Summer Escapes: Stick Around

By Janelle Nanos | Boston Magazine |

The Reluctant Excursionist’s Survival Guide

Making the Best of Boston’s Tourist Traps

New England Aquarium
Why You’ve Avoided It: Because even by the standards of a compact city filled with elbow-to-elbow tourist attractions, this place gets packed. If You Must: Go early. The aquarium teems with visitors from late morning to mid-afternoon. “If you’re in here from 9 to 10:30 a.m., you’re golden,” says spokesman Tony LaCasse. Alternative Itinerary: The Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary is only 25 miles off the coast, and Boston Harbor Cruises guarantees a whale sighting or they’ll spring for another ticket ($39.95).

Top of the Hub
Why You’ve Avoided It: Because it’s in the Pru. Enough said. If You Must: The skyscraper itself may resemble a computer chip, but the view from its 52nd-floor restaurant is impossible to beat. Catch a stunning sunset on the cheap by ordering a cocktail from the bar and then nursing it in the west-facing Fenway Room. Alternative Itinerary: The rooftop at the Colonnade Hotel offers great city vistas with the bonus of a pool. A day pass is $40.

Old State House
Why You’ve Avoided It: Because it’s the Old State House, and there are so many other old things around here. If You Must: The museum’s got a new tour about the Boston Massacre, that deadly brawl that helped spark the American Revolution. Avoid an altercation of your own by visiting between 9 and 10 a.m. or 4 and 6 p.m., when the crowds are sparse. Alternative Itinerary: The new State House. Okay, it’s not that new (built in 1798), but it does have that kind-of-weird, kind-of-cool Sacred Cod sculpture hanging in the House of Representatives.

Fenway Tour
Why You’ve Avoided It: It actually makes you physically ill to think of enduring 50 minutes with a gaggle of pink hats who took the tour only so they could see for themselves the precise spot where Jimmy proposed to Shauna on Sox Appeal. If you Must: Take the tour on the morning of a game day, which will give you the best chance of seeing batting practice, and maybe even getting on the field. Alternative Itinerary: Look, it’s Fenway. There is no alternative.

Duck Tour
Why You’ve Avoided It: Because all that wacka-wacka-wackiness is just a little contrived, no? If You Must: Take the last tour of the day, at 7 p.m., so you’re on the river for sunset. Also, the extra $3.50 to buy a ticket online and guarantee yourself a spot is a worthy splurge. Alternative Itinerary: The 90-minute Boston Harbor Sunset Cruise hits all the highlights with minimal wackiness.

Cheers Bar
Why You’ve Avoided It: In some ways, it’s because the Bull & Finch Pub officially changed its name to Cheers in 2001, thereby cementing its status as a tourist trap. But mostly it’s because you harbor a lingering hatred of Diane. If You Must: Go early in the week when the tourists have thinned out — but don’t expect anyone to know your name. Alternative Itinerary: It may take a few visits, but the bartenders at Jamaica Plain favorite Brendan Behan Pub will eventually know you by name — and they’ll pour you a proper Guinness.

Freedom Trail
Why You’ve Avoided It: Actually, you probably haven’t been able to. It’s everywhere. If You Must: Take one of the “reverse tours” from Faneuil Hall — or check out our Freedom Trail pub crawl. Alternative Itinerary: The Black Heritage Trail offers tours of the West End and Beacon Hill neighborhoods, where most of the city’s African-American residents lived in the 19th century. This fall, the African Meeting House will reopen after a $4 million renovation.

Swan Boats
Why You’ve Avoided Them: The Swan Boats have been looping through the Public Garden’s lagoon since 1877. Riding one can feel like you’ve been stuck there just as long.  If You Must: Catch the first boat at 10 a.m., when the city is still quiet. “People are walking their dogs in the Garden; it’s more local than tourist,” says Lyn Paget, who runs the boats. (By the way, at $2.75 a pop, it’s one of the city’s cheapest touristy fixes for the in-laws.)  Alternative Itinerary: Rent a rowboat at Jamaica Pond for 10 bucks an hour.

Boston Pops Fourth of July concert
Why You’ve Avoided It: Arthur Fiedler added howitzers and fireworks so “all hell could break loose.” Which is exactly what has happened to anyone who’s ever tried to jostle for a seat at this thing. If you Must: Stick to the Mass. Ave. Bridge area, where you’ll see the fireworks and hear the Pops over speakers. Alternative Itinerary: Museum of Science members can pay $26 for a spot at the Fourth of July party that’s held on the museum’s roof.

U.S.S. Constitution
Why You’ve Avoided It: Old Ironsides used to brave cannonballs bouncing off her sides. These days, visitors brave schoolkids whose joyful screams bounce around in their heads. If You Must: Actually, just go. There will be aggravations no matter when you show up, but you’ll enjoy yourself anyway. Alternative Itinerary: To see boats that still move, check out the Extreme Sailing Series’ daily races at Fan Pier during Boston Harborfest, June 30 to July 4.

— Margaret Loftus

Free! Museums on the Very Cheap

The Museum of Bad Art
Free: Always!  Must-See Exhibit: “Blue People” — like Smurfs, only angstier. >> 781-444-6757, 

Museum of Fine Arts
Free: Wednesdays, 4 to 9:45 p.m. Must-See Exhibit: “Violet Isle,” the stunning — nay, poetic — images of Cuban life by husband-and-wife photography team Alex and Rebecca Norris Webb. >> 617-267-9300,

MIT Museum
Free: Sundays, 10 a.m. to noon.  Must-See Exhibit: Arthur Ganson’s “Gestural Engineering.” Possibly the most wistful collection of mechanical sculptures ever created. >> 617-253-5927,

Warren Anatomical Museum at Harvard
Free: Always! Must-See Exhibit: The fractured skull of Phineas Gage, the classic trauma patient in every psych major’s intro textbook. >> 617-432-6196,

DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum
Free: Always free to bicyclists. It gets complicated from there, so consult the website. Must-See Exhibit: “Snow” by Andy Goldsworthy — the artistic warmup to his upcoming Snow House, a granite structure built for a 9-foot snowball. >> 781-259-8355, 

Arnold Arboretum
Free: Always! Must-See Exhibit: It’s tough to choose from the literal forest of specimens, but if you must, then don’t miss the collection of more than 40 different species of oak. One word: breathtaking.  >> 617-524-1718, 

The Harvard Museum of Natural History
Free: Sundays, 9 a.m. to noon (for Massachusetts residents). Must-See Exhibit: When you’re rained out of the Arboretum, visit the HMNH’s just-installed “New England Forests” exhibit, a multisensory immersion into our native ecosystem (moose and all). >> 617-495-3045, 

Fuller Craft Museum
Free: Wednesdays, 5 to 9 p.m.  Must-See Exhibit: “Furniture Divas”: a celebration of contemporary studio furniture crafted by — you guessed it — divas. >> 508-588-6000,

The Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology
Free: Sundays, 9 a.m. to noon (for Massachusetts residents). Must-See Exhibit: The “Wiyohpiyata” collection of Lakota tribe imagery, enhanced with sounds, scents, and visual animations. >> 617-496-1027,

— Shannon Fischer

Make Way for Ducklings

As the delightful children’s book on which they’re based turns 75 this year, we look back at how the duck statues became one of our most popular tourist attractions.

1941   Make Way for Ducklings, written by Robert McCloskey, is first published.
1942   The book wins the Caldecott Medal.
1978   The city of Boston begins hosting a Duckling Day Parade.
1987   The Nancy Shön–designed statues are installed on the Common.
1987   Quack is stolen; Mack is stolen a year later.
1992   Quack is taken again from the Common—resulting in the “Bring Quack Back” campaign. (He is never found.) Jack is stolen in 1999 and eventually found in the Boston College library.
2006   Make Way for Ducklings is named the official children’s book of Massachusetts.
2011   The Mallard family celebrates its 75th anniversary.

The Freedom Trail Pub Crawl

If colonial landmarks are our local lifeblood, the Freedom Trail is the pulmonary artery. But the walk is far more civilized when combined with stops at some of Boston’s finest bars.
— Matthew Reed Baker
Click here for the slideshow!




ONE  Piccolo Panini  
Though she hides beneath an ill-fitting baseball cap, the sandwich-maker here is a star. After deftly arranging tender slices of grilled chicken, prosciutto, and portobello mushrooms on a baguette for the saltimbocca panini ($8.55), this wiz firmly smooshes the concoction between two griddles, resulting in a warm, toasty, and evenly flavored bite.

TWO  The Dog House
If we were to judge this hot dog stand on its kielbasa ($7) alone, the Dog House would win awards. This masterpiece features a juicy, tender center peppered with fennel seeds, and skin that gives just so. Skip the bun, though — it can be rather stale.

THREE  The Monkey Bar
This decorative booth whips up fine tiki-style juices and smoothies. A mango-papaya juice ($7) topped with a pineapple slice takes you away (for a moment) to a beachside bar.

FOUR  Ueno Sushi
There’s no fresh fish display (minus), but they do roll sushi to order (plus). Pleasant surprises await, like a spider roll ($9.50) of deep-fried soft-shell crab finished with avocado.

FIVE  MMMac & Cheese
Macaroni and cheese at a counter stand? Ech. But the army of short-order cooks here put pasta to skillet and add a creamy, gently seasoned cheese sauce, plus a fistful of extras (bacon is a fine choice, $7.50).

SIX  Walrus & Carpenter Oyster Bar

This 10-seat counter spot shucks and steams right before your eyes, but alas, the oysters are from Long Island (is there no better Bay State option?). Stick with the steamed clams (market price), which are bathed in a silky sake-and-scallion broth, or the excellent lobster roll ($15.75).

— Erin Byers Murray

Child’s Play

Off-the-beaten-path outings kids will love.

At the Water Works Museum, children can learn about the underground world of pipes and pumps that transport water from the seashore to your home’s sinks, showers, and porcelain thrones — helpful when it’s time to explain where Nemo will end up after you’ve had to flush him. >> 2450 Beacon St., Chestnut Hill, 617-277-0065,

The brand-new 25,000-gallon Shark & Ray Touch Tank at the New England Aquarium has viewing windows that encourage close encounters with sea creatures. The aquarium’s a madhouse, but come on, you know you want to pet a shark, too. >> One Central Wharf, Boston, 617-973-5200,  

At the Larz Anderson Auto Museum, which houses America’s oldest car collection, your little ones can glimpse the inner workings of automobiles and run wild among the mini models. You can enjoy “Curve Appeal,” the exhibit of American and European cars from the ’30s and ’40s. >> 15 Newton St.,
Brookline, 617-522-6547, 

Tykes can explore the life cycle of a chip — from the farmers’ fields to the fryolator — at the Cape Cod Potato Chip Factory. A chip trip, by the way, translates in a child’s mind to “awesome parent.” >> 100 Breed’s Hill Rd., Hyannis, 888-881-2447, 

The Hull Lifesaving Museum offers workshops in which the kids can check out a surfboat, try on lifesaving equipment, and learn about heroic rescues. >> 1117 Nantasket Ave., Hull, 781-925-5433,

— Alexa Cleary & Lindsay Tucker

My Day as a Tourist

A local goes undercover with the visiting hordes.

Tourism is Boston’s fourth-largest industry, and you could easily fill a week with nonstop sightseeing. But I don’t have a week. So in order to hit as many tourist attractions as possible in a 24-hour period, I awake at dawn.

I have some trepidations about the Boston Gliders Segway tour [$60,]: the weather, the cobblestones, that thing with the Segway company owner Segwaying off a cliff to his death. No one else seems worried, though, and we start with an interminable (okay, seven-minute) instructional video in which everybody speaks with an overblown Boston accent and says “wicked,” “awesome,” and “pissah.” Hilarious.

It’s an odd concept, floating on a platform mere inches off the ground while moving at about 10 miles per hour. But seconds into the trip, I have the thing mastered, and realize that the main problem with a Segway tour is that you wind up ignoring the tour and instead focusing on how awesome the Segway is. I do pick up one fact, though: Relatively speaking, the Big Dig wasn’t all that big. In 1630 the city was only 783 acres, about a square mile. Three centuries later, we’ve tripled in size by “cutting down hills (Beacon Hill, for one) to fill the coves.”

The Segway tour survived, I climb aboard one of Boston Duck Tours’ 28 amphibious DUKWs [$32,]. I quickly discover that half the passengers onboard aren’t even tourists. They, like me, are locals touring their own city. Which, thankfully, means I have people to commiserate with over the mediocre factoids we keep getting: John Wilkes Booth stayed in the Parker House Hotel a week before he assassinated Lincoln; the topcoat Lincoln wore that night was made by Brooks Brothers on Newbury; and the long ramp extending from the TD Garden is inclined 33 degrees to accommodate circus elephants, who are incapable of walking up anything steeper.

Before long, we get to the moment everyone’s waiting for: the splash into the river. Our guide,“The Joker,” turns the wheel over to a 10-year-old girl, and the half of the passengers who aren’t from town capture the moment on their iPhones. I need a drink.

The Samuel Adams Brewery tour [$2,] is packed with hipsters, and I’m feeling old for remembering a time when Sam Adams was just a Patriot. We all know we’re really there for the beer, and so we nod patiently as our guide, Audrey, describes the intricacies of brewing and passes around some malted barley for us to chew (sweet and nutty with hints of roasted toffee) and papery green Hallertau Mittelfrueh hop buds to sniff (bitter, citrusy, floral). Someone asks: Are hops smokable? Audrey’s answer is well rehearsed: While she can’t vouch for its smokability, the hop is a kissing cousin to cannabis, perhaps the reason Jim Koch calls it the “soul of the beer.”

Our patience exhausted, Audrey at last leads us into the tasting room. Fun fact: A “session” beer is one you can comfortably drink a lot of in one session. Black Lager is just such a beer. Fourteen ounces later, I can barely hear myself drink. On the way out I purchase a souvenir six-pack.

Boston’s Ghosts & Gravestones “Frightseeing Tour” [$38,] may sound cheesy, but it’s actually a good laugh, particularly after a few Sams. And it’s pretty obvious that most of the people on this bus are drunker than I am. When Constance Casket — our bloody tour guide — brags about all the husbands she’s killed (five), we all agree that one particularly intoxicated guy with us should become her sixth.

As church bells sound, Constance guides us by candlelight through a chilling drizzle to Copp’s Hill Burying Ground (where the dead lie as many as 10 deep); the Granary Burying Ground (one tomb holds 500 children); and the Central Burying Ground, a “very large mass grave.”

It’s then that things get sloppy. Constance holds up a noose and asks for a volunteer, and the inebriated should-be sixth husband lurches forward in an attempt to kiss her. It’s no longer a Ghosts & Gravestones Tour. It’s become a drunken-douchebag-tourist ride, which is a good deal scarier. Sitting on the trolley, I laugh, realizing that in spite of myself, I’ve had a wicked pissah day.

— Steven Brykman

High Art Tours
Boston is home to a ton of great museums, but to experience truly local contemporary art, schedule a walking tour with Kayla Mohammadi. An artist herself (she teaches drawing and painting at Brandeis and UMass Boston), she’ll show you the best of the city’s private galleries along Newbury Street or in the South End and help you find that perfect piece to take home. Bring: The second date you’re trying to impress; your checkbook. Cost: $200 for 1 to 6 people. Duration: 2 hours. >> 617-455-1766,  

North End/Chinatown Food Tours
Trained chef Michele Topor helps groups navigate the North End’s shops and markets while sharing the history and evolution of Italian-American cooking. Prefer kung pao to cavatelli? Topor’s business partner, Jim Becker, has Chinatown covered. He’ll lead you to the best barbecue and bubble tea, then treat the whole group to dim sum. Bring: Your Food Network–obsessed spouse; your appetite. Cost: $50 (North End); $65 (Chinatown, includes lunch). Duration: About 3 hours. >> 617-523-6032,  

Boston Movie Tours
When you’ve had your fill of historical sights, book a seat on this bus tour, which proudly declares itself history-free. You’ll visit the locations of iconic scenes from Boston-set movies, from the Charlestown street captured in The Town’s car-chase sequence to the rooftop where the climactic scene in The Departed takes place. Bring: Your nun mask; a cranberry juice. Cost: $40 (bus tour); $24 (walking tour). Duration: 1 to 3 hours. >> 800-979-3370, 

Boston Night Tour
Get your creepy-crawly fix the contemporary way with the Boston Night Tour. You’ll visit spooky locales (the King’s Chapel cemetery, the “Hanging Elm” site on the Common) — but rather than just hearing scary stories, you’ll attempt to communicate with the dead, and detect paranormal activity with EMF meters and spirit photography. Bring: Proton packs; a change of underwear. Cost: $15 (adults); $10 (children ages 6 to 12). Duration: 1 hours. >> 978-741-1170,  

— Tanya Pai

Tour guides? They won’t shut up. How about AC/DC instead, blaring from 30 marine-grade speakers as Codzilla tears through the ocean at 40 miles per hour? A 2,800-horsepower engine, fierce paint job, and air of badittude make this high-octane boat ride a rollercoaster on the harbor. Bring: Ray-Bans; Dramamine. Cost: $25 (adults); $21 (children ages 4 to 12); $23 (seniors). When: Anywhere from three to eight departures daily from the Long Wharf pier. >> 617-227-4321,  

Paddle the Charles

Paddle Boston can get you out on the water any way you want, with a selection of standup paddleboards, rowboats, kayaks, and canoes launching from several convenient locations in Boston nd Cambridge. If you don’t feel like paddling, reserve a 10-person canoe and let your friends do the work. Bring: Upper-arm strength. Cost: Kayaks, $15 per hour; canoes, $16 per hour. When: Rentals are available from April through Columbus Day. >> Boston, 617-462-2513; Cambridge, 617-492-0941, 

Boston Harbor Sailing Club
You got your sea legs before you could walk and have been sailing ever since. Impress the landlubbers in your life by taking a Sonar out for a spin in the inner harbor. A membership gets you unlimited use of the club’s fleet. Bring: Topsiders; your best ostentatious yacht-club inflection. Cost: Full-day rentals, $100 (weekdays); $125 (weekends). Memberships start at $400 per year. When: The season runs May through October. >> 617-720-0049, 

Yacht for Hire
If you still find yourself singing Andy Samberg’s “I’m on a Boat” whenever you get out on the open water, charter an all-out luxury yacht for you and up to 109 of your favorite people to cruise the harbor in. Bring: T-Pain; your fraternity brothers. Cost: Starts at $1,800 per hour, with a minimum two-hour charter. When: Whenever you want. That’s what charters are about. >> 866-429-9283, 

— Katherine Brooks


Pssst! Secrets of Museum Curators

Hub art experts reveal where they take their out-of-town guests.

— Rachel Slade

Click here for the slideshow!


Non-Newbury Shopping

Out-of-towners want a shopping experience that’s bona fide Boston? Steer them to these spendworthy streets.

SHAWMUT AVENUE  Browse hip home décor boutiques like J.E.M. and Hudson — or pick up bold, geometric baubles from Michele Mercaldo Jewelry — on this tree-lined, brownstone-filled street in the South End. Polka Dog Bakery and Formaggio Kitchen are perfect places to stop: The former offers treats for pups (and is worth a visit even if yours is at home), while the latter has one of the most comprehensive selections of cheese and charcuterie in the city. Take Home: Taza’s salted-almond Chocolate Mexicano disk, $5.25, Formaggio Kitchen.


BRATTLE STREET  This boutique-packed stretch in Harvard Square proves that bigger is not always better when it comes to shopping. Black Ink offers a whimsical selection of letterpress stationery and irreverent gifts, and Cardullo’s has been packed with gourmet dry goods, coffee, and chocolate since 1950. The Tannery stocks tried-and-true brands such as Hunter and Boston-based Timberland, while Passport proffers stylish designer duds and accessories from the likes of Vince, Hayden-Harnett, and Chan Luu. Take Home: Cards from Milton-based stationer Two Trick Pony, $4.50, Black Ink.


CHARLES STREET  For an epic combo of historical scenery and boutique shopping, there’s nowhere better than Charles Street in Beacon Hill. Those with a penchant for used treasures can lose themselves at Antiques at 80 Charles and Upstairs Downstairs. Good meets in the middle, with unique luxuries like vintage jewelry and art. Moxie and Wish round out the spectrum with mod, contemporary women’s clothing, while Charles Street Supply, the city’s oldest hardware store, has something for the toolheads in tow. Take Home: Chart Metalworks’ Boston Harbor keychains, $135 each, Good.


— Anne Vickman

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