Quick: list your top five “quintessentially American cities.” By “quintessentially American,” I mean that people outside the United States would also unhesitatingly produce these names (whether or not they–or their American counterpoints–could locate or recognize corresponding states).
I bet good money Boston made your Top Five.
“The Cradle of Liberty” is chock full of American history (and not to be confused with Lexington, a.k.a. “The Birthplace of Liberty”–which I mistakenly thought was Philadelphia’s tagline. Doh! How could I have forgotten “City of Brotherly Love” or Pennsylvania’s former state slogan, “America Starts Here”? But I digress.)
As much as I love to travel, Boston was an unknown to me. Runner friends were completely incredulous, until they recalled that my standard marathon pace and a Boston QT (qualifying time) aren’t likely to intersect.
No; though I’d seen movies, read books, and studied U.S. history, I’d never visited this quintessentially American city.
Never, that is, until my husband and I front loaded his work conference with a fun weekend getaway. And here are highlights from my first (and hopefully, not last) weekend in Boston.
Dive Into Boston’s Bars
Friday night late arrival means only one thing: find a good local bar. We started out for Highball Lounge on Tremont (the menu’s tater tot nachos called to me like a siren to a sailor) but were disappointed to find it closed for a private event. The helpful hostess directed us to Carrie Nation Restaurant and Cocktail Club, a perfect mix of happy hour bites, fab drinks, and historically-minded speakeasy atmosphere (think about the name).
Over the weekend, we did manage to wander past Beacon Hill’s Bull & Finch Pub, which provided the exterior image for that quintessentially Boston bar show, Cheers. According to Wikipedia, the Bull & Finch was renamed Cheers Beacon Hill in 2002 (and a second location, Cheers Faneuil Hall, was built complete with TV show-worthy bar replication).
Feast on Boston’s Famous Food
Our Boston-based food mission: seafood. Ironically, neither Hubby nor I got around to any of Boston’s famous baked beans (yes, I know there’s no seafood here) or clam chowder, but we succeeded in slurping down assorted oysters at Carrie Nation.
Saturday night’s go-out-on-a-date destination dinner featured more oysters. I’d spied North Square Oyster as we’d walked through the North End, Boston’s historically Italian neighborhood, and was charmed by its gabled front, retro tiled floor, and position on the cobblestoned square. The menu was an intriguing mix of traditional dishes with a modern American cuisine update. I sampled a local gin in my martini and our dozen oysters featured six different varieties and five different accompaniments. The downside: stifling indoor temperature and less than attentive and only marginally helpful waitress.
We had two different but equally enjoyable breakfast experiences. When we asked for recommendations on something uniquely local, Kenny, the doorman at the Ritz-Carlton (woohoo for Marriott Reward points!), steered us to the Paramount Diner in Beacon Hill. “Controlled chaos” is how he described it, and he wasn’t lying; the narrow restaurant dictated a choreographed ballet between patrons, “guides”–servers who sent you to the right line and then seated you–and line cooks. The bistro’s been an institution since 1937 and, while the food was fairly standard, the Boston atmosphere was stellar.
Sunday morning, we walked to Boston’s harbor district for lake views and the Seaport Hotel’s breakfast restaurant, Aura. Instead of the buffet, I ordered the signature “Breakfast Sammie,” drawn in by rave reviews of their gluten-free bread. Ah. I don’t know when I’d last eaten a breakfast sandwich. What a treat; this one was positively delightful.
On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at the Boston Tea Party museum. Huzzah! Though a bit pricey (tickets were $28 each; buy online for cheaper), I enjoyed the actors’ enthusiasm–plus our guide portrayed a female revolutionary character! (As a woman, all the middle-aged white men in period dress get a little old.)
Walk Boston’s Freedom Trail
Walking is my favorite way to learn a new city, and Boston did not disappoint. The Ritz-Carlton was conveniently located, so we were able to skip cars and travel everywhere on foot. We wandered from South to North, through Chinatown to Boston Harbor.
The Freedom Trail provided an easy follow-the-brick-path method for finding historic spots (Paul Revere’s house, Benjamin Franklin’s grave marker, the Democratic Donkey statue, and U.S.S. Constitution, to name but a few sites). The route is 2.5 miles long (though, because we detoured so often, it felt longer), with options to visit museums and hear guides along the way deliver background information (those men in period costumes again).
Our explorations naturally led us through Boston Commons–a race, starting and ending in the park, was underway one morning–and along the Rose Kennedy Greenway. The Greenway is a lovely way to cover 1.5 city miles while experiencing Boston’s public art, beautiful plantings, and variety of public spaces.
More Quintessentially American Cities
My Top 5 list includes these great cities. (BTW, search using “travel” tag for more trip tales; I love to write about the places I explore. Coming up: Barcelona!)
(this is a marathon recap; I need to write up my time on the beautiful High Line!)
(this is my latest; I have another Seattle review because I get to go so often)
(dang it; I haven’t written the D.C. recap I’d planned; on my last visit, I ran from National Harbor, MD to Washington, D.C. for fun)
and Dallas (woohoo, Texas!)