there used to be, but a trip to The Harvard Bookstore (unaffiliated with the university) and the Coop will cement the Cambridge vibe.  (And don't worry about not having a car, if you won't -- the red line goes right into Harvard Square).  

    3.  If the skies are relatively clear and you aren't pinching pennies, a late-night dessert/drinks visit to the restaurant at the top of the Prudential Building can be great fun.

    4.  If the weather is nice, I'd say "Take the duck tour!"

    5.  Italian dinner in the North End.

    6.  If you like to shop with your daughter, take a walk down Newbury Street (adjacent to the Common/Garden area).  My wife says you should also go to Filene's Basement, which is relatively close to the other side of the Common, by Downtown Crossing.

    7.  The Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain is very cool.

    8.  The Union Oyster House is a Boston legend.  If you're in the Faneuil Hall area, try to eat there rather than in a scholcky place in the shopping area.

    I will keep thinking.  I love Boston.  :)

  2. Also:  Lexington and Concord are both nice homey towns, and I hear they have some historical significance.  (In addition, you can take a look at Emerson's home in Concord --

  3. And, needless to say, once you're in Boston, you're only about an hour and forty-five minutes to the true hub of the universe: Amherst, Mass.  

  4. Stay at the holiday Inn on Beacon Hill- I've lived near there and stayed there. It's close to everything and you won't need a car. Plus, it's in more of a neighborhood so you will get a sense of real Boston.

    My reecs (touristy, yes, but required)
    -freedom Trail, including Paul Revere's house
    -dinner in North End (love Giacomo's)
    -pastry in North End (mike's or cafe vittoria)
    -walk through Beacon hill and backbay

    I don't have updated restaurants, mostly because I usually eat near my brother's house on Cape Ann.

    Have fun!!

  5. LisaJunior2:03 PM

    Sadly the original Downtown Crossing Filene's Basement is a thing of the past.

    You can combine the Freedom Trail and the North End into one day. Make sure to hit up the Paul Revere Museum for a great history not only of what's-his-face but some great history of the evolution of  North End neighborhood. If you are there at lunch: slices at Galleria Umberto. If you are there at dinner: Giacomo's.

    The new-ish modern art museum (the ICA) is pretty amazing as is the old stand-bys of Museum of Fine Arts (with a newly re-opened American Art wing) and the Isabella Stewart Gardner (my favorite for the amazing courtyard alone).

    The South End area is a great walking spot with a number of shops, amazing restaurants, and lovely homes. More worth the trip than Beacon Hill. Great dinner spots include Aquitaine, Masa, (and my favorite) the Franklin Cafe.

    If you dig baseball I've been told the off-season is the best time to do the Fenway tour as you get more access.

    If you love chocolate and spending too much money check out the brunch Chocolate Bar at the Langham Hotel downtown.

    Please do come visit us across the river in Cambridge. Independent bookstores, record stores, and coffee shops collide with Harvard tourist culture. Worth the trip!

    I beg you to avoid Cheers, Faniuel Hall, and dude bros named Sully!

  6. Scott2:58 PM

    My wife and I were in Boston for a weekend in October.  We did the Revere House/Old North Church part of the Freedom Trail in the morning with lunch at Pizzeria Regina nearby in the North End.  In the afternoon we walked around the <span>Faneuil Hall/Old State House area, then had a couple beers and oysters at Union, so I second Russ's recommendation on that.  For high-end shopping, you can't beat Newbury Street.  We stayed at the Westin Copley Place, which is just a couple blocks south of that shopping/eating district.  Sunday we went to Cambridge and had brunch at The Friendly Toast, which was awesome.  We walked around Hahvahd since I had never been there before.  Then we drove around Fenway and went home.  Neat town.

  7. heathalouise3:21 PM

    Of course I have to say it: Take the tour of Fenway Park. Even if you aren't a baseball fan, it is such a part of Boston (and, I would argue, American) history. It truly is a secular cathedral in the middle of town.

  8. J. Bowman3:27 PM

    Reading this makes me realize just how little touristy stuff I actually did in ten years.
    Re: eating in the North End -- you can pretty much pick a place. You can pay more for really good food, or you can pay less for a lot of food (we used to hit La Famiglia Giorgio's, get the chicken parm, and eat it for three days). I advise skipping pizza (unless you happen to be in Medford, in which case call Pini's, but you're not going to be in Medford, unless your daughter really wants to visit Tufts).from
    Harvard Square is great. If you're up for a good walk, I suggest Mass. Ave between Harvard and Porter Squares. There are plenty of little shops and places to eat (there's a great Asian market, with food stalls and a sit-down restaurant, just short of Porter Square) -- it's similar to Newbury and/or Boylston Streets, but a little less traveled, and if you get tired, the 77 bus will be along in a minute.

  9. Stevie4:49 PM

    I was there for work about a year ago, and didn't see much of the city, but stayed at the Parker House, which was very nice. It's also across the street from the city's oldest burial ground and right on the Freedom Trail. I second the recommendations of walking through the Common and over to Newbury Street, where I can recommend a great tapas place called Tapeo. I liked Boston a lot, even in my limited free time and look forward to going back.

  10. Nancy5:43 PM

    Would that title be a Spinal Tap reference?

  11. Carmichael Harold7:21 PM

    I co-sign the Asian market area (it's in a mall-type building on the right side of the street if you're headed north) just shy of Porter Square.  I more or less subsisted on food from the stalls or Bao from the market when I lived a block from there for a couple of years.  If the weather is a little chilly, the hot chocolate at Burdick's on Brattle Street (a couple blocks from the square) is also really good. 

  12. Nowhereman7:35 PM

    A few other ideas:

    Mapparium: a huge stained-glass globe you walk through the middle of, it's quick and cheap. Lots of fun accoustic trickery when inside too, since being inside the sphere creates funky echoes and voice-throwing effects. It's right near the Prudential Center if you like top-of-skyscraper observation decks.

    If she's into books, see if you can get on one of the guided tours of the Athenaeum; it's a private library with tons of rare stuff like Ben Franklin's personal library, etc.

    The MFA (art museum) is nice, and the brand-new Art of the Americas wing is *amazing*. You can kill alot more time here than at the ICA (contemporary art museum); the ICA is kind of isolated and only has an hour or two of art to see, tops.

    In terms of guided tours, the Ghosts and Gravestones tour is fantastic. Boston's kind of unique in that we have enough wacky history we don't need to invent ghost stories, so instead you get some of the fun macabre side of Boston while also seeing some famous gravestones along the way (Paul Revere, etc).

    Over at Harvard the Natural History Museum has this nutty and amazing collection of glass plant models; if she's into plants this would be mind-blowing; if she's not a green thumb considerably less so. If you're at Harvard anyway while here it might be worth the trip.

    Oh, and don't be afraid of taking the T. We like to whine and complain about our subway system, but it works pretty well and isn't laid out too poorly. Just know that the Green line is more of a trolley and slow as hell, and the Silver line is a pseudo-subway line; it's actually busses running in dedicated lanes.

  13. Genevieve7:58 PM

    if you and your daughter happen to be Louisa May Alcott fans, don't miss Orchard House in Concord.

  14. CH, to this day my wife and I refer to that building as "The Command Center," because I once joked that when the Japanese invasion began, that would be the base from which it sprang.  (There used to be a good Tex-Mex-y place there, where I had my birthday dinner at least a few times.  Anyone remember the name?) 

  15. Carmichael Harold10:23 PM

    I know the place you are talking about, and am having brain damage trying to remember (I'm stuck on Anna's Taqueria and Christopher's, neither of which, while close, were there).  The Command Center thing is particularly funny to me, because half of the reason that I spent so much time there is one of my closest friends had spent the prior 5 years in Japan and always wanted to go there because he said it reminded him of "home". 

  16. Carmichael Harold10:28 PM

    Russ, was it Forest Cafe, or was that further down Mass Ave?

  17. With some Facebook help, I've "remembered" that it was the Cottonwood Cafe.

  18. I believe Russ means "The Pioneer Valley," as he would never exclude the fine towns nearby.

  19. Carmichael Harold8:55 AM

    Oh yeah, Cottonwood Cafe <realizes> <blames></blames></realizes>

  20. Nicholas Carr9:09 AM

    As well you should!

  21. It's really stunning how much of 19th-century American literature was written or edited within a few square blocks in the Concord area -- not just Emerson and Alcott, but also Hawthorne and of course Thoreau, and Margaret Fuller, and even Melville spent some time there.  (And all of them relied, more or less, on Emerson's largesse.)  So, definitely a place to visit for literary geeks.  

  22. J. Bowman10:04 AM

    I do not remember that place at all. Was it in the corner closest to the T stop? Because that restaurant changed at least twice just in the last eighteen months that I was there (2001-2002).
    I did remember, by the way, that the building is called the Porter Exchange.

  23. I was passing through the area recently, and while I can't recommend anything in Boston itself, I can say that if you're driving up and need a place to eat, the Traveler's Book Shop (exit 74 off Route 84) is a real find. It's good, diner comfort food, but it's also a used bookshop, and you eat surrounded by books. And every person can leave with three free books!  It's about an hour before you get to Boston, and totally worth it.

  24. I don't think anyone's mentioned Walden Pond yet -- and actually, March is a better time of year IMHO because it's less crowded and there are no swimmers.  It always strike me as OFF that people are allowed to swim in Walden Pond.  You could easily wrap that around seeing Orchard House.

    There's a really striking Holocaust Memorial right near Faneuil Hall and the Union Oyster House that's worth seeing.  Also, the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum in Cambridge has some spectacular collections.

    I can't resist a few restaurant recommendations too, with the caveat that it's possible that these places aren't there because I haven't been back in a year or so.  Lala Rokh is in Beacon Hill, and it's one of my favorites -- Persian food in a really lovely space with friendly owners.  I also really love Maurizio's in the North End, and Les Zygomates downtown, which has French food with live jazz on weekends.

  25. Yes -- the northernmost part of Porter Exchange.  I think it was well gone by the time I left (in mid-2000).

  26. Carmichael Harold11:49 AM

    Porter Exchange!  Thank you, J. Bowman.  Not that I would ask anyone to rely on my memory at this point, but I am almost certain it was there in Fall 1999, as I'm fairly sure we ate there the day we moved in to our house that year.

  27. Marsha12:31 PM

    I haven't been to Boston in a hella long time, but I used to love going to Newbury Comics. No clue if it is (a) still there or (b) still cool.

    And I loved the T, especially some of the stops near MIT that have (had?) cool sculptures in them. I remember one long escalator with bronze gloves seeming to tumble down the center rail and pile up at the bottom, and another one that had huge chimes between the trains that made music when they passed. (Obviously made quite an impression - the last time I saw those would have been in 1991 or so.)

    Avoid driving in Boston.

  28. The Gardner Museum is fantastic.  Don't miss it.  The building itself is quite beautiful and has the feel of walking into a rich eccentric art lover's home with the bonus of having been the victim of one of the great art heists which they love to talk about.

  29. Carrie6:02 PM

    I just want to second the love for Orchard House, Walden Pond and the Isabella Stuart Gardner gallery, one of the truly great and underknown American museums. The new green belt on top of The Big Dig is pretty nice, too. 

  30. kenedy jane6:48 PM

    Thanks so much for all the great ideas!  We can't wait to start putting together an itinerary and seeing how much of this we can fit in!

  31. J. Bowman9:47 PM

    The gloves are in Porter Square, which used to be (maybe still is) one of the longest escalators in the world. The musical instruments (the chimes are the best, but there's also a "gong" and a sheet you can rattle to make a thunder-like sound) are in Kendall Square, and there are levers on the walls of the station so you can operate them while waiting for a train.

  32. J. Bowman9:51 PM

    It sounds like we were all there at the same time - I moved to Somerville in January '97, and was there until September '02 (though I did spend 2001 living near Central Square). I used to listen to Tim Gearan in Toad every week, and I mourn the passing of India Club.

  33. Holyoke, Hadley, Northampton, Sunderland, Belchertown ... any others?

  34. I lived in Cambridge, North Cambridge, and southern Arlington (right off Mass Ave in all cases) from '95-'00, moving down to DC in August 2000.  I still miss aspects of Boston (including the aspect that Boston residents are hating right now), but there was no real way to do the work I wanted to do from outside DC...  I also have very fond memories of the tapas place in the Porter/Davis area -- can't believe I've forgotten the name of that one too!  

  35. SOUTH HADLEY!!!!!!