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
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.
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 a range of stores from my affordable favorites like H&M, Uniqlo, and Zara to splurge spots like Burberry, Chanel, and much more. There’s also a number of stores that you may not find in other cities, like Allbirds, Rothy’s and Reformation! I also like the Copley Place & Prudential Center malls, which are right nearby. These indoor malls have department stores like Neiman Marcus and Saks, a variety of designer boutiques, and shops like Sephora, Banana Republic, Club Monaco, Stuart Weitzman, etc.
We have a delicious variety of pick-your-own farms in MA, however most are a 30 minute + drive outside of Boston. If you happen to have a rental car, be sure to check out what’s in-season for picking! Berries (strawberries, blueberries, cherries) start late spring through the summer, peaches ensue in late summer, and then apples, pears, and pumpkins are in full swing come fall. Here are a few of my posts at local farms: Tougas Farms (also here), Honey Pot Hill, Parlee Farms, Verrill Farm.
For lovers of fresh blooms, Tip Top Tulips North of Boston and Wicked Tulips in RI can be picked April – May, Parlee Farms up north has gorgeous zinnias & dahlias in August – September, and Colby Farms has a field of sunflowers that peak briefly in September. Note though that Colby Farm’s flowers are for viewing, not for picking! Each of these farms are about an hour outside of the city, in different directions.
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 a small stand 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! There are also several awesome kids playgrounds for a variety of ages right along the Esplanade path.
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 East Boston, near the airport, and is open Thurs – Sun. If beer is your main objective, though, Nick’s favorite in the city is Trillium Brewing (multiple locations, all w/ outdoor seating).
– 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!
Afternoon tea set w/ matcha green tea lattes at Boston Public Library
-For the little ones: Boston has fun options for the entire family! For free family activities I recommend the children and toddler’s room at the Boston Public Library which includes a large play area. There are several great playgrounds along the Charles River Esplanade, with different ones for toddlers ranging from more adventurous older kids. Other family-friendly activities we always recommend are the New England Aquarium, Boston Children’s Museum and the Museum of Science.
– 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 at one of the many nearby food options on Peterborough Street (Rod Thai Family Taste, El Pelon Mexican, Basho) afterwards.
– 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.
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 only spot located centrally near Copley Square, so on a nice day you can enjoy your food on the benches there (they also have a slightly bigger location with more food options in the South End). 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!
Acai bowl from Jugos
– Tatte – A cute, Instagram-able local bakery/café with multiple locations all around town, easily some of the most Instagram’d spots in the city.
– Dim Sum – we go to Hei La Moon for bigger groups, Winsor Cafe for takeout, or if it’s just the two of us or if it’s a weekday, we usually do Great Taste. Great Taste also has this traditional dish we love which is braised beef brisket & tendon over seared rice noodle rolls (pictured in the iron pot below) – it’s not on the menu so I try to show this photo! And if you’re in Chinatown, you’ll definitely want to stop at one of the many bakeries to pick up some buns to snack on later. 101 Bakery is our favorite for egg tarts and Portuguese tarts.
Dim Sum faves: shrimp & chive dumplings for me, sweet custard buns for Nick
– Cafes & Dessert – I’m more a tea person but Nick also loves his coffee! His favorite local coffee shops are George Howell in downtown crossing and the Thinking Cup on Newbury Street (right by all the shopping). For sweet treats, we like Coco Leaf for Viet-inspired desserts, and Fomu (multiple locations) has some of the best non-dairy ice cream around – I even like it better than most regular dairy ice cream!
Lunch & Dinner: Loosely ranked in order of a super casual to a nicer ambiance
– Pho noodle soup – If you happen to be in the Allston area, we like Pho Viets. For Vietnamese delivery / Uber Eats we always pick Banh Mi Ba Le for Banh Mi sandwiches and rice plats, or Pho Hoa (all of these are a little outside of the city and require a car) for noodle soups and more traditional Vietnamese dishes.
Pho Viets beef stew over egg noodles, grilled pork & cold cut banh mi sandwiches
– Chicken & Rice Guys – a grab & go lunch spot. Modeled after NYC’s popular “Halal guys” (which is now also in the Boston area) but C&R Guys actually tastes like real meat and is way better than the Halal Guys Boston location, imo. 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 – 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”).
– Futago Udon – One of our family FAVES (Nori included) that we always get for visitors too. Get takeout directly from them or order delivery on Chowbus. If you dine in, it’s a smaller but baby-friendly restaurant with a changing table. The fried chicken curry udon isn’t something I thought I’d like, but it is surprisingly delicious (ask for the chicken on the side to keep it crispy). In the summer Nick always gets the Mad Tiger (room temperature dish) but I prefer the hot version, their Dan Dan Noodles.
Lobby rolls, steamers, and fried shrimp from Tony’s Clam Shop
– For good ol’ New England seafood in a casual setting, 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. If you’re in Quincy (neighboring town to Boston), Tony’s Clam Shop has lobster rolls, fried seafood & steamers right by a small strip of water and a size-able kids playground. 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! For a different take on the classic lobster roll, Eventide is in the Fenway Park area and serves their lobster atop a pillowy “bao” bun with brown butter. Also, Luke’s Lobster is a chain but I’ve always enjoyed the seafood rolls there!
– 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 raw and you cook them quickly yourself 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 (their #A5 beef, boneless shortrib, or the tontoro pork combo) that come with veggies, rice or udon noodles; plus a sake or a watermelon smoothie.
Hot pot feast
– Salty Pig – Restaurant with large patio right by my aforementioned shopping malls focusing on charcuterie, pizzas, and a nice craft beer selection … 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 – Boston isn’t known for its cajun-style seafood boils, (Houstonians, no need to get it here) but if you haven’t tried it before, this place hits the spot with shellfish 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 here 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. Shaking Crab is a Boston chain that is also very good, with one location by the Public Garden!
Spread at Holly Crab (don’t be deceived by my photo staging…the boil comes in a big plastic bag!)
– Oyster happy hour spots (note: these happy hours are OFTEN 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! Black Lamb in the South End has $1 oysters daily from 11 am – 5pm and a pretty decent burger.
– 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).
Daily Catch Lobster Fra Diavolo for 2; various squid ink pasta dishes
–Douzo by the Back Bay train station is our favorite for “elevated takeout” sushi aka date night at home. The chef’s sushi special (a 12 piece nigiri dinner for ~$40) is as good as any of the expensive highly rated omakase dinners we’ve had during our travels. We also love the chef’s nigiri dinner or special rolls from Basho (same ownership as Douzo) – just as good with slightly lower prices! Update 2022: our current favorite sushi spot is Sakana in Cambridge! All of their nigiri and specialty maki (except the one with beef – wasn’t a fan) have been fresh and delish.
–Momi Nonmi – Come here for the shokado bento boxes (only available at lunch) – they’re are as delicious as they are Instagram’able. It’s pricey here but Chef Chris is super passionate about the food. If you are a vegetarian or have other dietary restrictions, they ask that you make a reservation and let them know a couple of days in advance as many of the components of the dishes are made from scratch in-house.
– Neptune Oyster in the North End (little Italy) is an iconic Boston spot for a big, hot, buttered lobster roll (market price on average is $35). Their food is usually yummy, but it’s a small restaurant and a wait could easily set you back a few hours unless you go at non-peak times. Now that I’ve had both Neptune Oyster and Saltie Girl on Newbury St several times, I have to say I prefer Saltie Girl which also takes reservations.
Lobster roll, oysters, littlenecks and fried clams from Neptune Oyster
– Barcelona Wine Bar – love this tapas spot! 2 locations in Boston. Great, bustling place to go with friends or to just sit at the bar. 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. 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 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 more if they took reservations.
– 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.