Where should I move to in/around Boston?
May 8, 2021 8:42 AM   Subscribe

Say you're a single 30-something moving to the Boston/Cambridge area (but with few constraints otherwise). What are the cool, walkable, upscale neighborhoods you should be looking to live in?

(No specific commute, though convenience for very occasional visits to Harvard/MIT would be a positive.)
posted by kickingtheground to Home & Garden (28 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Davis Square
posted by phoenixy at 8:52 AM on May 8, 2021 [6 favorites]


I love the Brookline area.
posted by chasles at 8:54 AM on May 8, 2021


If you want upscale and walkable, I’d say Back Bay/South End for a more downtown feel. Central/Harvard/Davis Square or Coolidge Corner for something more neighborhood-y.
posted by lunasol at 9:43 AM on May 8, 2021 [3 favorites]


Upscale and walkable, I'd say Beacon Hill and Back Bay, especially if you like historic (Beacon Hill for more old-world charming and cozy, Back Bay for more grandeur). If you want a bit less dense and a bit less upscale (but still upscale), you could go for Cambridge. I'm partial to the area between Harvard and Beacon Street. You might also enjoy the area below the Central Square station down to the river, East Cambridge around MIT, or around Davis Square. North End (old Italian section) is very central, walkable, and cute, although a bit less accessible by transit.
posted by ClaireBear at 10:02 AM on May 8, 2021 [1 favorite]


Fortunately, your criteria covers a lot of options as mentioned above. What kind of housing do you prefer? North End, Beacon Hill and Back Bay have a lot of really old, small (but cute) apartments. West End (which is a stone’s throw from Beacon Hill) and downtown are largely managed high rise buildings. Cambridge and Somerville tend to be 2 or 3 unit condos, with a yard not out of the realm of possibility, and a bit cheaper per sq ft than the hip parts of Boston.

Commute access matters too. I like Brookline housing, but I’d consider it a bit of a schlep to Harvard/MIT.
posted by redlines at 10:19 AM on May 8, 2021


Response by poster:
What kind of housing do you prefer?
At first glance, this is looking to be a bit of a problem. I'm not someone who prefers big modern high-rises, but it looks like I might be stuck going that way, because otherwise I'm not seeing very many 1BRs that look spacious and appealing (at any price). It definitely looks to me like the Boston housing stock strongly prioritizes multi-bedroom units.
Commute access matters too.
My job will be 99% WFH.
posted by kickingtheground at 10:36 AM on May 8, 2021


Response by poster:
If you want upscale and walkable, I’d say Back Bay/South End for a more downtown feel.
When you say downtown feel, does that still mean heavily residential, or is it a more office-y area that will feel empty in the evenings?
posted by kickingtheground at 10:39 AM on May 8, 2021


Hard to say without knowing your rent budget.
posted by primate moon at 11:09 AM on May 8, 2021 [2 favorites]


Watertown? Near the red line, and some parts are walkable to Cambridge....on the other end of the red line, there is Quincy/Braintree/Weymouth....
posted by rhonzo at 11:17 AM on May 8, 2021


Back Bay/South End have lots of housing/retail/restaurants - not areas that clear out at night, at all. The only areas of Boston where I think that would be a serious issue would be the Financial District/Downtown Crossing, the Longwood Medical Area, and maybe the Seaport?

I think you want Back Bay, South End, or Beacon Hill. Back Bay and the South End are most "upscale" at the ends where they're closest to downtown, and the South End especially gets gradually grittier as you head towards Mass. Ave. The North End isn't super upscale, but there are lots of nice enough apartments and it's incredibly walkable and has a lot of charm. Mid-Cambridge (i.e. between Harvard and Central) or Cambridgeport might be good options on that side of the river.

Walkable is easy to find in Boston (you have to get pretty far away from the city core before things get unwalkable, and a lot of the suburbs have walkable cores themselves); "upscale" narrows it down some; I personally have never seen a one-bedroom apartment in Boston that I would consider spacious for *rent*, but I do see them sometimes for sale, so they do exist but they're probably just not very profitable for landlords.
posted by mskyle at 11:29 AM on May 8, 2021 [3 favorites]


Former Cantabrigian here. I really like the neighborhoods of Central Square, Inman Square, Porter Square, and Davis Square in Cambridge / Somerville. Others have characterized these as "neighborhoody," but to be clear there are lots of shops, bars, and restaurants, and good public transit access, in each. Also, very easy to access Harvard and MIT from all of them. Harvard Sq is also good but pretty crowded and obviously oriented toward the university; Kendall Sq is OK, but a bit "soulless" and dead in the evenings per your previous comment. In my experience, all the neighborhoods I recommend are quite lively in the evening.

Also I am a bit confused by your analysis of the housing stock. Most of the "modern high-rise" housing is in Boston proper or very nearby; once you're out to Cambridge / Somerville / Brookline / Allston / Brighton, there's almost none of that. There are a lot of places, Somerville in particular, focused on "triple decker" buildings with one family per floor so, yeah, multi-unit properties are a focus and it may be a challenge to find a stand alone 1BD anywhere in the area.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 11:43 AM on May 8, 2021 [4 favorites]


Keep in mind that "walkable" and "smaller apartments" tend to go hand-in-hand, because what sustains walkability is density, and there's really only one way to get that.

I have a strong preference for the Cambridge side of the river, but if "upscale" is really what you want, it may not work for you. While single-family homes for sale can be eyewateringly expensive, rental Cambridge isn't really upscale (though neither is it cheap!!!), especially with the older housing stock. Sounds like Back Bay or Beacon Hill for you.
posted by praemunire at 11:45 AM on May 8, 2021 [1 favorite]


once you're out to Cambridge / Somerville / Brookline / Allston / Brighton, there's almost none of that

There's a big complex out across the street from Alewife, but that's not a particularly interesting stretch of Cambridge.
posted by praemunire at 11:48 AM on May 8, 2021


Response by poster:
Hard to say without knowing your rent budget.
I've been targeting the $3-4k range, but would still be interested in hearing about areas that might stretch that.
[...]personally have never seen a one-bedroom apartment in Boston that I would consider spacious for *rent*, but I do see them sometimes for sale, so they do exist but they're probably just not very profitable for landlords.
Ugh, I was afraid of that.
Keep in mind that "walkable" and "smaller apartments" tend to go hand-in-hand, because what sustains walkability is density, and there's really only one way to get that.
There's also the y-axis...
posted by kickingtheground at 11:51 AM on May 8, 2021 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: Also - while I have you guys here: what's life like without A/C in summer?
posted by kickingtheground at 11:57 AM on May 8, 2021


Get A/C. It's not tolerable anymore without it.
posted by praemunire at 12:09 PM on May 8, 2021 [3 favorites]


Living without A/C is doable, as Mr. chiefthe and I do it. I think it depends on (1) your tolerance for a few shitty nights of sleep; (2) the window layout in the rooms you spend much of your time in for cross-breeze and direct sun; (3) the breeze and trees in the neighborhood where you are located; (4) how you feel about HVAC air vs. outdoor air.

We have a rule: at any point, either one of us can say *enough* and we can either go stay in a hotel for that night or drive direct to a 24hr Home Depot and get a window unit. We've had that rule since moving back to town about a decade ago . Haven't triggered it yet. Of course, YMMV.

All that being said: Boston summers are MUGGY, especially if you aren't used to them and different apartment layouts can make them worse. If I was moving into the small 1 BR ground floor apartment a friend of mine had in Davis Sq in the '00s with two windows, or to a place higher than a second floor unit, I would probably lean heavily toward the choice with central air, or be on the lookout for AC units on Craigslist.
posted by chiefthe at 1:12 PM on May 8, 2021


If you're going to be 99% WFH, you'll be much, much happier with at least a window AC unit in one room. Summers are getting hotter.
posted by current resident at 1:34 PM on May 8, 2021


As much as I love Camberville, if you're looking for a spacious, well-maintained one-bedroom apartment in an upscale-yet-cool neighborhood, you're going to have better luck finding that kind of thing in modern buildings in the Back Bay, the South End, and the Fens, all in Boston proper. Cambridge and Somerville have cool, walkable, upscale neighborhoods, but the housing stock there is older, and most of it is multi-bedroom apartments and condos oriented towards roommates and families.
posted by Pandora Kouti at 2:01 PM on May 8, 2021 [2 favorites]


I think West End would be perfect for you, upon reading your update. Lots of very spacious (almost 1000 sq ft, often with an office nook) one bedrooms in your price range, you’ll be right on the river, and an easy stroll from Beacon Hill, North End, and downtown. The neighborhood itself consists entirely of high rise managed buildings with A/C, but I lived in one of them and have no complaints about the management. If you can swing a top floor unit with a river or harbor view, it may make up for the lack of building character. In contrast, I lived in a dilapidated Back Bay building and though the location was simply lovely, dealing with everything breaking all the time got old fast.
posted by redlines at 4:18 PM on May 8, 2021 [1 favorite]


When you say downtown feel, does that still mean heavily residential, or is it a more office-y area that will feel empty in the evenings?

More residential than the actual downtown of the city (which is like downtown crossing, government center, chinatown, financial district). But heavily oriented towards restaurants/bars and things like that. They feel more downtown because there are less houses, more brownstones and apartment buildings. Less families, more single people, young professionals, students, etc. Definitely NOT dead at night. Quite the opposite.
posted by lunasol at 5:16 PM on May 8, 2021


It’s the “upscale” part that throws me a bit. Someone recommended Watertown - now I love things about my hometown, but… upscale, it is not.

Back Bay, South End, Harvard Square, Beacon Hill, lots of Brookline. Those places feel upscale to me and I have never known anyone who has lived in a high rise in those neighborhoods although there are a few here and there. “Spacious” one bedroom is tricky, but my guess is you can find it with enough time and money.

And yes definitely have a/c if you’re working from home. The only time I lived without it, I spent 40 hours a week in an air conditioned office which is what helped to make it manageable.
posted by jdl at 5:23 PM on May 8, 2021 [2 favorites]


Just to get an idea of what you're thinking how do these places look to you?
posted by bowmaniac at 7:27 PM on May 8, 2021


If your budget goes up to $4000 and you want spacious, you might be better off renting a 2BR. Looking at your profile, it seems like you're moving from CA? I live on the west coast now and the housing stock, as people have said, is really different in Boston than what you are probably used to. A lot less open-plan, "loft" type places, more older stock. Places that have more of that open/spacious feeling are more likely to be in newer buildings, which are more likely to be high-rises. There are some of those more open, newer places sprinkled throughout the city, but they are harder to find.
posted by lunasol at 11:04 PM on May 8, 2021


I suggest looking for two bedrooms as there will be a lot more options, some within your price range. You can use the second bedroom as an office.
posted by emd3737 at 8:36 AM on May 9, 2021


Is there a reason why you are averse to a 2BD? Because at your budget, you could get a nice 2BD....pretty much anywhere. And with a 99% work-from-home job, I'd probably want a 2BD. It is honestly nice to have a separate room where you can go and work; it helps create some psychological space between 'at work' and 'not-at-work,' or at least it does for me.

I think everyone's advice about neighborhoods and housing stock is spot-on. (Well, except Watertown. I like Watertown, but it is not upscale.) The only thing I'll add is that Camberville is mostly upscale in a "crunchy granola and/or hipster/yupster" kind of way, whereas areas like Back Bay are more traditionally upscale. You could afford either, it depends on what you prefer.
posted by breakin' the law at 8:51 AM on May 9, 2021 [2 favorites]


I'm in Cambridge, and I think people in this thread are underestimating the amount of low-rise (3 or 4 story) new construction there has been in Cambridge and Somerville. Your choices extend well beyond soulless high rise or cramped apartment in a triple decker. Dunno if all of the ones I see are condos or some are rentals, but lots of condo units get rented out by their owners.
posted by Jasper Fnorde at 1:47 PM on May 9, 2021


It's true that standalone 1BRs are harder to find in Boston than in other cities, but they're out there, and in buildings of all different ages. One that comes to mind that hasn't been mentioned yet is that Brighton and Brookline have a bunch of big old 4–6 story brick apartment buildings, and lots (at least in my experience) include 1BRs. Both neighborhoods range from "upscale" to "student-y" depending on what part you're in. Neither is especially convenient to Cambridge, but they're fine for an occasional trip.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:58 AM on May 10, 2021


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