What to do for a weekend in Boston?
October 31, 2016 8:00 PM   Subscribe

I'm visiting Boston for the first time over Veterans' Day weekend. What should I do there?

I'll mostly be spending time with family, but will also have some time to explore and see the sights. Obviously there are many more of the latter than I can possibly fit into three days, so please help me come up with a list of cool and interesting things to pick and choose from! The kind of things I'm interested in include:

- sights and places with a deep history (relative to the West Coast anyway)
- architectural and natural beauty
- live jazz, preferably in a club rather than concert hall setting
- idiosyncratic/quirky/couldn't-get-it-anywhere-else stuff, experiences that give you a particular sense of a city

Less interested in art museums and the like, unless they're special or fall into the last category in some way. Recommendations?
posted by hoist with his own pet aardvark to Travel & Transportation around Boston, MA (11 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: In the "old days" Wally's was the place to go for jazz and I think still is. Awesome dive bar and one of the very oldest jazz bars in the country.

I think you'll really like Isabella Stewart Museum. Architecture and a pretty unique art museum.

The Granary Burial Ground is a small very old cemetery. John Hancock and Paul Revere are buried there.

Speaking of Paul Revere, you can visit his house and then grab a meal in the North End. It's our Little Italy. You could grab a couple things from Mike's Pastry and Modern and weigh in on the age old debate about which bakery is better. North End is worth a trip. Little narrow streets, corner shops, etc. You can do a walking tour there.

We have lots of natural beauty but our little towns or neighborhoods around Boston that are windy brick streets with buildings that are a few hundred years old will be the most unlike the west coast.

Plimoth Plantation is a favorite of mine. A living history museum that is just terrific. It's has actors/historians representing the colonists in the 1600s. It's less than an hour from Boston and well, certainly no place like it anywhere else. Plus Plymouth is an adorable old town. The Mayflower II may be there which is pretty interesting to climb aboard and ponder they had chickens aboard and probably goats and pigs down below in very tight quarters with a hundred people.
posted by ReluctantViking at 8:40 PM on October 31, 2016

Best answer: When I lived in Boston, my jazz musician friends often played at Ryles or Sculler's, you could check out their calendars and see if anything interesting is happening. Before you go there, though, I'd check out The Beehive or Beat Brasserie, they are run by the same management, and I've always had a lovely time watching jazz performed over a great meal. Has a nice, east coast upscale night club feel to it that is really unusual on the west coast.

For history, honestly you can't go wrong with the Freedom Trail, you'll see so much architecture that is unlike home, but if the weather is bad, you'll be bummed to be doing so much walking from spot to spot.

If you really want something you can't get anywhere else, and be efficient with your time as well, I'd recommend an evening spent in the north end.

- Check out Paul Revere's house (one of the stops on the freedom trail).
- Have dinner at basically any one of the restaurants available, but I recommend Pomodoro or Mare. DO NOT GET DESSERT.
- Walk around and marvel at the cobblestone streets and the unique beauty of it and work your appetite back up a bit!
- Take the Mike's/Modern cannoli taste test. I'm partial to Mike's but honestly I think this is something everybody's gotta decide for themselves.

It's touristy as hell but you also might have fun on a duckboat tour. I went on one when my mom came to visit and it was a really fun, economical way to get a lot of sightseeing in without spending more time than we wanted to.

You also might enjoy just wandering Newbury Street, through the public garden, and then into the Boston Common, with a train back to wherever you're staying through the Park Street station. When I first arrived in Boston from Los Angeles I couldn't get over this walk. It was just so different from home.

If you want to check out something really unique and weird and off the beaten path you might get a kick out of Hammond Castle in Gloucester. But it's about an hour north of the city, and if a weirdo castle that is purported to be haunted and gives you a great picture of a very eccentric New Englander isn't your bag, it might be a waste of your time.

I'm a native Angeleno who lived in Boston for 6 years, and now lives in Seattle, if that helps.

Oh! Edited to add two things I forgot to mention:

If there's one "Boston" thing that you can't do anywhere else and you can't even say you've been in Boston unless you've done it, it's a visit to Fenway park. Just going to Landsdowne street and seeing it, right in the city, in all its glory, and snapping a photo with the Citgo sign in the background is kind of a must-do sorta thing.

Another thing you really could/should do while you are there is get a delicious, traditional Irish Breakfast. I've looked high and low for one here on the west coast and it's just not a thing. I highly recommend The Druid in Somerville/Cambridge (it's right on the border) for this, on a Sunday morning. Go hungry!
posted by pazazygeek at 10:16 PM on October 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Because this the year of a presidential election, I think all Americans should see where it started. The ENTIRE walk I describe is no more than 2 miles, total. That's how jam-packed Boston's history is.

My favorite way to integrate history, walking and deliciousness is to go to the North End where there's history AND Italian food (Modern Pastry is better I don't even know why there's discussion and forget cannoli, you want a lobster tail, aka sfogliatella.)

If the weather is decent, go to Salumeria Italiana on Richmond Street (literally around the corner from Paul Revere's House) for olives, bread, cheeses, salamis and all that and walk a few blocks towards Boston Harbor. Both Modern and Mike's are around the corner, so get your pastries, too. And definitely get a box of those Italian cookies for your hosts.

Have a picnic at Christopher Columbus park, watch the planes coming and going at Logan, do some people watching.

From there walk through the Rose Kennedy Greenway space to Faneuil Hall. The Greenway was built as part of our Big Dig project and it's a lovely example of parkspace in the middle of the city.

Continue walking toward Quincy Market which is where all the touristy stores live, but Faneuil Hall is where the Sons of Liberty met and it's kind of breathtaking.

From there, you can gasp at the hideousness that is Boston City Plaza as you continue walking toward Boston Common, passing the Granary Burying Grounds, where John Hancock, Sam Adams and others have been laid to rest. You'll end up, a block later, facing Boston Common and Public Garden.

This entire excursion, including picnic, can be done within 2 hours, easy.

And yes to Fenway if you are even slightly into baseball. They have guided tours and it's well worth the $ to walk on the field and sit in the Green Monster.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 2:43 AM on November 1, 2016

The MIT Museum is a small offbeat attraction. It has several awesome Arthur Ganson kinetic sculptures and an unusual Tetris game hidden off in an out of the way corner of the building.
posted by fairmettle at 3:47 AM on November 1, 2016

Best answer: Boston is one of the most walkable cities in the country. Depending on where you're coming from, I'd recommend getting yourself over to the Aquarium stop and walking around the Greenway. Then head on down to Faneuil Hall. From there, you could easily walk over to the North End and grab a delicious lunch, or if you're so inclined, head in the opposite direction toward the Boston Common. Walk through the Common and then through the Boston Public Garden. From there, stroll up Newbury Street and if you didn't get lunch in the North End, then grab lunch somewhere on Newbury Street. There's no shortage of decent places.

Walk on over to Fenway Park from there for a quick look around, and then head back down to Boylston Street to check out the Boston Public Library (if on Saturday. It'll be closed Fri for the holiday and Sun because it's closed Sun) for the Map or Music room.

This entire walk, depending on how fast you walk shouldn't take more than two or three hours (excluding the stop for lunch at some point. That'll add some time.). But it's a good way to see the entire city and the span of architecture, which is pretty impressive given how small Boston is.

I'd highly recommend definitely making the time to eat in the North End. It's not something I ever do enough.

But the big thing to remember is that while on the MBTA map it looks like you have to take the subway from Government Center to Aquarium or from Park to Copley, you really don't. Most of the downtown area stops are less than half a mile from each other. A mile at most in some cases, so it can be a lot easier to walk it than hopping the T for every thing you want to see.
posted by zizzle at 4:02 AM on November 1, 2016

Seconding the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Super quirky. It's my go-to for out of town visitors.

The Duck Boat tour is also fun, especially if you're feeling chilly and just want to protect yourself from the elements and not walk for a while.

The Boston Public Library is beautiful and offers free tours (but will likely not be open for much of the weekend so do check). If here on Friday, there will be a farmer's market in Copley Square next to the library which is always fun. If in the North End anyway, you might want to check out the newly opened Boston Public Market for good eats.

In Cambridge, I like to combine a visit to the Mount Auburn Cemetery (America's first garden cemetery) with a visit to Sofra for brunch/lunch (check whether it's open though).
posted by peacheater at 6:56 AM on November 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Just a note: the Gardner Museum is still open, but a large part of it is closed for renovations. You can see about 1/3 of the main house plus a special exhibit.
posted by Hypatia at 6:58 AM on November 1, 2016

Oh, good point Hypatia - I was trying to look on the website if that was still the case but couldn't see anything about the special exhibit so I figured it was back to normal - but it looks like that is still the case through November.
posted by peacheater at 7:01 AM on November 1, 2016

Don't miss the Mapparium. I've never seen anything else like it.
posted by treachery, faith, and the great river at 12:50 PM on November 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

Be aware that it could be chilly this time of year. It could also be somewhat warm during the day, but then start to get cold at night. So be prepared for either if you're doing stuff outside or walking.
posted by thefool at 3:17 PM on November 1, 2016

Best answer: An alternative to The Freedom Trail is The African American Heritage Trail .

Jamaica Plain is a great little neighborhood with lots of good food, the Sam Adam's Brewery, Doyle's- a famous political bar, and Forest Hill Cemetery End the day at Brassica Kitchen , one of the best restaurants in Boston.
posted by momochan at 6:37 PM on November 1, 2016

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