Bella Santé Day Spa
Some suburban day spas, catering as they often do to busy moms, have entirely missed the point of an escape: A noisy cut and blow-dry during a massage is not relaxing. But the Lexington outpost of Bella Santé gets the pampering thing down perfectly with imported teas, soothing music, and peaceful treatment rooms. And, of course, one-at-a-time services that are stress free. 76 Bedford St., Lexington, MA bellasante.com.
Harvard Book Store
It’s easy to lose track of time among the stacks and carefully arranged displays at this Cambridge classic, where paper- backs and hardcovers covering everything from travel to true crime entice at every turn. And now, thanks to an assist from new part-owner John Henry — who began investing in the shop late last year — the store’s next chapter will include renovations and a website revamp for easier browsing. That’s a win in our book. 1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138, harvard.com.
The Pet Cabaret
Catering to the "thoughtful pet owner" this colorful store functions more like a community hub for animals and their devoted humans than a place to buy supplies. It wouldn’t be unusual to pop in for treats, toys, or food—all of which skew heavily natural—or to wash a dirty pup in the self-serve tubs, and end up chatting with fellow customers about a nontoxic cure for hot spots, a topic that only other pet owners will gladly discuss. 4404 Washington St., Roslindale, MA 02131, thepetcabaret.com.
Linens on the Hill
The essentials for a good night’s sleep don’t change with the trends. Since 1987, this Beacon Hill store has been catering to our restful needs with high-thread-count bedding from established brands like Yves Delorme and Sferra, plush robes from Laurence Tavernier, and silk pajamas from PJ Harlow. And to make your waking hours a little dreamier, it also stocks a selection of scented soaps and soft Egyptian-cotton towels. 52 Charles St., Boston, MA 02114, linensonthehill.com.
In a town with no shortage of gussied-up patties, we keep returning to the workday-only Wheelhouse burger. The griddle sizzles coffee-crusted breakfast burgers and other beef patties loaded with lunch fixings like jalapeño-beer cheese and bourbon-glazed onions. Wax-paper sleeves barely contain such marvelous hot messes, gobbled at window stools or back in the cubicle. 63 Broad St., Boston, MA wheelhouseboston.com.
The brunch at this record shop/tapas bar caters to savory seekers—and hangover chasers. Here the "put an egg on it" philosophy reigns supreme, evidenced by dinner-menu staples like the lamb bocadillo, which gets the morning-after huevos treatment come brunch. While you're waiting for your table (there will be a wait), browse the back bookshop for fiction, art books, vinyl, and a broad collection of food magazines that will surely whet your appetite. 470 Centre St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130, tresgatosjp.com.
Museum of Fine Arts
On the strength of its individual exhibits alone—notably the vast Goya retrospective and Shinique Smith's exuberant showcase—the Museum of Fine Arts is a formidable contender for best museum. But when you consider the institution's past year as a whole, it's a hands-down winner. Diverse offerings revealed a commitment to pushing boundaries. Performance art was regularly integrated into the museum's hallowed gallery spaces; it maintained a consistently edgy and eclectic film program; and then, as a capper, it launched its first-ever mobile app as artwork. 465 Huntington Ave., Boston, MA 02115, mfa.org.
Warm sun streams into this Charles Street bakery-cum-café's expansive windows, where the clientele kicks back (sometimes for hours) over high-octane lattes, crumbly slices of walnut bread, and the daily papers. And while you can clearly witness the hustle and bustle outside, it fades as you sink deeper into the shop's meditative momentum. 144 Charles St., Boston, MA panificioboston.com.
Peking Tom's Longtang Lounge
It may sound tacky on paper, but in person, Peking Tom's is deliciously campy and cool. With colorfully ironic splashes of Asian pop culture, delightful retro tinges, and plenty of room for lounging, this hidden Downtown Crossing destination with its highly competent service is perfect for parties of 2, 12, or 20. The menu relies on a perfect balance of sweet and sour, fried and juicy, meaty and delicate. Just remember—don't overload on kumquat mojitos before digging into the crispy sweet-chili squid or orange and tamarind-glazed spareribs. 25 Kingston St., Boston, MA .
Although it has expanded its dining area, we love Bakers' Best most for its sophisticated takeout options. Everything comes with detailed reheating directions that will fool your guests into thinking you cooked it yourself. But don't worry: The employees here won't give away your secret. They'll even come over to cater for you. 27 Lincoln St., Newton Highlands, MA .
Head west, young man, to Newton Centre. There you'll find Mr. Sid, the shop that caters to classy guys looking to dress to the nines in Armani, Hugo Boss, Zegna, and Corneliani. Helpful, knowledgeable, and courteous salesmen escort customers through the store, which is divided into smaller areas by collections. Tired of shopping? There's an in-store pool table, a hair salon, and a well-stocked bar. 1211 Centre St., Newton Centre, MA mrsid.com.
Sacco's Bowl Haven
There are flashier lanes in town—theme park-like emporiums with flat-screen TVs and signature cocktails. But the laid-back atmosphere of Sacco's wins it top honors. It's complete throwback awesomeness, from the candlepin setup to the pencil-and-paper mode of scorekeeping. If there's a wait, grab a seat at the bar, order a Flatbread Company pizza and a Pretty Things pint, and kick back. 45 Day St., Somerville, MA 2144, .
Don't be fooled by the faded shabby-chic exterior: Beyond the white wicker sidewalk furniture is a shop stylish enough for any city's streets. Buyer Pamela Fink stocks Gatsbys with premium products including Paper, Denim & Cloth and True Religion denim; Theory tops and trousers; and a rainbow of Petit Bateau T-shirts. There's also a selection of sporty shoes, Cosabella lingerie, Kiehl's products, and Juicy Couture loungewear. 25 Railroad St., Great Barrington, MA .
White Elephant Village
The sister property to the iconic White Elephant harborfront hotel, this luxe resort caters to guests’ every whim: Need a ride to dinner? A loaner bike to explore the island? Scoops of ice cream to keep the kids entertained at the pool? Done, done, and done. The circa-2012 inn offers plush rooms and suites, but for a picture-perfect—and stress-free—family getaway, you’ll want to reserve one of the spacious " premier residences," which offer one-, two-, and three-bedroom configurations. 19 N. Water St., Nantucket, MA 2584, whiteelephantvillage.com.
When it comes to bar pizza on the South Shore, there are important standards to meet. Are the to-go pies placed between two cardboard plates and slid into a brown paper bag? Is the crust hand-pinched in the pan to give it the perfect crunch? Is the joint cash only? And, most important: Do the locals love it? Lynwood checks all the boxes. For bar pizza the way it’s meant to be experienced, commit to the house special, which comes loaded with baked beans (trust us), onions, and salami. 320 Center St., Randolph, MA 2368, lynwoodcafe.com.