Hosting out-of-town guests is a win-win situation (assuming they're not the unwelcome kind): you spend time with great company and get to play tourist in your own city.
There are so many fun or otherwise cool things in Boston that I simply have not done. I'm sure we're all guilty of that in our hometowns. It's not like I wake up everyday and walk the Freedom Trail or eat a Lobster roll.
My sister stayed with SO and me for the Fourth of July Weekend, and it was pretty freaking fantastic. She hadn't been to Boston since our family vacation over 10 years ago, so the city was a blank canvas for us to paint. Rather than hash out all of the details without substance, I thought I'd use the weekend as a vehicle for describing the things I'd advise a Boston visitor to do or check out while here.
First Things First
- The beautiful thing about large cities is that there are generally ample things to do that won't drain your bank account. Boston is no exception.
- Set aside the desire to be fashionable and wear comfortable shoes. Time permitting, walking is one of the best ways to obtain a personal feel for the city--and to burn off all of those I'm-on-vacation calories you consume. And if you make it to the North End, you'll likely have more than enough of those to work off.
- Cater your trip to your interests. There's so much to do here, and a sports fan's visit to the city is going to be quite different than a history buff's. My suggestions are more for an overview/general visit than anything else. Bear in mind that I love to walk everywhere.
Things we did and/or saw this weekend and why you should, too:
1. Ride the Swan Boats
My picture of the boat isn't the greatest, but the experience certainly is. For $2.75 you get a 15 minute ride in the lovely Boston Public Garden. People-watching, relaxation and viewing of adorable ducklings in one of Boston's most pleasant areas for less than $5? Yes, please.
2. Stand In Line at Mike's Pastry on a Friday or Saturday Night. Then scarf down everything in the box.
People will debate over whether Mike's Pastry is better than Modern Pastry. I've been to both and, quite frankly, a pastry is a pastry. I just go to Mike's out of habit. I have a feeling most people go based upon hype. That being said, going to Mike's is an experience and you probably won't be disappointed unless you really hate crowds of people or really hate pastries (but who hates pastries?). Expect to stand in an absurdly long line outside the door and then elbow your way to the counter once you get in (or maybe I'm the only one who does that).
I think Mike's has some of the best cupcakes in town. I've been to most of the expensive boutique-y cupcake places in town and Mike's blows them out of the water.
FYI: We visited Mike's twice during my sister's stay. Once wasn't enough.
3. Take in the Esplanade. And Newbury Street. And the Freedom Trail. And so on...
I'd recommend taking a day simply to walk around the city. Stop for lunch when you get hungry (just try to avoid Faneuil Hall if you tourist trap dining isn't your thing). Stick to the more scenic natural routes (like the Esplanade or Commonwealth Ave) if you easily give into retail impulses. The allure of Marc Jacobs and Diane von Furstenberg can be a bit much on Newbury, especially if you're trying to keep your visit on the cheap. The good thing about Boston is that you can't really wander into a bad area accidentally--you'd have to hop on the Red or Orange Line and go out of your way in order to end up in one of the less desirable parts of town.
Walking across the Harvard Bridge on the Fourth of July and, no, we didn't intentionally dress this way for the holiday!
Taking a stroll along Atlantic Avenue at night is nice (great view of downtown):
Marriott Custom House/Clock Tower Hotel
Places not to walk? The Fens, Esplanade or Boston Common at night. Parks at night are not good places to be, folks, but I'm sure your mother or scary bums lurking in the dark taught you that.
4. Dine on a patio somewhere
Patio dining blows up in the summer here in Boston, probably because we're all squeezing what little warm weather we can get out of the year. For great people watching, hit up Newbury or Boylston Street. For great views, eat on the water front. The wait at the new Legal Harborside Seafood restaurant was nearly two hours (poor planning on my part), so we ended up at Jerry Remmy's just up the road. Average bar food, but sitting on the patio next to the harbor was nice.
My suggestion? Bar Lola on Commonwealth. EXCELLENT tapas and tasty sangria. As a bonus, there are at least ten other restaurants with patios within a couple blocks of this place (if you need a plan B):
5. Take in some history
Not hard to do. The Freedom Trail doesn't cost anything and takes you by most of the quintessential Boston historical sites.
6. Take in some edu-ma-cation
Lots of people visiting the city like to check out Harvard. I can't blame them. Even if they can deny our application, they can't deny us entry to wander around the campus.
Harvard Square, in general, is an interesting place to explore even if you don't set foot near the ivory tower. Pretty good mix of people--tourists, students, bums and crazy people (among others).
There's also MIT to check out, though the campus isn't nearly as inviting. The dome is worth seeing, as is the great view of Boston from the Cambridge side of the Charles River.
7. See the fireworks
Sure, you have to be in the city on the Fourth of July, but I had to put it on the list. These are pictures from Monday evening:
If all else fails and you're on a time crunch in site seeing, take a Duck Tour. I can't speak from experience, but everyone I know who has taken one seems to have enjoyed the experience.
And, please, if you're not abstaining from all out shopping mayhem like I am, hit up Newbury Street and Copley Place. A-M-A-Z-I-N-G.
The best part of exploring a city? Spending time with the quality people in your life :)
My lovely sister (and me)