Boston transplant needs local knowledge infusion, stat
May 16, 2008 7:10 AM   Subscribe

I'm new to Boston (not here even a week yet). What should I be sure to see or do as I get settled? How do I fit in (and hide the fact that I'm from NYC)?

I moved to Boston last Saturday, and I have some practical familiarity with the major thoroughfares and commercial areas. But I'd like to get to know the city beyond Newbury and Charles Streets. Where should I point myself? Since the weekend is coming, I'd be particularly curious if there were any weekend-only things--like farmers' markets or antique/junk fairs--that are in the offing.

Also, any tips for looking less like a newcomer? For instance, I was told yesterday that I was pronouncing Quincy wrong: the consensus was it was QUIN-zee, not QUIN-see. Thanks!
posted by Admiral Haddock to Society & Culture (39 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
How do I fit in (and hide the fact that I'm from NYC)?

You don’t, but you’ll be happily accepted anyway. Don’t worry about being from NYC. We don’t mind New Yorkers, except when they go on and on about our lack of good bagels. I’m sure they’re probably right, but shut up about it already. We also don’t really mind Yankee fans. It’s all in good fun. But again, shut about anything superior in New York and you’ll be fine. We get it, your city is big and open all night and the pizza is really awesome. There might be more to like about New York, but there’s also more to dislike. Our city is nice too and, as you can tell, we’re not at all self-conscious about anything.

I think the best way to discover our city is just to spend a couple of days walking around. Unlike your huge city, ours can be traversed in a couple of hours.

(disclaimer: I’m actually from the ‘burbs)
posted by bondcliff at 7:30 AM on May 16, 2008

I love the courtyard of the old public library building in Copley Square. It can be a real oasis in a city that can be kind of a pain sometimes.

Harvard Square is a fun place to walk around. A lot less weird than it used to be, but it's still interesting and has some great bookstores. Central Square is funkier and a pretty vibrant place.

The Arboretum in Jamaica Plain is a beautiful place to take a walk, and accesible by the Orange Line. Davis Square in Somerville is a great place to sit at a cafe.

I'd just get out and take a walk around. It's a great walking city. I'd try really hard not to talk like the locals.
posted by sully75 at 7:32 AM on May 16, 2008

Welcome to Boston!

My suggestion: just walk. This weekend is supposed to have beautiful weather. Pick a few T stations to explore around and do those: maybe Haymarket (farmer's market!) and the North End (walkable from Haymarket) on Saturday, and Harvard and Davis Squares on Sunday. Red line and Green line probably contain the most popular places to see, but things like the Aquarium on the Blue Line and taking the Orange line out to Jamaica Plain could be fun. (Note: don't be fooled by "Wonderland" on the Blue line. You will be disappointed.)

As a transplant from the Midwest, people can tell I'm not from here because I smile too much and pronounce town names wrong. Needham is Needum, not Need-Ham, though Framingham is Framing-Ham, not Framingum. Peabody is PEEbuddy, Worcester is Wooster, etc. You will screw up the first few times, be corrected and a mildly condescending manner, and you won't screw it up again.

Also, practice saying with me: "Yankees suck!"
posted by olinerd at 7:35 AM on May 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Whereabouts in the city are you? There's bound to be a ton of local flavor in your neighborhood, which will serve your best interests down the road. And are you looking to do touristy things, or find the lesser-known gems, or just meet some people and find some things to do? For the latter two, Yelp is your best friend. Depending on where in the city you are, I bet there are a number of people here who can point you toward local hotspots.
posted by Mayor West at 7:39 AM on May 16, 2008

If you want to learn how to pronounce place names, watch the local news, but be careful. Sometimes the readers are new, too, like the woman who read a story about "Ski-TOO-at" (Scituate is pronounced "SITchewit")

Find the North End and go there to eat something. Do the same in Chinatown. Walk from there to Copley Square or Haymarket.

Go to Fenway Park (leave your Yankees/Mets gear at home.) If you don't care about baseball, just go to the Fens. It's part of Olmstead's Emerald Necklace. I believe he also did something in NYC.

Arnold Arbotetum

Mt. Auburn Cemetery.

Bunches of museums.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:46 AM on May 16, 2008

Also, practice saying with me: "Yankees suck!"

Don't say this, unless the Yankees are actually playing. Otherwise you're contributing to the reputation of Boston as a city full of douchebags.

I took the T and drove all around Boston for a long time, but it wasn't until I started biking and walking around that I finally started figuring out where places were in relation to one another. There are farmers' markets around. Here's a list of some. There are likely more.

Yelp is a very good suggestion. The Boston version is very popular and the Boston moderator is excellent and friendly.
posted by mkb at 7:47 AM on May 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

(Note: don't be fooled by "Wonderland" on the Blue line. You will be disappointed.)

This cannot be emphasized enough.

And definitely just walk around. I lived in Cambridge for 8 years or so, and really the best way to get to know Boston and its environs is just to walk around. It's a small, walkable city with lots of neat stuff in it. On a nice Spring day, if you're interested in really walking, you could at least "see" Davis, Porter, Harvard, Central, MIT, the Museum of Science (old and battered, but a don't-miss), Haymarket, Quincy Market, and the North End. Total walk, probably no more than 8 or 9 miles.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:49 AM on May 16, 2008

It can be fun to just hop on the T and get off at a random stop you've never been to before. Sometimes there's nothing interesting, but I've found some neat places that way. Haymarket is certainly worth a visit on the weekend for dirt-cheap produce of variable quality, and also for the colorful language ("Buy some goddamn bananas. 2 lbs for a dollar. What's the matter with you; don't you want some f**kin bananas?"). Just be decisive and don't block traffic, or you'll get yelled at. There'also a farmer's market in Copley sometimes.

Brookline in between Coolidge Corner and Brookline Village has a lot of neat places for food, drink, and assorted goods, though mostly more expensive.

If you like cycling/rollerblading, the Minuteman bike path starts in Arlington and goes out through Lexington to Bedford, with some lightly travelled roads that can take you well out into the increasingly-developped countryside.

But in terms of looking less like a newcomer, the best thing you can do is learn the T. Nothing screams "tourist" like the guy who has to push past everybody three times to remember where his stop is, or stands in the way while trying to figure out if he needs to go inbound or outbound.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 7:49 AM on May 16, 2008

For those who are wondering, Wonderland is named after a dog-racing track.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:54 AM on May 16, 2008

I second everything that bondcliff said. Get yourself a good map that shows T stops--the Popup one is great--hop on the T, get off somewhere downtown, and walk around. You'll see how the city fits together and get to know the T lines too; most T stops are a 15-20 min walk or less from each other. In Cambridge, Professor Pathfinder's map, despite the stupid name, is excellent. I use it myself regularly even though I went to college here and have lived here for 3 nonconsecutive years; it shows one-way streets, which is invaluable when you're driving.

You can also try exploring some of the individual neighborhoods--each has a very different feel. Definitely check out Harvard Square (Harvard T stop, red line), Central Square (Central T stop, red line), Davis Square (Davis T stop, red line), the Common and Public Garden (Park St. T stop, red/green line; Boyleston, green; or Arlington, green), the North End (Haymarket T stop, green line) and Coolidge Corner (Coolidge Corner stop, Green line C). There are tons more, but that's a starting point. The MBTA trip planner and Hopstop can help you plan your route, too.

A lot of the typical touristy things are still worth doing, for their own sakes and because your visitors will invariably ask you about them: visit the MFA and the Gardner, walk the freedom trail, even take a duck tour if you've got the money. You asked about weekend-only things like farmer's markets; the mother of all markets is Haymarket on the weekends, but be prepared for insanity. There are lots of smaller markets as well, though not all on weekends.

And as for pronunciations: don't try to fake a Boston accent. Just--don't. But there are idiosyncratic names you might as well say correctly: yes, QUIN-zee, TREH-mont (not TREE-mont), LEECH-mere, COP-ley (not COPE-ley). Don't sweat it. No one will care if you're a newcomer. I've found Boston to be a really friendly city. Welcome.
posted by Ms. Informed at 8:01 AM on May 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Visit the North End (like Little Italy, but cooler). While you're there, walk the Freedom Trail. Haymarket's right next door. Then go order a coffee "regular". And, as everyone says--visit place on the T. The Charles river is a great place to walk. Attend a Boston Pops concert if you're over 40 or have kids.

Also, you might want to take a look at the Wicked Good Guide to Boston English to sound more native.
posted by OlderThanTOS at 8:03 AM on May 16, 2008

I would only say that ppl who are mean that you are from, nyc(beyond *razzing*) is rude. A ton of the population here is from NYC.
Try maybe just going around the city. gov't center/quincy mkt, you can walk to the north end from there. Definately hit the original Pizzaria Regina(Salem St). Have fun and GL, mssg me for more suggestions!
posted by femmme at 8:10 AM on May 16, 2008

I, too, recommend the Wicked Good Guide to Boston English.

Be sure to check out the broader website of which it's a part: Boston Online: Wicked Good Conference.
posted by ericb at 8:21 AM on May 16, 2008

I'll add to the above that Memorial Drive is closed to traffic on Sundays (April-November) which makes for a great long walk/bike/rollerblade through Cambridge. I'm a Cantabridgian now, but have lived in almost every Boston neighborhood there is. Check out:
- JP and the Arboretum as mentioned above, but also the Forest Hills Cemetery which has sculpture installations in summers, and the Sam Adams Brewery (and tour)
- the South End, extended now into "SoWa," which has a lot of galleries and an arts market on weekends
- Fort Point, recently gentrified but still with some cool spots like the ICA and real working shipping areas
- North End, great for walking and getting a feel for Boston's neighborhood outlook to the city
- Charles Street and the intimate brownstone-lined streets surrounding it

posted by cocoagirl at 8:24 AM on May 16, 2008

Nthing the "get on the T and explore", but note that there are interesting parts of the area not served by the T. Do you have a car? (If not, consider a Zipcar membership; depending on where you live, sell your car and just go Zipcar unless you have to drive to your workplace/school).

What sorts of things do you like to do? It's good to get the stuff out of the way up front, if only because people will say "oh, have you gone to the old State House / seen the duckling statues / been to the MFA / etc etc/" but also because that really is the best way to ground yourself in Boston history and culture. I'd do the Gardner early on; to me, the stubborn quirkiness of the place, especially with the priceless collection, makes it a museum I can't imagine being anywhere but Boston.

If you're interested in art, most of the neighborhood arts coalitions have yearly open studio tours; if in music, go early to a four-band set and see if there's something you can discover before everyone else; if in food, you're set for cheap and good ethnic (but don't bother with the Union Oyster House until someone else is intent on the experience and willing to pay).

I've been out of Boston for a year now, but I think it gets into your soul. It's an easy place to grumble about, but equally easy to fall in love with - may you have both.
posted by catlet at 8:33 AM on May 16, 2008

Mass. Ave. (not Massachusetts Avenue)

Comm. Ave. (not Commonwealth Avenue)

Dot. Ave (not Dorchester Avenue)

Public Garden (not Public Gardens)

Boston Common or The Common (not Boston Commons)

The Garden (not TD BanknorthTM Garden) -- said in a reverential tone.

The "T" (not the subway)

The Cape (not Cape Cod)

J.P. (not Jamaica Plain)

Southie (refers to South Boston and not the South End)

Frappe (not milkshake)

Hoodsie (small cup of ice cream made by J.P. Hood Dairy)

Jimmies (not sprinkles) -- for your ice cream cone
posted by ericb at 8:36 AM on May 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Tell everyone you're a Mets fan.

Also, check out the Boston Live Journal, The Boston Phoenix and Weekly Dig for stuff going on, like shows, readings, art shows, etc.
posted by sutel at 8:41 AM on May 16, 2008

Walk along the brand spanking new Greenway, then wander down to the harbor and get a lobster.

How do I fit in (and hide the fact that I'm from NYC)?
Don't get pissed when the bars close at 1:30 or 2.
posted by pwally at 8:42 AM on May 16, 2008

You should read the answers to this AskMe question. There are lots and lots of great recommendations. I'd also like to second anything cocoagirl says--she gives the best Boston advice around. Good luck and welcome!
posted by jdl at 8:48 AM on May 16, 2008

Ericb nailed it (and brought back great memories for me.) I'm from Brooklyn but a child of divorce. My dad moved to Boston after the split so I grew up in the rather schizophrenic existence between the dropped "er" and the hard "er."

Bostonians don't hate New Yorkers much, unless of course we're acting like New Yorkers. Here's a partial list of some of my favorite things about the city (and they're all easily accessible):

-- The Common
-- Jamaica Pond (great for biking or jogging)
-- The Arboreteum in JP
-- The Duck Tour (great way to get a fun, quick history of the city)
-- The Sam Adams pub on Comm Ave.
-- J.P. Licks ice cream (I still wake up in the middle of the night dreaming about that stuff)
-- Wally's on Mass Ave. (a regular jam spot for Berklee students)
-- Revere Beach, purely for kitsch value (and it's Ra-VIA. It's the only time I'd recommend faking the accent.)
There's tons more. Feel free to mefimail if you want to hear it.
Enjoy Boston. It's a great city.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 8:50 AM on May 16, 2008

If you are interested in tech stuff, the MIT Flea on third Sundays is the mother of all junk/antique sales.

This weekend you can combine checking out the C line, Beacon St. in Brookline, and getting some exercise with the Brookline Bikes event: Beacon St. will be closed on a rolling basis from St. Mary's to Cleveland Circle for bicyclists at all levels (self-link disclaimer: I am a volunteer traffic marshal for this event).

And has it really taken this many posts for someone to suggest calling another Boston meetup?
posted by nonane at 8:50 AM on May 16, 2008

the South End, extended now into "SoWa," which has a lot of galleries and an arts market on weekends

Additionally, there's this weekend's SoWa Open Market. The market is usually just open on Sundays, but this weekend it's open both Saturday and Sunday, as this is the "kickoff" weekend and runs in tandem with this year's spring SoWa Art Walk (Saturday and Sunday; May 17-18, 2008 from 11:00am to 6:00pm.).
posted by ericb at 8:50 AM on May 16, 2008

and it's Ra-VIA Ruh-VEE-ah.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:36 AM on May 16, 2008

Start liking the Red Sox. :-)

Also, Filene's Basement in downtown crossing is the only real one, and it is Love. (At least as of ~ 8 years ago when I was last in town.)

And: Herrell's ice cream in Harvard Square is the best in town, don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
posted by paultopia at 9:47 AM on May 16, 2008

Tip: Don't use "SoWa" as a term. In a righteous world people would kicked in the nuts for that.

Another tip: as people have alluded to above, know the difference between South Boston and the South End. Even people from the 'burbs often confuse them and there's no better way to sound like you don't know what you're talking about.

South Boston: Not technically the Southernmost part of the city. It sits east of Dorchester and most of Boston Proper. The Southern part of it is residential and legendary for being Irish and working-class. It's not necessarily either any more. The northern part of it (near the Fort Point channel) is industrial with a rapidly shrinking artist community in old lofts.

South End: Technically it's the filled-in area south of Kneeland and Columbus and west to Mass Ave. Colloquially, it's a smaller subsection west of Bay Village extending about four blocks north of Tremont and a few blocks south of Washington. It's full of brick rowhouses and is thought of as being largely gay and/or yuppie.

Last tip: know your geography. "Boston Proper" refers to the original Shawmut Peninsula and the filled areas around it. Neighborhoods in Boston Proper are North End, South End, Chinatown, Back Bay, West End/Hospital area, North Station, Beacon Hill, Financial District/Downtown Crossing.

Every other neighborhood is a town that was annexed by Boston and keeps a pretty separate identity while still being technically "Boston." Charlestown and East Boston ("Eastie") are across the river. Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan are known for being dangerous-- it's really debatable but you're best off staying out of those areas until you're comfortable. West Roxbury has nothing to do with Roxbury except the name-- it's a suburban-looking area.
posted by Mayor Curley at 10:02 AM on May 16, 2008

It's full of brick rowhouses and is thought of as being largely gay and/or yuppie.

Some now refer to the South End as N.S.E. (the New South End) with the second-wave of gentrification (empty-nesters and yuppies moving into new high-end, luxury buildings such as Atelier 505, D4 and Penny Savings Bank.

One blogger is really unhappy: The South End Is Over
"If you lived here, you'd be PRETENTIOUS by now. A wise-ass blog to discuss the 'New' and hardly improved South End of Boston. Now that Trevor and Lance have moved out to Dorchester, make way for Megan and Sean - with little Kaitlin and Brianna on the way....and don't forget the au pair!! Included are 'Random Acts of Entitlement' as witnessed on our streets, pretentious new spots and local fashion faux pas."
posted by ericb at 11:30 AM on May 16, 2008

First step - get yourself a CharlieCard for the T. Don't mess around with the paper tickets. You live here now: you'll need it, it's cheaper, it's faster, and they keep promising all sorts of online goodness eventually.

Best things I've found in my four years in the Boston area:

The Museum of Fine Art (MFA) (on Hunnington - take the E-line (Green) to the MFA stop) and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (a short walk from the MFA) are both fantastic, but a couple of the Harvard museums (favorites: the Fogg and the Natural History museum (particularly the glass flowers)) are incredible, too. And the Boston Public Library has some lovely Sargent murals.

Community Boating near the Charles/MGH stop on the Red-Line. Prices more than doubled recently, so a full year membership is now over $200, but it still must be one of the best deals in the country for learning to sail. And the area is fantastic - Charles St. has some great food, and the esplanade makes for some good strolling on nice days (coming soon!).

Down near the waterfront, check out the Living Room. On nice days, Tia's can be a decent place to sit outside, though it gets *packed*, it can be rather meat-markety, and is pretty pricey, too. Some of the best food in town: The Helmand in Cambridge (where I got engaged), Cuchi Cuchi in Central Square, Addis in the South End, Sel de la Terre on the waterfront, Modern Pastry in the North End for all your cannoli needs... actually, there are far too many great restaurants to begin listing them. But I should mention: for great pizza, try The Upper Crust or Mangia. And our favorite club/lounge is currently Saint, though I may be revealing my age and lameness.

In JP (Jamaica Plain) - Milky Way, The Alchemist, Jamaica Pond, and especially the Arnold Arboretum.

In Brookline - the Publick House (Washington Square), Matt Murphy's, Pomodoro, Orinoco, Zaftigs, Fugakyu....

And there's tons of great places in Cambridge - Davis Square is fun, Central has its charms, and Inman is fantastic.

Boston can be a bit rough (particularly for a New Yorker, I imagine) - it's not terribly diverse or integrated, the drivers are uniformly terrible, there aren't three bars in the entire city that don't have sporting events showing perpetually on the TV (and they all have TVs), and if you're not a sports fan, the crowds during game time can be annoying as hell, but there are some great things here, and it won't take you very long to start finding them. Welcome!
posted by dilettanti at 11:52 AM on May 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Here are some more suggestions from a question I asked a couple of years ago.

Also, backseatpilot is planning a Boston meetup for you!
posted by danb at 11:56 AM on May 16, 2008

Isabella Stewart Gardner museum - v beautiful inside and stuffed full of goodies.... Davios on Arlington St (philly cheese steak spring rolls) ....
posted by you're only jung once at 11:56 AM on May 16, 2008

I lived in the North End for two years. Here are my tips for visiting the neighborhood:
  • Haymarket (obviously) Friday Saturday and Sunday for your farmer's market needs. The area will reek of fish long after the weekend's over, so during the summer, don't stop by on Monday or Tuesday unless you have to.
  • Tourists go to Mike's Pastry. Locals go to Modern Pastry because it's flippin' amazing.
  • There is (used to be?) an amazing shop on Fleet St. (Tony DeMarco Way) that sells imported Italian goods. They make their own mozzarella. GO HERE.
  • You're just in time for Festival Season! Carnival games, music, street food -- all fabulous. There are banners all over Hanover St. advertising when the next one's coming up.
  • Bova's bakery: Salem Street. Open 24 hours (one of the few things in Boston that is actually open 24 hours, actually). The deli part isn't open late at night, but they usually have pizza in addition to all their sweets.
  • If you walk slowly or otherwise block the sidewalks, locals will want to stab you.
  • Billy Tse's on Commercial St. has a decent sushi bar and their honey sesame tofu is amazing.
  • If you are female or have females with you, beware the night host at Cafe Pompeii. He flirts with everyone and is a total spleezeball. Um.. this was a couple of years ago so maybe they fired him by this point.
  • Cafe Graffiti has pretty good espresso and is nice if you're not intimidated by the locals.
Other tips: it's illegal to not jaywalk in Cambridge. It's illegal to not recycle in Cambridge (this one is actually true). Sav Mor on the Cambridge/Somerville line has the cheapest alcohol but 1) it's out of the way and 2) you need to check the expiration dates on the beer. Get off the train at Kenmore when you're going to Fenway Park (not the Fenway stop). Concerts at The Paradise involve a couple of huge poles in front of the stage. Never drive through Union square. Make fun of Emerson students without mercy (especially if you are one).

Billerica is pronounced "bill-rick-uh." Haverhill is "hayve'ril" and Amherst is "Am-erst."
posted by giraffe at 12:01 PM on May 16, 2008

Oh fugadsake.

Billerica is pronounced "bill-rick-uh." BirRICKah Haverhill is "hayve'ril" HAYvrill

There is no L in spoken Billerica.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:28 PM on May 16, 2008

Agreed with most of the pronunciation guides, but as someone who lives here, but didn't grow up here, don't fake it. I proudly drink milkshakes, and I've never put "jimmies" on my ice cream. You'll pick up a lot of stuff just by living here (Comm and Mass Ave. are conveniences, not accents, for instance).

Mostly it's just a matter of discerning accent versus pronunciation. Say "Bill-rick-a", but don't say "Ruh-VEE-ah", say "Revere", because you don't really have a Boston accent.

Same as every other city, walk at a decent pace, and when you need to stop to look around, pull over. It's amazing that people know how to drive, but don't follow that logic on the sidewalk. Keep your head up and be friendly, and Boston is an amazingly safe city. Don't drive. Ever.

Just walk around and explore, I think knowing where to go is almost a curse, because you miss the amazing holes in the wall that you might find from wandering.

Seconding/thirding/etc. Yelp as a great resource for finding cool stuff. Foodler's good for takeout/delivery if that's your thing.
posted by explosion at 12:31 PM on May 16, 2008

Somewhat specialized but if you go to either the Gardner or MFA, try walking there through the Fens. The municipal rose garden towards the end of the fens will be in bloom soon. Check out the concerts at Berkley School of Music and The New England Conservatory. The conservatory orchestra also has concerts at Sanders Theatre at Harvard. Wonderful acoustics..
If you like JS Bach try Emmanual Church (in back of the Taj). Boston is wonderful for music. Walk as much as you can . This is the best time of the year for walking in Boston. I have been rambling in Boston for 40+ years and am still discovering wonderful things.
posted by Raybun at 12:47 PM on May 16, 2008

Some warm night this Summer, walk across the Longfellow Bridge.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:07 PM on May 16, 2008

I moved out of Boston 5 years ago TO New York, and while I love it here, I miss the music scene in Boston.

If youre into indie music the Middle East is great and so is T.T. The Bear's. Also Great Scott's gotten big since I left.

And the college radio is probably the best in the country. Just scan the bottom of the dial. So good.
posted by minicloud at 3:13 PM on May 16, 2008

Toscanini's ice cream!
posted by rivenwanderer at 8:11 PM on May 16, 2008

rivenwanderer: pbbt! :-)
posted by paultopia at 9:21 AM on May 17, 2008

Breaking news: J.P. Licks is bringing its ice cream to Harvard Square.

"J.P. Licks will join an already crowded ice cream and frozen yogurt market in the Square, which includes Lizzy's, Herrell's, Baskin-Robbins, Ben & Jerry's, and Berryline."*
posted by ericb at 6:06 PM on May 17, 2008

These were great! I went the SoWa artists' thing yesterday and hope to continue with all the great suggestions in the coming weeks. And I hope everyone can make it to the meetup!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:46 AM on May 18, 2008

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