Actually Cool Things You Can (Still) Do in Boston Right Now
Even locals love this stuff.
Ok, so in-person Sox games are still but a pipe dream. A ferry trip to P-town? Doable, but fraught. And who knows what the fall will bring? Yet even accounting for safety concerns, there are many warm-weather activities still on the table, many of them free or cheap, most of them outdoors or outdoors-adjacent. In other words, time to change out of your house yoga pants and into your public yoga pants.
To help, we’ve rounded up some of the truly cool things you can still do in Boston. Some are classic attractions that have reopened, others are hidden gems that are still trucking along and need your support right now, and all of them are integral to our cultural landscape -- which could use some serious love right now. What better time to remind yourself why you live in Boston in the first place?
The Underground at Ink Block is the city’s latest triumphant effort to repurpose a forgotten space, this one tucked underneath a knotty snarl of South End/South Boston overpasses. The eight-acre park includes bike paths, boardwalks, a dog park, and more than 150,000 square feet of mural work from Boston, LA, NYC, and Puerto Rican artists. And is there a better excuse to check it out than the Wednesday night bootcamps? Ok, fine, maybe the pop-up bar.
Massachusetts beaches are well and good -- ok, they’re great -- but crowds, parking, and sticker restrictions can make some of them less than accessible. Not so our states natural swimming holes, which are calmer respites that allow you to park, swim, and float with ease. You might even encounter a waterfall or two.
Brothers Dave and Will Willis changed the city’s cocktail scene with its craft spirits long ago, then got into the bar scene themselves with their New Orleans-like tasting lair. And now, in COVID-19 times, they’ve opened their first-ever cocktail garden across from the distillery. Two words: boozy popsicles. The al fresco spot is open Friday and Saturday, reservations are encouraged and can be made online.
The Rose Kennedy Greenway is one of the Big Dig’s greatest (only?) triumphs. The 15-acre-long park takes you through the heart of the city, past murals, interactive installations, and seven different water fountains (the Harbor Fog Sculpture emits mist and noise when it detects movement). Food trucks line a portion of the walk, and a seasonal beer garden is the area’s newest draw in summer.
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!!). A recent Saturday visit found the space to be surprisingly devoid of visitors, all the better to spread out a blanket, breathe deep the flora, and then let out a deep exhale.
They Zoomed in the spring, and now they’re back in person for the summer and hopefully beyond. The nationwide workout movement, which started here in Boston, is back to offering distanced workouts three times a week at 6:30am (plus a 5:30am run up the Harvard Stadium stairs on Wednesdays). 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 -- and we’re not ready to give it up. While the market is still closed, many of the goods are still available, either through the four-day-a-week outdoor market or delivery via Mercato or WhatsGood. 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 -- and hiking just might prove the activity that keeps us all from going insane. Just a few minutes outside of the city proper is a 7,000-acre reservation with 125 miles of resplendent hiking trails. Climb Great Blue Hill and you earn an unmatched view of the city skyline; just prepare to dodge some crowds for the foreseeable future (though folks are being great about wearing masks when in close proximity).
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.
City-dwelling golfers usually drive miles outside the city to hit the links, but they’re fools. The William J. Devine Course is located smack dab in the middle of Franklin Park -- and is also the second oldest public course in the country (Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx holds the number-one spot). The par-70 acre course is open for biz and features well-maintained greens, picturesque ponds, and pretension-free staff members.
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 continues to deliver via DoorDash, so what better time to taste a slice of Boston gastronomical history?
Pop some popcorn for a virtual film screening
Our local indie theaters are working hard to reopen, but they, and we, are not there yet. So as we all continue to prioritize health and safely. 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.
There is no more quintessential summer experience than an afternoon spent at The Raw Bar at Island Creek Oyster Farm. And because people have been so terrific about wearing their masks and social distancing, we were gifted with another season at the coveted spot. Head down south to savor oysters, beer, wine, and Duxbury Bay views. The menu may currently include only freshly shucked bivalves and beverages, but that’s more than enough to tide you over.
Our beloved aquarium reopened with myriad safety protocols in place, and while the touch pool might be off-limits for now, the penguins and Giant Ocean Tank are front and center and ready to cheer you up. If you’re in the market for some G-rated content to soothe your nerves -- and who isn’t? -- 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 game and trivia nights, remote cocktail classes, and planning sessions for the fall high holidays.
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. And you still can! The market has divided itself into three sections, one for eating, one for takeout, and one for shopping. You can still get your beer, wine, perogies, and roast beef sandwiches, take them to go, or visit the retailers that feel safe enough to reopen.
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. A version of the burger is now available on the restaurant’s takeout menu, mace ketchup included. And stay tuned, because patio dining is on the Craigie horizon.
Hidden behind an unassuming 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 clandestine experience right now, but you can make a private shopping appointment online ahead of your visit. And even if you stick to online, there’s still a range of sneakers on top of cool-kid clothing and cool-kid accessories, 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
The indie shops, antique stores, and gourmet grocers of Charles Street cause even locals to linger, window shop and shop-shop. Even during the height of the pandemic, the street’s foot traffic seemed a little heavier than most. Now, as retail continues to open up, shops like Dress Boston, December Thieves, and Good are (they’re also still selling via online shops and/or are taking phone orders).
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