The Comprehensive Boston Guide
The original version of this post included a somewhat lengthy preface that included doing what you can for the people you care about and comparing that with expectations of Asian children when they grow up, and what they’re supposed to do for their elders, etc. Despite being pretty cheesy (but from the heart!) it was a bit too “heavy” for this blog, so I cut it out. I won’t force my sage like wisdom on you guys. But it is available upon request! (Haha).
How does that relate to a travel guide about Boston? Well, to sum it up- my mom hasn’t been on any sort of vacation or trip for over 10 years. If I remember correctly, the last time she went somewhere was to chaperone my orchestra trip to NY. It was time to treat her to a vacation, and Boston seemed like the perfect place for a weekend trip. We went towards the end of August, so the weather was still a bit warm and humid. Clear skies, though!
I had been to Boston twice before, so I already had a general idea of how to get around and what to visit and where to eat. When travelling, I try to be as efficient as possible, without being too rigid about the schedule. I used to be pretty bad at navigating/planning trips, but practice makes perfect, right?! I try to allow for any spontaneous adventures in my trips, so the itinerary allowed for some flexibility. What I mean by efficiency is to visit the places you want to visit in the same area during the same time/day, so that you’re not travelling back and forth. The travelling time cuts down the time you could be exploring, eating, or having fun.
Super OCD Tips for preparing for a trip (to anywhere):
1) First and foremost, do some general research. What do you want to see? What do you want to eat while going to wherever you want to travel? I would first create a couple of lists, one for attractions/activities, and the other for food. If you’re travelling with others, be considerate and ask what they would like to do, and see what’s important to them in what they would like to see or try. Of course, you can’t do everything, but communicating these things now saves for any trip headaches (or fights) later. My mom basically said – “You plan it. I just want to eat lobster rolls and clam chowder.” Easy enough.
2) Mapping. Like I said, figuring out how to get from place to place can be pretty tricky if you’re unfamiliar with the area. Mapping the places you would like to go to is a helpful way to figure out your transportation requirements beforehand. I would use google maps and search/save all the places on my list, and color coordinate based on whether it was a food spot or an attraction. Now you have a visual of all the places you want to go to. This will make planning what you’re going to do on a certain day much easier, not to mention it will save you money on transportation (Boston is pretty walk-able, so plan that to your advantage).
3) This is a pretty optional thing, but I like to have back up plans, because sometimes, things just don’t work out. So in the event that a restaurant has a long wait, or the museum suddenly closes, have a few secondary back-ups to use if something goes amiss. For example, I would go on Yelp, bookmark a bunch of restaurants that looked interesting. If the place I wanted to go to had too long of a wait, I would whip out Yelp and see if any of my bookmarks was nearby. Sometimes this works out for the better, so you never know. It also adds to the adventure of travelling and discovering a new city.
Of course, if you don’t feel like doing any of the above, and you just want to wing it, all the power to ya. You do you boo boo.
In Boston, our activities were spread among several different areas: USS Constitution/Charlestown, North End, Financial District/Downtown, Back Bay, Northeastern University/Fenway Park, and Fan Pier.
This area is home to the oldest commissioned warship afloat, the USS Constitution. It is also home to the Charleston Navy Yard. The piers and wharf feature fantastic views of the Boston skyline, as well as the waterfront.
While Charleston isn’t near a lot of Boston’s attractions, there is quite a lot to do here. Other than visiting the USS Constitution, you can also walk part of the Freedom trail, and visit the Boston National Historical Park. From the Charleston Navy Yard, you could take the Charleston Ferry to Long Wharf, where you can visit Downtown, the Financial District, and North End. You could also continue to walk the Freedom trail, or you can take the subway.
Now we’re getting into the good stuff, because there is a lot to see once you step off that ferry (or subway station). A lot of touristy hot spots are in this area, including the New England Aquarium, more of the Freedom Trail, the Boston Massacre Site (now a subway station) as well as Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market. I would knock out Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market in one afternoon or day, as they are literally right next to each other. Quincy Market is comprised of two long halls filled with different shops and restaurants. If you’re looking for souvenirs with that Boston flair, I would try Faneuil Hall. From there, it’s a good walk to the Boston Massacre site. While you’re walking, take in all the downtown sights. There are additional shops and restaurants, plus tons of coffee places, including Ogawa Coffee. I recommend this place for breakfast/lunch.
At Ogawa, I would recommend getting The Signature Drink. This duo includes a martini glass full of chilled, foamed espresso paired with a cappuccino that is topped with a winning latte art design by Huruna Murayama, the 2010 World Latte Art champion.
Walking north from that area will take you towards North End, home to Boston’s Little Italy. There are tons of Italian eateries, Irish pubs, and a nice park (North End Park) if you want to chill and relax to help digest all the delicious seafood and cannoli’s that you will consume. I wanted to go to Daily Catch, but since there was a line out the door, we opted for Mare. My mom and I had a light dinner of clams, oysters, and shrimp. For desert, head to Mikes Pastry for their famous cannoli. If Mikes is too full, Modern Pastry would be a good alternative. Be sure to bring cash!
Smack dab in the middle of Little Italy is Paul Revere’s House, so that would make a nice activity for the history fanatics. If you’re a foodie like me, and open markets, heck, even grocery stores make you feel some type of way, then please visit the Boston Public Market. There are dozens of vendors ready to offer you fresh and delicious local food and produce.
Across from the Public Market is the New England Holocaust Memorial, which I insist that you must see. There are 6 glass columns. Etched in each column are 6 million combinations of numbers, representing the numbers that were burned on the 6 million victims of the Holocaust. It’s a powerful thing to see, not to mention a humbling experience.
The Back Bay Area, much like the Downtown/Financial District, has lots of things to do. The Prudential Center is home to a gorgeous shopping mall, an observatory that gives breathtaking views of the city, and is also a designated beginning point for the Boston Duck Tour. If it’s your first time in Boston, I definitely recommend this as you get a pretty good tour and overview of the entire city. Plus, the tour does include a water component- not too shabby. The Boston Commons and Botanical Gardens are adjacent to the Back Bay area, and it’s a good place to practice your photography skills. Or take selfies. If the weather is nice, go on a swan boat ride.
Boston also has some of the most fascinating architecture, and that includes the Boston Public Library. Beautiful murals, high ceilings and intricate molding make this place one of my favorites. If you’re a shopper, Newbury Street just might be right up your alley. Beautiful brownstones are converted into a series of shops, eateries, and cafes, and it might take you awhile just to take in everything. I visited Georgetown cupcake for a snack, and ate at Saltie Girl for lunch. I definitely recommend both.
Since this area was a bit farther from everything else, we took a subway train from the Back Bay area to Northeastern University, which was also near the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. They have an eclectic mix of both modern and old works of art, so there is something for everyone. If you’re a sports fan, you could also catch a game at Fenway Park.
Most of Fan Pier is currently under construction, but do not let that deter you from seeing all the beautiful sights. You can visit the Boston Tea Party site, as well as the Boston Children’s Museum or the Institute of Contemporary Art. Walk along Fan Pier Park, and you will be greeted with more views of the Boston skyline. While we were in the area, we stopped by Flour Bakery, home to the famous sweet sticky buns that beat Bobby Flay. I also had the best egg sandwich. Ever.
From Fan Pier Park, if you cross the bridge and walk through the Urban Arboretum and Wharf District Park, you will find yourself back in the familiar territory, as you will see the New England Aquarium, as well as Quincy Market. During the weekend, there are outdoor flea markets at the park, with vendors selling local products and handcrafted goods.
So that was my comprehensive guide to discovering Boston. I feel like I did a pretty good job of planning this trip for my mom, because she had lots of fun, and she told me that she “Hadn’t felt this rested in a long time.” Woohoo! Mission accomplished.
So, for the folks that love lists- a list of all the places and restaurants I mentioned in this post are below, organized by neighborhood/area. Enjoy and Happy Traveling!
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- USS Constitution
- Charlestown Navy Yard
- Freedom Trail
- Boston National Historical Park
- Charleston Ferry
- New England Aquarium
- Freedom Trail
- Boston Massacre Site
- Faneuil Hall
- Quincy market
- Ogawa Coffee
- Little Italy
- North End Park
- Daily Catch
- Mike's Pastry
- Modern Pastry
- Paul Revere's House
- Boston Public Market
- New England Holocaust Memorial
- Prudential Center
- Prudential Observatory
- Boston Duck Tours
- Boston Commons
- Boston Botanical Gardens
- Massachusetts State House
- Boston Public Library
- Newbury St.
- Georgetown Cupcake
- Saltie Girl
- Boston Museum of Fine Arts
- Fenway Park
- Boston Tea Party
- Boston Children's Museum
- Institute of Contemporary Art
- Fan Pier Park
- Flour Bakery & Cafe
- Urban Arboretum
- Wharf District Park
- Walden Pond