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Baked beans, chowder, the original Tea Party, Harvard Yard, Duck Tours, the Red Sox and Bruins and Celtics — all these are what Boston is best known for. But for local residents, the city, which is undergoing very rapid economic and social change, is much more than all that. Vibrant immigrant communities, old school neighborhood haunts and youth from all over the world are taking one of America’s most provincial cities and bringing it into the 21st century. Here are 10 things Bostonians love about the city — and how you can make the most of your next trip there.
1. Start the Day by Getting Baked
Dunkin’ Donuts started in 1950 in Quincy, a suburb of Boston, and today the city has numerous first-rate bakeries catering to hungry students and the rest of us. Clear Flour Bread, in Brookline, is by far the best with a hole-in-the-wall shop; superb breads and sweets, all of which emphasize German tradition. Then there’s Tatte — it was recently bought out by JAB private equity, which also owns Krispy Kreme. Flour, Swiss Bakers and Hi-Rise are terrific places to check out as well. Each has mostly northern European offerings, although Tatte is also home to a few Israeli products. Expect buttery or ham and cheese croissants, sandwiches with quirky names, whole grain breads, baguettes and expensive coffee poured by snooty baristas. Bagels? Yes, you can find them in Boston — but then you’ll have to eat them.
2. Check Out the Islands in Boston Harbor
The Boston Harbor has 34 very beautiful and unpopulated islands easily accessible by ferry. Georges Island has great nature walks and a civil war fort, while Paddocks, Lovells and Grape islands all make great places to go camping. You can hike, go birding and take in views of Boston from a unique perspective with few crowds. On the islands, it’s like going back in time before urban sprawl.
3. Stop by Southie
Infamous from the long ago days when crime boss Whitey Bulger lived in this part of town and the race riots that accompanied school desegregation, Southie, or South Boston, is better known nowadays as a major center of gentrification, from upscale condos to urbane restaurants. One of the better new places to dine is Coppersmith, which has a rooftop bar and is owned by Franklin Ferguson and Leyla Marchetto; as the daughter of Silvano Marchetto, renowned and recently retired West Village restaurateur, Leyla brings a relaxed, cool NYC ambience to the place.
If you want to go old school and feel like someone who grew up in South Boston, head to Sullivan’s, known as Sully’s, where the city’s best hot dogs are served. You’ll find it on Castle Island at the tip of South Boston next to Fort Independence, a centuries-old fortified structure that you can tour. Afterward, walk the loop around Castle Island, where a melange of faces and local characters is unique in this city.
4. Explore the Many Diverse Neighborhoods
Dudley Square in Roxbury is home to the Haley House Bakery Cafe, where poetry readings occur and vegetarian dishes take center stage. Architecturally, Dudley Square is full of gems, too, from the flatiron Ferdinand Building to the huge Hibernian Hall, where there are offices and social gatherings. You should also stop by Tropical Foods, a huge and remarkable grocery store with spectacular ingredients from the Caribbean, Central America and Africa. The vibe is extremely pleasant and in the back of the store, if you don’t feel like cooking, you can buy prepared foods, such as empanadas, patties, pork ribs and rice and beans.
5. Speaking of the Caribbean…
Continue to Mattapan Square, where many folks originally hailing from Haiti and Jamaica now reside. Delicious food in many mom and pop joints, and one of the best is the recently opened Golden Krust Caribbean Bakery and Grill, which is an outpost of a franchise based in Queens. Here, you’ll find some of Boston’s best patties — beef, spicy beef or vegetable — along with fried chicken, mac’n cheese, coco bread, fried plantain and stewed oxtail.
6. Day Trip to Dorchester for a Taste of Asia
Boston has a large population of immigrants from Cambodia and Vietnam, and north of the city in Lowell, the Cambodian community has numerous restaurants. Within Boston itself, on Dorchester Ave, you’ll also find many great Vietnamese restaurants, including Pho Hoa Noodle Soup and Banh Mi Ba.
7. History Buffs — and Foodies — Rejoice!
Some of the very best dining spots in town are at places that have been here forever. Tourists may dine at pricey restaurants with huge portions in the city’s North End, but you’re better off coming to this Italian part of town in the daytime. After seeing Paul Revere’s house, the tenement where Rose Kennedy was born and strolling down Salem Street — once home to tiny Jewish grocery stores — head to Galleria Umberto. Lines are often out the door and it’s worth the wait for what are truly the best square Sicilian slices of pizza in the country. You can also get panzerotti, arancini and calzones, but the pizza is why this restaurant is hugely popular. There’s just one kind, with tomato sauce and mozzarella — served by Ralph and Paul Deuterio, two brothers — and it’s cash only.
8. Take a Walk on the Wild Side
After all that eating, head over to Franklin Park in Roxbury, which, like Boston Common, was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect who also created Central Park. It’s peaceful and quiet with enormous trees and sprawling meadows. If you’re looking for more action in addition to the bucolic environment, you can also play golf here or visit the Franklin Park Zoo.
9. Don’t Forget About the Nightlife
Boston has dozens of Irish pubs that are the real thing, filled with folks who enjoy a pint (or five) and lively, noisy banter. Helpful hints: Don’t ask for a Cosmo. Know the score from last night’s game — any game, doesn’t matter. One of the best is Doyle’s Cafe, in Jamaica Plain, while another great is The Field Pub, located in Central Square in Cambridge.
10. Always Opt For Live Music
Boston has one of the best music scenes in the country thanks to all the students and the Berklee College of Music, the best place in the world for studying jazz, among other musical genres. Darryl’s Corner Bar & Kitchen in Roxbury has live jazz, while the Beat Brasserie in Harvard Square and The Beehive in the South End showcase an eclectic mix of rock, jazz and global music. Famous jazz performers can be seen at Scullers Jazz Club in Allston and Regattabar in Harvard Square.
What are some of your favorite things to do in Boston? Tell us about them, below.
Featured image by Nick Burwell / Getty Images.
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