Boston is a city where history greets visitors on every corner. It’s a well preserved city where buildings that stood over founding fathers, massacres, and battles still stand today. Exploring the city on foot not only allows visitors to see the major sights, but also allows for becoming fully immersed in the history that surrounds as well.
I recently visited Boston on a work trip and had a few chances to get out on foot, running the city from Cambridge to downtown and was struck by the way the water defines this city. Amsterdam, Venice, and even Paris are cities hugely shaped by water and known for it, while Boston is just as influenced by the Back Bay and Charles River yet most outside the city are only vaguely aware of these. Inside the city, it’s impossible to miss the influence of the water. From runners along the riverside paths to sailing schools and kayaks out on the water, everyone seems to want to get out onto the water whenever it’s warm out. After a 6 mile run in the afternoon sun, I can see why locals would want to jump in.
A great path to explore while on mid to long runs in Boston also follows the water. From Cambridge, I ran along the water across the towpath that ends at the canal by a bridge. I crossed the Longfellow Bridge into Boston proper, all the while watching sailing lessons on the water and kayaks make their way out into the waves. A few brave paddleboarders also meandered into the depths. Once in Boston, I crossed what seemed like the first of countless footbridges that cross the large streets through the center of the city. Car traffic seemed to get the priority here and crosswalks are less plentiful. From there I ran down the waterside path along the Charles River along the Esplanade along with a huge number of other runners, bikers, and people out walking. Many were also sunbathing along docks on the water during the sunny afternoon.
Another footbridge later, I crossed over to Boston Common, a large park in the middle of the downtown where history meets the present day. The park is heavily shaded from trees, making for a nice spot for a run with the sun still beating down. In the park I found a ton of winding paths allowing me to customize my route. I ran along a small pond with a family of ducks inhabiting a tiny island and past a violin duo playing to a small crowd. Further in, I discovered a large group doing yoga in front of a carousel, perhaps 300 people participated. Finally, I exited the park near an old cemetery which housed several of Boston’s founding families. I then headed back over the footbridge and back along the water.
After winding along the water through several back eddies and canals which were resplendent with water lilies and other flowers in the late spring, I crossed back over to the Cambridge side of the river along the Massachusetts Avenue Bridge. Here, a journey along Memorial Drive took me along the water again. I passed MIT and the large domed hall, encountering a small group of students testing their engineering skills with a hand built electric skateboard. They might need some remedial classes based on the horrible sound it was making. I finally made it back to the Lechmere Canal Park where I started and found yet more groups heading out on kayaks. IT’s a very healthy and active city.
Boston is far more than just a running town. Though the Boston Marathon is world famous for both the difficult qualifying standard that makes the field particularly elite and the terrorist attack just a few short years ago at the finish line, it isn’t just running that makes this town run. There’s a huge food scene, and unsurprisingly for a town known for working class citizens, there’s an enormous bar culture as well.
Boston isn’t known for an immigrant driven exotic old culture in the same way that cities like New York, Seattle, or San Francisco are. As a result, most restaurants are American Fare heavy. However, great ramen and Japanese food can be found at Shabu and Mein. This big ramen and hot pot joint not only serves up tasty and rich broth based ramen, but also has tables with hot pot built in. It’s a spot perfect for a unique experience in a city with a surplus of American food places.
For something more traditional and drink focused, I like Meadhall, a craft beer specialist with pretty good pub faire to go with it. There were about 40 beers on tap from a good selection of West Coast IPAs to German Wheats to Belgian Tripels and Quads. It’s a fantastic spot for beer nerds and those who like something a bit more flavorful than domestic beers. The food is good pub grub as well with tasty fries I couldn’t stop eating and a nicely seasoned burger. Service was a little flaky and seemed to forget about us a few times though.
For an upscale food and beer experience, I love Tip Tap Room over near downtown. A similarly great beer selection with 20+ beers on tap and a rotating guest list greeted me and I had a hard time narrowing down my choice to just a single beer so I stayed for a few rounds. The food is incredible as well. The boar meatball appetizer was nice and spicy and not overwhelmingly heavy like one might expect from boar. Focusing on great cuts of meat, hence the “tip” part of the name, I also had a hard time narrowing down my food selection and chose based on the sides. Goat cheese potatoes and a habanero sauce with chimichurri grabbed my attention and I also got a nicely cooked steak with it. I may have stayed for a few more beers off of the menu instead of dessert.
For the times when the focus is a drink, Alibi, an outside bar at the beautiful and unique Liberty Hotel, a converted prison, is a nice spot to hang out. This small beer garden is a bit of a scene at night due to the clientele at the hotel, but the drinks and staff are down to earth and it’s a nice place to hang out in the sun or while it sets. Getting a chair isn’t an easy task, but if you can nab one, it’s worth sticking to it all day.
Boston is a town known for passionate sports fans, wacky accents, and chowdah, but after my visit, I think perhaps it should be known for active people, life on the water, and a strong passion for good beer and food. There’s more to this city than meets the eye. Getting around it on foot makes for the best way to experience the history and culture so get out there and don’t rely on cars. After all, in a city also known for traffic issues, you might get wherever you are going faster on foot anyway.