What's happening Boston?!
April 11, 2018 8:04 PM   Subscribe

Hi Boston, what should I do with you? My family is a teen and two middle aged queer women. Some or all of us like nerdy stuff, art museums, live music, science, nature, weird underground art, bookstores, history, activism, and eating really tasty food. We'll be in Boston (and Western Mass - mostly around Amherst/North Hampton) in mid-May. We don't have a big agenda, just want to relax and explore. I'm mostly looking for Boston suggestions but feel free to chime in with your favorite Western Mass suggestions too. Thank you!
posted by latkes to Travel & Transportation around Boston, MA (26 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Montague Bookmill is the Western MA perennial suggestion. I also really enjoy hanging out by the Quabbin, there are nice places to walk, interesting nature and the place itself has an odd and fascinating history. I'm a library dork and I enjoy hanging out in the Hampshire College library and messing with their board games but it's my alma mater. Boston's MFA is free in Wednesday evenings after 4 pm and definitely worth checking out. MIT MUseum also highly recommended. Do you know where you're staying in Boston?
posted by jessamyn at 8:15 PM on April 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

I went to the Boston Science Museum as an adult, and I really enjoyed it, so that might be worth checking out. I don't think you have to be a young kid to enjoy it, especially if you are at all scientifically inclined.

It's also might be worth taking the T over to Harvard Square, and wandering around that area for an afternoon.
posted by litera scripta manet at 8:30 PM on April 11, 2018

You definitely have to go to the Bookmill!

The Harvard Bookstore and the Coop in Harvard Square are both good for book browsing. Only the latter is affiliated with Harvard.

Tasty food: my favorite sandwich in the world is from Chacarero. It sounds really weird but it's soooooo good.

Jamaica Plain would be good for an afternoon of hanging out. It's Boston's traditional "queer ladies and activists" neighborhood.
posted by lunasol at 8:31 PM on April 11, 2018

* The Gardner Museum is unique. Also only a five-minute walk from the MFA, which frankly I prefer it to.

* No particular reason to go to the Harvard Co-op, as it is now just a Barnes & Noble in disguise, albeit a big one. The Harvard Bookstore, however, is very charming. Around the corner from it is the Grolier, which is a poetry-only shop. Also nearby is Raven Books, which is used books with an academic emphasis. Get sandwiches from Cardullo's, eat them sitting on the steps of Widener Library. While on campus, you might want to look at the Harvard Collection of Scientific Instruments. A short walk north will take you to the famous Glass Flowers collection at the Harvard Herbaria.

* Extremely obvious, but just in case: the Freedom Trail.
posted by praemunire at 8:45 PM on April 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks so far everyone! I don't know what neighborhood we'll be staying in yet. We're shopping on VRBO for a place - we just want something T accessible. Suggestions welcome!
posted by latkes at 9:49 PM on April 11, 2018

Check the improper bostonian.

In the pioneer valley go to the Eric Carle museum and Yiddish book center
posted by brujita at 10:01 PM on April 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

The New England Aquarium and Orchard House.
posted by neushoorn at 10:03 PM on April 11, 2018

In Northampton (one word), go see the dinosaur tracks along the Connecticut River (technically, I see, it's Holyoke, but same difference in this case). If you like live music, see what's on at the Iron Horse - shows are all-ages if everyone is over six.

In Boston, go see the Mapparium at the Mary Baker Eddy Center. It costs for admission, but it's cheap, and it's weird.

Nthing the Gardner. It was victim to an astonishing theft in 1990; they have left empty frames hanging where the still-missing pieces used to hang.
posted by rtha at 11:13 PM on April 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Museum of Bad Art is wonderful. They also have a collection downstairs in the Somerville Theater (though you may need a movie pass to see it).

The Coolidge theater gets great indie movies and fun events, and the Brookline Booksmith is wonderful book browsing.

I haven't lived there since 2009, so hoping my info is still current.

Lots of ice cream! Two amazing local chains are Toscanini's and JP Licks (their hot fudge is a must have).

I really enjoyed Salem, which isn't that far out. Yes, it's touristy, but when it's not near Halloween it's a fun small town with lots of witchy kitsch. The Peabody Essex Museum there is fun for art and culture. There's a pretty beach there called Dead Horse Beach. You can't beat it. *ducks to avoid thrown tomatoes*
posted by mermaidcafe at 11:24 PM on April 11, 2018

Definitely the science museum, it's great for adults. You can pass on buying tickets to the Omnimax and Planetarium but do make sure to stop in for one of the free lightning shows, they're not to be missed.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:54 AM on April 12, 2018

> Jamaica Plain would be good for an afternoon of hanging out. It's Boston's traditional "queer ladies and activists" neighborhood.
and if you come down here, you can visit Lucy Parsons , which is our local anarchist collective activist bookshop.

Actually, just as a pitch for JP as a home base on your visit -- we're a lovely neighborhood with interesting architecture and a plethora of green space, nestled as we are in the heart of the Emerald Necklace. We're still a part of Boston proper, but have the feel of a smaller village. The heart of the city is still easily reached by the Orange Line and the 39 bus, and there are two green corridors, the Jamaicaway/Fenway and the Southwest Corridor that offer biking and pedestrian thoroughfares to the Back Bay and South End. My wife and I make a regular habit of taking a Saturday or Sunday afternoon to walk from our place in JP to visit a museum or do some window shopping or just stroll through the rest of the city, and it makes for a lovely, unstructured aspect of our weekend.

In JP itself, we also have Papercuts which is not quite the size of the Harvard Bookstore but is still a quite solidly curated, independent bookstore. There's also Tres Gatos, which is a Spanish tapas restaurant and independent bookstore and CD store.

In general, as far as a homebase is concerned, you'll probably want to pick something on the side of the river that corresponds to more of what you want to see. It sounds like you'll have a car, so that makes getting around a bit easier, but overall Boston/Cambridge/Somerville reward the walker and so if your interests lend yourself more to Harvard Square/Davis/Central/Union, you'll want to target some place in Cambridge/Somerville, but if you're pinning more destinations in the South End, Back Bay, Seaport, Brookline, then target Boston (and JP!)
posted by bl1nk at 5:24 AM on April 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Check out the Boston Women's Heritage self-guided walking tours. I can vouch personally for the South End and Roxbury routes: you'll learn a ton.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 5:47 AM on April 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

For nature-y things in the area:

-The Arnold Arboretum is very nice to amble through, and by mid-May there may even be some things blooming. "Lilac Sunday" is May 13 and they have a big event (including Morris Dancers the year I went if that's your thing).
-Mt. Auburn Cemetery is a good intersection of history and nature as the country's first "landscaped" burial ground. I believe they do tours, but you can grab a map from the front desk with locations of all of the famous deceased. It's also pleasant just to walk around.
-If you want to go a little further out of town, Minuteman National Park and the Concord Battleground are both nice places to visit. Minuteman is mostly a decent walk through the woods, but they do historical reenactments when it gets warmer. Concord Battleground includes the Old Manse (Emerson and Hawthorne lived there) and the North Bridge, which was the site of the first Revolutionary War battle. There's a ton of conservation land around here, too.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:49 AM on April 12, 2018

I came to recommend a day trip to Salem, but mermaidcafe beat me to it! I think you'd love it - teens usually do. It's creative and fun, and PEM (the museum) is amazing and will keep you engaged for at least 2-3 hours. There are many funky/arty/creative shops, and the town itself is expressly LGBT friendly (I mean, for starters it has an official drag queen). Don't miss the Chinese House, Yin Yu Tang. I can send restaurant recs if you're interested.

You can get to Salem in 30 minutes from North Station Boston on the T commuter rail. Once there, the center of the city is walkable. Getting outside of the center, though, will bring you to some cool locations - mermaidcafe mentions Dead Horse Beach, which is at the lovely Salem Willows Park. There's a century-old ice cream store there called Hobbs with fantastic ice cream, and locals love the popcorn too. But for a beach, far nicer than Dead Horse is the little beach at nearby Waikiki Beach (it's ironic) in Winter Island Park. Even though May is still pretty cold for swimming, it's a good place to beachcomb and there are nice walking paths all over the park, which has a very scenic view of the lighthouse, sound and Marblehead.
posted by Miko at 6:00 AM on April 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

I forgot to mention above - the hop-on trolley tour, while cheesy and historically inaccurate, will take you all over town and you can easily be dropped off and picked up at Salem Willows and/or Winter Island. Worth the few bucks. Alternatively, you can borrow free bikes downtown and both destinations make for lovely, flat short rides.
posted by Miko at 6:03 AM on April 12, 2018

Northampton Pride is May 5 this year (it's early so the college students can go), but it sounds like that might be too early for you.

Just to be aware, mid-May is Commencement Season in the 5 College Area of Western MA (Amherst, Northampton, South Hadley), and it's a small enough area that this can cause a lot of traffic backups. Hotel costs are also inflated if you're considering making more than a day trip.

This year's commencement dates:

UMass: Friday, May 11 (You don't want to be in Amherst on this date, even if you won't be near the university.)
Hampshire College: Saturday, May 19
Amherst College: Sunday, May 20
Mt. Holyoke College: Sunday, May 20
Smith College: Sunday, May 20

The Bookmill is far enough out of the way that the campus traffic shouldn't affect it quite as much (it does sometimes get a little crowded on the weekends). The restaurant there is decent and nearby Turner's Falls (part of Montague) is a fun place to walk around and also has the Great Falls Discovery Center, which is historical/artsy/naturey. This article is a little inside baseball about some of the Montague/Turner's Falls local politics but also describes a bunch of newer businesses and restaurants there.
posted by camyram at 6:07 AM on April 12, 2018

Most of my usual suggestions have been covered: yes to the Museum of Science (it's still fun for adults), yes to the Museum of Fine Arts, yes to the Gardiner Museum. A few others that might be worth considering are the MIT Museum in Central Square (if you want maximum nerdery), the Harvard Art Museums on the edge of Harvard Square, and maybe the Institute of Contemporary Art.

For ice cream, Toscanini's is the answer (my family has been going there since they opened in '82). Their original store in Central Square is closed for renovations, but they have a second store near the Lechmere T stop (and therefore, about a 5-10 min walk from the Museum of Science).

I'm pretty much obligated to echo lalex's suggestion on Cafe Sushi, because my wife and I are regulars (and my brother has worked there for years now).

Other fun, interesting, restaurants in that bit of Cambridge include Alden and Harlow, Waypoint and Little Donkey (all of which are a bit splurgy, but do really interesting food).

For bookstores: Harvard Book Store (don't bother with the Harvard or MIT Coop, they're just Barnes and Noble with different facades); Brattle Book Shop in downtown Boston.
posted by Making You Bored For Science at 7:01 AM on April 12, 2018

Ok super tourist suggestions here but we loved the area and there is a reason people do the touristy things! Our teens loved the musuem at Harvard and poking around that area in general. The hop on hop off trolley tour is a pretty easy way to see alot and decide what you want to return to to dedicate more time on. USS Constitution is worth going to i think. Coming from a landlocked state and my husband being a huge Captains Courageous fan, we liked going to Gloucester much more than Salem. It is grittier for sure. Had a yummy breakfast at Georges there.

We did a VRBO on Marlbourough St in the Back bay area several years ago and loved the location. T stops at Mass Ave and by the library on Boylston both within 5-6 blocks walking distance and on whatever color line (orange maybe?) that goes through the heart of the city and also to stations to change to other lines that take you to Harvard etc. Walking distance to Fenway, the Victory Gardens and the Charles. I would stay in that area in a heart beat.
posted by domino at 7:01 AM on April 12, 2018

No particular reason to go to the Harvard Co-op, as it is now just a Barnes & Noble in disguise, albeit a big one.

I guess it depends on what you're looking for. It's run by Barnes and Noble (as are many university bookstores), but it has a book selection a regular Barnes and Noble can only dream of. It isn't a small and charming bookshop but it is a great place to get lost in browsing for a couple of hours. Also, the upper floors have some really lovely seating in front of big windows where you can look out over the Square as you page through books, which is a lovely experience.
posted by lunasol at 7:11 AM on April 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

we liked going to Gloucester much more than Salem

Goucester's by far my favorite town in the area. Good news : you could visit both Salem and Gloucester in a day. They're on the same train line. Gloucester is gentrifying/touristifying, but it still has a ton of coastal fishing vibe. The Cape Ann Museum there is really good, small but interesting. Lots of very good restaurants and gallery/craft shops.

No particular reason to go to the Harvard Co-op, as it is now just a Barnes & Noble in disguise, albeit a big one.

That's just the bookstore part. I also think it's fun to go to the college-store part of the Coop, in a separate building across the alley behind the bookstore part. IT's got all the Harvard swag, and on the 2nd floor, sort of a neat supply store with fun notebooks and study supplies and stuff. They have good clearance items sometimes. 3rd floor is the textbooks and that time of year, you might see graduates lining up to get their regalia.
posted by Miko at 9:31 AM on April 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

For a "small and charming" bookstore try Raven Used Books also in Harvard Square. Nowhere to sit really, but amazing book selection. Also, along Brattle Street outside Gutman Library there is almost always a couple of tables set up selling used books for a buck or two on the honor system. I've found some good stuff there.
posted by Miko at 9:33 AM on April 12, 2018

If the weather's nice you might like to check out either the Harbor Islands (ferry) or Provincetown (ferry or drive)--P-town is artsy and arguably the most LGBTQ-friendly town in New England.
posted by TwoStride at 9:34 AM on April 12, 2018

Well, I did overlook one reason you might find yourself going into the Harvard Co-op: most readily available public restrooms. Believe me, this is a useful tip.

If it were a little warmer, I would suggest the Crane Estate/Crane Beach, but it will still be too cold for swimming even in May, I think.
posted by praemunire at 10:01 AM on April 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

My kids and I liked Upper Crust Pizzeria. Nothing particularly special about it, just good pizza.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:26 AM on April 12, 2018

If you happen to be in Cambridge, my favorite nerdy bookstores are Pandemonium Books & Games (science fiction and fantasy) and The Million Year Picnic (comics).

The New England Aquarium is fantabulous but crowded at peak times, so be mindful of that.
posted by toastedcheese at 7:01 PM on April 12, 2018

I came to double underline the Gardner Museum and give you a link.

I grew up in the Boston area, but have lived in St. Louis for more than 20 years. When St. Louis friends are visiting Boston, the Gardner Museum is the only must see on my list of suggestions for them. No one who has gone on my recommendation has come back disappointed. It is a gem.
posted by hworth at 7:14 PM on April 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

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