On Location: Coolidge Corner

Maximizing a day spent in Brookline’s commercial center.

On Location Coolidge Corner

Photograph by Christian Kozowyk

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.

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.