Boston. City of light and magic. The greatest place to live in the US or on Godís green earth. Well, maybe not but I like it! Travelers visit every year from all over the country and the world. There are plenty of good guide books like Letís Go, but I want to give you an insiderís view on and off the beaten track.
To find out whatís happening in the Boston area get a copy of the Boston Phoenix wherever newspapers are sold. Free copies are distributed in college and university student unions and the larger dorms under the name B.A.D. (Boston After Dark). The Boston Globe Thursday Calendar section has similar information.
Visit the Globe Corner Bookstore in Harvard Sq. or Washington St. in Downtown Crossing for one of the best, comprehensive selections of travel books and information. Homesick for news from your state or country? Out of Town News in the middle of Harvard Square has newspapers and magazines from all over the US and the world.
Forget what youíve heard about Boston drivers, that people here are
unfriendly or have an attitude. (Maybe itís the weather.) For every one
of those there are several more who are friendly and helpful. As for the
drivers if youíre thinking of renting a car, donít bother. Boston is a
great walking city and public transportation will take you to most places
you want to go including the airport. The subway (and buses) AKA the "T",
goes out to neighboring towns and suburbs, and the reasonably priced commuter
rail can take you to further, outlying areas like Salem.
So if you feel you must rent a car, think twice. Many streets were not designed for the amount of traffic that now uses them, signs may be missing or incoherent, and if you donít know exactly how to get where you are going, you can easily get lost.
Boston is most pleasant, languid, and less crowded (on the whole aside from the tourists) in summer when most of the university population departs and others are away on vacation. The Hatch Shell on the Charles River Esplanade (Boston side) hosts all kinds of free concerts (occasionally the Boston Pops) and Friday night movies. The Esplanade is great for runners, cyclists, and walkers, and from the Cambridge side you get a wonderful view of Boston especially at sunset. There is a public boat house called Community Boating just east of the Hatch Shell. Harvard Square is jumping in the evenings with street musicians and performers running amuck. The Russian puppeteer with his tapes of old Russian folk melodies draws big crowds and is fascinating to watch.
Cheers? It seems everyone who comes here just has to go to Cheers. Forget about it! Itís a huge tourist trap that, aside from the streetfront, bears no resemblance to itís old self or what you see on TV. The Cheers Bar can now be found at many airports so if you must go, try the one at Logan Terminal B between flights.
Boston is ethnically diverse (if not always tolerant) and you can find practically any type of food imaginable somewhere in Boston or the surrounding area. The trick is to find the good places with reasonable prices. There are oodles of Indian Restaurants and many have low priced lunch buffets. Some of the best places are India Quality in Kenmore Square and Bombay Cafe on Mass. Ave. across from the Christian Science Center (Hynes T stop).
The local purveyors of middle eastern food come from a wide variety of backgrounds, and for many of them the creation of the best authentic cuisine is as fundamental as religion. Each ardently believes that they prepare the most authentic humus or falafel or whatever and theyíll let you sample some to prove it! Welcome to the Boston middle eastern food wars! And itís the consumer who wins. Kareemís (Syrian) in Watertown won the Best of Boston Magazine award for 1995. Also try Sepal (Palestinian) down the street a few blocks at 555 Mt. Auburn St. Sepal, which is strictly vegetarian, has without a doubt the best Baba Ghonoush and grape leaves to be found anywhere in the Boston area. And don't forget Ramiís (Israeli) in Coolidge Corner, Brookline. Excellent food including some of the best Humus and Baba around.
You can find excellent Thai food at Siam Cuisine at 961 Commonwealth Ave in Boston or Siam Garden in Harvard Square. There are many great Japanese places and itís hard to go wrong. Try Takeshima in Brookline on Harvard Ave (near Ramií) or Gyu Hama on Boylston St. in Boston. Don't miss their Rock and Roll Midnight Sushi (which starts at 10:30) where the waitresses swap kimonos for mini- skirts! Most Star Market grocery stores have their own sushi chef who prepares the same varieties of high quality sushi at lower prices.
Boston has Chinese restaurants up the wazoo but for the best "Americanized" Chinese food go to Chef Changís on Beacon St. a few blocks west of Kenmore Square in Brookline. Chef Changís has the best Peking Ravioli, Curried Wontons, General Gauís chicken, and Orange flavored beef your tastebuds will have the pleasure of knowing.
One of the best places in Chinatown for more authentic Chinese food
is the Chow Chau Seafood Restaurant on Beech St. There are now two locations
on the same street but each has the same food. I donít know how theyíve
kept the same low low prices for the last 10 years! Try any chow foon dish,
sizzling fried noodles, or Singapore style noodles. Itís MSG city but without
it the food somehow doesnít taste the same! Take some acidopholus pills
as antidote after and youíll feel fine! Look for the Chinese cafeteria
with eight different eateries that serve low priced, huge dishes of steaming
The MIT and Cambridge computer company crowd swears by and is infatuated with a place called Mary Chungís on Mass Ave in Central Square.
For Mexican food try The Border Cafe in Harvard Sq. Aside from having good and reasonably priced food, itís also the most happening place around. If youíre not allergic to cilantro, try the Cottonwood Cafe in Porter Square or downtown Boston. Itís more pricey but they have the best frozen strawberry margaritas youíll find anywhere in Boston, possibly the entire country, if not the world! Sol Azteca on Beacon St. (near Chef Changís) has the best Sangria as well as yummy, down to earth Mexican cuisine.
Strange but true the Boston area has numerous reputable BBQ joints with proprietors as rabid about ribs as the middle eastern folks are about humus and falafel! Jake and Earlís (East Coast Grill) in Inman Square imported their slow smoker from Texas. For a unique and tasty bbq/meat extravaganza experience, try the Brazilian restaurant Pampas on Mass Ave a couple blocks north of Central Square. Their salad bar and flan are forces to be reckoned with!
In the mood for net surfing and espresso? Check out Cybersmith (by the Paperback Booksmith people) next to the Border Cafe in Harvard Sq. Go upstairs and find books, software, VR games, CD ROM, internet, cu-c-me, and an assortment of other terminals on and among booths and tables in a spacious, loft like atmosphere complete with Cafe and smooth, shiny wood floors. At about $12 an hour itís a bit pricey. But for those who just want to hang out, or are not familiar with computers or the internet and want a laid back place to learn, itís good. Iíll let you in on a little secret. If you simply want to telnet and check your mail, there are freestanding terminals set up all over the Harvard Science Center a few blocks away near the Yard. (OK, so it's supposed to be for faculty and students but hey, itís there!)
The hip cyber joint to hang out in is the Liberty Cafe on Mass. Ave in Central Square, Cambridge. They have a few internet terminals for less money than Cybersmith and the place has a unique and bizarre atmosphere including local art and photography exhibits. The Cambridge Public Library on Broadway St. (10 min. from Harvard Square) has two free internet terminals on a hourly sign up basis. A good Boston web site to start with is www.boston.com.
The Phoenix has a comprehensive club list for all kinds of live music. If youíre into jazz go to Ryles in Inman Square, or The Charles River Hotel in Harvard Square. For reggae thereís the Western Front in Cambridge. If you want to see where bands like Boston, Aerosmith, and The Cars paid their dues, head to The Rathskeller in Kenmore Square. Itís one of only places to survive that era. If youíre lucky Bostonís own Letters To Cleo, Buffalo Tom, or Ultra Blue may be playing at Avalon or Axis when youíre in town. Or check out Aerosmith's new venue called Mama Kin on Landsdowne St.
The Brattle Theater in Harvard Square has an eclectic selection of old, new, and foreign films changing daily. The Kendall Square Cinema is the place for the latest art/independent films.
The section of Mass Ave between Harvard and Porter Square houses some unique little clothing, hand craft, and knick knack shops. Of particular interest in Joie De Vivre. They have all kinds of silly, kitschy, and bizarre items. The window decorations for Joie and the shops around it are creative and eye catching.
For excellent views of Boston night and day go to the top of the Prudential or John Hancock towers. If you like watching planes take off and land and want a great view of Boston to boot, go to the top of Logan Airportís B Terminal Parking Garage. (Airport stop on the Blue line with free shuttle service to terminals and Tower.) The Tower also has an observation lounge and bar.
Listen to radio stations 88.1 WMBR or 90.3 WZBC for hot new alternative/underground/fringe music (and other genres). Howard Stern, Americaís Worst Nightmare, can be found on 104.1 WBCN. NPR resides on 89.7 WGBH and 90.9 WBUR. WBUR has one of the most comrehensive broadcast schedules of any NPR station in the country. They also originate Car Talk, the show with those two goofy car mechanics Click and Clack who spend more time laughing at their own jokes and callers than discussing automotive problems!
And last but not least visit the JFK library in Dorchester (U. Mass T stop). The architecture inside and out is stunning, and the exhibits and films about the life of JFK, his political career, and events of the time are fascinating and educational. For a unique sight and sound experience, check out the Christian Science Center Libraryís Mapparium. Also outstanding are the Science Museum, Computer Museum, Museum of Fine Arts, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and the museums associated with Harvard such as the Peabody and Fogg.
Enjoy your trip!
David Weinstein is an avid traveler who has criss-crossed the globe several times. He writes about his adventures from his home in Boston, dreaming of his next trip, which may be India in November or that cousinís wedding in Virginia!