On Location: Coolidge Corner

Maximizing a day spent in Brookline’s commercial center.

By Brigid Sweeney | Boston Magazine |

LIKE ANY SELF-RESPECTING URBAN ENCLAVE, Brookline’s Coolidge Corner is a tangle of contradictions. For starters, it isn’t technically urban, yet it’s not suburban, either. What began as a 19th-century summer haven for Boston’s elite is now home to BU student apartments and shrubs strewn with Keystone Light cans, but also to roomy old Victorians, $2 million condos, and maybe, just maybe, America’s most genetically perfect infant (Tom and Gisele are rumored to be closing on a $10 million estate here). The area is a hub of Jewish culture, but it’s also the birthplace of this country’s most famous Catholic, JFK. Here’s how to break down a day of exploring.

MORNING: Any visit should begin at Zaftigs (335 Harvard St., 617-975-0075), the neighborhood brunch institution. There’s always a line, but the huge cheddar-apple omelets and banana-stuffed French toast are worth the wait. Arrive early (9 a.m. on weekends) to put your name in, then kill a pleasant 45 minutes at the Brookline Booksmith (279 Harvard St., 617-566-6660). Perhaps the Platonic ideal of an independent bookstore, the 48-year-old standby is laid-back, dog-friendly, and filled with Dan Brown as well as Pablo Neruda.

The logical next step after consuming a Frisbee-sized omelet? Trying on clothes, of course. While Coolidge Corner’s boutique scene won’t introduce die-hard shoppers to surprising new labels, the shops are eminently browsable. Recent addition Pure Blu Jeans (1309 Beacon St., 617-566-0800) offers a reliable premium denim selection (True Religion, J Brand, et al.), while clothing boutique Mint Julep (1302 Beacon St., 617-232-3600) displays a pleasing lineup of frilly nonessentials. In another example of the neighborhood’s quirkiness, the San Francisco–based sex shop Good Vibrations (308A Harvard St., 617-264-4400) opened its only outlet outside California here in 2005. The store’s “sex-positive” inventory and message of empowerment fits the locals’ educated, liberal-leaning tendencies. In a weird way, it also matches the mindset of nearby Magic Beans (312 Harvard St., 617-264-2326), the wildly successful yuppie baby mecca founded by Coolidge Corner residents Eli and Sheri Gurock in 2004.

AFTERNOON: As the weather improves, the neighborhood’s leafy side streets and parks demand picnicking. Grab takeout from Trader Joe’s (1317 Beacon St., 617-278-9997), which has an entire wall of ready-to-eat meals for under $5, and make a pit stop at Coolidge Corner Wine and Spirits (1300 Beacon St., 617-566-2800) for unpretentious wine advice and an impressive selection of craft beers. Then walk half a mile to the picturesque quietude of Amory Woods and Hall’s Pond Sanctuary (at Amory and Freeman streets), where kiddie soccer players mingle with college sun-worshippers, pedigreed dogs, and couples enjoying the clay tennis courts.

After all that frolicking, you’ll need some climate-controlled entertainment. Featuring a thoughtfully curated combination of new releases and cult-favorite flicks, the Coolidge Corner Theatre (290 Harvard St.,617-734-2500) epitomizes the neighborhood ethos: proudly erudite, culturally savvy, and a tiiiiiny bit smug.

EVENING: Aside from approximately 736 sushi establishments — a standout is Gari (187 Harvard St., 617-277-2999) — dinner options, until recently, have been fairly limited here. But the Regal Beagle (308 Harvard St., 617-739-5151) is changing all that. With its red velvet walls, gleaming wood floors, and friendly service, the five-month-old spot is already fielding eager regulars who pop in for elderflower cocktails and pan-seared scallops. Dessert enthusiasts will be pleased to find, among other confectioners, the new Berry Freeze (273 Harvard St., 617-738-3300), a trendy frozen-yogurt place with a slew of self-serve toppings, and Party Favors (1356 Beacon St., 617-566-3330), which started baking cupcakes long before it was fashionable.