View of Back Bay and its skyline, highlighted by the Prudential Center, from the Cambridge waterfront as taken from my iPhone
Boston is a city with a lot of charm. It also has a lot of history, especially its significance leading up to and during the American Revolutionary War. It is a small city with a big town feel. It is a fun weekend trip. It is definitely small enough where you can experience a lot of great spots in the city in 2-3 days. In terms of history, you can follow the 2.5 mile, marked Freedom Trail. However, it was a bit too touristy for me to do. My friend from Boston told me he has never done it. You will hit a lot of the significant spots on the trail by default if you just walk around downtown. There are a lot of great neighborhoods and spots in Boston. On the other hand, the city is notorious for streets that randomly start or end. It is not a logical grid. I remember my dad getting lost and driving around in circles when I was younger. In the age of GPS, it is much easier to manage. Moreover, Boston has excellent seafood. New England, specifically Maine, is known for the lobsters. I am partial to the Clam Chowder and Fish and Chips. Definitely put plenty of sea food on any itinerary.
In addition, Bostonians are very proud of their city. They are extremely serious about their sports. As such, do not poke fun of their city or their sports teams. I would have totally went to a baseball game at Fenway Park since it is one of the few historic ballparks still standing but the Red Sox were out of town when I was there. Next, definitely do not try to mimic their accents or pronunciations. In addition, try to avoid saying the name of the towns in Massachusetts. If you are not a local, you are definitely going to butcher them. There are a lot of silent letters or atypical emphasis on letters. I took some flak from the locals for pronouncing Worcester as “War” “Chester”. It sounds more like Worster with the “c” and “e” silent. If you really want to say the names of the towns, definitely watch How to properly say Massachusetts town names. In addition, the disdain for New York is a real thing. Try to avoid mentioning it.
- Neighborhoods and Great Spots
1. Mugar Omni Theater (1 Museum Of Science Driveway, Boston, MA 02114) and Cambridge
The Omni Theater is located in the Museum of Science. It has a giant dome IMAX screen. The screen is on half of the dome. I have been to a lot of IMAX movie theaters. The curved screen at the Omni Theater is definitely a unique experience. It is $10 per adult and $8 per child. While the theater was a fun experience, the movie Journey to Space was not very good. It was basically an advertisement for space travel rather than a movie.
The museum is on the Charles River Dam Road. Accordingly, it is definitely worth it to walk across the bridge over to Cambridge. The waterfront has an awesome view of Back Bay and its skyline highlighted by the Prudential Center. From the waterfront, you are also close to CamdridgeSide Galleria Mall. It is a solid mall if you want to walk around to shop or eat at some chain restaurants (e.g. Cheesecake Factory, P.F. Chiang’s) for a few hours. If you walk further into Cambridge, you can get to Harvard and MIT.
- Back Bay
It is a residential neighborhood on the Charles River and west of the downtown area. It is renowned for its Victorian brownstone homes. It is a lively part of town. On Newbury and Boylston Streets, there are plenty of shops, restaurants, and bars. Copley Place is an upscale shopping mall in Back Bay. The recognizable and tallest building, Prudential Center, is in the heart of Back Bay. There is a restaurant at the top of the building, Top of the Hub. We heard it has great views and good food. Unfortunately, we tried to make a reservation but our plans fell through.
- Faneuil Hall (4 S Market St, Boston, MA 02109)
It is a marketplace that is bustling with tourists. When I hear the name pronounced, it sounds very similar to the name “Nathaniel”. Quincy Market is the epicenter of the activity. It looks like a historic building but really is not. It is basically a food court inside and a bit overrated. While there are certainly plenty of options inside the market, nothing really looked amazing. Boston Chowda is definitely worth a try. It has very good clam chowder. As a tourist, walking through Faneuil Hall should be on the to do list but limit your expectations. It is also a bit of a challenge to walk through the crowds.
Faneuil Hall is also located in a prime spot in Boston. North End, an Italian neighborhood with plenty of Italian restaurants, is immediately to its north and the waterfront is immediately to its east.
Definitely spend some time at the waterfront. Christopher Columbus Park is a pretty park. You can walk along the waterfront on Harborwalk. Long Wharf is one of the best spots to take pictures of the Boston skyline. In addition, there are plenty of good seafood restaurants at the Waterfront. Legal Sea Foods and Chart House are a couple of popular ones right by the water. I went to Granary Tavern for the fish and chips.
- Boston Common (139 Tremont St, Boston, MA 02111)
In terms of total size, Boston Commons is modest compared to other city parks. Nevertheless, it is a very green and pretty spot in the city with some lakes, sprinklers, and walking paths. At the south side of the park, there is an iconic statue of George Washington. In the northwest corner, you can see the Massachusetts State House. You will also see parts of the Boston skyline from within the park. The park is also in a good location north of Back Bay, west of Chinatown, and south of North End. It is worth walking through or spending a couple of hours there.
1. Neptune Oyster (63 Salem St # 1, Boston, MA 02113)
I ate the best seafood in Boston at Neptune. It may have had the best clam chowder I have ever eaten. The chowder had the perfect balance of not too watery but not too thick either. Of course, the clams were fresh. Another differentiator was that it was seasoned and garnished extremely well. While the raw bar was not the best I ever had (I was blown away by Blue Water Cafe in Vancouver recently in May), it was excellent. I ordered the oysters and clams. They were very fresh and I could pleasantly taste the ocean still in them. The cocktail sauce was very hot. I preferred the one that tasted more like soy sauce. The Acadian Redfish & Chips were also great. The fish was incredible: very fresh and smooth. On the other hand, it could have been breaded a little more. The fried breading seemed too thin. The couple next to us ordered the swordfish and it looked immaculate. Not surprisingly, Neptune is also known for its lobster rolls.
The wait time for Neptune on the weekend is epic. It is a small restaurant so it fills up fast. Guests line up 30-40 minutes before it opens so they can grab a seat. We showed up 15 minutes after it opened on a Sunday. At first, we thought we got lucky because it did not seem that long. However, we eventually realized that the line was just to put our names on the list. We were given an estimate of 2 ½ hours for 5 people. We waited for 2 hours. By the time we were seated, we overheard the host estimate a 4 hour wait for a party. Is it worth the wait? It depends. They call you when your table is ready so you can walk around Faneuil Hall, the rest of North End, or the Waterfront while you wait. If you plan on being in the area anyway, then the wait is worth it. I would never stand in line in front of a restaurant for two hours.
- Luke’s Lobster Back Bay (75 Exeter St, Boston, MA 02116)
Luke’s is an alternative from a casual sit down meal. The setup of the restaurant is similar to a fast food joint like Chipotle. You order at the counter then grab it to go or find a table to sit down at. There is limited seating so you might have to wait a few minutes for a table. Of course, Luke’s is known for its lobster rolls. They looked amazing. I do not like or eat lobster but my friend, who is from Boston, does. He noted the lobster roll was very good. It had plenty of butter and Italian dressing. On the other hand, he also observed that the lobster was frozen. In addition, he noted that there are a lot of spots in Boston that use frozen instead of fresh lobster. I went to Luke’s because I heard it had one of the best clam chowders in Boston. It lived up to the hype. The chowder was excellent. Like Neptune’s, it was not too thick and not watery: the perfect balance for a creamy soup. I also ordered a side salad. Although it was $2, it was not worth it. It was just a small cup of lettuce with some beans and blueberries.
- Granary Tavern (170 Milk St, Boston, MA 02110)
I came here for the fish and chips. The cod was very fresh and delicious. On the other hand, I had just been to Alaska so I have had better cod. The breading is thicker than I usually like. I prefer flakier breading that is similar to the texture of a croissant. Nevertheless, the fried batter had a good crunch to it. Overall, I definitely recommend Granary Tavern if you are looking for some very good fish and chips in Boston. The other food looked tasty too. From the outside, the tavern looks like a warehouse but the décor is very pretty inside as a sit down restaurant.
- Boston Chowda (1 Faneuil Hall Market Pl, Boston, MA 02109)
It has a kiosk in Quincy Market. Naturally, I had the clam chowder. It was very good chowder. I also enjoyed the large bread bowl. It was delicious to eat the bread after it soaked up the chowder. The portion size was generous. I received plenty of chowder. There were plenty of clams in the chowder too. Nevertheless, it was a little thicker than the chowder at Neptune and Luke’s Lobster, which I thought had the perfect viscosity.
- Other Food
1. Mike’s Pastry (300 Hanover St, Boston, MA 02113)
It is a popular Italian bakery in North End that features awesome cannolis. They have many flavors to choose from. I ordered the amaretto cannoli and it was amazing. It was definitely one of the best cannolis I have ever eaten. On the other hand, I also ordered the Nutella cheesecake. It was average. It was thick and solid unlike the best cheesecakes I have eaten that are smooth, almost like mousse. I wish I ate a second cannoli instead. I was considering the pistachio or oreo before I chose amaretto.
- Mother Juice (100 Hanover St, Boston, MA 02108)
I stopped by Mother Juice to try its acai bowl. The presentation was great. The fruit was very sweet and fresh. It came in a clear cup so you could see every layer and ingredient in the bowl. The base was not bad but it was not my favorite. I like it to taste like a blended sorbet, an in between hard ice and a smoothie, with a cool chill as the perfect temperature. Mother Juice’s base tasted too solid. It might have been the almond butter that made it really thick but I have eaten an excellent acai bowl with almond butter before. I am also allergic to coconut milk so almond milk was substituted. That swap might have also contributed to the issue. Moreover, the granola was only average. The bowl could also use a honey on top to improve.
It was a decent acai bowl but I would not call it a must try. The smoothies, juices, and other food looked great. If you are looking for something healthy, light and clean, Mother Juice is worth a visit.
- South Station
1. Oath Craft Pizza (700 Atlantic Ave, Boston, MA 02110)
It is a kiosk inside South Station. I got into the station late and was looking for something to eat. Oath Craft Pizza was one of the only spots still open. It serves makeshift pizzas on flatbread that are very quick to make. The flatbread was excellent. I ordered a “Muffled Trushroom” for me and a “Bella” for my friend. The former had clunks of mozzarella. I prefer it completely melted in. The mushrooms were very good. I tried a slice of the “Bella”: mozzarella, roasted cherry tomato, roasted garlic, ricotta, balsamic drizzle, pamigiano, and fresh basil. I preferred that pizza. Of course, it was not the best pizza I have eaten. Nevertheless, it was very good and I could have done worse late at night.
- Hing Shing Bakery (67 Beach St, Boston, MA 02111)
It is a bakery in Chinatown. I grabbed a roast pork bun and red bean cake on my way to South Station for the bus ride home. The roast pork bun was very solid. The dough and meat was very good. Considering I ordered them at the end of the day and not closer to when they came out of the oven, I was impressed that both the bun and meat were still tasty. In terms of the red bean cake, the red bean paste was very good but I did not care for the cookie part of the “cake”. Nevertheless, I definitely recommend this bakery for a quick or on the go bite.
I did not get a chance to fully explore the coffee scene in Boston. I tried a couple in Back Bay, where I stayed. They were decent but not amazing.
- Render Coffee (563 Columbus Ave, Boston, MA 02118)
I ordered a latte at Render Coffee. It was some of the most beautiful latte art I have seen anywhere. However, it tasted a big watery. It was not as smooth and rich as the lattes I have had at some of the better coffee shops around the country.
- Barrington Coffee Roasters (303 Newbury St, Boston, MA 02115)
I had a solid but not great latte here. The microfoam on top was good. However, there was bitterness throughout the drink which means the beans were not extracted perfectly. Nevertheless, I still thought the drink was good.