You've Done This: Now Try This

Sunday, May 11, 2008

They call it America's Walking City. And indeed, it's easy to pass your days in Boston meandering from one famous site (the Paul Revere House) to another (the Union Oyster House). But follow the locals and you'll discover what makes Bostonians so loyal to their home town: a mix of green parks, elegant shopping, undersung museums and cozy pubs (and we don't mean Cheers). Here are a dozen tourist traps paired with their lesser-known equivalents that locals treasure. -- Jane Black

Pubs

TOURIST: Cheers

Once known as the Bull & Finch Pub, this Beacon Hill bar changed its name to Cheers after the TV show made it the most famous bar in America. The catch: No one will know your name here; the only regulars are tourists.

INSIDER: Matt Murphy's Pub

Irish pub Matt Murphy's, in contrast, has built a real community in Brookline Village, the first town outside the city limits. The draw: a proper pint of Guinness, greaseless fish and chips and, most important, no cheesy leprechaun paraphernalia. For music lovers, there's a nightly lineup of local and up-and-coming national bands. The bar even has its own record label, Pub Records, so you can take a piece of your trip home with you.

· 14 Harvard St., Brookline, 617-232-0188, http://www.mattmurphyspub.com.

Museums

TOURIST: Museum of Fine Arts

The MFA has long been considered one of the country's top art destinations, with a notable collection of Monets. But in recent years, curators have staged more populist exhibits. (Ralph Lauren's designer cars, anyone?) They've also upped prices. It's $17 for general admission and $23 for special exhibitions.

INSIDER: Fogg Museum

Brainy Bostonians head to the Fogg, Harvard University's oldest art museum. Opened in 1895, it's about to be renovated, so visit by June 30. The Italian Renaissance courtyard, based on a 16th-century Tuscan facade, is surrounded by galleries that trace the arc of Western art from the Middle Ages to the present, including its own terrific collection of impressionist paintings, plus a mighty number of Picassos. Special exhibitions are thoughtful, not crowd-pleasers, and often highlight contemporary art that far outshines that at the newer, buzzier Institute of Contemporary Art downtown. Note: If you can't visit before the gallery closes, a selection of works from the Fogg and its sister museums, the Busch-Reisinger and the Arthur M. Sackler, will be on view across the street at the Sackler during the closing.

· 32 Quincy St., Cambridge, 617-495-9400 , http://www.artmuseums.harvard.edu. Open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday 1 to 5 p.m. Admission: $9.

Nature

TOURIST: Swan Boats in the Public Garden

Boston's famous Swan Boats have been operating since 1877, and in all that time the ride hasn't changed. The slow 15-minute paddleboat cruise is a Disneyesque tour of the city's central park.

INSIDER: Sailing on Jamaica Plain Pond

Far more entertaining is summer sailing or rowing on Jamaica Pond, a 68-acre lake in part of Boston's Emerald Necklace of parks. From the water you'll see the 1 1/2 -mile bike and running path packed with joggers and families and a panorama of trees. (The pond is a stone's throw from the 265-acre Jamaica Plain Arboretum.) It's the best way to be at one with nature without tangling with Boston's notorious traffic.

· Rowboats are available at the Boat House, Jamaicaway and Pond Street, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. ($10 per hour). Sailboats are available for rental 3:30 to 6 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekends ($15 per hour). Info: 617-522-5061, http://www.jamaicapond.com.

Theater

TOURIST: Wang Center

In the heart of the city's slightly gritty Chinatown, the Wang Center offers short runs of hit shows, many straight from Broadway. The theater just wrapped a week's run of "Hairspray."

INSIDER: Theater at the Boston Center for the Arts

A mile away in the hip South End, it's as if all of off-Broadway were housed under one roof. Each year, the center hosts more than 50 theater productions by nearly 20 small and mid-size theater companies from across New England. The shows range from the offbeat to regional takes on acclaimed plays. (Through June 7, grab tickets to Alan Bennett's "The History Boys"; tickets are $41 to $54.) The BCA also houses the Mills Gallery, which hosts contemporary art exhibitions. When you've had enough, take a break from all that culture next door at the Beehive, a bar and jazz club that's open till the wee hours.

· 539 Tremont St., 617-933-8600,

http://www.bcaonline.org.

Seafood

TOURIST: Union Oyster House

Established in 1826, the Union Oyster House boasts that it is the country's oldest restaurant. To that end, it serves up authentic New England staples: oysters on the half shell, gluey clam chowder and boiled lobster dinners.

INSIDER: B&G Oysters

Sleek and airy with cutting-edge cuisine, B&G is the antithesis of the old Oyster House. Star chef Barbara Lynch does offer terrific versions of the classics -- fried Ipswich clams and lobster bisque -- but what the locals line up for is more-innovative fare such as the tempura grey sole with cucumber, red chilies and Thai basil, or a seat at the bar where they can watch chefs expertly shuck oysters drawn from the restaurant's master list of nearly 200 varieties. Entrees $25 to $29.

· 550 Tremont St., 617-423-0550.

Galleries

TOURIST: Newbury Street

This eight blocks used to be the place for collectors. But in recent years rents have skyrocketed as high-end fashion stores including Jimmy Choo, Burberry and Chanel have moved in, encouraging smaller galleries to relocate.

INSIDER: SoWa (South of Washington Street)

Once a warehouse district, this edge of the trendy South End has become a haven for artists. There are nearly two dozen galleries, most lining Harrison Avenue. First stops should include the Bernard Toale Gallery, a minimalist, contemporary showplace that was one of the first to abandon Newbury Street for SoWa. In the same building but far more experimental is the Samson Projects. Owners Camilo Alvarez and Alexandra Cherubini show both commercial (read: salable) art and more controversial pieces from emerging artists. This year's annual SoWa Art Walk, where galleries open their doors and restaurants display local artists and offer discounts, takes place May 17-18. If you miss it, visit the first Friday of each month when SoWa Artist Guild members open their studios at 450 Harrison Ave.

· Bernard Toale Gallery (450 Harrison Ave., 617-482-2477, http://www.bernardtoalegallery.com); Samson Projects (450 Harrison Ave., 617-357-7177, http://www.samsonprojects.com). For information on the SoWa Art Walk: http://www.sowaartwalk.com. First Friday info: http://www.sowaartistsguild.com.

Historic Homes

TOURIST: Beacon Hill

With its Federal-style homes and gaslit streets, Beacon Hill remains Boston's toniest neighborhood. Former General Electric chief executive Jack Welch and Sen. John Kerry are two of the area's famous residents. But few without their extraordinary means can stay for long.

INSIDER: Bay Village

Sandwiched between the Massachusetts Turnpike and Chinatown, Bay Village is harder to get to than Beacon Hill. But this tiny neighborhood is equally picturesque. The houses, most dating from the 1820s, look like miniature versions of their Beacon Hill cousins: They were built for the craftsmen who built the grand homes on the other side of the Common.

From busy Stuart Street, turn right onto quiet Church Street. (The maze of one-way streets keeps traffic to a minimum.) Walk past the crooked-roofed brick homes with their painted shutters and cheerful window boxes, then at the corner of Fayette Street, grab coffee at Rachel's Kitchen (12 Church St.), a tiny corner cafe. Double back and make a right on Melrose Street to view the grander, five-story homes.

Afternoon Stroll

TOURIST: Freedom Trail

The 2 1/2 -mile path from the gold-domed State House to the home of Paul Revere takes you past 16 historic sites. Official guides in period dress also lead 90-minute tours.

INSIDER: Esplanade River Walk

Lush and green, the 18-mile Dudley White path snakes along the Charles River. Enter at the north end of Arlington Street, near Beacon Hill, by crossing over the Arthur Fiedler Footbridge to the Hatch Shell, where you might catch a free outdoor concert on weekends. Then wind your way up past the domes of MIT and the soaring spires of Harvard. Along the way, you'll see scores of sailboats out in the river and occasional gondoliers, who sing Italian arias as they ferry tourists past the city's soaring vistas. There's ample green space to rest or throw out a blanket and picnic along the way.

Haute Couture

TOURIST: LouisBoston

Housed in a grand 19th-century building on Newbury Street, Louis (pronounced Louie's) defines "establishment." The store offers high-end fashion (Marni, Proenza Schouler and Jack Vartanian), legendarily snooty staff and a see-and-be-seen steakhouse, Boston Public.

INSIDER: Achilles Project

The newest addition to the up-and-coming neighborhood Fort Point, the Achilles Project seems modeled on Louis, with impossibly expensive clothes and a stylish restaurant under one roof. But unlike its competition, the Achilles Project embodies cool. The limited-run collections from such European designers as Filippa K and from Maine up-and-comers Rogues Gallery hang in glass boxes that, in the evening, are rolled back against the walls to make space for an expanded cocktail bar where regulars can chat with their friends or play Guitar Hero on one of the hanging flat-screen TVs.

· 283 Summer St., 617-423-2257, http://www.achilles-project.com.

Ethnic Food

TOURIST: North End

Dozens of charming restaurants line the winding streets of Boston's most famous Italian neighborhood. On the menu: bland bowls of spaghetti marinara and soggy cannoli.

INSIDER: East Boston

Eastie is far less picturesque than the North End, and that's why the cheap, authentic ethnic food is here. In the '60s and '70s, Italians ruled, but now a wave of Mexicans, Salvadorans and Peruvians is staking a claim. A holdover from the Italians' heyday: Santarpio's Pizza (113 Chelsea St., 617-567-9871, http://www.santarpiospizza.com). Anchovies are about as out there as it gets on this menu. The pies are basic -- pepperoni, peppers and sausage and extra cheese -- and every one is greasily delicious. Be ready to order when the waitress comes; the staff doesn't gladly suffer tourists' hemming and hawing. If pizza isn't your thing, there's also skewered lamb and sausage. Pizzas, $8.50 to $18; grilled meats, $4 to $5 per skewer.

Not far away, Angela's Cafe (131 Lexington St., 617-567-4972), a cheery red-walled spot, transports guests to cook Angela Atenco Lopez's home state of Puebla, Mexico. Ask Angela's son and manager, Luis, for advice, or order the gorditas (fat little corn tortillas topped with shredded meat and crumbled cheese), any of the moles and a cool glass of horchata. Entrees $10.95 to $12.95.

Photo Ops

TOURIST: Citgo sign

In full view of Fenway Park and the finish line of the Boston Marathon, the illuminated Citgo sign is a landmark of Boston's skyline.

INSIDER: Zakim Bridge

An estimated 200,000 people showed up in the rain to walk across the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge when it was christened in 2002. The soaring bridge, which was featured in the recent films "War of the Worlds" and "The Departed," is the crown jewel of the Big Dig, a more-than-decade-long effort to tame Boston's traffic. In a new, greener world, the cable-stayed bridge is rapidly replacing the oil company's flashing logo as the symbol of Boston. You'll drive on the bridge if you're heading to the beach towns of the North Shore or south to Interstate 95, but the Zakim is best appreciated outside your vehicle. Head to quaint Charlestown Square for the perfect photo op. At night, the bridge is illuminated and glows a pale shade of blue.

Sports

TOURIST : Fenway Park

The "curse" has been reversed, but Bostonians have shown that it's not just underdogs they love rooting for. The Red Sox are as beloved as ever, and their famous ballpark is considered sacred ground.

INSIDER: Gillette Stadium

There's really no replacing Fenway. None. Zip. Zero. But Boston sports fanatics (including scores of young women) have recently taken a shine to their soccer team, the New England Revolution. Yes, Gillette Stadium, 30 miles outside the city in Foxboro, lacks the charm of Fenway. But like the Sox, the Revs appeal to Boston's love of the underdog. Until 2007, the Revs had the distinction of being the only Major League Soccer team formed before 2005 not to win a major trophy. They downed FC Dallas in 2007 to win the U.S. Open Cup. Now, fans hope the team is on a roll. The Revs season runs from April to October and, unlike with the Red Sox, mere mortals can still get tickets. The team plays D.C. United on May 29.

· One Patriot Pl., Foxboro, http://www.revolutionsoccer.net. Tickets $19 to $37.

Jane Black, a former resident of Boston, is a reporter for The Post's Food section.

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