Actually Cool Things to Do in Boston During Quarantine
There are still so many options.
Listen, none of us is hitting up the SoWa Market this spring. Sox games are still but a pipe dream. A ferry trip to P-town is out of the question. Who knows what the summer will bring, but right now most of the warmer-weather activities we look forward to are off the table. So how to resist the siren call of Netflix, day after day? What can lure you out of your sweatpants and … into your nicer sweatpants?
To help shake off your coronavirus ennui, we’ve rounded up some of the truly cool things you can still do in Boston. Some are classic must-see attractions that have moved online, others are hidden gems that are still trucking along and need your support right now, some of them are still safe to explore outdoors, and all of them are integral to our cultural landscape. What better time to remind yourself why you live here in the first place?
Harvard’s impressive tree sanctuary is a unique spot for nature walks, picnics, and other chill outdoor activities -- and yes, it’s still open from dawn to dusk (just practice social distancing!!). Lilac Sunday may be canceled, but you can still go and explore the blooms on your own -- and they’re a sight to behold, as the arboretum has one of one of the best lilac collections in all of North America.
Sweat for less -- which is to say, nothing -- is the November Project’s unofficial motto. The nationwide workout movement started here in Boston and refuses to let a little pandemic slow it down; they’re now offering three Zoom workouts a week at 6:30am. And while the workouts are still free, you can also feel free to throw a little money their way to support admin costs and leader support.
It took years, but we finally got our own year-round indoor market a la the Ferry Building in San Francisco. Many of the goods are still available, either through the four-day-a-week outdoor market or delivery via Mercato. You can still sample everything from artisanal cheeses to locally raised beef to takeout ramen and gyoza from the Noodle Lab.
Boston is no Denver, but there are still a couple of mountains to climb. Just a few minutes outside of the city proper is a 7,000-acre reservation with 125 miles of resplendent hiking trails, which are still open during the pandemic. Aim for an off-hour climb of Great Blue Hill to earn an unmatched view of the city skyline.
Spend an afternoon with the feminists of yesteryear
What a great time to acquaint yourself with the Radcliffe College’s Schlesinger Library. Its collection focuses on the lives of women -- and lots of it is available online. For the home chef, it's like stumbling upon a thousand kitchen secrets. About one-fifth of the library’s collection is culinary-related: ancient cookbooks, historical food journals, and amusing commercial food pamphlets. Among the rare finds are the very first cookbook written by a woman, back in 1679, and Julia Child’s private papers.
Feel better about your own nascent artistic abilities
Did you decide that lockdown was the perfect time to pick up a paintbrush, only to cringe at your output? The Museum of Bad Art will soothe your insecurities. It’s exactly as advertised: a collection of subpar portraits, landscapes, and nudes. Peruse the online galleries for a boost of confidence.
Spend the afternoon remote museum hopping
Major props to all our area museums for barely skipping a beat during this crazy time. The Museum of Fine Arts has a new Basquiat exhibition you can browse at your leisure and plenty of permanent pieces you can peruse through Google; the ICA has plenty of audio and video archives to revisit; and the Peabody Essex Museum is telling the stories behind some of its collections. And what better time to revisit the 13 missing artworks snatched during the infamous Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist (there’s still a $5 million reward for a tip that leads to their recovery). Heck, even the Museum of Science has gotten into the act, with its adults-only art experiences, gaming, and science-oriented happy hours all moving online.
This historical, East Boston pie joint slings the best pizza in all of Boston (runner-up: Regina Pizzeria). It ain’t fancy, but dear lord is it delicious. And, it’s also now delivering via DoorDash, so what better time to taste a slice of Boston gastronomical history?
Cheer yourself up with some improv
Things are funny right now, but not ha-ha funny. And yet, Improv Boston, the city’s longstanding training ground for local comics, can still find laughs in the absurd. They’re performing live shows from Thursday through Sunday nights -- some family-friendly, some decidedly not -- and they just humbly ask that you show a little donation love in return.
Pop some popcorn for a virtual film screening
Missing your favorite local indie theater? They’re missing you too, which is why they hustled to get some thematic screenings online. Coolidge Corner Theatre is renting movies online and also conducting online seminars with noted film critics. The Brattle Theatre has introduced #BreaktheAlgorithm to help introduce you to films that might never show up in your “suggested viewing” streams. And the Somerville Theatre is now streaming several new movies unavailable on any other streaming device. Heck, even the Boston Underground Film Festival is streaming previous cult hits from years past.
Our beloved aquarium may be closed, but the penguin and Giant Ocean Tank cams are going round the clock. If you’re in the market for some G-rated content to soothe your nerves, there’s nothing more relaxing than watching the fish doing languid laps and waiting for a sea turtle to swim into view.
Did you know that Beacon Hill -- yes, Beacon Hill, Brahmin ground zero -- houses the city’s last immigrant-era synagogue building? (There used to be as many as 50 around town.) Once slated for destruction, this century-old architectural time capsule now serves as an arts and cultural center. And they’ve moved their programming online, which currently includes Jewish meditation classes, Shabbat singalongs, and a Shavuot Cheese Making Workshop.
Tucked away in Union Square, the former storage building has been renovated to house more than 30 shops, featuring a walkable, outdoor space where you’d typically love to spend a sunny afternoon. In fact, Bow Market normally has it all: art, comedy, wine, beer, perogies, and roast beef sandwiches. Thankfully, much of that is still available, through takeout, remote wine classes, an online mini-market, and a three-day-a-week Safe Supply Market where you can buy produce, pre-prepared food, and groceries.
When Chef Tony Maws’ burger hit the cover of Bon Appetit some years back, it became the single most coveted order in town, and certainly one of the best burgers you can get in town. And a version of the burger is now available on the restaurant’s takeout menu, mace ketchup included.
Hidden behind an innocuous-seeming convenience store is Boston’s best sneaker shop, selling every limited-edition import you could ever hope to slip your feet into. Alas, you can’t have the full shopping experience right now, but There’s cool-kid clothing and cool-kid accessories, too, making back-to-school (well, work) shopping that much easier.
Take a fried clam tour on the North Shore
We Bostonians harbor passionate opinions about where to get the best fried clams, but most of us agree that the North Shore is your starting point. And the top three competitors are now all open for takeout: Woodman’s, JT Farnhams, and The Clam Box, each of which tweaks its recipe ever so slightly to give you a different tasting experience. (Calling ahead to place your order is the best bet with all three spots.)
Shop the boutiques of Charles Street
Newbury Street is certainly iconic, but it’s also a little thin on non-chain boutiques. Whereas, the indie shops, antique stores, and gourmet grocers of Charles Street will cause you to linger a lot longer. And by “linger” we mean “linger on the interwebs” -- many of the shops, from Dress Boston to December Thieves to Good, have set up online shops and/or are taking phone orders.
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