Getting into a Red Sox game these days is like trying to hit the Mega Millions jackpot: The odds are seriously not in your favor. Either you suck up to the boss in the faint hope he'll throw you one of the company tickets, or you overpay a scalper and pray you don't get scammed with phonies. Or, if you're smart, you try Ace Ticket: The company has been getting Bostonians into Pats games, concerts, and even Red Sox tilts for more than 20 years now. And because Ace is a licensed broker, you won't be left holding counterfeits when the big event hits town. 20 Franklin St., Allston, MA .
Not feeling up to excessive sartorial risk-taking? That doesn't make it okay to fall back into the Gap (you've come too far!). More moderately priced than Barneys, less alternative than Stel's, Uniform straddles practicality and panache with its tailored casualwear. The well-crafted separates from elusive brands like Original Penguin, Scotch & Soda, and Canterbury—plus work-hard, play-hard shoes from Gola and Tretorn—will outlast any chain-store buy, making the most of your wardrobe budget while averting death by boring button-down. 511 Tremont St., Boston, MA 2116, uniformboston.com.
Founded with help from Curious George coauthor Margret Rey, this Harvard Square mainstay doesn't rest on pedigree. It livens up the calendar with frequent author signings, stays timely with additions like an "environmental awareness" section, and balances its bountiful classics with acclaimed new releases. And since sifting through thousands of titles for all reading levels can be daunting, the seasoned staffers are ready to help you locate, say, the perfect horse-themed series for your equine-obsessed nine-year-old niece. Though here's betting no assistance will be required to spot books and toys featuring a certain mischievous monkey. One JFK St., Cambridge, MA 2138, .
If you didn't even know you needed a baby-care timer, pee-pee teepee, or pacifier pod, make a beeline for local chainlet Magic Beans to get a primer on modern-day parenting supplies before the stork touches down. The married-with-kids owners, Sheri and Eli Gurock, and their gung-ho employees have done all the research for you (exhaustively reported on their blog, at spillingthebeans.net), testing hundreds of products in deciding what to stock. The result: everything your own parents never had when you were little, but wish they did. 200 Linden St., Wellesley, MA 2482, mbeans.com.
There's more to upscale salesmanship than strategically doled-out snootiness. In her 30 years at the ring-for-entry Alan Bilzerian boutique, Bilzerian-Kelly (Alan's sister) has developed a knack for divining what customers want and, better yet, what they need. She'll know, for instance, to break the news gently but firmly that, alas, that fabulous Alexander McQueen corset is not a good look for your untoned upper arms—but that you might give this Rick Owens tunic a try. Her unfailing candor doesn't crowd out her dry sense of humor, though, which can turn a quick shopping stop into a memorable event. 34 Newbury St., Boston, MA 2116, .
Galina Rabkin can't stand a smudged lens any more than she can abide a crooked frame. The petite Russian-born optometrist is a perfectionist through and through, and she's arranged her spare Brookline Village boutique accordingly: Polished specs by Chanel, Prada, Face à Face, and the cleverly kooky XIT decorate the backlit walls and fill the neat wood-and-glass cases. Behind the scenes, her spotless exam room and state-of-the-art vision equipment are organized and unintimidating. And should Vizio not have your preferred pair, Rabkin will go to great lengths to order or import them. 11 Harvard St., Brookline, MA 2445, viziooptic.com.
Children grow up way too fast. But at Stellabella Toys, everything slows down—at least long enough to free the inner child—in as many parents as kids. More of a play studio than a toy store, this expansive space in Inman Square is stuffed with educational resources for child-rearing. The colorful dolls, storybooks, science kits, and costumes are displayed in a space that's big enough to also fit a playroom and a toy house kids can climb on. The store hosts playgroups for infants and toddlers, family yoga, new-parent meet-ups, and musical get-togethers. With its strict no-guns-for-sale policy, this is more than just a neighborhood toy store: It's a mini enclave of enlightenment. 1360 Cambridge St., Cambridge, MA stellabellatoys.com/.
Paul Roiff's much-hyped Beacon Hill hostelry actually qualifies as a boutique hotel, with only 61 rooms and the hushed luxury of a truly exclusive property. But the attention to detail, from fresh orchids placed in the bathrooms daily and specially packaged Kiehl's bath products, to the stately but comfy four-post beds, makes this hotel the in the city. Nowhere else can you sleep in style and have the calling cards to prove it; the hotel specially provides "in residence" business cards for each guest to make sure that every high-powered deal or clandestine affair goes off without a hitch. 15 Beacon St., Boston, MA xvbeacon.com/.
In the comely Henry James room, a fresh orchid echoes earth tones and the arc of a tree depicted in the Hudson River School painting behind it. Such details are characteristic of the Charles Street Inn, built as a Victorian townhouse in 1860 and revived four years ago as a beautiful inn by proprietors Sally Deane and Louise Venden. Today's rooms call up prominent Bostonians—Emerson, Gardner, Holmes. The Henry James Room, for example, offers lovingly restored classic antiques along with a thoughtfully stocked mini-fridge. The personable staff operates on the rare and precious middle ground between friendliness and respect for guests' privacy. 94 Charles St., Boston, MA .
Some say visiting a good day spa is so therapeutic it's tantamount to regular trips to a shrink. If that's the case, the relaxed, blissful feeling you'll leave with after an afternoon at Bella Santé will seem like a breakthrough. Perched in a second-floor sanctuary above Newbury Street, the spa has a soothing beige décor and wonderfully quiet atmosphere (cell phones are verboten)—your first signals to relax. Then there are the treatments: facials so effective they're like mini-facelifts, massages that melt away even the peskiest knots, body buffs, herbal wraps, and pedicures that last for months. The unassuming, easygoing staff is professional and subdue, just like the spa itself. 38 Newbury St., 2nd floor, Boston, MA bellasante.com/.
Frankly, we received plenty of fine haircuts at other upscale salons, but no one listened better than Justine Piecuch at Jeffrey Lyle. This stylist takes a hyper-personalized approach, starting with lots of questions about your lifestyle and daily beauty regimen. A low-maintenance lady, in particular, will emerge from the chair with a pretty wash-and-go 'do. Piecuch is also a great interventionist for those who've suffered bad cuts. She never advocates a Joan of Arc-style bulldoze; rather, she counsels you through the process of slowly growing it out. 135 Newbury St., Boston, MA 2116, jeffreylylesalon.com.
There comes a moment during most moves—usually preceded by the sound of breaking glass—when homeowners wonder if they'd have been better off on their own. Following their own move-gone-awry five years ago, brothers Eric and Aaron Goodwine rounded up an eight-person crew and set out to turn their frustration into a business. Goody's wraps and pads like the big companies, and even offers a post-move-out 'old-school toothbrush and white glove' cleaning to your now former abode. It almost makes us want to break out the boxes. Almost.
Fact is, you can't always be there when your beagle needs you. Let Jennifer North or one of her colleagues at Boston Pet Sitters take over the midday walk, or even those weekends when Snoopy isn't invited along to Tanglewood. She'll come as many times a day as needed to walk, feed, water, and generally coddle the little darlings. She comes with a pocketful of plastic bags for pooper-scoopering, industrial strength foul-weather gear for those New England winters, and, most important, a sincere love of dogs. 144 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, MA .
Three decades in the biz and not a whiff of mustiness about Salon Capri, where a phalanx of Penna family members (who also run a Hyde Park location) and their team of high-end stylists translate runway looks to suburban locks. One of 10 elite L'Oréal centers in the country, Capri scores extra points for its colorists, who'll finish that face-framing cut with sexy highlights. That goes over big with the married-with-kids clients who flock here, figuring, Why put up with mommy hair when you can have who's-your-mommy hair? 31 Lincoln St., Newton, MA 2461, saloncapri.com.
A truly great brunch must hit four marks: a tasty and varied menu, a strong bar, a relaxed atmosphere, and outdoor seating. Over the past year, South End tapas joint Toro boosted its performance on the food-and-beverage front (it had already aced the chill mood and the patio), adding a selection of tapas and pinchos—tortilla Espanola, yellowfin crudo, etc.—to its regular lineup of vanilla-bourbon-banana French toast and huevos rancheros. It also hired bar manager Courtney Bissonnette (hubby is chef Jamie) to jazz up the cocktails. By so doing, Toro has cracked, poached, and scrambled its more conventional challengers. 1704 Washington St., Boston, MA 2118, toro-restaurant.com.