My personal Boston guide I prepared for visitors from the UK a few years ago about this time of year. Wise to add that you bear no animosity to Red Sox fans. (laughing...)
Boston/Cambridge guide for you…..
Late May is usually beautiful but can rain. Expect anything from 50s to 90s. Today I am wearing a tank top and shorts. Yesterday I needed a jacket.
The “T” (subway) goes most places you would want to go cheaply and easily in Boston, Cambridge and adjacent suburbs, and Boston and Cambridge are big walking cities. I’d think twice about renting a car in the city, until you want to leave town. If you don’t know your way around, Boston is probably the most confusing city to drive in the USA (like London in that regard) and drivers can be way rude. Also parking can be difficult and expensive if you don’t know where to go.
Neighborhoods that may interest you:
I will list some of my favorite restaurants in each neighborhood. Some of the recommendations may be outdated. I’m not a restaurant critic so don’t shoot the messenger….
Beacon Hill: Very close to you. Beautiful upscale neighborhood, very old, nice architecture…the main street with upscale shops/cafes, etc is Charles St…the little windy side streets are very pretty. At one base of Beacon Hill is the Charles River, separating Boston from Cambridge…Community Boating is there, where you see the sailboats on the river. I was a member when I lived there…perhaps I can still take you out sailing, I don’t know.
Lala Rokh. Very good Persian and very beautiful and romantic.
There’s a Thai place I used to like here too, but I forget the name.
Esplanade: Not a neighborhood, but a beautiful walk on a nice day on the edge of the Charles River, running from the Science Museum along the north margin of Beacon Hill through the north end of Back Bay and way beyond. At night in the summer there are free concerts and movies at the hatch shell along the esplanade. I don’t know if these will have started when you are there. People jog, skate, flirt, bike, etc along this way.
Boston Common/Boston Garden: A large central park which borders the south end of Beacon Hill and the east end of Back Bay…nice place to hang…many free musical and theatre things happening here in the summer…political soapbox speeches, doggies, frisbee games, stuff like that. Cheers bar (from the TV show) is along the northern end..I’d advise to avoid it, unless you are obsessed. As a pub it sucks. It’s just a tourist trap.
Back Bay: Runs west from the Boston Common and the streets are roughly alphebetized east to west. Very trendy, upscale. Commonwealth Ave. is residential, pretty, tree-lined. Newbury St. is THE trendy shopping street in Boston with boutiques, galleries, yadayada.
There are some good restaurants here…A good sushi place and a good Thai, and I forget the names (I’m helpful, huh?) I’d need to find them.
North End: One of my favorite neighborhoods..I used to live here. Old Italian neighborhood with big mafia presence and great food. Hanover St. is the main drag with many interesting side streets. The east margin is the waterfront, which is also sort of interesting…seafood and the aquarium are there.
North End Restaurants:
The Daily Catch. On Hanover St. Great funky old place where you sit on a bench and get served really good fresh Italian seafood out of a pan. The Monkfish Marsala and Pasta Putanesca are some of my favorites…they are also known for their calamari. I heard they may have gone downhill in quality since they opened up other branches, I don’t know. If you go, only go to the one on Hanover St.
Giacomo’s, or Sage, or Pomodoro: Some of my favorite North End restaurants. Very good Northern Italian and Italian seafood.
Caffe Vittoria: Good Italian coffeehouse…espresso, cannolis, etc. There are many other such places along Hanover St. as well.
There is a really good lunch spot about a half block off the main part of Hanover St…I forget the name..would have to find it….and lots more.
South End: Used to be a ghetto…now very upscale and trendy. Good restaurants, many along Columbus Ave.
South End Restaurants:
Icarus: Really good, creative, nouvelle. Lots of fish dishes and others.
Nightengale: Supposedly great…I never tried it.
Sister Sorel: Another place I never tried that has a really good reputation as a local pub.
Chinatown: Some really good (and also some really bad) Chinese restaurants.
Some of the ones I like are Hei La Moon, Peach Farm, and East Ocean City .
Everybody has their favorite Chinatown restaurant where they go exclusively. You pick your seafood out of a tank. They often have great fresh specials like pea pod stems….
Theatre District: Was a high-crime red light district 20 years ago and has had a revival with lots of live theatre, trendy restaurants and clubs.
Pho Republique. Vietnamese noodle shop (I think this is where they moved to…)
Lansdowne St.: Eurotrash trendy discos. Kind of ugly.
Harvard Sq.: Home of Harvard Univ., great bookstores and record stores, street musicians, coffeehouses…lots of students and tourists. A few good and lots of bad restaurants. Right next door is the Cambridge Common which is a little park to hang in.
Harvard Sq. Restaurants:
Cambridge 1. Good pizza.
Lulu’s Tealuxe. Great tea house right in the middle of Harvard Sq…good place to chill, drink tea and watch people. The Crème de la Earl Grey is my favorite.
Café Algiers: Not the greatest coffee or food, but decent, and a fun,classic bohemian place to hang out with outdoor seating as well, very bohemian atmosphere, was truly great in the sixties.
Central Sq: Much funkier, grittier, more ethnic than Harvard Sq, though that is changing and the yuppies are moving in. I used to live here. They say there are Harvard Sq. types and Central Sq. types. Home to a lot of good ethnic restaurants , coffeehouses and alternative clubs, especially along Mass. Ave. and in nearby Inman Sq.
Central and Inman Square Restaurants:
Oleana: 134 Hampshire, near Inman Sq. Delicious. Fantastic place. Middle Eastern, more upscale. 134 Hampshire St. Perhaps my favorite Boston/Cambridge restaurant.
Andala Café: Little Middle Eastern coffeehouse and restaurant, inexpensive, nice place to sit outside near Central Sq., good food and teas. 286 Franklin St
Muqueca: Very good interesting funky little Brazilian restaurant near Inman Sq. 1008 Cambridge St
Punjabi Dhaba: Excellent Indian takeout in the heart of Inman Square, very inexpensive with limited counter seating.
The Miracle of Science: At the southern tip of Central Sq, near MIT (walking away from the Harvard Sq direction). My favorite local pub. I like the veggie burgers with tomato chutney , the shrimp skewers, and, to drink, the dark and stormies. Very friendly…what Cheers SHOULD be like. Another good friendly pub w/ good food is the B Side Lounge.
Toscanini’s: There is fantastic ice cream all over Boston/Cambridge, especially Cambridge, but this one is the best of all I think. The New York Times calls it the best ice cream in the world. I like the espresso chip and cappucino. Other good ice cream places in various locations around Cambridge/Boston are Herrell’s and Christina’s.
Carberry’s: A few blocks off Central Sq. Icelandic-American coffeehouse and bakery. Not the coolest atmosphere of all the many central sq. coffehouses, but the best coffee, croissants, etc.
Some other Boston/Cambridge restaurants I really like:
Elephant Walk: Near Porter Sq., Cambridge. Really good and interesting Cambodian. I love the Salade Cambodgienne, and this really fantastic stuffed avocado thingie.
Barking Crab: For basic New England old time seafood..clam chowder, lobster, steamers, etc…maybe not the best, but good, and the location is fantastic..you sit out on the water, outside in the good weather. A bit pricey, but this stuff always is in the city. I’d guess a lobster that would cost $8 where I live is probably about $20.
Emma’s: My favorite pizza place…very thin crust, wood-fired oven, wow. It’s in a nondescript neighborhood of Cambridge (Kendall Sq…home of the Kendall Sq theatre, a multiplex art cinema). 40 Hampshire
Oishii: Chestnut Hill, Brookline. Great sushi.
Helmand: Very good Afghani restaurant in a non-descript boring neighborhood in Cambridge with truly amazing bread. 143 First St.
My Favorite Music Club if you like real funky:
Wally’s on Mass. Ave. near Columbus, in the South End on the edge of Roxbury. A Boston institution. Great local jazz, no cover charge, really interesting crowd from the down and out to the very serious musician. Don’t even think of going before 10-11 PM. The neighborhood is dicey, but I’ve never heard of anything bad happening to people here. Real friendly. Europeans wind up here too, because there is a nearby youth hostel.Wally opened the place about 70 yr ago and just died, age 101, always in the bar. It may scare you if you go unescorted and scare easily. It’s happened to other European friends of mine. I love it. Maybe I’ll take you.
Out of town escursions:
Cape Cod. A little over 1 hr to the bridge and another hr to Provincetown (P’town to the locals)
(double that if traffic). There is also a ferry from Boston to P’town which may run by the end of May. The outer cape is the nice part, along the National Seashore (about 25 mi beach with dunes, wide sand, etc…beautiful). Prettiest places to stay are Truro and Wellfleet, esp. Truro…not expensive in May. Many nice beaches (Marconi, Head of the Meadow, lots of others…) You’ve got to check out P’town (fantastic place to stay there is the Land’s End Inn). P’town is probably the gay capital of the world, as well as an old Portuguese fishing village. Don’t miss the female impersonator shows- great talent even for us straight guys. Many of the performers are from Broadway/ Off-Broadway .
Ferries from many places. The main ones:
Martha’s Vineyard- Gay Head, or I think they now call it Aquinnah or some such thing, is probably the most beautiful beach in MA. Lucy Vincent Beach is also very nice but private (you can sneak on easily). The main towns (Vineyard Haven, Oak Bluffs, Edgartown) are tourist traps. The rest is beautiful.
Nantucket- Farther from shore, very beautiful, all houses grey, very exclusive, beautiful beaches, can be snobby.
Block Island: The most “downhome”, limited car traffic, not crowded, a bit funkier than the other two, cool place. The beaches are not as nice as some on Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.
The Mass. coast has many beautiful wide sandy beaches and warm water in the summer. The Maine coast has wilder, more rugged beauty and freezing cold water…rocky cliffs, probably more like the W. Coast of Ireland.
Biddeford Pool: (NOT Biddeford itself, but Bidderford Pool)…Beautiful, tranquil place about 2 hr north of Boston…stay at John Oddi’s guest house. You can buy lobsters, clams at the local seafood store and cook them up in Oddi’s kitchen, or there used to be a great little restaurant w/ outdoor seating on the edge of the salt pond, with the best blueberry pies I ever ate (this was years ago…may not still exist).
Bar Harbor: About 5 hr north of Boston…National Park with beautiful mountains overlooking the sea, islands, very beautiful place and probably not crowded in May. Just before you cross over the bridge onto the island there is a great lobster place on the right where you pick your lobster out of a tank and they steam it outside in these huge wooden vats that have been there for at least 100 yrs…..
Northampton: This is where I live, about 1 ½-2 hr west of Boston by car. It’s a very nice university town, very easy going and very liberal, with good food, music, theatre, festivals etc, nestled in the Connecticut River Valley with beautiful rivers, mountains (small ones) and farms all around. Rated #1 small city arts town in America.
Mountains: White Mtns. Of New Hampshire (2 hr), Green Mtns of Vermont (3 hrs), Berkshires (2 hrs).
New York City: 4 hr. by car, but I would recommend the train instead. It’s New York. Need I say more? (There is a fast, expensive train that I think does it in less than 3 hr…the regular train takes 4-5.)
Montreal . 5 hr.
Quebec City. 7 hr.
Washington DC. 7-8 hr.