Things to see & do in Cambridge, MA before you die, aside from the education bit
May 9, 2012 9:23 PM   Subscribe

Farewell, Boston & Cambridge! (What to see/do before I go)

An answer in this thread sparked the following question: I'm about to leave Cambridge/Boston in the next week and a half or so (probably) forever: what should I see or do before then to take advantage of this awesome, history-rich place? I have no car (or access to one) so all answers should be T-able. I am a just-very-recently former grad student with little money and a mortal fear of trying to drive around here.
posted by smirkette to Travel & Transportation around Cambridge, MA (22 answers total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
If you haven't, you simply must check out the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

There's also Cristina's Homemade Ice Cream Shoppe/Spice store.

The Harbor Islands are also very pretty now.
posted by spunweb at 9:29 PM on May 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

The Mt. Auburn Cemetery
posted by brujita at 10:20 PM on May 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Amending brujita to say: this is just the right time of year to walk along the Charles to Mt Auburn Cemetery as early in the morning as you can bear. Climb the tower, stroll through the graveyard, admire the bird watchers and the birds. Meander back through Cambridge streets.
posted by tavegyl at 10:41 PM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

some of this you presumably have done

The North End (maybe combine that with the Freedom Trail), touristy as hell but also that way for a reason, if you do the whole thing you start at the Common and end up in North End just in time for a series of dinners at little Italian joints.

Fenway, if you like baseball AT ALL.

The Common on a nice spring day.

Anyway, that's what I'd do with some of my last 48 hours in town. I went to first grade in Brookline and my family have visited very intermittently since, most recently this past November. We got out of town on a serious historical cheese tour, but without a car you miss out on Plymouth, Plimouth Plantation, and Mystic Seaport.

That said, the North End is where we ended up three nights out of seven, just wandering around. If you think you might not end up in an East Coast city, go soak it up.
posted by mwhybark at 10:47 PM on May 9, 2012

As a finishing grad student, don't underestimate spending some time at your favorite places on campus or getting your favorite take-out, because it will be even better than you remember it and you will wonder how it is possible to leave. Last, never say you'll never be back: I went back recently after 5 years away, and spent 3 of the 5 days in Cambridge (not Boston). I admit to getting a bit sniffly about such stupid things as using tellme combo and being in my old office.

As for touristy things, I would put a visit to the Boston Public Library (the side entrance with the murals, map room, and old-school reference library), the MIT Museum (kinetic sculptures and holograms, currently a photo exhibit on changes in glaciers), the area around the Christian Science reflecting pool, and a walk along Memorial Drive across the Longfellow as nice highlights for a nostalgic about-to-be-ex-resident.
posted by whatzit at 12:02 AM on May 10, 2012

If you haven't seen the Mapparium, you really should.
posted by Rock Steady at 3:31 AM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Absolutely unique to Boston/Cambridge:
-- Fenway Park. Take the tour or go to a game.
-- Old Ironsides, Paul Revere's House, and other stops on the Freedom Trail
-- The Gardner Museum, especially on a Sunday with music
-- A Duckboat Tour out onto the Charles
-- A harbor tour from Rowes Wharf
-- Get off the Red Line T stop at Charles/Mass General and walk over Beacon Hill to Quincy Market and have lunch in the rotunda.
-- The Boston Pops

Local favorites but not unique:
-- Eat a lobster or a clam roll at a Kelly's
-- Christina's ice cream on Cambridge Street
-- Meatloaf and Nut Brown Ale at John Harvard's Brew House
-- Birdwatching at Mt. Auburn Cemetery (go this week for best birds of the year!)
posted by birdwatcher at 3:57 AM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The Christian Science Church's Mapparium.
posted by rmd1023 at 4:47 AM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Brewery tours!
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 4:59 AM on May 10, 2012

Best answer: If you go to Mt. Auburn, be sure to check out my favorite epitaph - Lt Underwood, who was "felled by savages" while promoting the cause of philanthropy in the South Pacific. It's on an obelisk near the main entrance. Be sure you give my great uncle Nate a wave - he's the dude sitting pretty in a chair with book, sextant, and globe like a boss.

If you're looking to have some experiences you can reminisce about with other former Cambridgians years from now, you can't go wrong with food and drink - a burger at Bartleys, scorpion bowl at the Hong Kong, a double at Charlie's (while your song plays on the jukebox upstairs). Same thing in town in Boston - seafood at Barking Crab, stomach ache at Union Oyster House, cream pie at Parker House, etc.

Depending on your timeframe, you can also hop on the commuter rail. Check out the North Shore (Salem, Gloucester), head south to Providence, or just find a nice place for a picnic.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:23 AM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

History, you want history? Walk the Freedom Trail. From old Grainery Burial Ground, where Ben Franklin's parents are buried, to Old South Meeting Hall, where the Boston Tea Party got its start, to Old North Church of Paul Revere fame, across the harbour to Old Ironsides.
Also the African American Meeting House, now fully restored to the time of the Civil War.
Screw history and eat something. Jacob Wirth in the Theater district, old school German style. Union Olde Oyster House, near Faneuil hall is the oldest restaurant in the oldest part of Boston. The Blackstone block dates from the 1740's. If you want eats that are uniquely Cambridge, try The Middle East in central Square.
posted by Gungho at 6:12 AM on May 10, 2012

As a former resident of both Boston and the PVD, I've got to put a plug in for hopping on the commuter rail and checking out Providence. Everything in PVD is within a 20 min. walk of the Amtrak station - I'd absolutely recommend walking over to the East Side/Brown campus area. Thayer St. is a really nice little college area with really nice, really cheap food. For a tiny museum, the RISD museum is really great and will be very quiet/peaceful as compared to going to a museum in Boston.

In Boston itself, if you haven't gone to Union Oyster House, it's the oldest restaurant in the US. If you're into doing something somewhat touristy and eating seafood - I recommend it. For the food itself... it's not amazing, but the food is decent and the history part is pretty cool.
posted by sonika at 6:33 AM on May 10, 2012

Best answer: Oh man, just reading this is making me homesick. I can tell you as someone who is from Massachusetts and spent 10 years living in Boston (and Somerville, Brookline, and JP) and I've now been gone for almost 20 years, with only a few visits back and none in the last 10 years, these are the places that I miss the most:

Definitely the North End. I lived there my last three years in Boston. I'm still searching for broiled scallops as good (and as garlicy) as the ones that I had at the Daily Catch. I've yet to find a cafe as gloriously over the top as Cafe Vittoria (if it's still there). I can still smell the spices and coffee at Polcari's (we just used to call it the "smell good store").

I love cemeteries and Mt. Auburn is great, but I also enjoyed going to Forest Hills in Jamaica Plain. It is definitely quieter and boasts some remarkable funerary sculpture by Daniel Chester French (he the sculptor of Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial in DC). It is the final resting place of William Lloyd Garrison, the Jacob Wirth (of the restaurant) e.e. cummings and Anne Sexton among others. Granted it was more convenient for me because I lived in Jamaica Plain for a few years, but thought that I'd throw it out there.

Boston Public Library. I loved it when it was a bit worse for wear and have yet to see all the final outcome of the renovations (circa mid-90s - 200X). I was a volunteer tour guide (of the art and architecture). What other public museum not only boasts a courtyard, but murals by Puvis de Chavennes and John Singer Sargent?

So much I want to move back!

Anyway, perhaps this was more of a nostalgic trip down memory lane for me than a helpful answer for you, but hope it's useful.
posted by kaybdc at 7:16 AM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

Visit the museums! Many have a free night (MFA after 4pm Wednesdays, ICA 5-9pm Thursdays)

Boston Public Library - beautiful!

Take duck tour if you haven't already.

Bike through the esplanade.

Ride the swan boats (only $3, I think)

Go to a good bar and drink lots of local beer that you can't get elsewhere.
posted by didgeridoo at 8:41 AM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: These are all awesome. Thank you so much!
posted by smirkette at 9:04 AM on May 10, 2012

See the ear-splitting electricity show at the Museum of Science, then recover while viewing the glass flowers in the museum at Hahvahd.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:10 AM on May 10, 2012

Spring for a lobster roll at Neptune Oyster in the North End, and be doomed to forever compare every lobster roll henceforth to its shining awesomeness. I'm sorry, people, that's just the way it has to be.

Local beer: If you are into beer, head to a craft beer bar around here (CBC, Lower Depths, Deep Ellum) and drink beer from Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project based in Cambridge, MA. No I don't work for them, but they are a reason I'm happy drinking in Boston.

Go to TT the Bear's late Saturday night for their ecstasy-fueled 80's night after having dinner and/or seeing a show at the Middle East.

N'thing the Mt Auburn Cemetery. That was a wonderful walk. It's good you could go now, it's too buggy in the summer. Also the Arboretum. I hope the weather gets better for you!
posted by Sayuri. at 9:57 AM on May 10, 2012

If you go to the Harbor Islands (and I recommend it), take a flashlight and scramble around in the back tunnels of Fort Warren on Georges Island!
posted by rivenwanderer at 11:53 AM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I did this a few years back. I made a short list of things I wanted to do before I left, but honestly the best thing I did was just to walk - long walks, places I hadn't gone before, or between places I'd been but had always driven or taken the T in between. You see a lot of new things when you walk, and get to stop and reflect where you feel you want to - it's really a lovely thing. I remember, specifically, two spots - one walk down Boylston Street, from Kenmore, and another that took me home to Brighton from MIT. The latter was a night walk, after a last dinner with a few friends, and I'd never walked the Mass Ave bridge. It was a clear, cool night, and I stopped and just looked at the cityscape over the Charles - it's a very clear image in my mind even nearly 5 years later. Just taking the time to soak up a bit of Boston on my own was pretty pivotal.
posted by AthenaPolias at 1:36 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Go to Charlestown. Visit the Navy Yard and climb the Bunker Hill Monument. Then you can walk the Freedom Trail down to the North End.
posted by chickenmagazine at 2:16 PM on May 10, 2012

1) Spend as much time on, in, or near the Charles as possible.
2) Talk to random hobos in Harvard Square. I find that people in unfortunate situations generally share their great advice, recommendations, and theories if you take the time to sit down with them. E.g., I learned about the benefits of being prolife after talking with a hobo I met in Chicago and about the power of learning personal finance from a hobo in Manhattan.
3) If you're about to graduate from Harvard College, please avoid selling your soul to finance and management consulting firms and just do something unique with your life.
posted by lotusmish at 3:06 PM on May 10, 2012

The Boston Harbor Islands are my favorite thing in Boston. Georges Island is amazing because you can explore the fort at your will and Peddocks is so cool because of the abandoned base. I'm also graduating and I will miss them so much.
posted by theuninvitedguest at 8:55 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

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