Whether you commute to Boston every day for work or haven’t been there in years, it’s likely been awhile since you gave the city a fresh look. [Editor’s note: This travel feature was originally scheduled to appear online in March, 2020, then postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.]
Growing up, I knew Boston almost as well as my hometown, which shares a border with the city. I knew all the best places to park and how to navigate Boston’s Colonial-era streets to avoid traffic jams. I lived in the city’s Allston-Brighton neighborhood while I was in graduate school, back when it was still an affordable enclave of crooked Victorians populated by students and musicians.
Although my husband, Rob, and I travel often and have visited some cities many times, like Montreal and New York, I realized recently that I hadn’t been to Boston in years, except for an occasional trip to Logan Airport. Curious to see what I’d been missing, I set out to rediscover some of what the city I once called home had to offer.
Rob and I checked into Yotel Boston in the city’s Seaport District on a drizzly February afternoon. Part of a U.K.-based chain, Yotel’s public areas and guest rooms are loaded with technology that’s meant to maximize space and save time, from the retractable beds (you read that correctly) to the self-serve check-in kiosks in the lobby. The hotel’s rooftop bar offers great views and is popular during the summer. And its no-hassle valet parking and convenient location within walking distance of the Seaport’s restaurants and shops and the MBTA’s Silver Line make Yotel a good home base from which to explore the city.
The striking concrete and steel Institute of Contemporary Art, one of Boston’s most popular attractions, is just a 10-minute walk from Yotel. Located on Boston Harbor, the ICA hosts major exhibitions of well-known contemporary artists and also of emerging artists who are often in their inaugural museum show.
Through early February 2021, the ICA will feature “Love is Calling,” an exhibition of work by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, who is known for her bright and whimsical installations. Due to high demand, timed tickets for the exhibition must be purchased in advance on the ICA website. If you want to poke around the museum and see what it’s like, the ICA offers free admission every Thursday night from 5 to 9 p.m.
We enjoyed a pleasant dinner at Pastoral on Congress Street, an Italian restaurant popular with Seaport locals. Featuring Neapolitan-style pizza, craft beer and cocktails, and a selection of entrees and salads made with locally sourced ingredients, Pastoral has a comfortable laid-back vibe. Its television-free dining room and unfussy service encourage conversation.
Pastoral’s three-onion pizza was as simple as it was good. Featuring kale, roasted beets and mascarpone cheese, the Antica salad could easily be a meal in itself.
Wanting to visit some of Boston’s more traditional cultural attractions, we made a trip to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Located on Huntington Avenue across from Northeastern University, the MFA is in a neighborhood that just a couple of decades ago was lined with windowless barrooms and dangerous at night. These days, the area is trash-free, safe and exudes a youthful, vibrant energy.
While you could spend days exploring the MFA, the Monet gallery is a must-see if your time is limited. I could spend an hour or two in this gallery, which is home to one of the largest collections of Claude Monet’s paintings outside of France. Another favorite, the Art of the Americas galleries feature paintings by John Singleton Copley, Mary Cassatt, Winslow Homer, Frida Kahlo and Georgia O’Keeffe, as well as work by African American artist Kehinde Wiley.
Located nearby on Massachusetts Avenue, Boston Symphony Hall offers concerts several nights a week. One well-kept secret about this place is that same-day tickets are often available. And depending on the day of the week, you can sometimes get good deals. Over the winter, for example, tickets for select Tuesday night concerts were available at a 50 percent discount.
Back in the Seaport, I had a hard time imagining it was the same area, known for its derelict warehouses, rotting wharfs and (dare I say it) rats, that I remembered from my college days, when I frequented a now long-gone area music club. Today, the streets are squeaky clean and populated by high-end boutiques and gourmet coffee joints, the lovingly restored warehouses home to pricey apartments and tech companies. There’s even a Trader Joe’s.
Twice in the Seaport, drivers actually stopped to let us cross the street. Neither of them swore at us, or even looked annoyed. Rob and I thought they must be from out of town, but maybe not. I think perhaps, in the 21st century, Boston is developing a new sense of itself, one that’s rooted in its past but looking toward a globally minded, cosmopolitan future.
Institute of Contemporary Art
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Boston Symphony Hall