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Detours with locals. Travel tips you can trust.
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An early morning in the Beacon Hill neighborhood.
An early morning in the Beacon Hill neighborhood.
CITY GUIDE

A local’s guide to Boston

An early morning in the Beacon Hill neighborhood.
An early morning in the Beacon Hill neighborhood.
  • By Peggy Hernandez
  • Photos by Iaritza Menjivar
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The biggest draw to Boston is a history that makes one marvel at the colonists’ audacity to overthrow British authority. But the city is no museum. It pulsates with an energy magnified by about 150,000 students attending more than 30 local colleges, legions of sports fans visiting TD Garden and the temple of Fenway Park, and athletes testing their limits in the Boston Marathon or Charles Regatta. The city thrums around July Fourth in anticipation of fireworks so spectacular that even locals are still in awe.

Boston is in the midst of a building boom, with billions of dollars invested. Much of the growth is thanks to high-tech and biotech industries. But the result is soaring housing prices, luxury condos and gentrified working-class neighborhoods. Meanwhile, the famous Boston accent — notably the disappearing “R” — grows more faint. Still, some things are the same: Driving remains an atrocious task, and pahking is expensive.

Meet Peggy Hernandez

Peggy is a California transplant who intended to stay only two years. Then: good job + marriage + multiple moves (including to London and Tokyo). The family returned to Boston in 2005. She really does like the weather.

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IN THE ACTION
Fort Point/Seaport District
Not long ago, this neighborhood was open space with some old warehouses and restaurants, and the Boston Children’s Museum. Now it’s luxury condos, a convention center and a contemporary museum. Restaurants from local chefs (such as Ming Tsai and Barbara Lynch) coexist with huge dining spots and bars. Big-box hotels abound. Find the neighborhood.
LOW-KEY
Beacon Hill
Nothing says stately and old money in Boston as much as Beacon Hill. Historic brick homes sit alongside brick sidewalks, narrow cobblestone streets and antique gas lamps. No wonder the area is popular on Instagram. Lodging options include Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro on Charles Street (a shopping and dining spot), B&Bs and Airbnb. Find the neighborhood.
Neighborhoods

Explore more of Boston

Eat

BREAKFAST
Flour Bakery + Cafe
Joanne Chang, a James Beard Award-winning baker, gained fame when her gooey caramel sticky buns bested Bobby Flay in Season 2 of “Throwdown with Bobby Flay.” Her bakery features a wide range of pastries, breads, cookies and sandwiches. Chang graduated from Harvard College with a mathematics degree but turned to her “eat-dessert-first” inner self and now oversees eight cheery locations in Boston and neighboring Cambridge.
BTW: Sticky buns are always available. They are huge and can be shared.
Flour Bakery + Cafe, 131 Clarendon St., Boston, Mass. 02116
BREAKFAST
The Friendly Toast
A wealth of classic breakfast staples — pancakes, Benedicts, eggs, avocado toast — are served in generous portions here all day. The menu has something for all ages and all appetites (including some gluten-free and vegan options). On top of all that, the cheery restaurant is filled with retro tchotchkes and seating.
BTW: Use the website to get on a wait-list and manage the lines.
The Friendly Toast, 35 Stanhope St., Boston, Mass. 02116
LUNCH
Brassica Kitchen + Cafe
Creative energy flows at this casual restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Chefs Philip Kruta and Jeremy Kean opened Brassica after five years of running area pop-ups. Their dishes are umami-imbued American twists on global fare. “Sustainability,” “local sourcing” and “fermentation” are key here. The menu frequently changes, but the Wagyu burger and fried chicken are constants. And don’t forget their doughnuts for dessert or brunch. Visitors will find respite in this rustic gem located on a major thoroughfare across from the Forest Hills T station.
BTW: Be adventurous and order The Ride, an eclectic multi-course feast at $70 per person.
3710 Washington St., Jamaica Plain, Mass., 02130
LUNCH
Clover Food Lab
Clover is a healthy fast-food spot with an environmentally conscious ethos and more than 10 minimalist locations, including in Cambridge and one that’s steps away from Old City Hall. It features a seasonal, locally sourced, vegetable-based menu so good that you’ll forget it’s meatless. Clover loves to tweak and improve; its signature chickpea fritter has gone through at least 37 iterations since 2008. Sandwich favorites include the Impossible meatball and blue oyster mushroom.
BTW: Order with and pay the employee holding a tablet device near the menu.
Clover Food Lab, 1326 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, Mass. 02138
DINNER
Sportello
Barbara Lynch is Boston’s larger-than-life chef who grew up in public housing in South Boston and now has six restaurants in the city. Her restaurant in the Seaport District looks like a modern cafeteria with communal U-shaped counters, stool seating and bright lights. Yet this trattoria features old-fashioned Italian classics: bolognese with tagliatelle and a braised rabbit with strozzapreti that, with a glass of red wine, make for very good dining.
BTW: Pop downstairs into Drink, another Lynch outlet, for craft cocktails after dinner.
Sportello, 348 Congress St., Boston, Mass. 02210
DINNER
Harvest
When it opened in 1975, Harvest’s modern American cuisine was so refreshing that Julia Child became a regular. The farm-to-table movement was budding, and this gem tucked off an alley was trending. Located in Harvard Square, it remains a favorite of academic types and those who favor a bit of contemporary formality and white tablecloths. Many mains — beef, seafood, chicken — feature New England staples: mussels, fiddleheads and Taza chocolate.
BTW: No reservation? Consider the bar. The burger is delicious and the martinis spot on.
Harvest, 44 Brattle St., Cambridge, Mass. 02138
LATE-NIGHT
South Street Diner
The concert just ended, the bars are closed and you are hungry. This faded diner in the Leather District, near South Station terminal, has been around for more than 70 years, and it serves breakfast, burgers and frappes (New England milkshakes with ice milk) 24/7; the bar closes at 1 a.m. Being popular with clubbers sometimes means long lines at 2 a.m.
BTW: Reservations for three people or more can be made from 1 to 5 a.m.
South Street Diner, 178 Kneeland St., Boston, Mass. 02111
LATE-NIGHT
State Park
Within the plaza, this basement hangout is full of techies from nearby MIT, the Google and Facebook offices, and anyone else craving an extensive beer list and Nashville hot fried chicken along with their billiards and pinball. Food is served until midnight, and the decor is Grandpa’s-camp-lodge kitsch. This is a place to share inventive beer-and-shot combos or pitchers of cocktails with roasted cauliflower or a bowl of mussels.
BTW: Bar stools are limited, and tables are reserved for diners.
State Park, 1 Kendall Sq., 300 Lower Level., Cambridge, Mass. 02139
(Boston illustrator Chris Piascik for The Washington Post)
LOCALS THINK YOU SHOULD KNOW
  1. It’s “Mass Ave.” and “Comm Ave.” Everyone will know you’re a tourist if you say “Massachusetts Avenue” or “Commonwealth Avenue.”
  2. Decipher the old John Hancock Building weather beacon with this local ditty: Steady blue, clear view/ Flashing blue, clouds due/ Steady red, rain ahead/ Flashing red, snow instead (or, in summer, the Red Sox game is postponed).
  3. No one will honk at an experienced Boston driver who knows exactly when to go the wrong way down the street to cut around a long line.
(Boston illustrator Chris Piascik for The Washington Post)

Do

Washington Tower
Perhaps the best view of Boston is atop the tower in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge. Completed in 1854 and named in honor of George Washington, the granite tower mimics feudal and Gothic styles and rises 62 feet. The 175-acre cemetery is a National Historic Landmark District and features an arboretum and extensive plant life. Open April to October, weather permitting.
BTW: Head to nearby Sofra Bakery & Cafe, on Belmont St., for pastries and Middle Eastern fare from owner Ana Sortun, a James Beard Award-winner.
Washington Tower, 580 Mount Auburn St., Cambridge, Mass. 02138
Paradise Rock Club
“The Dise” is a welcome relief in an age of sterile music venues. It’s slightly gritty and has multiple bars and a stage so low it’s as if the band is playing in your basement. Located near Boston University, this 900-plus standing venue attracts mostly young adults catching artists before they hit the big time. Past acts include U2, Rage Against the Machine, Grimes, Big Boi, the Black Keys and Lizzo. Most shows are 18 and over, unless otherwise noted.
BTW: Go early to secure a spot near the front of the stage or on the balcony.
Paradise Rock Club, 967 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, Mass. 02215
Temporarily closed
Go for a run
Boston is a running city, home of the great Boston Marathon, which began in 1897. Heartbreak Hill Running Co. manages free run groups for regulars and one-time visitors. On offer: speed, hill and long runs. (Distances can be shortened or extended to need.) The company also provides a free speed workout overseen by a coach. Other than South End, more locations are in Cambridge and Newton.
BTW: Check out the Boston Athletic Association’s iconic blue-and-yellow marathon finish line. It remains in place year-round, painted on Boylston Street between Exeter and Dartmouth streets.
652 Tremont St., Boston, Mass. 02118
SoWa Open Market
Every Sunday from May through October, the South End welcomes its most thriving and eclectic open market south of Washington Street. It’s a mix of farm stands, food trucks, art vendors and live music. Adjacent warehouses feature antique stores, vintage clothing boutiques and home-furnishings showrooms. Craft beer on tap is available, and a wine pop-up is on the site as well.
BTW: Crowds can be intense for some dogs. Take a breather and wander around the South End, where dogs are most welcome.
SoWa Open Market, 460-530 Harrison Ave., Boston, Mass. 02118
American Repertory Theater
The A.R.T. is a modern and intimate venue affiliated with Harvard University that produces theatrical master works. Its director, Diane Paulus, has energy, and the productions engage and illuminate — enough so that many have made it to Broadway, including “All the Way,” “Porgy and Bess” and “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.” Non-Broadway productions also intrigue, and could include Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams or something more avant-garde.
BTW: Street parking is a challenge. Dine at Harvest (mellow) or the Sinclair (bustling), each a few minutes walk away.
American Repertory Theater, 64 Brattle St., Cambridge, Mass. 02138
Temporarily closed
Boston dioramas
Four dioramas about 150 years old, depicting Boston between 2500 B.C. and 1863, adorn the old New England Mutual Life Insurance Company lobby. Commissioned by the Boston Society of Natural History in 1863 and created by Sarah Anne Rockwell, they feature Native Americans building a fish weir; the homestead of the first Englishman living in Boston; the filling of the Back Bay; and construction of the society’s natural history headquarters.
BTW: The society’s grand building remains next door and is now RH Boston (Restoration Hardware).
501 Boylston St., Boston, Mass. 02117
Peggy Hernandez
Peggy is a California transplant who intended to stay only two years. Then: good job + marriage + multiple moves (including to London and Tokyo). The family returned to Boston in 2005. She really does like the weather.
Iaritza Menjivar
Iaritza is a contributing photographer to The Washington Post who is based in Boston.

CITY GUIDES