Recently I took my first trip to Boston, even though the flight only took me an hour from Baltimore. Why there, you ask? I've always wanted to visit (that's probably the history nerd in me) plus I had credit from a flight that I had cancelled. And yes, I was traveling alone, per usual, because no one could come with me, but I wasn't going to let that stop me. Here are all of the best things I did, the good food I ate and the interesting places I saw.
1. Stroll through Boston Public Garden
I don't know if it's just me, but I love to hang out in parks when I'm in a new city. There's always a ton of people watching, mostly of locals, and it can be an escape from the smell and containment of a big city. Lucky for me, the weather is finally starting to feel like summer on the East Coast, so I could simply find a sunny spot and settle down. Everyone of course knows of the Boston Common, but across the street from it is the Public Garden, which is honestly so much prettier. Here are the famous swan boats, surrounded by weeping willows and fountains. Perfect for reading, sketching, a good conversation, or capturing the cuteness of some goslings.
2. Visit the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum (and if you have any artistic tendencies, bring a sketchbook and pencil)
This place was recommended to me by everyone I know who lives in the city. It is the house-turned-museum of an art lover and collector. But it is much more than that. There is a greenhouse, antiques and pieces of other countries, and the most beautiful courtyard you will ever set eyes on. Seriously, I could have spent all day just overlooking the courtyard. I took a free tour while I was there that consisted of a staff member choosing a couple of paintings and having us analyze them. I would definitely recommend to anyone who visits to go on such a tour, as it helps those who don't have a career in art understand and appreciate what they are looking at. There is a wide variety in the art, from Renaissance Italian oil paintings to contemporary pen studies. If you are artistic, take your camera or sketchbook, but know that they will only let you use pencil. This is one museum that is worth every penny of the cost, which is $15 for adults, $5 for students, free for anyone under 18 or those named Isabella.
3. Pick up a cookie from Cafe Madeleine and devour it
Soon after my purse strap broke and I was carrying all of my daily supplies under an arm, I came across a little French bakery, that bore the French version of my name. Well of course I had to go in, where I was dismayed to find the cases were cleared out. But there were a few tarts and cookies left, and the man behind the counter told me to go for the chocolate chip. I thought that I had had lots of good chocolate chip in my lifetime, but took his suggestion anyhow. Hands down the best cookie I have ever had. Large, with crispy golden edges, a slightly under-baked center and gooey, melted chocolate overwhelmed me. I actually wrapped up the last third to eat later because I was afraid that I was not savoring it enough. I would love to go back to this place and test out more confections, or watch the pastry chefs making their masterpieces through the large glass window in the back.
4. Soak up some sun on the Esplanade
Another park (Why do I visit so many? Well they are free, pretty, a taste of local culture, so why not?) but this one stretches long against the Charles River. It is a great place to sunbathe, as many Bostonians do, or watch the sailboats go by.
5. Explore the Boston Public Library
The Boston Public Library is like a castle. I couldn't believe how gorgeous it was: the domed ceilings, tile work, and columns make it look like a piece of a fairy tale. They have tours during the week at certain times, however you can go exploring on your own and for free. Take time to look at the architecture and appreciate the gardens behind the library.
6. Grab a snack or casual dinner at Saus
Saus that cute little place where you can grab their famous fries also known as poutine, a Canadian dish with french fries covered in cheese curds and other toppings. It's called Saus because of the many dipping sauces. It's super casual and not too expensive, but absolutely yummy. I grabbed veggie croquettes in a pita for a light dinner, which had this amazing spicy 'Samurai' sauce on it. Also, they have many specialty drinks and beers.
7. Spend a moment at the Holocaust Memorial
The Holocaust Memorial is right by Saus which is how I found it. The memorial is simply a walkway with different towers of glass that extend into the sky. At each tower, there is smoke coming from the floor and a quote or story written on the wall. This was very beautiful and well thought-out, making it the perfect place to reflect for a while.
8. Take in the salty air along the HarborWalk
I went to the HarborWalk on my last day when it was a little bit cloudy. Still it was a great way for me to see the harbor and the North End of Boston. There are many locals who run, walk their dogs, or go with children to the HarborWalk. It is very long and you can start at many different places; however, I suggest starting at North Station and walking down towards the aquarium. I imagine on a sunny day that the pictures would be even more beautiful and more ships would be out on the water.
9. Visit Boston's secret rose garden
I read about this rose garden on Yelp and nearly couldn't believe it. I decided to try and visit so I picked up some lunch and I headed over to eat there. It was a little hard to find at first as the hedges reach up and hide the garden itself. Inside I was the only one there, accompanied by just a few roses--as it was out of season--and some gorgeous sculptures and landscaping as well as a lot of privacy. I got out of there right in time as a camp group of kids came in and started playing tag, but when I was there alone it was perfect.
10. Take a lunch break at Render Coffee, and buy a quiche
Render Coffee is where I bought that lunch to have in the rose garden, a goat cheese quiche that was quite large. People say that this is the best coffee in the city which I can’t speak to personally as I did not get a coffee; however, I did get a chai tea latte which was honestly just okay. But that goat cheese quiche was great! It was thick with fluffy egg and spinach topped with big pieces of fresh goat cheese wrapped in phyllo dough. Extremely satisfying and perfect for a picnic at the gardens.
11. Gaze at beautiful American art at the Museum of Fine Art (on a Wednesday evening)
This is more of your typical museum than the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum. That said, it has many beautiful pieces and is quite large. I would recommend a few hours, on a Wednesday after 4pm as this is when admission is by voluntary donation and it is open until 10. The highlights were definitely the American artists, with a whole room devoted to John Singer Sargent, the Monet room, the many Homers, and the contemporary works. The third floor was devoid of visitors when I went, and filled with a beautiful modern exhibit of "The Idea of North" featuring glaciers and arctic landscapes by Lawren Harris. Also, don't be afraid to explore around corners and down hallways, as on the second floor there is an interesting hidden 'behind-the-scenes' exhibit about art collection and preservation.
12. Get lost in the brick-line streets of Beacon Hill
This may seem obvious, but adventuring through the historic Beacon Hill (sans a tour guide or map) was perfect. The buildings speak for themselves, and I found myself gazing down alleys and admiring window boxes. The famous and often pictured image of Beacon Hill is Acorn Street, which is a narrow, cobblestone street lined in townhouses. Louisburg Square is one of the fanciest set of houses in the area, arranged around a small private park.
13. Enjoy a fresh sandwich from the deli in Deluca's
On the go and looking for an inexpensive lunch, I opened the door to Deluca's grocery near Boston Common. While the foreign food on the shelves looked good, albeit a little pricey, I headed towards the deli in the back. I ordered a tomato and pesto sandwich with fresh mozzarella on a ciabatta roll. I was so hungry that I plunked down on the bench outside and ate half. Simple and good. I think my sandwich actually drew jealous glances, as one man passed me and then turned to his family asking if anyone was ready for lunch.
14. Tour the historical sites along the Freedom Trail
Ok, so this one I'll cut short, because you can read an entire post on it here.
15. Be adventurous and eat a popsicle from Pressed
Pressed is a healthy juice joint in Beacon Hill. There are salads, sushi, shakes, popsicles (or paletas as they call them), and juices all with awesome ingredients at somewhat steep prices. Because I just wanted a snack (and not a $10 shake), I went for a popsicle (~$4) in watermelon and jalapeno. It was juicy and sweet like biting into a watermelon slice, quickly followed by the heat of the peppers. The other flavors range from cardamom vanilla plum to raspberry hibiscus. Truly a unique experience if you are willing to splurge a little.
16. Discover Boston's Chinatown
My hostel was right next to Chinatown, so I often walked through it on the way to other places. But there are many little restaurants and funky little shops that are worth a look. I went looking for a cobbler to repair my purse, instead I found a parade of drums and dragons in the streets, which was followed by many Chinese men in business suits and red ties. I can only assume it was for a holiday--whatever it was, it sure was fun and entertaining.
17. Eat some delicious vegan thai food (yes, delicious AND vegan)
The one night I was looking for an easy, yet good dinner in Chinatown. I came across a sign in a window to go in the building and up the stairs for My Thai Vegan Cafe. Being intrigued, I went up for a look and ended up at a table for one. Although the servers didn't know how to treat a solo guest (service was minimal and without any extras), the food was some of the best Thai I've had outside of Thailand. The menu is ginormous and filled with a plethora of fake meat, so I opted for Pad Kee Mao with tofu, which was their take on drunken noodles. Even better was when I ordered a mango smoothie bubble tea to go. Made with coconut milk and fresh mango (I'm assuming from the pieces of fruit I encountered) this is probably the best bubble tea I've ever had.
18. People-watch and get caffeinated at Cuppa
This little hut of a coffee place is easy to miss. But if you duck into the one-room building with a slanted roof near the Haymarket T, you'll get a damn good coffee. I tested out their cold brew, which was rich and flavorful, while sitting on one of third mini tables outside and watched everyone go to work.
19. Take a day trip to Cambridge
There are many towns on the edge of Boston worth a visit; however, the most famous would be Cambridge. Be on the lookout for a post that details how to have the perfect day in Cambridge soon.