• Boston, MA Visitor’s Guide: What to do + Where to Eat

    boston guide header image 670

    Boston love ~ above outfit details are in this blog post

    Nick and I each moved to Boston for school thinking it’d be temporary, but the charm of this small, historic city (with no shortage of seafood…yum) grew on us tremendously over time. We often get questions on what to do and where to eat, so finally pooled our favorites into this mega post! I’ll be keeping this updated and will add any new or forgotten favorites. Let me know if you guys have any questions, and be sure to check out my map at the bottom to see where everything mentioned here is located! When traveling we like to visualize where all the places we want to hit up are located, then find somewhere to stay central to those.

    Things to do

    Walking

    Boston is very much a walking city, so pack your flats! One of my favorite paths to walk is starting at Hynes or Copley subway station on the green line, going along Newbury Street (our biggest shopping street) all the way to the Boston Public Garden and Boston Common. There you can also have a picnic, take kids on the (very slow-moving) swan boats or merry-go-round, and eat soft serve from the Boston Frosty truck. There is a week of gorgeous tulips in mid-spring, foliage a-plenty come Fall, or you can ice skate on the “Frog Pond” in the winter. From the Boston Public Garden, you can walk to either the small boutiques in charming Beacon Hill, grab a bite in Chinatown, or follow the Freedom Trail through Quincy Market to Charlestown.

    Shopping!

    Clothing and shoes under $175 are exempt from sales tax in Massachusetts, so I see many visitors shopping their merry hearts out. For individual items priced over that amount, the first $175 is still tax-exempt. Newbury Street is an outdoor shopping area with lots of high and low end shops, ranging from Zara, Forever 21, H&M;, to Burberry, DVF, Kate Spade, Chanel, and much more. I also like the Copley Place & Prudential Center malls, which are right nearby. These indoor malls have department stores like Barneys, Neiman Marcus, Saks, and a variety of designer boutiques and shops like Sephora, LOFT, Banana Republic, Club Monaco, Stuart Weitzman, etc.

    Boating

    If the weather is nice, you can walk or run along the Charles River on the Esplanade path. You can rent kayaks or canoes from this company at several locations, or pedal boats from a small stand (no working phone # that I found…so unfortunately it’s hit or miss if they are open) stationed near the Hatch Shell. From the river, you can see Boston on one side and Cambridge on the other. Pack some sandwiches and drinks to refuel while out on the water!

    boston visitor activities_pedal boat rental charles river

    H&M; sweater, Rag & Bone cropped jeans (on sale!) sz 24, Soludos striped shoes

    Other Popular Activities:

    – Visit Harpoon brewery for a flight of beer, or more importantly, their freshly baked soft pretzels (the cinnamon sugar one with cream cheese icing dip … droool). I also love to drink Downeast Cider but haven’t yet been to their tasting room. It’s located in Charlestown, the town where the Freedom Trail ends, and is open on the weekends.

    boston harpoon brewery beer soft pretzels

    – Stop by the Copley Square farmers market open on Tuesdays and Fridays, from Spring to Fall. Or if you’re by the south end, visit the SoWa market which is open Sundays May – October, featuring food trucks, a vintage market, and tents run by small artisans.

    – Pop into the historic Boston Public Library. Pinkies up for their tea set of savory sandwiches and sweet treats, and of course your own potful of tea. The BPL is one of my most favorite spots in the city, although I’m a little biased since we got married there!

    boston public library high afternoon tea catered affair

    Afternoon tea set w/ matcha green tea lattes at Boston Public Library

     – Take a Duck Tour which is an amphibious vehicle that hits up most of the city’s major landmarks, then plops into the Charles river to show a bit of Boston via water.

    – Catch a Red Sox game at Fenway Park, then chow down some famous biscuits from Sweet Cheeks BBQ (run by Tiffany Faison, a Top Chef finalist) afterwards.

    boston best barbeque sweet cheeks BBQ restaurant fenway

    Sweet Cheeks BBQ lunch combo + biscuits

    – Explore the Boston Harbor islands via ferry or boat tour. Recommended for history buffs (hotspots include war forts and a historic lighthouse) or hikers, not those seeking beachy sand to sunbathe on.

    – Check the Boston Calendar for a list of local happenings, events, classes, or other things to do.

    – Visit the Museum of Fine Arts, Isabella Gardner Stewart art museum (indoor courtyard pictured below), or the Museum of Science.

    isabella stewart gardner art museum boston italian courtyard garden

    Getting Around

    A rental car is not necessary while in Boston unless you want to do a lot of day trips to the outer areas. In fact, finding and paying for parking is quite a burden, so I always suggest visitors take Uber, Lyft, a cab or try public transit on our MBTA train system.

    Where to Eat and Drink

    Breakfast & Brunch

    Jugos – Tiny, tiny to-go spot but central right near Copley Square, so on a nice day you can enjoy your food on the benches there. I’m far from a “clean” eater but this place is tasty and fresh. My favorites are the juices, frozen acai or pitaya (dragonfruit) bowls, and their chicken salad avocado toast. I have a weakness for coconut + cacao chocolate nibs atop my bowl…tastes like dessert!

    boston jugos juice acai pitaya fruit bowls

    Acai bowl from Jugos

    Gaslight – French cuisine restaurant with yummy egg dishes (I like the Vigneronne style)

    Tatte – A cute, Instagram-able local bakery/café with multiple locations, easily some of the most Instagram’d spots in town. I like the location in charming Beacon Hill, but be warned it’s a zoo at weekend brunch time!

    Boston best brunch breakfast tatte bakery gaslight

    – Dim Sum – for the actual “ladies wheeling around push carts full of dim sum” experience we go to Hei La Moon (weekends only, and good for bigger groups). If it’s just the two of us or if it’s a weekday, we usually do Great Taste, where you can order dim sum off a little checklist daily until 4pm. They also have this traditional dish we love which is braised beef brisket & tendon over seared rice noodle rolls (pictured in the iron pot below) – it’s only written in Chinese on the wall and not in the regular menu. My mom ordered it once and now we just point or pull up this pic!

    boston chinatown great taste chinese restaurant dim sum

    Dim Sum faves: shrimp & chive dumplings for me, sweet custard buns for Nick

     Coppa – Italian small plates spot in the south end with an outdoor patio, and a few additions during brunch hour including “hangover” pizza and Shakshuka baked eggs in a yummy sauce.

    – Coffee – I’m more a tea person, but Nick’s favorites are the Thinking Cup on Newbury Street (right by all the shopping) or the Buttery in the south end. If you’ve seen the movie Spotlight, Rachel McAdams’ character enjoys the Buttery which is right in my hood…had I known, you can trust this closet Notebook fan would’ve been lurking outside at the time!!

    Lunch & Dinner: Loosely ranked in order of a super casual to nicer ambiance

    – Pho noodle soup – Best vietnamese in town is definitely up for contention based on personal preferences, but mine has to be either Pho Viets at Super 88 food court or Pho Hoa in Chinatown. Neither have an “ambiance” so we usually just slurp with our heads down or get it to-go. At Pho Viets, Nick and I fight over the beef stew soup over egg noodles and their hefty banh mi sandwiches. My usual at Pho Hoa is just the Dac Biet beef pho, substituting in the thicker round rice noodles.

    boston best vietnamese noodles banh mi_pho viets hoa

    Pho Viets beef stew over egg noodles, grilled pork & cold cut banh mi sandwiches

    Chicken & Rice Guys (note: no seating. They also have several food trucks which you can track here) – probably my favorite grab & go lunch spot. Modeled after NYC’s popular “Halal guys” (which is now also in the Boston area!) but actually tastes like real meat. A small combo (chicken & lamb gyro over rice) is usually plenty to fill me up – don’t forget to douse it in their yummy sauces!

    Taiwan Cafe – Most decent soup dumplings in town, which doesn’t say much if you have a Din Tai Fung near you…but most of us don’t. What to get: juicy soup dumplings (transfer to your soup spoon carefully, nibble a hole off the top, and sip the soup out slowly to avoid a traumatic mouth-scalding experience), regular pan-seared dumplings, scrambled egg with beef & tomatoes rice plate (Chinese comfort food), Szechuan style white fish in spicy broth (“shui zhu yu”).

    Lobster roll, oysters, littlenecks and fried clams from Neptune Oyster

    – For good ol’ New England seafood, there’s the fisherman shack James Hook where you can grab a roll to-go or Yankee Lobster Co (right by Harpoon Brewery), both of which are a bit toursity. Alive & Kickin Lobster is a no-frills seafood “garage” in Cambridge with whole lobsters, steamers, and simple, yummy lobster sandwiches at a reasonable price, and Tony’s Clam Shop in Quincy has rolls, fried seafood & steamers right by the water. If you haven’t had steamer clams before, they are so big & tasty when in-season…our out-of-town visitors can never get enough! Neptune Oyster is the most hyped spot for lobster rolls and seafood – their food is always yummy and I like the ambiance, but it’s a small spot and a wait could easily set you back ~ 3 hours unless you line up before they open.

    tonys clam shop boston quincy seafood lobster roll

    Lobby rolls, steamers, and fried shrimp from Tony’s Clam Shop

    Shabu Zen (2 locations) – my weekly go-to for comfort food, especially in colder weather. If you haven’t had shabu or hot pot before, your ingredients come uncooked so you cook them quickly in a boiling pot of broth, then eat with a dipping sauce that you mix up in your little sauce cup. What to get: combos (either the pick 2 meats combo, boneless shortrib, or the tontoro pork combo) that come with veggies, rice or udon noodles; whole shrimp to add flavor to the house broth, and watermelon smoothies.

    boston shabu hot pot restaurant chinatown

    Hot pot feast

    Salty Pig – Restaurant with large patio right by my afore-mentioned shopping malls focusing on charcuterie, pizzas, and craft beer … aka the express path to my husband’s heart. I do appreciate that they make a lot of their own charcuterie and pasta. Sundays are “red sauce Sundays” with cute checkered table cloths.

    Holly Crab – If you like cajun-style seafood boils, this place really hits the spot with seafood that comes in plastic bags smothered in garlicky, spicy, buttery and citrusy goodness. Put on the bib and rubber gloves, and leave your white silk blouse at home. Their crawfish are very small, so our go-tos are the shrimp, mussels, and king crab legs (a splurge but so good) in holly crab medium sauce with sides of corn and sausage in the bag.

    holly crab boston cajun boil seafood restaurants

    Spread at Holly Crab (don’t be deceived by my staging…everything comes in bags!)

    – Best oyster happy hour spots (note: these happy hours are subject to change, so please call ahead to ask) – You can’t come to New England without indulging in fresh oysters, but they can add up at the usual $3+ per piece! Precinct has $1.5 oysters daily from 4 – 6PM, and a cute patio for when it’s nice out. Les Zygomates wine bar has $1 oysters weekdays 3 – 7PM at the bar area, Bar Boloud (at the Mandarin Oriental hotel) has them in the summer if you need a break from shopping on Newbury Street, and Marliave in downtown Boston has $1 oysters daily at either 4 – 5PM, or 9 – 10PM. Their oysters for some reason often lose their brine (my favorite part) by the time they reach me, but on the plus side Marliave has some yummy house-made pasta dishes like their Sunday Gravy.

    boston dollar oysters happy hour precinct restaurant

    Precinct oyster happy hour

    – The Daily Catch (multiple locations) – small, “cozy” Italian seafood pasta spots known for their lobster fra diavolo dish made for sharing. We also love the aglio olio, which is their house-made squid ink pasta (you can substitute this noodle in most of their other pasta dishes too, for a small charge) tossed with oodles of garlic and ground calamari.  I keep highlighting the spots with fresh house-made pasta, as some of the most popular Italian spots here don’t make their pastas or even their sauces! We prefer the Brookline location for this restaurant, as the North End one has rushed and at times, rude service (neither take reservations).

    Boston Italian Seafood Pasta Daily Catch

    Daily Catch Lobster Fra Diavolo for 2; various squid ink pasta dishes

    Barcelona Wine Bar – tapas spot with 2 locations in Boston. This is actually a chain restaurant from CT, but they do a great job with ambiance and catering to local tastes (their bread from a local bakery is heavenly, always hot and fresh). They have a regularly changing menu and are always packed around dinner or brunch time, so make reservations if you can. Some staples I like that are usually always on the menu: charcuterie, hanger steak w/ truffle sauce, patatas bravas (potatoes doused in garlic aioli), and wine flights.

    Toro – another tapas spot, by Ken Oringer, one of my favorite chefs in town. What to get: The cheesy Mexican-style corn, seafood paella (better than others in town; half size is plenty for sharing!), roasted cauliflower, bone marrow topped with braised oxtail. It’s so yummy, we’d eat here all the time if it weren’t for the fact that they don’t accept reservations, and the wait at dinner time can be 1-3 hours (so go right when they open to put your name down)!

    – Drinks – Nick and I have opposite tastes in alcohol (he’s a beer, whiskey and scotch man, and I prefer anything but) but one thing we can agree on is we both love the drinks at Shojo. If you don’t like strong tastes of alcohol, I’d recommend their gin gin mule with housemade ginger beer (very strong ginger flavor – you’ve been warned), reiko greene with giant cucumber ice cube, cold tea for 2 which is a bit insidious because it tastes so normal, or their “agogo” drink. Snack on their chicken & waffles (egg puff-style waffle), house-made noodle dish of the day, or mini pork belly buns in-between drinks. Nick also likes the menu-less bar Drink where you blab out what types of things you like in a beverage and the bartender makes you something, while you munch on their complimentary buttery popcorn.

    If you’re visiting Boston and do check out some of the above spots, leave me a comment and let me know what you think! And for fellow Bostonians or those who have been here, I’d love to hear what some of your favorite places are!

     

    75 thoughts on “Boston, MA Visitor’s Guide: What to do + Where to Eat

    • Dressed With Soul July 12, 2016 at 2:36 am

      Now I really want to visit Boston! Thanks for the wunderful guide <3
      xx from Bavaria/Germany, Rena
      http://www.dressedwithsoul.com

    • Joiaching July 12, 2016 at 3:33 am

      Love that you include food for different eaters! And the blossom photo is amazing!
      xx
      Margaret

      http://www.maleemaleehong.com

    • Jeanette July 12, 2016 at 7:04 am

      Thank you for this post! We are really wanting to visit Boston for the first time sometime soon, and I'm saving this for future reference. We are looking for a place to stay where we won't need a car, but is also affordable. So far, all the hotels we find are out of our price range. We are open to visiting any time of year, whatever offers the best in terms of affordability.

    • Maine Girl July 12, 2016 at 8:12 am

      What a timely post! I'm heading there this weekend for the Paul McCartney concert and haven't planned anything (other than a hotel) yet! Thank you!!!

    • La Bijoux Bella | by mia July 12, 2016 at 8:13 am

      A parfait get around guide for the city. I love the Vietnamese Pho noodles, they are the best. I think that's where I'll be for the whole duration if I visit Boston. Great post! 🙂

      La Bijoux Bella | by mia

    • Cheyanne Jordan July 12, 2016 at 9:00 am

      Love these outfits! Beautiful pictures!
      -Cheyanne
      http://www.lifeofcheyanne.blogspot.com

    • NDTran July 12, 2016 at 9:35 am

      Great list! I recommend most of the places you listed. I would only add a few places.

      I recommend Row 34 in the Seaport for their oysters, burgers and lobster roll. In my opinion, it's the best lobster roll in town. More oyster options include island creek oyster and B&G; oyster. I like the selection of local and west coast oysters.

    • Karri July 12, 2016 at 9:58 am

      Amazing!! thanks so much for introducing me to Boston!! Looks like I'll be going to Boston this September. Love from Australia, Melbourne.

    • Sophia July 12, 2016 at 10:15 am

      As a fellow Bay Stater living in Cambridge across the river, I'd like to recommend Oleana (amazing Mediterranean/Middle Eastern food) and Flour Bakery. There are so many great places to eat!

    • Anonymous July 12, 2016 at 10:16 am

      Jean – What a great compilation! I've lived in Boston my whole life (third generation French/Irish!) and was so happy to see some new spots I haven't tried on your list. If you and Nick haven't tried Giulia in Cambridge (Mass Ave between Harvard and Porter), you should! The chef owner almost makes me cry with his flavor combos (pasta making begins daily at about noon) and they have a 5-course tasting for $65. Two side-notes… Boston Common is singular, as is The Public Garden. Tatte is owned by a friend of mine – not a chain – but she has a few shops from Beacon St. to Beacon Hill! Also Joanne Chang's Flour (and her drool-worthy sticky buns) would be a great addition to the list! Can't shake my Boston love! 😉 Yaay!

    • Sharan Kaur July 12, 2016 at 10:28 am

      Great guide! I'm originally from Connecticut and have friends/family in Boston, I would say that I have only done about half of these things! Can't wait to check out the rest!

      xoxo
      Sharan
      http://www.MyGoldenBeauty.com

    • food_love July 12, 2016 at 10:31 am

      So great meeting you at Shojo last night! This guide is perfect timing for us, as we are in Boston this week for our honeymoon. We've been having a lovely time in your city! Meeting you was the cherry on top! Cheers! 🙂

    • Michelle Kim July 12, 2016 at 10:42 am

      This is the best what-to-do post ever. Thank you!!

    • Keri H July 12, 2016 at 10:57 am

      Boston looks so beautiful!! Looks like such a lovely time 🙂

      Enclothed Cognition

    • Maggie Zemanek July 12, 2016 at 11:18 am

      Sales-tax exempt shopping?? I'm on my way! lol

      http://www.maggiealamode.com

    • Tess Felber_Sequins are the New Black July 12, 2016 at 11:19 am

      As a Boston gal myself, I agree on all your recommendations! I mean how amazing is Sweet Cheeks!? I could eat those biscuits and honey butter on the daily 😉 Love this post!

      xoxo
      Tess | Sequins are the New Black

    • BW02 July 12, 2016 at 11:24 am

      I did not know about the sales tax exemption in MA! Good to know 🙂 Really helpful.

      http://www.dressupchowdown.com

    • Meghan July 12, 2016 at 11:31 am

      Definitely bookmarked your guide for when I go and visit Boston!!

      Meghan | BeyondBasicBlog.com

    • Mariel Lopez July 12, 2016 at 12:12 pm

      I went to college in Boston, for me it was temporary. It's funny how just yesterday a couple of friends, who also went there, talked about visiting and seeing it with fresh eyes. Reading your list brings me nostalgia, reading about newbury, the walking, the boats, the southend, and the baseball games. Thankfully, you don't have one restaurant I recognize. Taste palettes should change in seven years. Now, I can't wait to go visit and taste a new side of Boston.

      http://www.convdesobremesa.com

    • Fashion Fills Your Heart July 12, 2016 at 12:28 pm

      I've always wanted to visit Boston, it look like such a lovely place.

    • Grace H July 12, 2016 at 12:36 pm

      Jean
      Can you read Chinese? I'm from Taiwan and live in California now. Think about taking my son to Chinese School once a week so he can learn it.

    • Grace H July 12, 2016 at 12:39 pm

      Hi Jean
      I'm pretty curious where and how you learn your Chinese? My son is fluent in both English and Mandarin, but not good at reading or writing. I need to do something so he can start learning early.

    • Jean July 12, 2016 at 12:50 pm

      Hi Jeanette – what is your budget per night for a room? Given that info, perhaps others can share lodging recommendations per their experiences. Also have you looked into Air B&B; or other similar sites? I know several friends and family members chose route that when they came for our wedding and were happy with their stays.

    • Jean July 12, 2016 at 12:55 pm

      Yum, I also love the Island Creek / Row 34 family! Am booking an oyster tour of their farm in Duxbury with some friends… can't wait!

    • Jean July 12, 2016 at 12:55 pm

      I would love to visit Australia some day! I hope you have an amazing time here if you do visit. xo

    • Jean July 12, 2016 at 1:08 pm

      Oleana is a good one! And Nick would definitely second Flour and their chicken avocado & jicama sandwich : )

    • Jean July 12, 2016 at 1:11 pm

      Thanks! Updated about Common and your description of Giulia had me at pasta-making. Sounds reasonably priced too for the 5 courses! I had thought Tatte entered "chain"-dom when they joined forces with Panera…it's interesting to see what they will do next!

    • Jean July 12, 2016 at 1:13 pm

      Hi S! Congrats again to you lovebirds and I only wish we had the chance to chat more last night! Hope you two enjoy the rest of your honeymoon! xo

    • Jean July 12, 2016 at 1:19 pm

      I still know it since it's the only way to communicate with my grandparents (who are pretty active on Chinese social media and write daily posts, haha). I think Chinese Sunday schools are plentiful in Cali and definitely a good option, but continuously using it at home is the best way to reinforce it. You could have your kids read fun books in Chinese geared more towards their interest, also there are fun games too for learning foreign language reading and writing that can be played on a phone or iPad.

    • Polly July 12, 2016 at 2:01 pm

      I've never been to Boston but it's definitely a city that I'd like to visit one day! It looks so beautiful and I look forward to trying the food since I love seafood so much!

      Polly
      http://gemsandjoy.com

    • affecionada July 12, 2016 at 2:51 pm

      My boyfriend and I were just in Boston yesterday! We visited the public library, public garden/common, stopped for a drink at a Thinking Cup, and had an early dinner at Taiwan Cafe. Guess we did pretty well! 🙂

      Jen | affecionada

    • Roha Khalid July 12, 2016 at 3:52 pm

      I'm visiting Boston this coming weekend so this article couldn't have been more perfectly timed! Can't wait to try out these places 🙂

    • HoldenTodd July 12, 2016 at 4:42 pm

      I just have one question … how do you stay so slim?

    • Gwen Kennedy July 12, 2016 at 4:45 pm

      Oh cherry blossoms! What a lovely roundup of spots to visit. Thanks for the visual and culinary treats! Your blog is always just what I need to start my day Jean… that and an occasional Thinking Cup Vanilla Ginger latte!

    • Elle Aquino July 12, 2016 at 4:51 pm

      Love love love this post. Can't wait to check these out next time I'm in Boston. Thanks for the recommendations! 😉

    • sallie you July 12, 2016 at 5:02 pm

      LOVE the daily catch! This is a very thorough and helpful guide! I had no idea what I was missing. I am bookmarking it for my future trips!

    • Anonymous July 12, 2016 at 5:41 pm

      Going to Boston next month, this was very helpful! Love your blog btw 🙂 xx

      Sam from http://eclecticelite.com

    • Iris S July 12, 2016 at 10:01 pm

      Thanks for the recommendations Jean! Living in Cambridge, I'm sometimes not as familiar with restaurants on the Boston side of the river, so always great to hear about new places 🙂

      A few recommendations I have for the cambridge area for those who have more time to spend in the Boston area (would also like to add +1 on Flour and Giulia mentioned in above comments):
      1. Bagelsaurus (porter sq) for the sea salt bagel with honey rosemary cream cheese! I could eat that cream cheese straight out of the tub. I promise you it's worth the trip to Porter!
      2. Alden and Harlow (Harvard sq) – small plates style, excellent food, fun with a group
      3. Harvard's museum of natural history for the glass flowers

      Hope you get to try/visit if you haven't yet!

    • IH July 12, 2016 at 10:48 pm

      Amazing blog!!!!!!!!! Can't wait to check out the places you recommended!

    • Anonymous July 13, 2016 at 12:30 am

      I moved away from Boston years ago and your post reminds me of how much I miss it! I'm very happy to see Shabu Zen make your list, as it is one of my comfort foods as well. I would recommend getting cannolis from the North End, at both Mike's and Modern…let the rivalry continue! 😉

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