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July 21, 2014 3:47 PM   Subscribe

Please introduce me to the institutions, places, publications, and other tips, tricks, and shibboleths that will help me to hit the ground running when I relocate to Boston.

I'm going to be relocating to Boston next month. This Meta about Market Basket was such a thorough introduction to some of the grocery chains in the Boston area that it made me wonder about other bits of common knowledge regarding things like groceries, transit, the DMV, news organizations, or awesome free events/beautiful spots that everyone knows about which might make my first couple of months go smoothly. I'll be starting work right away, so I won't have a great deal of time to settle into a routine gradually or to go exploring right off the bat.

I know that I'll be living in Somerville, near a Red Line stop that will get me to work. I won't be bringing a car. For the first time in a while, I won't need to stick to a student budget that's quite this tight. I've been in Los Angeles for a couple of years, and in Midwestern cities before that (mostly Minneapolis and Cleveland), so I'm not a stranger to urban living or to winter. Until now, though, I've only spent time in East Coast cities (including Boston) as a visitor.

What unique things about day-to-day life in Boston should I be prepared for? What do you wish you'd figured out sooner? Are there habits, apps, or other resources that make getting around and running errands by T and bus easier? Which blogs, radio stations, or other sources do an especially good job of covering local news, especially the arts? What simple things can I do (or avoid doing) to make my life as a car-free working person in Cambridge/Somerville that much better?

Since I've only spent time in the city on previous visits, I'm also curious to learn about points of interest (natural, historical, cultural) that are an easy day or weekend trip from Boston, but which an out-of-towner might not think to fit into a typical visit. For example, one of my favorite things about living in L.A. has been visiting places like Joshua Tree or Palm Springs, or heading up the coast to Santa Barbara or San Luis Obispo - all really lovely places in their own right, but much easier to visit when you're already in L.A. What should I make an effort to see while I'm based in Boston? I've seen this post, and am already excited to do lots of these things in the fall!


(Inspired by Sara C.'s post about L.A. life hacks, which was a handy reference when I first moved out here.)
posted by Austenite to Society & Culture (37 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
First, some sites and apps:

Universal Hub is an excellent local blog that provides decent information around town and is accessible to out of towners.

Dig Boston, last I checked, was a decent resource for finding out what's going on around town. Arts, events, et cetera.

There's an app called CatchTheBus which uses the GPS in each bus to tell you how long you'll actually have to wait for a bus. You'll need to know which number the route is (this will be on the sign) and which stop it is (the app will list the location of the stop so you should be okay there). I think it's a couple bucks but it's worth it. Some buses come much less frequently than others. That's buses. As far as trains, most stations have those digital signs that tell you how long you're going to have to wait.

Given that you're near the Red Line, you'll be able to take it to Park Street which is kind of the nerve center of the whole damn MBTA. You can get to almost any other stop from there. The public transit system is designed to accommodate a town layout which was solidified sometime in the 1700s; NYC it ain't. It's counterintuitive at times. Figure out what line you need to be on to get where you're going and you'll have decent luck charting a course from there.

General tips:

Stay the fuck away from Faneuil Hall from Friday evening to Sunday morning. There are very few reasons to go to Faneuil anyway if you're not a tourist, and on the weekend it's all shit-ass bros wall to wall.

Last call is at 1 AM. Sorry. We're trying.

On that note, liquor stores (you may hear some people call them "packies," which is short for "package store") are the places to get bottled beer and wine and liquor. With very few exceptions, you won't find alcohol in grocery stores or convenience stores. Liquor stores are usually open until 11 PM, except on Sundays, when they're either closed, or open til 8 or so.

Enjoy a lovely leisurely stroll through Cambridge, and the Harvard Square area, while you still can. Once the Harvard kids come back in the fall, every place will be a lot more crowded and shitty.

Try the seafood! You may not think you like seafood if you haven't spent much time in a coastal state. Lobster bisque is excellent and worth the price provided they don't get too fancy with it. Find yourself a clam shack and just get one of everything fried.

A lot of the bar staff here are Irish. Do not order an "Irish car bomb," ever. Find something else to call it. If you want a black and tan, call it a half and half (they won't take the term "black and tan" as a mortal insult but it's better to be safe). The city is a beer-sodden mess on St. Patrick's Day and you will be the bartender's new best friend if you're respectful and if you don't order green beer.

Boston possesses a scrappy local pride that is the stuff of legend; our city's seal might as well be engraved on a chip we collectively wear on our shoulder. We doggedly insist that Papa Gino's is not only pizza, but good pizza; most townies still refer to Mark Wahlberg as Marky Mark, and almost everyone you'll meet from Dorchester will say they knew him as a kid and that he was a punk (whether or not they actually did is left as an exercise for the reader); the rallying cry for our baseball team is not so much "Go Sox!" as it is "Yankees suck!" regardless of whether or not we are playing the Yankees. This knowledge may help you make sense of much of what you see in the news and whatnot.

Oh - there is good pizza in Boston, but it's rare. You will have the best luck with foreign-owned sub shops, but I make no guarantees.

Technically Somerville is not Boston, and people from Somerville (and especially Cambridge) will not be shy about correcting you if you say otherwise, but fuck it - it's basically Boston.

Shibboleths are plenty. Again, scrappy local pride. We have weird town names and we're kind of perversely proud of it. Here are some you should know:

Let's get this out of the way: The "pahk yah cah in Hahvahd yahd" joke. We've heard it. It's been done. Let someone else make it.

Worcester: Pronounced like "Worcestershire" without the "shire." People who consider themselves to be canny out-of-towners will tell you this is pronounced "WUSS-tah" (the wuss rhyming with the puss in pussywillow). This is false and you will sound like a moron. You are not from here, so you pronounce the R: "WUSS-ter."

Haverhill: Old people will get a kick out of correcting you if you pronounce it wrong. It's "HAY-vrel." The E in that second part should be pronounced like the first E in thermometer.

Billerica: Old people will get a kick out of this one too. It's pronounced "Bil-RICK-uh."

The Hams: Almost all of them are pronounced normally: Needham is pronounced Needum, Dedham is Deddum, Raynham is Raynum, et cetera. Wareham is an exception; it is actually, in fact, pronounced "Ware-ham," which is ridiculous but what do you want.

New England is firmly in the soda camp of the great soda / pop divide. Some old people might call it tonic.

That's all I can think of! Good luck and welcome to our lovely city. It's got character and most of it's good.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 4:28 PM on July 21 [8 favorites]


I went to Bradford College. Everyone local I knew said Hay-ver-il.

Most of the cultural sites outside of Boston are accessible by MBTA train and within walking distance of the stations.

The Harvard and MIT Coops are owned by Barnes and Noble. The Harvard Bookstore is independent.

RIP Boston Phoenix.
posted by brujita at 4:38 PM on July 21


Hello Austenite and welcome to Massachusetts!

Somerville is an absolutely amazing city. You are going to love it.

For transit: www.mbta.com. If you will be commuting, check with your workplace to see if they will subsidize a monthly pass. If not, your best bet is to buy a Charlie card and then add a monthly pass on it. The plastic Charlie cards are much better than the paper tickets because you can just tap them to get on and off. Don't be that guy who gets to the front of the line of the bus and then stands there adding money to his card while everyone waits. Do it at the station and get someone to help you if you need it. Also, if you buy your own, you can deduct some of the cost from your state taxes. Your new best friend for getting around will be an app like www.nextbus.com which will tell you how long you have to wait. It is marvelous. Also, if you bike, many buses have front-bike racks.

The mbta.com site also has a trip planner tool - take it with a grain of salt, sometimes their planned routes make no sense, but it's a way to get a sense of what bus routes you may be likely to take.

Things to be prepared for: a. STUDENTS. Boston and Cambridge go from sleepy to jam-packed literally overnight on August 31-September 1. Watch your travel plans then! Traffic will be bananas. Depending on where you are in Somerville, you may be affected by Tufts move-in days. It can't hurt to check when that is. b. weather! It is usually hot until mid-September, with cooler nights starting around the end of the month. Snow emergencies might mean you have the day off work, but sometimes it just means the t runs late and it's full of cranky people. We get a lot of freezing-melting-freezing, which means puddles full of death slush. Locals wear serious boots and keep spare shoes at work.

Somerville has several very cool neighborhoods, the best-known of which is Davis Square. You are moving into one of the areas most densely artist-populated areas in the US. There are open studio days where you can see work by hundreds of artists for free in their homes, there's Honk, festival of activist street bands, there are roving bands of riders on totally bonkers bicycles. You can seriously just hang out in the little plaza in Davis and listen to buskers for hours of free entertainment in the summer. Check out the Davis Square livejournal for really, really local news.

I don't know the best supermarket shopping in Davis, but I can tell you farmers markets and farm shares/CSAs are a Thing. If you eat a lot of veggies, you could get amazing local produce to pick up or get delivered.

I didn't know this despite having lived in Boston for over ten years: there's T-accessible kayaking on the Charles! Nothing like floating along on the river at sunset with the Longfellow Bridge above you.

One thing that may seem obvious to locals, but may not be to an out-of-towner, is that you really can walk or bike almost everywhere. Many T-stops are short walks from their nearest neighbors. It's a very, very friendly walking city. You are going to be very close to Harvard Square, Kendell (home of MIT) and Inman Square. However, many drivers are still assholes to bikers. Many bikers bike on the sidewalk. There's tension. It's a thing.

For news: check out Wicked Local. (Obligatory lament for the dearly departed Boston Phoenix here.) For arts stuff there's the Boston Calendar not to be confused with the Boston Globe's calendar, which is more comprehensive but also less selective.

For places to go on the commuter rail: Salem! Go for the quaint, stay for the shlock.

There are also a lot of little neighborhoods that have their own little jewels of coolness. Check out the Arnold Arboretum in JP, Coolidge Corner for the theater, Allston for amazing Korean food.

JP Licks is most popular and has the cutest shops but Toscanini's in Inman is the best ice cream, no contest.

Have a wonderful summer!
posted by prewar lemonade at 4:50 PM on July 21 [2 favorites]


Tips: The "Yankees suck!" cheer is all-purpose: you will hear it from frat bros waiting for the Green line; you will hear it at basketball and hockey games, too.

Avoid Salem during the month of October!! It's absolutely worth a visit any other time (unless you like being overrun with tourists and having parking and other fees go up about 200%, then October is the month for you). The Peabody-Essex Museum (pronounced more like pee-biddy, not pea-body) is lovely.

Marblehead, just beyond Salem, also makes for a lovely daytrip. While many places outside of Boston are accessible by commuter rail (the MBTA is pushing the Cape Flyer to Cape Cod in the summer) or T/bus combo, a lot of the timing/connections are, IMHO, inconvenient. (Ask me about the multiple times I've been stranded in Ipswich or Salem when the weather's been bad or everything's closed!). If you're not already a member, joining Zipcar for your big grocery hauls or daytrips (I've found the daylong fees comparable to car rentals) is well worth it.

Provincetown is also well worth a visit while the weather's still nice.

Back in Boston, the Museum of Fine Arts is outstanding, but expensive--hit them on Wednesdays after 4pm for a "suggested donation" time and they have a couple of times a year when they're free for the whole day. My favorite place, though, is the courtyard of the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum. A runner-up is the courtyard of the Boston Public Library.

And in the fall? The New England foliage really is spectactular. Prepare for the local news to have nightly "leaf-peeping" reports about how the foliage is coming along. Getting outside of the city for leaf-peeping is totally worth it, but if you can't, then a stroll around Mt. Auburn Cemetery will do in a pinch. And make sure you get a serious winter jacket and good, waterproof winter boots before the misery of winter sets in; the snow-melt-slush cycle of east coast winters is miserable, especially if you'll be walking to/from T stops.
posted by TwoStride at 5:42 PM on July 21 [2 favorites]


The thing about Somerville/Cambridge in particular is that you'll find a lot of appealingly nerdy academic type people. If you get along with nerdy folk, you'll love it here. You've probably already figured out that there's a sizable MeFi contingent here, and we do like our meetups, so say hi.

The Green Line sucks: it's a slow screechy trolley system and it's never not crowded. The Red Line is pretty okay.

For their Masshole reputation, I've found that drivers here are actually quite courteous to pedestrians, and some will stop and wave you across even if you're just standing on the sidewalk.

I hear "Hay-vrill" for Haverhill and "Peeb'dy" (it's like two and a half syllables) for Peabody. You may get quizzed on Leominster, which is pronounced "Lemon-ster." Quincy is pronounced "Quinzy."

Eat all the ice cream at all the local ice cream shops. It doesn't matter which one's the best, because they're all quite good. (I'm partial to Christina's in Inman Square.)
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:55 PM on July 21


Every city has a bad-part-of-town. In the Boston Metro area, it's Roxbury and Dorcester. (That's Boston's equivalent of Watts in LA.) That's where the gangs operate, and that's where the majority of the murders take place because of gang violence.

It's pretty safe during the day if you're white, but it's probably a good idea to avoid it until you're acclimated. So don't ride the Orange line south of Downtown Crossing until you're ready.

The Boston area has some strange ideas about compass points. Norfolk County is south of Suffolk County, for instance. And the neighborhood known as "South Boston" (AKA "Southie") is at the eastern edge of the metropolis.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:21 PM on July 21


Onion dip in the NE is made with real sour cream, and it's awesome. Try Heluvagood onion dip.

The mayonnaise known out west as "Best Foods" is known in the NE as "Hellman's". It's the same company and exactly the same product.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:26 PM on July 21


- On the T (MBTA), "inbound" means "toward Park Street/downtown" and "outbound" means "away from Park Street/downtown."
- At Dunkin' Donuts, if you order your coffee regular, it'll have milk and sugar. If you want it black, say black.
- Go to MeFi meetups.
- Get a library card at a Somerville library and you can use (and order inter-library loans from) all the libraries in the Minuteman Library Network (minlib.org).
- Bring proof of local residency to the Boston Public Library and you can get a library card there, too.
- August 31/September 1 is "Allston Christmas," a huge move-out/move-in day in this Boston neighborhood when people ditch all manner of useful stuff at the curb.
- Brickbottom Open Studios is around Thanksgiving each year. Two buildings' worth of artists' studios to walk through.
- Watch for the annual holiday lights trolley tours in Somerville. i think the Somerville Arts Council hosts them.
- Drivers routinely run red lights here. Be aware.
- If you bike, try the Minuteman trail. Pick up a bike route map at any bike store. Start in Davis, pick up the trail at Alewife, ride ten miles or so to Bedford.
posted by dywypi at 6:32 PM on July 21


Rotaries (AKA traffic circles) are truly terrifying, and this one is the worst in the metropolis (inbound on route 2).

DO NOT SLOW DOWN; if you do you'll get killed. The only way to stay safe is to charge through it like you own the road, because that's how everyone else drives.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:33 PM on July 21


On the pronunciations: Waltham doesn't rhyme with Needham. It rhymes with ham. Also, don't pronounce the H in Amherst. That's a Western Mass thing, but still. Speaking of Western Mass, if you can get a hold of a car, go out and visit the Amherst/Northampton area. It's really nice and close enough in for a day trip. If you do ever have need for a car, definitely look into Zip Cars.

Also, Harvard Square is currently swarming with tourists, just fyi. Sure, there will be students in the fall, but it will still be less crazy than it is now (except on weekend nights). If you're in Somerville close to Tufts (which you probably are if you're near the T stop there), you will definitely see a huge spike in foot traffic once the semester starts at the end of August.

And yes, the green line is terrible. I particularly hate the B line, but they're all pretty bad. You're very lucky to be on the red line.

Also, be glad you don't drive. Driving in Boston is terrible. The roads are super confusing, and we're called Massholes for a reason. Rt 128/95 and 93 at rush hour are crazy, and rush hour starts at like 2 pm. If you do find yourself on 95, be aware that south of the Mass Pike (I90) and north of the 93 junction it is actually legal to drive in the breakdown lane during rush hour times (7-10 am and 4-7 pm or something like that), It's insane. Avoid at all costs.

There's a lot of great ethnic food around here. Check out the Super 88 in Allston, which is essentially a (very authentic) Asian food court. Bahn Mi is awesome. Lots of good Indian food in Waltham. You should check out The Neighborhood in Somerville for brunch. Good food and lots of it, and in the warm months they have a really nice outdoor seating area.

Speaking of warm months, there are only like two. Spring in New England doesn't really exist. Winter goes into like April. Don't make the mistake I did when I first moved up here and underestimate the cold weather. Get a good pair of snow boots, a nice warm coat that goes down at least mid thigh, and several pairs of hats and gloves. Layering is key. Usually the snow doesn't get really bad until January, but there are regularly major snow storms through March. Snow in April is definitely a thing that can happen. Fortunately, you'll be arriving in time to witness the wonder that is fall in New England. It really is lovely.
posted by litera scripta manet at 6:38 PM on July 21


Just wanted to add: south of Downtown Crossing is probably okay. I think what Chocolate Pickle meant to say was south of the Mass. Ave. stop.

Boston's a big city -- lots of people mistake neighborhoods like West Roxbury, Allston, Brighton, and Roxbury as separate cities. Nope, they're all part of big ol' Boston.
posted by zer0render at 6:39 PM on July 21 [1 favorite]


Oh, a couple things I forgot.

Central Square is occasionally referred to as Mental Square; this refers to the fact that the homeless people in Central can appear a bit more aggressive than anywhere else in the city. They're still harmless but they will actually make eye contact and address you directly, which unnerves some people at first. Avert your gaze and walk determinedly on.

The Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline does midnight movies on weekends and they're almost always something great. I went there sometime in 1999 or thereabouts to see Pretty in Pink on the big screen at midnight and that is when I fell in love with this city.

Definitely go to the Museum of Fine Arts. It is one of my favorite places in the city. They have folding stools you can borrow and you can sit and draw statues all day if you bring some pencils and a sketchbook. That is what I do.

On Mass Ave, after Berklee and near the Christian Science center (definitely on that side of the street though), take a left after the costume shop and there you will see a bodega. Go in, if it's business hours. Walk towards the Snapple machine. I won't tell you what happens when you do, but it's pretty cool and you should do it. You don't have to buy anything - in fact, you shouldn't, because the fact of the store is much more interesting than its products - but now you have a story to tell.

Drivers here are much worse in late August and early autumn. This is because the average Boston driver really isn't all that bad, but people from out of town have heard of the place's reputation so they drive like nightmarish assholes to try to fit in. Just a heads up.

It will pay you well to get a sense of when Red Sox games are - during those times, avoid the Green Line if you can.

Every season here is magnificent except the winter. Boston winters are like eating salted dry ice out of a frost giant's asshole, but the spring and summer, my goodness. Here, you will feel like you have earned spring. It will take its sweet time getting here, too. That is all part of earning it.

If you wind up involved in the arts scene at all, you will find sooner or later that you are at a gathering at which everyone in the room has got an opinion about Amanda Palmer. Quite a few people will know her personally. The best course of action here is to hang back and take the temperature of the room before declaring your opinion of her, just in case. Whatever that opinion happens to be, make sure you only refer to her as Amanda Palmer. Calling her AFP or Amanda Fucking Palmer will mark you as a rube.

Oh, and if you're moving here and if you have a moving van...One last thing. One last very important thing. "You don't have to put it in caps, FM," you might say shortly. But I do. Trust me. Listen:

IF YOU HAVE A MOVING VAN, FIND OUT THE PRECISE HEIGHT OF YOUR MOVING VAN BEFORE YOU DRIVE IT TO BOSTON. IF YOU WIND UP ON STORROW DRIVE OR MEMORIAL DRIVE, PAY VERY SERIOUSLY CLOSE ATTENTION TO THE SIGNS INDICATING OVERPASS CLEARANCE. THEY ARE NOT HELPFUL SUGGESTIONS BUT IRONCLAD RULES HANDED DOWN FROM GOD HIMSELF. EVERY YEAR, SOME POOR IDIOT KID KICKS OFF THE ANNUAL MOVE-IN CLUSTERFUCK BY SHEARING OFF THE ENTIRE GODDAMN TOP OF HIS TRUCK BECAUSE HE DIDN'T TAKE THE SIGNS SERIOUSLY, THUS BRINGING A MAJOR CROSSTOWN PARKWAY TO A GRINDING HALT. DO NOT BE THAT GUY.

It's going to happen no matter what, but at least it doesn't have to be you.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 6:43 PM on July 21 [3 favorites]


Echoing Famous Monster's "Irish car bomb" advice: don't wear orange on St. Patrick's Day, in South Boston especially. Irish republican pride -- there used to be a IRA/NORAID/Sinn Fein mural welcoming you to South Boston; I believe the "Ireland unfree..." one is still up -- is still present.
posted by zer0render at 6:53 PM on July 21


When it's a hot weekend, I like to walk along a bit of the Harborwalk. I usually start at South Station (which is on the Red Line -- I live in Somerville near a Red Line T stop) and then when I get to Christopher Columbus Park I cut back uphill into the city and get back on the Red Line at Park Street Station. I save this for hot days because it's cooler down there by the water, and I do it infrequently enough that it's nice to get off the subway and think "holy crap! There's a city down here, with skyscrapers and everything! And look...the ocean!"
That said, I prefer living in the Somerville/Cambridge area because it has most of what you'd want in a city, but it's much less vertical.
posted by uosuaq at 7:33 PM on July 21


* I know Amanda Palmer.

* Allston Christmas now mostly blows because the City started putting up all these massive dumpsters and there's little stuff on the street. Still worth a look, I guess.

* Somerville has great food and cafes and pubs and the BEST Goodwill in Davis Square.

* Go to the Head of the Charles, a spectacular day of international crew races.

* The pizza here can be good, as long as you don't expect traditional pizza. We have decent stuff, but our version of NYC pizza is awful. The closest you can get to that is either Santarpio's or the original Pizzeria Regina in the North End. All other pizza is Greek. Most pizza places are called Steve's.

* Go to Kelly's Roast Beef in Revere.

* Go to Wingaersheek Beach.

* Blue Hills hiking is great.

* The North End is the old-school Italian neighborhood in Boston. Tourists clamor for Mike's Pastry. It's decent sugary deliciousness and the trick to the long lines and clusterfuck at the door is to walk in and go to the left-hand side of the counter and place an order to go. Tourists cannot seem to handle Mike's.

* I live in Lexington and we have a lot of history here and we're all kind of superdorks about it.

* Get out to Walden Pond.

* Kayaking on the Charles is fun and you can rent boats.

* Don't ever go on a duck tour or one of those old-time trolley tours.

* Go to a Lowell Spinners baseball game.

* Reading is "red-ding," Woburn is "WOO-bun," Arlington is "AH-ling-ton."

* We DO say, "Ya wicked loser," and "That's wicked stupid." We used to call things "wicked retahded" but we got the memo to stop using that word.

* Shag in Southie is one of the best places in the country to get your hair cut.

* MIT Museum!

* Harvard Football games. $5.

* Bostonians are fiercely proud and in a lot of ways, the feeling here is, "Boston. Because Fuck You."

Welcome to Boston.

***And yeah. EVERY year, some wicked loozah drives their U-HAUL right into a Storrow Drive bridge. Every frickin year.
posted by kinetic at 8:05 PM on July 21


Oh! Forgot to mention:

A spa is not always a place to relax and get your skin did. Sometimes it's a convenience store with card tables where old men play Keno.

Radio: WERS, the Emerson college radio station, is my go-to. Delightfully serious young DJs, great mix of new and local tunes, and no commercials.
posted by prewar lemonade at 8:07 PM on July 21


The best place in the Boston metro area to buy meat (read "steak") is the Hilltop Steakhouse's butcher shop.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:50 PM on July 21


Seconding the Super 88 food court in Allston: Pho Viet's warm bowls of pho ('fuuuuuh', never 'foh') got me through an especially difficult Boston winter a couple of years ago. Also, do check out Bukowski's Tavern in Back Bay, as it's an intimate setting for good beer. Also, Regina Pizzeria in the North End is a good (albeit busy) spot to grab a pie in that charming neighborhood.

Enjoy Boston, I miss the place dearly.
posted by charlemangy at 9:15 PM on July 21


This is where to find the Hilltop Steak House. (Sorry for that other link.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:21 PM on July 21


Lots of great stuff in this thread, but oh my goodness, don't miss all the wonderful things that can be found on the Orange line south of the Mass Ave. stop just because some areas are a little less polished. No one told me about Jamaica Plain when I moved here -- lots of cute shops, great food (Tres Gatos!), wonderfully diverse mix of families, very LGBT-friendly.

Some delicious food can be had in Dorchester, especially around the old chocolate factory, but you'll have to take the Red line to the antique extension to get to it.

Check out the Decordova sculpture park in Lincoln. So cool.
posted by woodvine at 9:41 PM on July 21 [2 favorites]


Do not come here expecting us to hold your hand and lead you through streets labeled helpfully with signs that will tell you where you are. If you don't know where you are, you don't deserve to be there. I think this may be codified in the city bylaws. Street signs are optional, scattered through the region like rare jewels. Be sure you have GPS, turn when it tells you to turn, and pray.

Also, if you're from the south, be aware that in the NE we don't start April until July. Whatever you wear now to bundle up, that's what you'll wear April through June. December through March, you're going to need a REAL coat. (It took me three years to figure out what that meant.)
posted by kythuen at 10:15 PM on July 21 [2 favorites]


The sidewalks in the winter will be trying to kill you. Buy boots with TRACTION not just boots that look cool. You will look like a dumbass but so does everybody else.

If you want to go eat in Davis Square on the weekend, make a reservation. If you want good BBQ avoid Red Bones and go to Blue Ribbon in Arlington instead. If you want a little BBQ with your big ass beer, Red Bones will do just fine.

Just avoid Storrow Drive entirely when you're driving a moving truck. The only way to win that game is not to play (or to correctly identify the hour in which the moron du jour will decapitate the first truck on September first and impress friends and family. It'll be 10 am).

They make Tufts students younger every year. Ignore them and they will magically disappear in early May which is, coincidentally, when your toes will thaw out from the winter and you'll start to believe that you've made it through to the other side. Then you'll sweat your ass off until September, enjoy a blissful month of New England's spectacular weather and foliage (truth in advertising!) and then plunge back into the icy pit that we call home.
posted by lydhre at 12:02 AM on July 22


Walking anywhere is closer than you think. Especially downtown, where you can often walk between two T stops faster than it'll take you by train.

Avoid the B Line of the Green Line at all costs. It is the most irritating transit line I have ever taken in any city I have ever been in. I lived at the VERY END OF IT for a few months and am still recovering.

On that note-- learn the buses! Lots of folks just sort of stop after figuring the T out, but there are some really convenient bus lines. For those of us in Camberville, the 66 and the 1 are particularly useful for crossing the river without getting on the T. They can be slow, but I'll take my chances on the 66 before doing an in-and-out train ride to get to Allston ten times out of ten.
posted by threeants at 3:01 AM on July 22


Many good points already made; since you're presumably nearby I will add that the Somerville Theater (in Davis Square) has $6 matinees until 6PM (even on weekends!). Also beer and wine. So for under $30 two people can watch a movie, get a drink apiece, and have popcorn!

My other favorite current Boston thing is FoMu... Boston has a lot of great ice cream but right now FoMu is my favorite - scoop shops in Allston and Jamaica Plain, pints available at some Whole Foods and local groceries (including Pemberton Farms near Davis Square). It vegan, but that's not important! (Except you have to take it out of the freezer a while before you eat it, I guess because coconut oil has a high freezing temp compared to butterfat?)
posted by mskyle at 5:04 AM on July 22


The transit system is good but by no means perfect. It is mostly designed to get people into and out of the city center (AKA Park St); if you have to go sideways round the city, it can take forever. While the green line is annoying (basically an underground trolley, it is ancient, overcrowded, and prone to breakdowns), at least it runs relatively frequently. Most bus lines don't, and if you need to get somewhere in Allston or Newton or Burlington & you see there's a bus line, check the schedule carefully & plan on it taking a while. (There are exceptions: the #77 in Cambridge/Arlington runs very frequently, as does the #1 in Boston)

Partly as a consequence of this transit design, it is slow and difficult to get between Somerville/Cambridge and Jamaica Plain (hereinafter referred to as JP). Both have concentrations of students and young-ish professionals, funky bars and restaurants, and an active art scene, but they might as well be in different cities.
posted by mr vino at 5:33 AM on July 22


Sadly, the Hilltop Steak House recommended by Chocolate Pickle closed a few months ago. The herd of fiberglass cattle in front were auctioned off.

A few suggestions:

The Harvard Natural History Museum is a favorite of mine. In addition to the menagerie of preserved animals, prehistoric skeletons, and enormous room of minerals there is another connected museum (accessible on the same ticket) with many North/South American historical artifacts. The room of Mesoamerican stelae is stunning.

George's Island is a great day trip. Accessed by a ferry that departs from Long Wharf (just east of Faneuil Hall), the island houses Ft. Warren, a Civil War-era fort that is open to visitors. The freedom to explore the accessible areas of the fort really feels like an adventure, and the ferry ride provides a beautiful view of the city and harbor area.
posted by EKStickland at 6:42 AM on July 22 [1 favorite]


Oh another thing! Hubway! This is the Boston/Cambridge/Somerville/Brookline bike-sharing system. It's $85 a year. It can be a great addition to using public transit. Most of Cambridge and Somerville are very bike-friendly (I mean, when judged on an East-Coast-US-city kind of scale), Boston a bit less so but trying hard. Most of the stations are only open from around April to October, but the Cambridge stations were open all winter last year. As pointed out above, walking is fast in Boston. But Hubway is faster!

(It's nice to have your own bike in Somerville, too, and there are a fair number of bike shops for any type of cyclist/price range. I have a bike but I use Hubway anyway, especially in winter when I don't want my bike to have a thick crust of salt on it.)
posted by mskyle at 7:51 AM on July 22


Most of my time living in MA and NH (2000-2008) I spent living out in the suburbs, however, I went to BU for grad school (2002-03), and later worked for a year (2007) in South Boston (whilst living outside 495, which made for a nightmarish and expensive commute on the Commuter Rail, or driving in and paying exorbitant parking fees when I missed the train).

Disclaimer: I moved out of New England in 2008.

* If you find yourself wanting to take the Green Line, just walk. I promise you, it will be faster. I often found myself getting to class before the T trolley that was parked at the station in front of my apartment building got to any of the BU stops. It took me a few years living in the area before I learned that a lot of things really ARE walking distance from each other (and it takes longer if you take the T). The Red Line (which is what you'll be taking from Davis) is much less annoying.

* Not having a car if you live anywhere inside the 128 beltway is a good choice. Public transit is decent and frequent. Roads in Boston are narrow, illogical, often one-way streets, and poorly signed, owing to the fact that the city was built during Colonial times. If you suffer a concussion or mental disablement which causes you to decide to get a car, it's not called the DMV, it's called the "Registry." Massachusetts charges an annual property tax on cars, payable to your town.

* Boston-area people are addicted to sports like no other place I've lived. Sports stories more often than not made the front page of the "Globe" and made me think "huh, must be a slow news day." You'll hear "Yankees Suck" even if you go to a football game. There's local sports history related to that, which took me a while to learn since I'm not really interested in sports.

* There are lots of weird local holidays. Lots of people have off, for example, on Patriot's Day which is around tax day. It's known as "Marathon Monday" as it's when they run the Boston Marathon.

* There is no reason at all to go to Cheers. It's a tourist trap.

* If you don't like drunken college students, stay away from Allston/Brighton.

* Perhaps obvious destinations, but I always enjoyed the Museum of Science, the New England Aquarium, and Symphony Hall.

Day Trips:

* This area is, naturally, full of Revolutionary War-era historical sites. Obvious day trips are Lexington/Concord and Salem. Walden Pond is one you may not have thought of.

* Provincetown (at the very tip of Cape Cod) is nice, though busy in the summer for obvious reasons.

* If you like music, try a day trip to catch a performance at Tanglewood.

* Nature: Western Massachusetts is beautiful in the fall; Leaf Peeping is a common tourist activity, especially on Route 2. Personally, I prefer the Kancamagus Highway in north-central New Hampshire for fall foliage drives. Mount Washington is another easy day trip, though slightly tourist-trappy. Try the smaller Mount Monadnock if you want a less crowded mountain.

* The states are really small over here; it's possible to hit all six New England states in a single day's drive (though it's a bit of a time crunch to do so). In Boston, you're within a 2-hour drive of both beaches and mountains, and that's one of the things I truly miss about living in New England. I like to ski; in New Hampshire and Vermont there are plenty of good places to do so.
posted by tckma at 8:06 AM on July 22


I am not from, and do not live in, Boston. However, I'm in a relationship with a native and spend a lot of time there. So I thought you might appreciate my outsiders' perspective. I quite like the city, really:

I don't understand why so many people are so flummoxed by rotaries. The thing to remember is, you yield to traffic in the rotary. This means you slow down enough that you could stop if you have to, but if you don't, you just breeze on through.

I know you won't have a car, but I generally do not find Mass. drivers to be any worse than other big-city drivers in the Northeast. I'm from New York, though, so maybe take that with a grain of salt.

I've been to Harvard Square in both the summer and the fall and it was perfectly nice both times. Sure, lots of students in the fall, lots of tourists in the summer, but it wasn't really overwhelmed in either case. The Coop might be owned by Barnes & Noble, but it's massive and you should check it out if you like books.

Downtown by the waterfront, however, has been a clusterfuck of tourists anytime I've gone there in the summer.

Bostonians are pretty friendly, in my experience (and contrary to reputation). They are, however, for lack of a better phrase, "buttoned up." They are somewhat formal, and sarcastic, and seem to have very clear ideas about Right Behavior and Wrong Behavior. You'll get used to it.

They also take an inordinate amount of pride in their oddly pronounced place names. Just roll with it.

The colleges seem to be real boon for the community. There are lots of people interested in intellectual pursuits. My SO's parents are always going to some lecture or such thing.

The T (subway/trolly system) has weird gaps in places where you wouldn't expect them. It seems like the transit system hasn't really kept up with the development of the city in recent decades.

Pro sports are definitely A Big Deal, but I don't think you'll have any trouble fitting in if it's not your thing.

The border between Cambridge and Somerville makes absolutely no sense, and there are no geographic or other ways to mark it that I know of. I think the way to tell the difference is the street signs are different colors in each city.

Ice cream and seafood in Boston are generally very good, although I think the locals can overstate this somewhat. You should definitely eat it, though.
posted by breakin' the law at 9:04 AM on July 22


Also: Walk! Whenever I visit, if the weather is decent and we are staying somewhere in/near the city, I like to have a nice ramble. Boston (and Cambridge/Somerville) is a great walking city. It's relatively compact, clean, and has lots of pretty buildings and things to see.
posted by breakin' the law at 9:14 AM on July 22


Lots of good general advice above. I will reiterate the part about it being cold, but will actually suggest not buying your giant winter coat and boots until you have a better sense of your winter style preferences. I bought something super-useless my first winter.

The "What the Fluff?" Festival in Union Square.
Buy a Brown School card for discounts on stuff, like Redbones and Dave's Fresh Pasta.
Capone's iced coffee (with coffee ice cubes!) in the summer. I think only available at the Mass Ave store, but I could be wrong.
I actually read the Somerville Scout cover to cover and learn about new restaurants and things that way, but I am, you know, kind of old and out of things.
posted by chocotaco at 9:16 AM on July 22 [1 favorite]


Oh wow I am very excited for the Brown School card, chocotaco! That's going to get me a lot of free popcorns. And I also read the Somerville Scout (there is generally at least one event that I get really excited about, and at least a few events that sound so terrible my boyfriend and I spend an evening trying to dare each other to go to it). Somerville Beat is also a handy resource for fun local events/food.
posted by mskyle at 9:46 AM on July 22


In slightly different vein, I offer a few thoughts about my experience of the area.

The city tends to be Liberal with a capital-L but it's not all that...exciting. The art galleries tend to be weirdly curated with conservative shows, the live theatre is fairly stodgy, the food is fine but not amazing or innovative, and live music tends to be pretty mainstream. It's all fine but it's not very energetic or thought provoking. I'm sure folks will show up with a bunch of links to prove me wrong, but the vast majority of the arts and culture seems very reserved and mainstream. There are exceptions, of course, but the pulse of the city feels very buttoned-up and conservative. Not politically or even culturally conservative, but there's just a tenor of seriousness-stodgyness-distance that seems to pervade the culture here. Based on my experience with LA, this is a really different place in terms of fun/events/activities/politics. It might suit you, but beware of that culture shock. There are many things that are interesting about the city, but this tone was a bit surprising to me.

Boston feels incredibly segregated to me. This has huge impacts in terms of how the city works and where you will find your community. This might feel really different from LA.

Journeyman in Somerville is outstanding (and expensive) but they have smaller chef's dinners available on certain nights at the bar. Go there. Drink some cocktails. Eat delicious food.

Tres Gatos is in JP and it's one of my favorite restaurants - we take all of our visitors there and everyone always has a fabulous meal. They used to be a book & music store and they still have a tiny and very well curated shop in the back. If there is a wait for tables, you can take your wine and go browse in the back for records, great books, cookbooks and other fun diversions. Go hungry, get a bunch of things to share (including many of their vegetable dishes) and dessert. They also have an outstanding brunch. I'd actually miss this place if we moved away.

Vee Vee is another phenomenal neighborhood gem, with a great assortment of offerings including at least 1-2 inventive vegetarian meals. I'd also miss this place if we moved.

The Forest Hills Cemetery is always nearly deserted and is an awesome walk in all four seasons. Try to find ee cummings!

The Boston Calendar - Boston events that don't suck is a collection of events, festivals, activities, etc. It's useful to find upcoming things on weekends and other excuses to go check out another place in the region. But taking a look at that might show you what I mean by the tone of cultural programming in the city. Even if that's not all of the great events -- and it totally isn't -- it kind of shows the mainstream angle of things.

You will probably need a few different winter coats. It sounds cheesy to say, but the right outerwear, boots and smartwool socks (SERIOUSLY JUST GET THEM NOW) will change your out-of-house life this winter. Don't become a hermit - get the right clothes and you'll be 10000% happier.

Try to get out and explore the neighborhoods and other areas - you can take little ferries to various islands, get out to the Cape, go to the White Mountains in Vermont, and up to the coast of Maine.
posted by barnone at 9:49 AM on July 22


I agree with the chorus of folks saying to take the orange line south to places like JP and the arboretum. The only problem with JP is that it's so far from Cambridge/Somerville, and so many people are friends with someone in one or the other.

There are tons of great day trips from Boston. I love to go out in the Boston Harbor Islands NP on Saturday and then up to the White Mountains NP on Sunday, just to get that awesome ocean/mountain combo in one weekend. Cape Cod and the Islands (the Ptown rec is great cuz you can take the ferry). The Berkshires. There are previous day-trip threads, and tons of recommendations out there.

I bike almost everywhere and recommend it - Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville have all been becoming way more bike friendly.

A couple more town names that tripped me up when I first moved here: Quincy (Quinzee) Billerica (Billrickah), and Leominster (Lemonster).

Also, yes - Boston mefi meetups are Awesome peeps, trivia should be pretty close to home for you, just fyi!
posted by ldthomps at 10:46 AM on July 22


Somerville?

Sound bites breakfast then a bike on the minuteman path.

If you eat meat, go to McKinnons in Davis. You're welcome.
posted by floweredfish at 3:16 PM on July 22


Wow, thanks everyone! This is getting me so excited. I'm especially eager to take advantage of all of the walking and biking (and KAYAKING - who knew?), and to be returning to ice cream country from the fro-yo provinces.

I think I'm set on winter gear from my time in Minnesota (and northeast Ohio, before that), but it's nice to hear about the way that MA winters tend to unfold. I'm always happy for an excuse to add to my collection of warm coats, boots, gloves, etc.

I'm actually a vegetarian, but hope that the recommendations re: meat and seafood are helpful to folks reading in the future.

Hope to meet some of you this fall!
posted by Austenite at 1:49 PM on July 23


Oh, seeing you mention ice cream, yes! Try Toscanini's (Central Square, not Inman as mentioned above), Christina's (Inman, as mentioned above), and JP Lick's (Davis Square Somerville is your closest) are the best. Also Richardson's, which can be found out at their petting zoo in the exurbs or at kind of random locations, like maybe the Somerville Theater.

Also, I'm not even a donut fan, but Union Square Donuts in Somerville are the best donuts I've ever eaten. Yum! You have so many delicious treats ahead!
posted by ldthomps at 11:26 AM on July 25


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