What's so cool about Beantown?
April 4, 2011 5:21 PM   Subscribe

Help me get excited about moving to Boston/Somerville/Cambridge area. What are some cool things that go around in these places that you only really know about once you live there?

Well, the good news is that I got a job offer. The other news is that it's in Boston, and I'm not terribly excited about moving there.

Anyways, what are some really cool things that go on around Boston/Cambridge/Somerville that I should know about and that should excite me? For example, I'm only now finding out that in the city I live in (after four years of living in it) there's a huge vegetarian/vegan scene, that have on-going public vegan waffle breakfasts, a local co-op artsy house that throws awesome dinner parties for the public that has weird indie bands show up and play in their giant basement. There's an amazing restaurant here with like 40 obscure beers on tap that rotate every month, and a menu that consists of only local, organic food items. There's a guy who makes his own condiments and has a shop dedicated just to that.

So basically, what are some cool events, places, shops, restaurants, and things to do that should get me really excited? I'm most likely going to live around the Somerville area. I'm into tech-geeky-stuff, biking, being outdoors. I like local weird indie bands. I've recently picked up running and would love to hear about cool running events and biking events (for example, NYC has the 5 boro bike tour).

As a note, I've been to Boston/Cambridge plenty of times so I know about all the touristy stuff. I'm not interested in that, but rather more interested in things that the locals do.
posted by carmel to Society & Culture (44 answers total) 54 users marked this as a favorite
Cambridge/Somerville area cool stuff? How about Disco Brunch at Gargoyle's?
posted by xingcat at 5:30 PM on April 4, 2011

Local and national-but-obscure music can be found almost nightly at TT the Bear's. More well-known (but still indie) music can be seen at the Middle East.
posted by xo at 5:37 PM on April 4, 2011

I don't live in that area and so I can't help you get excited about moving there by telling you the cool things you'll find.

However, perhaps it would help you to be excited about it if you framed the move as an opportunity to explore and discover the millions of cool things that are surely there (hiding from the tourists and the T.V.-bound). I mean, if you'll be living there then you'll have an almost endless number of opportunities to find out where to go and what to do and who to do it with. So you can get excited about walking out the front door of you place on a Tuesday night after work and not stopping until you've found something interesting.
posted by Quizicalcoatl at 5:51 PM on April 4, 2011

Obscure beers on tap that rotate? Boston will be great for you. Publick House and American Craft. Red Bones. Sunset Grill and Tap. Deep Ellum. Bukowski's Tavern. Beer Works. Rock Bottom (chain). Deadwood (inside a 24-hour bowling alley). Not to mention that the Boston Beer Company and Harpoon have breweries in the city.

There are number of bike-themed events during the warm months in addition to Critical Mass. Bike Fridays, Bike-to-Work week, etc. MassBike will have information on these.

Are you a skiier? Boston has numerous companies that charter buses to the slopes for less than the price of a ticket: BSSC, NEAS, NAC. There's a commuter rail ski train that runs to Wachusset on weekends as well.

If you are interested in capoeira I can point you at several groups in the area, including mine.
posted by mkb at 5:54 PM on April 4, 2011

Local and national-but-obscure music can be found almost nightly at TT the Bear's. More well-known (but still indie) music can be seen at the Middle East.

And "wait, who the hell were THOSE guys?"-level indie music can be found down the street at All Asia.
posted by rkent at 5:54 PM on April 4, 2011

There more tech meetings than you could ever get to. MIT is surprisingly open and accessible.
posted by sammyo at 5:55 PM on April 4, 2011

Oh crap, I left out Lord Hobo, CBC, and Hungry Mother!

Also, East Coast Grill has twice-yearly Hell Night events where everything is spicy, even the drinks! I think they charge $10 for glasses of milk.
posted by mkb at 5:56 PM on April 4, 2011

Lots of lectures/talks at the many fine colleges and universities. Some of the best bookstores in the country. Boston Marathon. The Boston area has a lot of International Folkdancing; you can dance to live music several times a week, and great teachers and musicians abound. The New England Folk Festival is the weekend of April 15 with amazing music, dance and workshops. There are likely similar depths of opportunity available for your special interests. I think you will enjoy it there.
posted by theora55 at 5:56 PM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

let's turn this on its head for a moment - why aren't you too excited?
posted by canine epigram at 5:57 PM on April 4, 2011 [5 favorites]

The Minuteman Bike Trail is pretty great.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 5:57 PM on April 4, 2011

One last thing on the subject of tech meetings: Dorkbot Boston
posted by mkb at 5:58 PM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Geeky things? Museum of Science Lightning Show. Artisan's Asylum in Union Square of Somerville.
posted by clockbound at 5:59 PM on April 4, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for all the awesome answers so far. I was very excited to learn about the vast amount of tech meetups - so cool!

canine epigram - I'm not too excited mostly because I've been living in central MA for 4 years now and was hoping for a big change (I wanted to move to the Bay Area). I was hoping to live somewhere with amazing outdoors stuff to explore, where I can go hiking/exploring year-round. I was REALLY looking forward to escape the harsh New England winters that can really depress me.
posted by carmel at 6:02 PM on April 4, 2011

You can live for a long time in the Boston area, actively searching online for information about yoga, and not know that a super-famous yoga teacher gives classes in the basement of a nondescript church in Central Square.

The Greater Boston Buddhist Cultural Center is kind of awesome. It doesn't seem to have its own web page; the link is to the yelp page of its Tea House.

You can go kayaking on the Charles and go through the locks in a kayak and out into the harbor. This may be too touristy for you, but you said you like outdoors things and it's an interesting combination of outdoor sport and urban tourism.
posted by medusa at 6:05 PM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Also, in response to your update - the winters in Boston are actually milder than more inland. Being near the water lessens the amount of snow on the ground. It's still not the Bay Area, but maybe that could help you see moving here as a plus.

Also, there is amazing outdoors stuff to explore! Especially if you get into the ocean/beaches/kayaking. Even for hiking, Boston is a bit unusual for the number of parks with actual hiking trails quite close to the city. You definitely can go hiking year-round if you're willing to hike in the snow. Are you familiar with the Blue Hills Reservation and the Middlesex Fells?
posted by medusa at 6:09 PM on April 4, 2011

If they have all that stuff where you live, I guarantee you can find similar things going on in Boston/Cambride/Somerville. It is a really cool place to live and there is shitload going on.

Some of my favorites were the Miracle of Science in Central Square, the Middle East, Harper's Ferry in Allston (where I saw MC Chris!), Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, Cambridge Common along Mass Ave where Session Americana does residencies, The Garment District and not to mention all of the totally awesome, independent movie theaters. That doesn't even scratch the surface, to be honest.

There is a lot of really awesome things going on in Boston! I miss living there quite a bit.

Well, except for the winter weather. I don't miss that. But don't let that stop you! It is beautiful when it isn't cold!
posted by godshomemovies at 6:10 PM on April 4, 2011

Somerville Open Studios
Independent Fabrication
Ace Wheelworks sponsors a triathlon team and can probably hook you up with local biking events.
Inman Square. You should just go ahead and set foot in every doorway on Cambridge Street from the corner of Hampshire to the corner of Prospect.
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 6:14 PM on April 4, 2011

Just off the top of my head....
Yeah, Artisan's Asylum, Quad Bikes, the MIT Flea, sprout & co., MIT Museum, Harvard's Museum of Natural History, Harvard's Putnam Gallery of Scientific Instruments, Fresh Pond Reservoir, pickup soccer at Danehy Park, Mt. Auburn Cemetery, the Charles River Kayaking put in at Kendall Square, Somerville Bike Polo (to play or watch), Christina's Ice Cream and Specialty Spices, Dave's Fresh Pasta, Savenor's (lion meat, rattlesnake, buffalo, etc.), Formaggio Kitchen, Iggy's Bread hidden down by the tracks. That's a few.
posted by cocoagirl at 6:32 PM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Somerville has great Farmer's Markets in Davis Square (Weds in the Day St lot) and Union Square (this one is on Saturdays). While in Union check out Sherman Market for some great local produce and meat. Highland Kitchen, also in Somerville, has awesome food and a really great bar.

Definitely check out the Somerville Theater for music, as well as films. The Rosebud Diner has music on the weekend often too. Diesel Cafe has good coffee + sandwiches in Davis and I really like their spot (Bloc 11) in Union.

Everyone has covered lots of other great stuff in Cambridge/Somerville so I'd also like to recommend crossing the river and checking out Jamaica Plain.

South Street has The Hallway Gallery and the newly opened Aviary Gallery. There are two great vintage clothing shops - Dame and 40 South. Fiore's Bakery has good coffee and a vegan menu, JP Art Market has art and cupcakes, Yesteryear is a cute antique shop, and Ferris Wheels bike shop.

That's just South Street... it turns into Centre St and there's loads more (JP Licks, Salmagundi hats, Vee Vee restaurant, Boomerangs thrift, etc). And there's the Arboretum and the JP Pond for when it's nice out. Oh and JP has a new Scottish bar (the Haven) which I'd highly recommend--good food, a nice beer list and live music.
posted by jdl at 6:38 PM on April 4, 2011

Some quick thoughts: Although winter is now over, you should definitely check out the Somerville Winter Farmers Market next year. Also, for cool (but way too rare) dinner parties subscribe to the One Night Culinary Events blog - very awesome stuff.

Explore Jamaica Plain. Explore East Boston.

When I moved here, I wasn't very excited, either -- but it's a pretty fun place to live, actually.
posted by AwkwardPause at 6:42 PM on April 4, 2011

An active circus arts community. The occasional influx of zombies.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:54 PM on April 4, 2011

The guy who writes xkcd lives around there.
posted by sninctown at 6:55 PM on April 4, 2011

If you like film, the Harvard Film Archive is a gem, showing great films new and old. Bonus: the theater is in Le Corbusier's only US building, the Carpenter Center for the Arts.
posted by gyusan at 6:55 PM on April 4, 2011

I live in Davis Square after relocating from a short stay in JP. I have to say being in Somerville is 10x better. Don't get me wrong JP was great and had the most green space out of the Boston neighborhoods, but I feel just a bit more at my pace here in Davis. You can often find musicians playing in the square, lots of people bustling around at any time, and relatively close to where you might need to be either in Cambridge or even downtown.

Be sure to venture to the Burren, experience Sligo.. grab a burrito at Anna's.. talk a walk along the bike path on a nice day. You're not far from 93 either so if you needed to get places north or south its accessible.

When in Cambridge.. check out Miracle of Science.. Enormous Room.. Kendall Square has the Cambridge Brewing Company..
posted by melizabeth at 7:18 PM on April 4, 2011

Skip Anna's and go to Tacos Lupita down past Porter. Certainly worth the 15 minute walk from Davis. Anyway, there are 8000 cool things to do in this neighborhood, as can be seen in the fairly frequent threads on cool things to do in Boston. Also, we have meetups.
posted by Aizkolari at 7:40 PM on April 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow. Awesome, awesome stuff. Thanks to everybody who's been answering. I am actually excited about this move now! These are exactly the kind of answers I was looking for. Thank you! Feel free to keep them coming!
posted by carmel at 7:49 PM on April 4, 2011

Others are doing a good job on the food and beer and music (there's tons of that here), but here's something pretty uniquely Boston: learn how to sail at Community Boating.

All you need as a pre-req is the ability to swim 50 ft. Sign up for the summer. They'll teach you what you need to know, and then after 2 classes you can take boats out on the Charles right near downtown (accompanied by more experienced members). I would show up after work and go out with different people each time. The people there were very friendly.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:31 PM on April 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

Also, no-one else has pointed out what a great walking city Boston is. When I moved here I first lived in Somerville and every weekend I would walk into the city, go up and down Newbury, or Comm Ave, or through Beacon Hill and the Common, or along the Charles. Everything is really close together, so you can walk as much as you want, grab a drink or a slice, and if you tire out you can take the T back home.

And because I like you so much, I'm going to let you in on my latest secret. Assuming you're at least a bit of a foodie, for your first walk I'll suggest you walk in to the North End (at most a 2 mile walk, from deep in Somerville) and find Ernesto's, and get a slice that has the chicken and bits of bacon on it (I can't remember the name). I stake my reputation on it!
posted by benito.strauss at 8:41 PM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Clover Food Lab and Veggie Planet make great vegetarian food, often organic and locally-sourced.

MIT is constantly holding techie events and seminars that are open to the public and free.

The Charles River running map is super useful for planning routes along the river.
posted by sashapearl at 9:39 PM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

For one-off events, there's Boston Event Insider, which used to be known as Johnny's List of the Weird. Also, I hope to be moving somewhere else soon, but wow will I miss this place.
posted by lorimt at 10:20 PM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

If you're into vegetarian/vegan food, there are TONS of options (many of them new) in the area.

Veggie Planet (get on the mailing list for the monthly vegan dinner! So great.)
Pulse Cafe (right in Davis)
True Bistro (haven't gone there yet, but it's on my list)
Life Alive (just opened in Central Square -- so delicious!)
Red Lentil (in Watertown -- yum)
Clover (in Harvard Square)

... I'm sure I'm missing a couple!

It's fun here, I promise! In the summer, there are free outdoor concerts and movies all over the place.
posted by cider at 4:44 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you like running, there are SO MANY running clubs. I can't recommend any specifically, but they are all over the map, from elite clubs to open clubs that welcome beginners.

For properly random, highly enjoyable activities, check out Diablo Glass School. Glassblowing classes! Fun and challenging (and kind of expensive). It's in Mission Hill, and there are a bunch of surprisingly great little restaurants on the hill itself, including Montecristo, a yummy Salvadoran/Mexican place.

I think you are going to find Boston a bigger change from Central Mass than you think; Boston is a proper city, and living in Boston feels like living in the city. Go for hours-long walks; walk from Davis Square to Brookline. Sell your car.
posted by mskyle at 5:52 AM on April 5, 2011

Yes, yes, yes - Life Alive is awesome.
posted by AwkwardPause at 5:55 AM on April 5, 2011

Good shaving supplies at Colonial Drug in Cambridge. Learning to walk the (surprisingly small) city when tourists won't get off the T. Awesome hospitals if you get sick. The Sunset Bar & Grill.

Though it may not be put on any more, there was a great event among Boston's bike courier community some time ago. In between Arlington & Berkeley Streets, one company had a basment office; they held a big after-work party in the alley that was well-attended by those people in black with clacky shoes. After everyone had had a few beers, racers stripped down to nearly nothing (as in, only two shoes and *cough* one tube sock) and raced the length of the alley. They started near Louis, Boston, weaved along between the dumpsters and cheering crowds, and zoomed out into traffic along the Public Garden. Tourists trying to get their placemat maps oriented so they could get to Cheers were scandalized; the riders hooted with joy. It was a awesome.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:00 AM on April 5, 2011

I am a Somerville resident since 2005.

Street music madness: Honk! Activist street bands annual festival
Running: Jingle Bell Run, Ras na hEireann
Tacos Lupita – inexpensive fine El Salvadorian burritos and oh my Gods, the tortas are amazing.
Artisan’s Asylum – hackerspace with classes
Johnny D’s, Ryles, Lucky’s – weekend live music jazz brunch
Wally’s – hole in the wall jazz joint
Music Venues: House of Blues, Paradise Rock Club, Middle East (Upstairs/Downstairs/ZuZU), Brighton Music Hall, The Wang, The Orpheum, Symphony Hall, Café 939, Opera House, The Royale.
Bikes not Bombs
Harvard Museum of Natural History
Somerville Theatre serves beer and wine, shows a great mix of movies, hosts live music, and the Museum of Bad Art
Flatbread at Sacco's Bowl Haven Pizza and candle-pin Bowling and alcohol
Somerville Open Studios – largest 1 weekend open studios event in the nation
Fantastic (sometimes) public transit infrastructure (the T)
Metrorock indoor rock climbing
Danish Pastry House
Nerd magnets:PaxEast, Anime Boston, Comic Con, Arisia, Hub Comics, Nerdnite.
boating on the Charles River: rentals, 4th of July Fireworks (on a boat), sailboats
Weird theater productions: The Donkey Show
posted by enfa at 9:25 AM on April 5, 2011

People have already mentioned all of my favorite veggie restaurants, so I'll just add that the Harvest Co-op in Central Square (and there's one in JP, too) has great bulk items and veggie foods.

There are also a ton of little galleries and art spaces like Lilly Pad and Meme that do cool shows and performances.
posted by ldthomps at 10:25 AM on April 5, 2011

I moved here three years ago from the Bay Area, and I've never been in any danger of running out of things to do. Now I'm moving away in a few months, and I'm pretty sure I'm going to miss my Boscamberville haunts something fierce, especially those adzuki cream buns at the Japonaise Bakery in Porter Square. They make my taste buds weep for joy.

In addition to the humongous list of things people have already mentioned, if you're up for some unconventional problem solving, you might be interested in the local puzzle community. For wintertime fun, there's the annual MIT Mystery Hunt, which is pretty massive and takes place in January, but lately there have been smaller hunts when the weather is warmer. These are run kind of randomly, but they're geared towards smaller groups. Armed only with clipboards, smartphones, and sheer geek power, you and a few of your friends can get together to tackle a maze of puzzles as you explore the city on foot.

And there is a really fabulous Metafilter presence in the area. The meetups aren't terribly regular, but I've met some terrifically swell Mefites at every one I've been to.
posted by Diagonalize at 11:00 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

My favorite little-known Boston event was the Mass Art iron pour (video).
It happens twice a year (fall and spring) and they pour iron into the molds that the students made during the year but it is a huge firey spectacle and there are live bands that play and fire shows and fun stuff. Not sure when the next one is.
posted by rmless at 11:36 AM on April 5, 2011

Oops, I forgot to mention Banditos Misteriosos.
posted by mkb at 6:24 PM on April 5, 2011

The Somerville Jingle Bell Run (5K), MIT Media Lab, Boston By Bike At Night by the Midnight Pedalers. And not sure if you're into the dancing, but the Dance Complex in Central Square offers every class under the sun; I highly recommend Olivier Besson's improv jams. Also, Dennis Brennan (@ Toad's and Atwoods). Welcome!
posted by AlmondEyes at 8:11 PM on April 5, 2011

Oh wow, this makes me miss living in Cambridge!!

I don't think anyone has yet mentioned Burdick Chocolate Shop and Cafe on Brattle Street in Harvard Square. Hot chocolate TO. DIE. FOR. I promise it will make the cold weather more palatable. :)

Also I really miss Pinnochio's Pizza on Winthrop Street in that same area. Definitely full of undergrad students, so you might have to gird up for that, but the square pizza is tasty.

Have fun!!
posted by mccxxiii at 11:02 AM on April 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

I loved living in Somerville. Sadly, these days, I'm married with children in the burbs. However, a few weeks ago, I was in the coffee house in Union Square. Block 11? It used to be a bank and you can have a cup of coffee in a vault. In any case, reading the bulletin board in the back made me remember how many cool things there were to do in Somerville. I used to get into great soccer games where there were 15 different nationalities playing together. Sometimes they would end in dinner invitations and you would find yourself having a drink on the back porch with a guy from Cameroon while his wife gave the kids a bath. Also, lots of great musicians to jam with. Great cheap food. Great walking neighborhood, you always find new stuff you never saw before. Friendly people. My mechanic invited me to his weekly basketball game.
posted by DTHEASH1 at 4:59 PM on April 6, 2011

This is outrageous, but I'm in Japan right now and I miss the Japanese restaurant in Cambridge, Cafe Mami. I want to invent a teleportation machine so I can walk into that place from here.

Also: Mary Baker Eddy Library, including the Mapparium and Hall of Ideas. A perfect date spot, although many Boston people have never even visited!
posted by shii at 6:04 PM on April 6, 2011

If you like coffee, Cafe 1369 in Central Square (and Inman Square, apparently) makes the best coffee I've ever tasted. Heck, even if you don't like coffee, you should try a cup of their house blend. It could change your mind.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:52 AM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

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