Midwinter is rapidly approaching. Those of us who already live in Boston don’t have much to do besides feel smug about how much we’re saving on airfare, but for folks coming in from out of town–particularly if it’s your first time in our fair city–no doubt the questions have already started. Is there anything to do on the waterfront? What’s the best way to get around the city? Where have all the R’s gone, and what is this “chowdah” you speak of?
First, no, there isn’t a spectacular amount on the waterfront, particularly not in January, which has a tendency to be frigid in these parts. There is the Institute of Contemporary Art, though, and the convention center isn’t far from the Harpoon Brewery or the Channel Cafe, a lovely restaurant tucked in amongst some art galleries on Summer Street. (Vegetarians rejoice: their house-made veggie burger is like a samosa on a bun. Heavenly.)
If you want to venture out into the other parts of the city (and you should!) your best bet is the MBTA. If you’re staying three days or more I’d actually recommend a 7-day pass, which at $15 will pay for itself pretty quickly–you’ll get unlimited rides on the subway, local buses, the inner-harbor ferry, and the inner zone of the commuter rail, versus $2 a ride on the subway if you just buy a paper ticket. (iPhone users: there’s an app for that.)
Renting a car in Boston doesn’t make much sense (our drivers aren’t actually that bad–they’re just used to the bizarre, misleading, or non-existent street signage, and you’re not), and taxis can be pricey–though they’re pretty much your only option when the subway stops running (which is, for the record, before the bars close).
Fanueil Hall/Government Center
Relevant T stops: Government Center (green line), State (orange)
If you want to be Touristy McTouristpants, start here. You can see (but don’t fight) City Hall, grab some authentic Boston baked beans at Durgin Park, or sit down at that bar that inspired Cheers. (Actually, that bar’s on Beacon Street… but the replica is in Fanueil Hall.)
Relevant T stops: Chinatown (orange), Downtown Crossing (orange/red), Park (red/green), Boylston (green)
Looking for amazing dim sum? Head to Chinatown, where you’ll find a plethora of Chinese bakeries. For Sunday brunch definitely check out Empire Garden (or Emperor’s Garden, depending on which sign you read), a restaurant inside a restored theater that seats the whole neighborhood. Head downtown for shopping, Boston Common and the public gardens, and the biggest multiplex in town. If you’re more interested in Blue Man Group or taking in some theater, head to the theater district and don’t miss Jacob Wirth for your pre-show dining.
Relevant T stops: Kendall, Central, Harvard, Porter, Davis (all red)
Cambridge is actually pretty sprawling, and the spots you should hit depend on your mood. Want to see an independent film or hang out with the MIT crowd? Head to Kendell, home of Cambridge Brewing Company and the Kendell Square Cinema. More interested in live music and a plethora of bars? Stop at Central for venues like The Middle East and TT The Bear’s. Hoping to dramatically re-enact scenes from Good Will Hunting? Head to Harvard Square, where you can either try to blend in with the undergraduate population (Noch’s, The Kong, Charlie’s) or avoid them somewhat (Darwin’s, Grendel’s, Brattle Theater).
Often overlooked are the more Somerville-y ends of town. Head to Davis for Kickass Cupcakes. Inman Square, a short walk from Central, is home to great food and bars, including Punjabi Dhaba and Bukowski’s.
The North End
Relevant T Stop: Haymarket (orange)
You’ll do a bit of walking, but the amazing Italian food–the streets are packed with everything from fine dining to tiny mom & pop places–is well worth the wait. You can also plan on some laughs at Improv Asylum before you head over to Mike’s Pastry for more cannoli than you should probably eat.
The South End
Relevant T stop: Back Bay (orange, commuter rail)
A short walk from Back Bay brings you to some fantastic dining (check out Sibling Rivalry or Hamersley’s Bistro if you don’t believe me), as well as the Boston Center for the Arts.
Jamaica Plain (JP)
Relevant T stops: Jackson, Stonybrook, Green, Forest Hills (all orange)
Want to tour the Sam Adams Brewery? Check. Looking for a plethora of edible options, from amazing sandwiches at City Feed to fine dining at Ten Tables? Check. Care to visit a beautiful and historic cemetery, get a sweet tattoo, or just get some really good ice cream? Check, check and check.
For more Boston ideas, don’t forget to check the YALSA wiki. And other Boston folks–speak up! What did I forget? (Aside from the aquarium, and where to find good chowdah–last week’s Heroes episode would have us believe it’s only at Legal Sea Foods, but I know you have opinions.)