East Coast trip from Boston to DC -- ideas?
June 20, 2012 1:48 AM   Subscribe

I'm planning on visiting the East Coast this July -- the area roughly from Boston to Washington, DC. I don't really have a set plan yet, aside from visiting NYC for a couple of days (up to a week), hopefully visiting Boston for a few days, and hanging out along the Maryland/DC border for a conference. Travel tips/suggestions?

I've never been to the East Coast, so I have no idea where to go or what to do. What are some interesting destinations along my route? Large or small, touristy or obscure -- it doesn't matter to me. If you have a favorite city or town, museum, hostel, club, restaurant, food cart, statue -- whatever -- put it out there. I want as much information as I can get!

Current ideas: (just started brainstorming)
* touristy stuff in NY: Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, etc.
* Comedy Cellar in NY (maybe I can see Louis C.K.?)
* lots of pizza (and donuts, cheesecake, bagels...) in NY -- especially Di Fara
* Harvard and MIT in Boston
* White House, Holocaust Museum, and Smithsonian in DC

(I'm sure there have been countless questions on the topic, so if you know of any great discussions off the top of your head, please post them here.)

Thank you!
posted by archagon to Travel & Transportation around Washington, DC (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
In Boston:

- Museum of Fine Arts: Really a nice collection. Not huge like the Met - very doable in a few hours. Nearby is the quirky and delightful Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, most famous for its 1990 heist but also notable for having a really marvelous collection.

- Duck Boats. The epitome of Boston tourism. The Beantown equivalent of the London Doubledecker buses. I think it's a law that every tourist needs to ride one.

- On the subject of boats... the Swan Boats in the Botanical Garden. Also in the Botanical Garden, statues of Robert McCloskey's children's favorite - Make Way for Ducklings.

- If you like pizza, Upper Crust in Boston is arguably the best in the city.

- My favorite spot in Boston is Trident Books & Café. Excellent pancakes. In a bookstore!

- If you're into baseball at all, seeing a game at Fenway is awesome. No matter how the 'Sox do, it's an awesome park. (If you're not into baseball, disregard this one.)

- Union Oyster House is possibly not the greatest restaurant in the country, but it is the *oldest.* And certainly not the worst either. A bit pricey, but the food is good and hey, history!

- Anthony's Pier 4 might actually *be* the best restaurant on the East Coast. Certainly the best in Boston.

I'm sure other Beantown-ians will offer a spazillion more recommendations. Have a great trip!
posted by sonika at 4:43 AM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you like pizza, Upper Crust in Boston is arguably the best in the city.

Upper Crust has also been embroiled in a huge legal and immigration battle over the past couple of years involving hiring undocumented workers and withholding wages from them, so I'd say skip that.

Harvard and MIT both have museums you can visit and are worth a visit. If you're in Harvard Square and need a quiet place for a drink, check out Grendel's Den. The more touristy stuff downtown (Old State House, Faneuil Hall, etc.) are all worthwhile if you have any interest in American history.

The old wing of the Boston Public Library is very pretty and has a nice courtyard that you can hang out in if you're in there area (in my opinion, much more welcoming and less museum-y than the NYPL). Another nice stroll from that general area which is not frequented by tourists much is to start at the Public Gardens and walk down Commonwealth Avenue to Kenmore Square, where you can go see Fenway Park or stop in at a restaurant (Eastern Standard and the Island Creek Oyster House are both wonderful choices for cocktails).

If you're looking to get out of town for a day, Crane Beach in Ipswich is a reasonable drive and very pretty, and Russell Orchard is right on the road to the beach to pick up some fresh local berries. Lexington and Concord are popular day trips, and the Minuteman National Park is a nice walk between the two with several historical taverns and farms on the path (as well as Revolutionary War reenactments). If you go to Concord, stop in the Cheese Shop and you will be well rewarded.
posted by backseatpilot at 4:58 AM on June 20, 2012

archagon: "Empire State Building"

I would suggest maybe doing Top of the Rock instead (although, it IS pretty cool to have been to the top of ESB at least once in your life), because from there you have GREAT views of the city (glass walls instead of metal fencing/railing), including the iconic ESB! Plus you can reserve a time, and show up and go up, without all the waiting in line you have to do at ESB.
posted by Grither at 5:26 AM on June 20, 2012

If you're driving, I say make room for Pittsburgh.

We kind of covered what to so in Pittsburgh in this thread.

Pittsburgh should be affordable, intersting, beautiful and pretty much an unorthodox choice for a couple of your vacation days.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:29 AM on June 20, 2012

The book/web site Road Trip USA covers the whole Atlantic Coast, and two sections of the itinerary correspond to your route (three if you want to explore a bit on your way to DC).

It looks like going through the Jersey Shore is going to be great fun; if you plan in advance you could say at one of the "doo-wop" motels there (the ultra-kitsch things from the 50's) - but they may book up fast. You've also got a lot of beaches, and Assateague and Chincoteague parks.

I'd also try the pizza in New Haven, CT, as that is supposed to be the best in the country. And if you go along the coast in New England, hit up the clam shacks.

I feel like I need to issue a disclaimer that I am not the author of Road Trip USA, I just like it a lot (and that's why I cite it 75% of the time in threads like these).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:34 AM on June 20, 2012

In Boston, don't plan on spending too much time at MIT - there's not a whole lot to see there IMO. I love walking around downtown Boston - there's always something going on on the Common (not Commons) and Public Garden (also singular). Boston also has a great 4th of July celebration, if you're going to be around then (and comfortable with ridiculous crowds). I second the recommendation of the MFA and the Gardner museum.

Also in Boston, there are a lot of cool options for tours besides the Duck Boats (which are indeed fun and pretty iconic given that they've only been around for ten years or so). You can take a walking tour with Boston By Foot, or a kayak tour with Charles Rive Canoe and Kayak. I don't recommend the hop-on-hop-off trolley tours unless you are mobility-impaired; they mostly cover an area that is easily walkable. If you want to tour on your own, without a group, there are a lot of great self-guided walking tours - the Freedom Trail is the oldest, but there are lots of specialty tours.

Where are you coming from? I recommend getting out to the beach or on the water, and if you're coming from someplace landlocked I double or triple that recommendation! There are great beaches all over the place from Massachusetts to Maryland. And whale watching out of Boston (or another coastal New England town - I know Gloucester and Salem do a lot of whale watching business) is a lot of fun on a nice day. You could also go out to one of the Boston Harbor Islands - they're still within view of the city (a quick ferry ride) but surprisingly unspoilt.

Pittsburg is nice, but Philadelphia's much less out of your way.
posted by mskyle at 5:51 AM on June 20, 2012

I agree with backseatpilot - skip Upper Crust if you care about labor issues at all. Also, Crane Beach is indeed lovely, but if you're going to be here in July, check the beach conditions first for the status of the greenhead flies. I can attest from personal experience that even a "moderate" level of fly activity is very unpleasant.

The Harbor Islands are a nice alternative, and there are different ferry options depending on how many/which islands you want to go to.

Boston's North End is a great area to walk around in. You can see the Old North Church, Paul Revere's house, eat yummy Italian food and see people stand on line for hours to buy cookies.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 6:07 AM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

(PS: I wasn't aware of Upper Crust's labor issues - my recommendation came from my husband. I certainly won't go there anymore myself knowing that they have issues with immigration!)
posted by sonika at 6:12 AM on June 20, 2012

Urban Adventours in Boston is great! Biking around Boston is the best way to get around this incredible city, and their tour guides are awesome.

Walking the Freedom Trail in Boston is also a good option for seeing the city/sights.
posted by carmel at 6:15 AM on June 20, 2012

Recommend skipping Frank Pepe's, the pizza place in New Haven that has a widespread rep.

In Boston, don't forget Quincy Market. Lots of shops, large building with nothing but food stands, and rotating entertainment at one end.

I'm a big fan of D.C., if it's my trip, I'm spending more time there than anywhere else.
posted by troywestfield at 6:28 AM on June 20, 2012

I used to live in DC, and go back to visit once a year or so. Two of my favorite places:

The Jack Rose, in Adams Morgan. If you love bourbon and single malts, this place is heaven. Food's good, too. It's not cheap, but it's worth it if you've got the budget for a splurge.

The National Portrait Gallery and American Art are two Smithsonian museums that are connected by a very nice courtyard with a cafe. They are my favorite Smithsonians (and American Art is running an exhibit on video games if that's your thing, through then end of September).
posted by rtha at 7:38 AM on June 20, 2012

Whenever I see a thread like this, I try to remind people that if they're interested in visiting the Holocaust Museum (or anywhere around the Mall, really), feel free to contact me. I work there, and while there's not much "behind the scenes" that I could show you I can certainly answer any questions you might have.

As for other things to seek out, if you gave us some specifics about the kinds of things you like we might be able to give better recommendations. There's really so much to see in NYC, Philly, DC, Boston, Philly, Baltimore, etc. that a general "what should I do" question might not help you.
posted by arco at 8:09 AM on June 20, 2012

Clubs in dc: 930 club and u st music hall.
posted by empath at 8:19 AM on June 20, 2012

There is a ton of interesting stuff in Baltimore, but American Visionary Arts Musuem is probably the coolest.
posted by QIbHom at 9:02 AM on June 20, 2012

Response by poster: Really great answers so far — thanks, everyone! :)
posted by archagon at 10:06 AM on June 20, 2012

New Haven doesn't have a ton, but there are some good small museums/libraries downtown, like the British or the other Art Gallery or the Beinecke (the latter won't take more than an hour). The good parts of Yale are all pretty concentrated and streaked through with local shops.

The New Haven pizza wars are never ending; if you're just breezing through, your best bet is Bar on a weeknight (although it can be busy on tuesdays.)
posted by cobaltnine at 10:19 AM on June 20, 2012

Don't go to Anthony's Pier 4 -- Boston actually has some good restaurants (as does the East Coast), but Anthony's ain't one of 'em. The Chowhound forums for each place would be a great place to do research if you're a foodie, but some personal and eclectic favorites in Boston/Cambridge: Russell House Tavern in Harvard Square, Red Bones in Davis Square, Bergamot and East Coast Grill in Inman Square, and Hungry Mother in Kendall Square. In Boston, I like Island Creek Oyster Bar or Neptune for a splurg-y sample of fresh seafood. Have fun!
posted by AwkwardPause at 10:59 AM on June 20, 2012

The Museum of Modern Art does evening concerts during the summer. They last 1-2 hours and are really neat. And you don't even need to pay for admission to the museum (which surprises me, but I've always used them to cap off a trip to the museum than as a focus).

Don't eat around Times Square. The food will be mediocre, overpriced or both.

I know for Manhattan and I wouldn't be surprised for the central parts of Boston and DC that if you stand around looking lost with a map out, someone will stop to help you with directions. Asking for help with directions on the subway always works. Stopping people in the street may lead to annoyed looks. (Maybe not Boston, given how much of a headache it is to navigate at times.)

If you're in Boston in late July, check out Shakespeare on the Common. Free, you don't need to get up at an ungodly hour like for Shakespeare in the Park (which apparently is great, but the few times I tried to score tickets I failed).

The east coast in July can be brutally hot and humid. DC is on a swamp, New York is a jungle of concrete and asphalt that traps heat quite well and Boston can be almost as hot as the other two. They can also be very humid. I'm guessing you're from the Bay Area, so be warned. Not trying to dissuade you from visiting, just be warned. Luckily, almost every indoor spot will be air conditioned.
posted by Hactar at 2:03 PM on June 20, 2012

The National Building Museum in DC is just off of Gallery Place/Chinatown, often overlooked and a great place to spend an hour or two. Their exhibit on the history of the city with all the big dioramas is delightful, and they usually have odd but interesting additional exhibits. Not really a show-stopper like Air and Space, but if you're going to be in that area of downtown I'd definitely recommend seeing it and then walking to the portrait gallery (already mentioned, just a few blocks over).
posted by postcommunism at 3:04 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't be surprised for the central parts of Boston and DC that if you stand around looking lost with a map out, someone will stop to help you with directions.

This is not true in Boston wherein standing on the sidewalk will get you shoved off the sidewalk. And yes, if you ask for directions you will get directions... with a side of very annoyed looks. Bostonians are not world-renowned for friendliness.

(I lived downtown and saw this happen all the time with tourists looking lost and Bostonians huffing at them and very pointedly trying to get them to move.)
posted by sonika at 3:41 PM on June 20, 2012

I disagree about Boston huffiness! I mean, sure, if you're standing in the middle of the sidewalk. But if you're waiting for the subway, or standing outside of the Park St. stop on the Common? People will happily give you directions. Bostonians love to show off their city, same as anyone else.
posted by mskyle at 6:08 AM on June 21, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks everyone -- great answers!
posted by archagon at 6:01 AM on July 14, 2012

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