Winter Weekend in Boston

Wanting a weekend getaway, I planned a trip to one of my favorite cities, Boston, with a friend. The trip was short – only 48 hours – and cold – the temperature stayed below freezing – but it was still a great chance to revisit one of my favorite destinations.

Winter Weekend in Boston

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by ssullivan on February 28, 2005

This was my fifth trip to Boston, and with each trip, this historic city grows closer to my heart. The hub of New England is a beautiful place filled with historic buildings and homes, many dating to the colonial period; outstanding museums; great restaurants; stunning parks; and a waterfront that is seeing new life as a prime residential and tourist area. For American history buffs, a visit to Boston is a must; however, if history is not your forte, you’ll still find much to love here. Some of my favorites include:


While Boston is not one of the cheapest places to visit in the US, there are a number of ways to save money here. If you are not planning to travel outside the city, skip the rental car and take the T (see below). The Boston City Pass provides up to a 50% savings on the admission to six popular attractions, including the Museum of Science, New England Aquarium, Skywalk Observatory, Museum of Fine Arts, Harvard Museum of Natural History, and JFK Library. If you are planning on visiting at least three or four of these locations, this pass will probably save you some off the individual admission prices. I also prefer to stay downtown, even though it may be more expensive. I’ve found that it is worth the extra money spent on accommodations to have convenient access to the T and be within walking distance of many attractions. Look for weekend specials at some of the business-oriented hotels downtown, where rooms can often be found for 50% off the regular rates. Also, consider traveling off season when rooms are cheaper and the city is less crowded. Finally, don’t forget comfortable walking shoes; you’ll need them here.

${BestWay} Boston is a city where I would not recommend renting a car. If you are planning to venture out into the rest of New England (which I highly recommend), plan your stay in Boston at either the very start or very end of your trip, and pick up your car when you leave the city or drop it off as you arrive. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (the "T") operates an excellent system of subways, buses, and commuter rail, making it easy and fast to get around the city. If arriving at Boston’s Logan International Airport, you can take a free shuttle bus from your terminal to the Airport T station, where you can catch a train into downtown. Local one-way fares as of February 2005 are $1.25. Visitor’s passes are available; however, they are expensive. A 3-day T pass currently runs $18; unless you plan on riding the T at least 15 times in three days, it’s not worth it. On this 3-day trip I spent $8.75 for individual one-way fares and went all over the city. Boston is also very compact and walkable. You will also find taxis very easy to obtain.

Hyatt Regency Boston Financial District

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by ssullivan on February 28, 2005

Boston is a city where hotels tend to be quite expensive, but with a little research, it’s not hard to find some excellent weekend bargains. Such was the case with my friend and I choosing the Hyatt. On our last trip to Boston, we redeemed some of my frequent-guest points for a room at the Hilton Boston Logan Airport, a great hotel in a less than convenient location. Not wanting to deal with the inconvenience of a shuttle bus between the hotel and Airport T stop again, this time we opted to look for a hotel downtown. That’s when I found the Hyatt Regency and a variety of very reasonable weekend rates. We opted for a special on a business class room that included breakfast for up to two adults each morning.

The Hyatt has recently undergone a renovation and looks practically brand-new. In its former life, the hotel operated as the Boston Swisshotel. Since being re-branded as a Hyatt, the hotel’s level of luxury has been scaled down – amenities such as the 19th-floor concierge lounge are a thing of the past – but the hotel still offers upscale accommodations in a location that is hard to beat. The hotel is located near the bustling Downtown Crossing shopping district, home to such department stores as Filene’s and Macy’s, and the city’s theater district. It is also just a few blocks from the Boston Common and Public Garden and an easy walk from four T stations (Downtown Crossing, Chinatown, Park St., and Boylston) and from many major historic sites.

Our 20th-floor room featured a great view facing the Boston Common, Massachusetts Statehouse, and Beacon Hill. Compared to other Boston hotel rooms I have had, the room was fairly large, with plenty of space for two double beds, a desk, and an armchair with a small side table. Our executive-level room also included two terrycloth bathrobes and a nightly turndown service with chocolates. Additional amenities included a large bathroom with a marble vanity and tub/shower with wall-mounted shower gel, shampoo, and conditioner dispensers. The beds were extremely comfortable, featuring down comforters, plenty of pillows, and feather bed mattress toppers. Also included with our stay were coupons for the full breakfast buffet for both mornings of our stay, a $64 value.

There were a few minor issues with our stay. Somehow, housekeeping missed servicing our room after our first night. After a call to the front desk, the housekeeping manager called to apologize and ask what time we’d be going out for dinner that evening so that he could send a housekeeper up to service the room while we were out. When we returned from dinner, the room had been made up. Additionally, during our last night, the room’s thermostat jammed, causing the heat to run nonstop for the last few hours of the night. Fortunately, it was cold enough outside that the room did not become unbearably warm before we checked out.

Hyatt Regency Boston
1 Ave De Lafayette
Boston, Massachusetts, 02111
(617) 912-1234

Salty Dog Bar & Grille

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by ssullivan on February 28, 2005

The tiny Salty Dog Bar & Grille is located in the basement level of Quincy Market’s central building. After browsing the crowded food stands featuring every cuisine imaginable in the market’s central building (my first choice for lunch), my friend decided he didn’t feel like dealing with the crowds and shared tables in the market’s central rotunda eating area. So we set out to find a restaurant in the market featuring a variety of lunch specials in a quieter, less busy setting. After reviewing several choices, we settled on Salty Dog.

Descending down the exterior staircase to Salty Dog is somewhat reminiscent of descending into the lower decks of an old ship. The low ceilings were just a mere inch or two above my 6-foot 4-inch frame, and I had to duck to walk under a light fixture. The restaurant’s dining room is separated from its raw bar by the miniscule kitchen, which customers must pass through to access the closet-sized restrooms or the other side of the restaurant. A handful of tables are tightly crammed together in the dimly lit dining room, which is decorated with nautical art.

Our waitress was very cheerful, and despite her dislike of all types of seafood (she did not hide this fact when asked what she recommended on the menu and even laughed at the irony of her working in two seafood restaurants in a row), she was able to point out some of the better choices on the menu. Salty Dog features a basic menu centered around seafood, with some steaks and sandwiches. A wide array of lunch specials is available, most of which are priced below $12 and are of very filling portions. I decided on the lobster sandwich while my friend went for a fried seafood combo platter with clam strips, oysters, and shrimp. Both entrées were served with fresh, crisp french fries and a nice, slightly tart coleslaw made the way I prefer it, with a vinegar-based dressing instead of a mayonnaise-based one. My sandwich featured a generous serving of fresh chilled lobster meat dressed with a flavorful light dressing and crisp lettuce and tomato, all served on a fresh toasted roll. My friend’s entrée was also very good, and he commented that the fried seafood all tasted very fresh.

Salty Dog is certainly not the fanciest seafood restaurant in Quincy Market, nor is it a place I would want to visit when it is very busy. The restaurant is just a little too cramped to handle a crowd of more than 25 customers in the dining room at once. However, for a fast, fresh, and tasty seafood lunch served by a friendly staff, it’s a good choice. I would definitely choose it again on a future visit.

Salty Dog Bar & Grille
206 Faneuil Hall
Boston, Massachusetts, 02109
(617) 742-2094

McCormick & Schmick's

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by ssullivan on February 28, 2005

Normally when on vacation, I will not eat at chain restaurants. However, McCormick & Schmick’s is one chain I have no problem breaking this rule for. Each location features a unique menu that changes twice daily, depending on what fresh seafood is available on that day to the chef at that location. As a result, no two visits to the restaurant are exactly the same, and while some menu items are available at most locations, the majority of the menu is unique to the location and day that you visit.

We chose to eat at McCormick & Schmick’s in part because I had a $20 gift certificate I received as a loyalty gift from Alaska Airlines that was expiring March 1. We took a chance by visiting the busy Faneuil Hall location on a Saturday night without a reservation; fortunately, the wait for a table was less than 10 minutes. After being seated at a nice upstairs corner table with a window and view of the marketplace below, we began to look over the day’s menu. It was hard to choose among the many excellent choices, but I finally settled on the sautéed Rhode Island scallops, while my friend ordered a broiled seafood combo platter that featured salmon, shrimp, scallops, and oysters. Both of us also chose to start our meal with a cup of New England clam chowder, which was absolutely delicious and filled with chunks of fresh clam meat. My entrée, the sautéed Rhode Island scallops, was equally as good, featuring about a half dozen large scallops sautéed in a wine sauce with bacon, onions, garlic, and other ingredients. The scallops were perfectly cooked to a tender, yet not tough, consistency, and the flavor of the sauce and seasonings complemented the mild flavor of the seafood perfectly. Accompanying the entrée were sides of rice and grilled asparagus, both of which were very good. Following our entrées, we completed the meal with desserts. I chose the caramel apple pie, a delicious apple pie with a walnut crust served with a scoop of cinnamon ice cream and topped with caramel sauce. My friend chose a huge ice cream sundae.

The food on this trip to McCormick & Schmick’s was up to the company’s high standards. However, our waiter left a lot to be desired. We were seated for nearly 10 minutes before he greeted us and took our drink orders. It was another 10 minutes before he returned with our drinks to take the food order. After our food arrived, he was very slow to refill drinks, and when we ordered dessert, he forgot to bring my coffee. Most of the time he was nowhere to be found, while my wine and water glasses both sat empty for most of the meal. It’s a shame that the service was so poor, as it definitely detracted from what was an otherwise outstanding dining experience. Fortunately, I know from previous visits that this is not usually the case at McCormick & Schmick’s.

McCormick & Schmicks
1 Faneuil Hall
Boston, Massachusetts, 02109
(617) 720-5522

Boston Common

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by ssullivan on March 1, 2005

The Common is the nation’s oldest public park and was established in 1634. During it’s nearly 400-year history, this 50-acre green space in downtown Boston has been the site of concerts, military training exercises, concerts, protests, outdoor recreation, picnics, and the city’s first public water system. It also sits above the nation’s first subway tunnel, which is still in use along Tremont Street between the Park and Boylston Streets T stations. There are also several historic sites within the park, including the Great Elm where hangings once took place, and the Central Burying Ground, where many British and American casualties of the Battle of Bunker Hill were laid to rest. A number of military memorials are also scattered throughout the Common.

Visitors to The Common today will find a beautiful park that’s open all year to a variety of activities. In the winter, the park is a popular site for ice skating on the frozen Frog Pond and sledding on the snowy Flagstaff Hill. Summers are filled with kids splashing on the banks of the Frog Pond, free Shakespeare plays staged in the Parkman Bandstand, concerts, recreational sports, and other activities. Year-round, a collection of street vendors and colorful characters preaching their random thoughts from a soapbox can be found near the Park Street T station entrances in the Common’s northeast corner.

The Common’s central location also makes it, and the adjacent Public Garden, the centerpiece of a variety of must-see sites. Surrounding the Common are the Massachusetts State House; Park St. Church; Old Granary Burying Ground; and the beautiful, upscale, and historic Beacon Hill neighborhood. You’ll also find the Downtown Crossing shopping district, theater district, Back Bay, and Newberry Street shopping area within a few blocks of the parks.

Boston Common
Charles, Beacon And Tremont Streets
Boston, Massachusetts, 02116

The Public Garden

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by ssullivan on March 1, 2005

Nearly 200 years younger than its next-door neighbor the Common, the Public Garden traces it origin to the filling in of salty marshlands along the Charles River in the 1830s. Charles Street, which today separates the Garden from the less formal Common, once ran along the bank of the river. After the area where the Garden now sits was filled in, George F. Meacham’s design for an English-style garden was chosen by the city in 1869. The Garden’s central lagoon, where the famous swan boats offer visitors rides in the late spring, summer, and early fall, and whimsical suspension bridge provide the Garden with a focal point. Surrounding the lagoon, visitors will find immaculately landscaped flower gardens in the spring and summer and many unique trees selected by Meacham to complete the garden’s atmosphere.

While I love the Common across the street and nearby Esplanade on the Charles River, the Public Garden is my favorite park in the city. The lagoon, statues, and uniquely shaped trees all create a beautiful environment no matter the season. In the spring and summer, color flower gardens surround the lagoon. In fall, the color moves skyward as trees in the Garden display hues of red, yellow, and orange. Even in the dead of winter the Garden is alive, as a pristine layer of white snow covers the ground and icicles hang from the statues and fountains. A small section of the lagoon is kept clear of ice for the benefit of the resident bird population, which still begs visitors for morsels of bread and other treats in the winter just as they do in the summer. I could sit for hours on a bench next to the lagoon here and watch people and nature interact. The Public Garden really is an urban oasis, and a part of the city that should not be missed.

Boston Public Garden
Adjacent to Boston Common
Boston, Massachusetts
(617) 522-1966

Prudential Center Skywalk

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by ssullivan on March 1, 2005

The 52-floor Prudential Tower is the centerpiece of Prudential Center, a development of shops, department stores, restaurants, and offices adjacent to the Hynes Convention Center and Sheraton Back Bay Hotel and across the street from the Copley Place mall. The main tourist attraction here is the Skywalk, an observation deck on the tower’s 50th floor.

After the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, the nearby observation deck on nearby, and taller, John Hancock Tower closed. Citing "safety and security concerns," the observation area closed, and rumor is that it has since been converted into executive offices. Fortunately, cooler minds prevailed at the Prudential Tower, and the Skywalk is still open to visitors, offering incredible views of the city and, on very clear days, several neighboring states. Visitors to the Skywalk can also partake in an audio tour (included in the admission price) that guides you around the observation deck and points out major buildings, parks, and other attractions below. The audio tour, and accompanying exhibits in the center of the building, offer glimpses of the city’s history, with a special focus on the role European immigrants have played in the area’s development.

This was my first trip the Skywalk, despite having tried on several previous occasions. In the past I’ve always arrived after the closing time or when a private party was being held, or else there was an exceptionally long wait for a ride up into the tower. Fortunately on this trip, the weather was clear, there was no wait, and I was able to make the trip up the elevator to the 50th floor. After being greeted by docents who took my admission ticket (purchased below in the building’s lobby) and being handed an audio tour player, I headed over to the windows for the view. I quickly found the audio tour somewhat of an annoying distraction and turned it off. However, my travel companion listened to all of it and really enjoyed it. Already knowing a lot about the city’s history, I was more interested in the view. The first view on the tower’s east side faced Copley Square, the Hancock Tower, downtown, the harbor, and Logan Airport. It’s always an incredible feeling to be in a building looking down on buildings that, from the street outside, tower above you. I then proceed to my right, taking in the view to the south, then west, then north, and finally back to my starting point. The city, covered in a blanket of white snow that had fallen two days earlier, was absolutely stunning. Major sights like Fenway Park, the Common and Public Garden, the Esplanade and Hatch Shell, the frozen Charles River, and Faneuil Hall Marketplace, and the city’s major colleges and universities (Boston College, Boston University, MIT, and Harvard) were all clearly in view.

Admission to the Skywalk ranges from $6.50 to $9.50, depending on age. Senior and student discounts are available. Hours are 10am-10pm seven days a week, with closures for private functions.

Prudential Center Skywalk
800 Boylston St
Boston, Massachusetts

Copp's Hill Burying Ground

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by ssullivan on March 1, 2005

In most cities, a cemetery would not be a major attraction. But this is Boston, and visitors just seem to be drawn to walking through a graveyard that dates back nearly 400 years and seeing the gravestones for famous historical figures. Visitors will find several such sites, including the Copp’s Hill, Old Granary, Central, and King’s Chapel Burying Grounds.

The second oldest cemetery in Boston, Copp’s Hill Burying Ground (or Corpse Hill as it has been nicknamed) is at the summit of a steep incline just up Hull Street from the Old North Church. Founded in 1659, the cemetery is the final resting place of an estimated 10,000 souls, including prominent Bostonians from the Colonial and Revolutionary periods. Here you will find graves for Robert Newman, who hung Paul Revere’s signal lanterns in the tower of the Old North Church, and Increase, Cotton, and Samuel Mather, members of an influential family of Puritan ministers. There are also graves for hundreds of Boston’s Colonial black slaves and freed men.

The site also played an important role during the American Revolution. During the British occupation, the British military held an artillery position here, using the site to fire cannons across the river to Colonial strongholds in Charlestown. Legend has it that the king’s troops used the slate headstones for target practice, and many of the stones show the resulting damage to this day. Today, the cemetery’s hilltop location offers great views of Charleston and the USS Constitution.

Copp’s Hill is one of the last sites on the Freedom Trail but should not be missed. Interpretive signs throughout the cemetery guide visitors to some of the more famous graves, which can sometimes be difficult to find among the haphazardly placed headstones. Keep in mind that many of the slate stones in the cemetery are over 300 years old and taking rubbings of them is expressly forbidden. Visitors should exercise caution to avoid contact with the stones, as many of them are quite fragile. This is less of an issue in spring and summer, when all of the stones are clearly visible. However, in winter, some stones may be buried by the snow. You should stick to the cleared walking paths in snowy conditions.

Adjacent to Copp’s Hill is an unusual and often overlooked site, the Narrowest House. This quirky little house, which averages a mere 9.5-feet wide, was built around 1800 out of spite. Supposedly, the builder of the house wanted to block light from a neighbor’s house and kill the view of the house behind it. Look for the tiny structure crammed between two much larger houses at 44 Hull Street, directly across the street from the Burying Ground’s Hull Street gate. You’ll notice it has no front door – residents and visitors must use a side door accessed through the narrow alley next to the house to get inside.

Copp's Hill Burial Ground
Hull St & Snowhill St
Boston, Massachusetts, 02114

Faneuil Hall Marketplace

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by ssullivan on March 1, 2005

When looking for a quick bite to eat or some unique Boston souvenirs, it’s hard to find a better place to go than Faneuil Hall Marketplace. Faneuil Hall Marketplace is really several separate facilities in the same location, which together form Boston’s central gathering place. The original building in the complex, Faneuil Hall, was built in 1742 as a gift to the citizens of Boston by wealthy colonial businessman Peter Faneuil. The building was originally designed to serve as a public market and meeting place, and its large central meeting hall was used by Samuel Adams as early as the 1760s as a place to rally the colonists against "taxation without representation," earning the building the moniker "the cradle of liberty." In later years, as Boston grew, so did the Faneuil Hall market. The building was expanded several times in the 19th century. Finally, when the market outgrew Faneuil Hall, the "new" market was created directly behind the original building. This new Greek-revival building and its two adjacent warehouses gained the name Quincy Market in honor of Boston Mayor Josiah Quincy, who had the vision of expanding the original market into new buildings. Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market remained in use for many decades, but by the 1970s, had fallen into disrepair. The entire facility was saved in the mid-1970s by a highly successful redevelopment that included a restoration of the historic Faneuil Hall building and renovations to the Quincy Market colonnade (central building) and conversation of the two warehouses into spaces for retail shops and restaurants.

Today, the facility remains highly popular, serving over 40 million guests annually. The central Quincy Market Colonnade building houses a popular comedy club, several full-service restaurants, and over 40 local quick-service food vendors. This is an excellent place to get a great, affordable lunch, with plenty of variety to choose from. During the lunch hour, many vendors have tables set up in front of their stalls offering samples. With so many options, it’s often hard to choose, but rest assured, it’s hard to find a bad meal here. The beautifully restored central rotunda of this building is filled with tables where guests can stop to eat their meals. Most of these are long, high tables without chairs designed for eaters to stand at; expect it to be busy and to share your table with others. There are also some smaller tables with chairs on the upper level.

In addition to the Colonnade building, the North and South Market buildings house a variety of upscale retailers and full-service restaurants. Retailers range from national chains to local stores selling clothing, souvenirs, art, local crafts, and other items. There are also a few shops in the original Faneuil Hall building, which operates as a historic site with ranger-led interpretative talks and tours of the building’s meeting hall.

For a full listing of the restaurants and retailers operating at Faneuil Hall Marketplace, see the market website at

Faneuil Hall Marketplace
4 South Market Bldg.
Boston, Massachusetts, 02109
+1 617 523 1300; +1

Harvard Yard

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by ssullivan on March 1, 2005

Harvard University is the nation’s oldest institution of higher education and dates its creation to 1636, when it was founded by a group of well-educated Puritan leaders. Despite being a large, prestigious university with a campus that sprawls over 400 buildings, the historic Harvard Yard remains the university’s core. The beautiful campus is filled with classic buildings and tree-filled lawns. A walk through Harvard Yard is a definite must when visiting Cambridge.

Several highlights of a walk through Harvard Yard include Massachusetts Hall, the university’s oldest building, which was constructed in 1720. You’ll also notice the many ornate iron gates that allow access to the campus from the surrounding streets. Other notable structures are Hollis Hall, where George Washington housed his troops during the Revolution; Charles Bulfinch’s University Hall (1816); Holden Chapel (1742), a site of Revolutionary speeches and later human dissections; and Server Hall, one of the university’s most unique structures. Also be sure to look for the John Harvard Statue, which has been nicknamed the "Statue of Three Lies." The inscription on the statue reads "John Harvard, Founder, 1638." The truth is that John Harvard did not found the university; it was founded by the Massachusetts Bay Colony. And the year was not 1638, it was 1636. However, John Harvard did bequeath half of estate and all of his books to the fledgling university upon his death in 1638 (at this time, the university was renamed in his memory). Finally, the statue is not of John Harvard, as no image of the man existed for the sculptor to use as a model. One other important stop on a walk through Harvard Square is the enormous Widener Library, named in memory of Harry Elkins Widener, who died on the Titanic in 1912. The Widener Library houses the nation’s third largest single collection of books and is the hub of the nation’s largest library system.

Harvard Square

Boston, Massachusetts

North End

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by ssullivan on March 2, 2005

The historic North End is Boston’s oldest neighborhood and one of the city’s most interesting areas. Once separated for from the rest of the city by the ugly, rusting, elevated John Fitzgerald Expressway, on this visit, it was quite a positive change to find this neighborhood no longer feeling so isolated. The once elevated "green monster" freeway is now underground thanks to the decades-long Big Dig, and the old, elevated structure is a thing of the past. Within a few years, the old freeway route will be developed into a new greenbelt of parks lined by new residential and commercial development. In the meantime, a barren construction zone remains, but even that is a remarkable improvement over the old freeway.

Visitors to the North End will find a variety of historic sites important to the American Revolution, including Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, the final resting place for several important colonists and a British armament during the war; Old North Church, where Paul Revere’s famous signal lanterns were hung; and Paul Revere’s house (which is incidentally the city’s oldest surviving clapboard home), which is open as a museum. You’ll also find the beautiful Italian Renaissance St. Stephen’s Church; the peculiar Narrowest House; and a host of Italian restaurants, coffee shops, and bakeries on Hanover Street, reflecting the neighborhood’s history as a home for Italian immigrants.

The North End is one of my favorite parts of Boston, and the removal of the old elevated Central Artery just improves it. With the noise of the old freeway and the associated construction project to put it underground gone, a walk through the North End is more enjoyable than ever before. On this trip, we visited the North End our first afternoon in Boston, after having flown up that morning, checking into the hotel, and eating lunch at Quincy Market. As a result, we arrived in the neighborhood too late to tour any of the historic buildings (most close at 4pm during the winter), but we were still able to stroll through the Italian business district on Hanover, enjoy the beautiful setting of Paul Revere Mall in the snow, and explore the historic gravesites of Copp’s Hill Burying Ground. The walk through the neighborhood was quite enjoyable, and I did not miss getting to go into sites like Old North Church, St. Stephen’s, and the Paul Revere house that much, as I had toured these three buildings before.

In addition to the major historic sites in the North End, the neighborhood is full of old houses and multi-family residential buildings, many of which are very expensive condos today. This neighborhood is so pleasant and so important to the history of Boston and the American Revolution that a visit here is an absolute must. And while you’re in the area, don’t miss having a meal or stopping for snack of coffee and pastries at one of the fine Hanover Street restaurants or bakeries.

North End
Hanover and Salem streets
Boston, Massachusetts, 02113
+1 617 635-4000

A Sunday Morning Walk Through Beacon Hill

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by ssullivan on March 1, 2005

On the last morning of my weekend in Boston, my friend and I had about 2.5 hours between finishing breakfast at our hotel and the time we needed to be back at the hotel to check out and head for Logan Airport to catch our 2pm flight home. Both of us love the Beacon Hill neighborhood, a section of the city we had yet to visit on this trip, so we decided that a walk through the neighborhood and adjacent Boston Common and Public Garden were in order.

Beacon Hill is one of Boston’s most prestigious neighborhoods, and from the 1790s through the development of Back Bay in the 1870s, Beacon Hill was the place to live in Boston if you were wealthy. After a period of decline through the 1870s to 1950s, Beacon Hill began to see a renaissance in the mid-20th century. Today, the neighborhood has regained its former status, and even the most modest homes are prohibitively expensive for the average Bostonian. The neighborhood remains home to thousands of historic Federal-style homes, many designed by famed Boston architect Charles Bulfinch; a number of beautiful churches; and some unique shops along Charles St.

Our Sunday morning walk through Beacon Hill started by crossing the Common and heading down Beacon Street from the Massachusetts Statehouse. The south slope of the hill facing the Common has always been one of the neighborhood’s premiere addresses, and the architecture reflects this. Beacon Street is lined on one side with a row of grand Federal mansions, and on the other, by the Common and Public Garden. Reaching Charles Street, the dividing street between the Common and Public Garden, we turned left and headed into the neighborhood.

Charles Street is primarily a commercial street, with some apartments on the upper levels of the historic buildings that house florists, produce markets, butchers, book shops, art galleries, and antique shops on the street level. Some of these shops are absolutely beautiful, with colorful displays of perfect fruits, vegetables, and flowers filling the store windows, enticing passers by to come inside to browse. The nearest supermarket is at Copley Square, so many residents in this part of town rely on the smaller markets on Charles Street for many of their groceries and other necessities. For a lover of urban living like myself, this type of neighborhood is almost divine; how nice it must be to just walk down the block to a nice neighborhood store owned by friendly people who have had the shop in their family for generations to buy a loaf of bread instead of getting in the car to drive to a nearby mega market like I must do at home in Houston! Walking by these shops, I wonder if the residents of Beacon Hill really appreciate what they have, or if they are as oblivious to it as I am about going to a huge supermarket surrounded by a giant parking lot.

Reaching Mt. Vernon Street., we turn left and cross in front of the historic Charles Street Meeting House, which dates to the early 1800s. Originally built to house a Baptist congregation, the building has more recently been converted to commercial use but still retains its classic architecture. Next door stands a site familiar to viewers of MTV’s reality show The Real World. The old fire station that housed the cast and crew of the 1997 season of the show is located at 127 Mt. Vernon on the corner of Mt. Vernon and River Streets, just off Charles Street. The building is now the home of Hill House, a nonprofit community center. Across the street at 130 Mt. Vernon is the whimsical Sunflower Castle, definitely the most unique and colorful home in the neighborhood. We continued down Mt. Vernon, then turned right and circled back toward Charles Street via Pickney Street, passing more unique and beautiful examples of Boston’s 19th-century residential architecture.

After reaching Charles Street again, I had to convince my friend, who is not a fan of hills, that it really was worth walking up Pickney to the summit of Beacon Hill. After a few protests, we crossed the street and started up the steep incline. Granted, Beacon Hill is nothing compared to the hills of San Francisco that I drug this same friend up and down for 3 days a year and a half earlier, but it’s still a bit of a climb. Going up the hill, it’s interesting to see how builders of these houses accommodated building the structures on the side of a steep incline. Many have half basements and half basements that are partly below street level and partly above it. Some houses are built with stairs leading up to the front door, while others have just a small step up from the sidewalk. Toward the top of the hill we reached Louisburg Square, still arguably the most prestigious address in all of Boston. This enclave of homes, which surrounds the city’s last private square, is perhaps the best example of the neighborhood’s architecture. In the center of the tree-filled square, which is surrounded by an iron fence to keep out nonresidents, stands a statue of Christopher Columbus, an 1850 gift of a wealthy Greek merchant. Louisburg Square is said to be the place where the Christmas traditions of Christmas Eve caroling and candlelit windows started.

Leaving Louisburg Square, we continued several more blocks before turning right and heading back toward Beacon Street. Sometime during this section of the walk, the air began to be filled with the bell peals of area churches calling their congregants for Sunday morning worship. The sound of the bells, resounding in all directions and echoing down the narrow streets, was a glorious celebration of a beautiful morning. It was the perfect compliment to an absolutely wonderful walk through one of Boston’s finest neighborhoods on a cold, clear late February Sunday morning. And it was the perfect way to end a short but fun visit to one of my favorite cities.

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