We just got back from a trip to Boston, where I took approximately five thousand pictures. Really I wanted to go to Salem, but the bf thought it would make more sense to stay in Boston and make Salem a day trip.
Of course, we didn’t actually stay in Boston, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Ready?
How We Got There
We drove. This is partly because, between the amazing gas mileage on the Civic and the way gas prices have been lately compared to when I started driving, it seemed cheaper than flying. At least if you avoid toll roads, which we did.
But it was also because road-tripping is the way to see America—especially if you avoid toll roads, because then you end up on a lot of scenic byways. It’s fine and dandy to have your destination in mind and hop on a plane or train to get there, but a car allows the flexibility of unplanned stops. Plus the vistas from America’s roadways are gorgeous.
Once we got to Boston, we traveled on foot and by subway, using the car only to get from the hotel to the nearest station. You can buy tickets one-way or round-trip or buy daily or weekly passes, which are definitely worth the money if you know you’ll be riding around Boston as well as into it.
(A weekly pass is actually less than twice as much as a daily pass, so if you’ll be riding the subway for two or more days, it’s best to get a weekly pass.)
Where We Stayed
Boston can be expensive, so we stayed at the Candlewood Suites in Braintree. This had several advantages.
- Full kitchenettes in-suite, which means money saved by not eating out at every meal.
- Free laundry—which you do yourself, by the way, so you don’t need to feel creeped out by the thought of someone else poking through your undies. Plus you can use the gym, eat, have coffee, or play a board game while waiting for your clothes to get done. And then not have to do laundry right when you get home.
- The hotel is a ten minute drive from the Quincy Adams subway station, so we were able to take a train into Boston rather than fighting traffic.
- For only slightly more money a night than the hostel that was the cheapest digs I could find in Boston, we had a private bathroom.
Which seemed worth paying for.
What We Ate
Day 1. Dinner the first night was at The Fours in Quincy, as we were starving by that point and needed to procure foodstuffs before starting our adventuring.
It calls itself a sports bar. And there are definitely plenty of televisions around with various games on them. But the menu wasn’t just burgers and fries, which led me to believe they’d lean more toward restaurant than bar. They did—at least at 4p.m. on a Sunday. Since we were in New England, I tried a cup of clam chowder that was so flavorful that I’ll never be able to eat clam chowder in the Midwest again.
From the menu, the prices seemed on the expensive side for a sports bar, but once you see how much food you get—whoa. Totally reasonable.
Later on, after some wandering in Boston that left me tired and headachey, we stopped at Boston Common Coffee Co. for a pick-me-up: an iced mocha for me and an iced chai latte for the bf. Both were good and reasonably priced, and if you’re ever in Boston with friends, this seems like a neat place to hang out. It’s got a cozy interior and four locations. (This one is Washington Street.)
Day 2. Lunch was at Passage to India in Salem. Admittedly, I can get really good Indian food back home, but come on. Indian food is delicious. I tried something new, anyway—at home I always get masala curry, always—so I went for the fish tandoori: salmon cooked in an oven with onions and basmati rice. And it actually came with masala sauce, apparently, but who’s complaining about that? Anyway, it was amazing. Quite possibly the best fish I’ve ever had.
Day 3. Ethiopian for lunch today—another cuisine I love, although in this case one I can’t get very often because the nearest Ethiopian place back home is forty-five minutes away (when traffic is good). Anyway, we had the vegetarian sampler at Lucy’s Ethiopian Cafe, just a short subway ride from the aquarium. I was super pleased, since the place at home doesn’t have a sampler on the menu. It always bums me out because I feel like sharing a big platter of varied dishes spooned onto injera is the best way to eat Ethiopian.
Lucy’s also made for some cheap eats—we found it on a Buzzfeed list of Boston foods for under $10 (although the vegetarian sampler, not actually featured on the list, was $19.99, so it was more like $10 each). It kept us full for so long we skipped out on snacking in Chinatown. But we did stop by Boston Brewin for coffee. It’s the tiniest coffee place you could imagine.
It’s basically a galley kitchen with enough room for a couple people to stand and order coffee. Definitely not the place for lounging around with your friends, but it’s perfect for coffee on the go as you pound the pavement. Additionally, the profits support charity organizations..
Finally hungry again, we headed to The Barking Crab for dinner.
Although it’s in a huge tent and seating is picnic style, it’s a pretty nice place. The music is loud—because we’re a bar, not your living room, as a sign hanging from the ceiling says—the atmosphere is relaxed, and the presentation is beautiful. I tried bouillabaisse with crostini.
This is definitely not on the list of cheap eats—the lobster and crab dishes are market price—but if you can afford to splurge one night and want to try some good New England seafood, it’s a good place to go.
Day 4. Our last morning, we went a while out of our way to stop at Sullivan’s Castle Island so the bf could try a lobster roll: a Boston classic, and one in this case on the list of Boston eats under $10.
Although I should note, before I go on, that this is no longer true. As of this writing, Sullivan’s charges $12.95 for a lobster roll.
You can get souvenirs while you’re waiting for your food if you’re inclined to: umbrellas, shirts, hats, and more are available for sale in the restaurant. And although lunch isn’t actually available before a certain time, they indulged the bf’s request for an early-morning lobster roll.
A quick note before we start: everything on this list is free unless otherwise noted in the description. After paying for gas, a hotel, food, and subway rides, we tried to keep the adventuring cheap.
Boston’s Pedestrian Zone. Boston is heralded as one of the most walkable cities in the U.S., and not without reason. Not only are people constantly in the streets (and the drivers incredibly patient with them), but there’s a shopping strip for pedestrians only.
Both the Red and Orange Lines can drop you off at Downtown Crossings. Most of the shops were big chains and didn’t interest me that much, since I can see them at home, but the many restaurants looked (and smelled) great, and I was thrilled to see an entire avenue just for pedestrians.
The Granary Burying Ground. Here’s something to know about me: I love old graveyards. They’re sort of eerie and touching and sad and beautiful all at once, especially when the sunlight hits one stone out of a mass of them, like someone special is buried there or something, or when you find flowers or cards left at graves so old the person who left them can’t possibly have known the deceased, or when a stone is in amazing shape for its age, or when it’s half crumbled to dust, or—
I just love them. Hence all the graveyard porn.
So I was pretty excited.
Here is what really made the experience so awesome. Or rather who.
This is Jimmy Cole, who stands outside the Granary, passing out homemade guides that include a map of famous graves and tidbits about the historical figures buried there. This is it for Jimmy, this is what he does. He got started because he’s a history nut who thought the sign listing the famous graves in the cemetery wasn’t particularly informative.
And if it was anything like our experience in Salem, he was right. But more on that later.
Anyway, Jimmy’s pretty awesome and more than willing to talk about the cemetery or his work creating guides for it, so be sure to stop and talk to him. And give him a great tip if you’ve got anything extra on you, because it’s amazing what he put together so people could get more out of their cemetery-going experience.
Interesting historical figures buried at the Granary include Ben Franklin’s parents, John Hancock, Robert Treat Paine, and Paul Revere. (No one quite seems sure why people leave pennies atop his grave, but the consensus is: probably because he was a smith by trade and helped make America’s first coins.) I’m not a particularly patriotic person, but it was amazing to find myself looking at the graves of men who helped found our country.
Even though it still has lots of issues. And so did they.
Boston Common. Boston Common is the oldest public park in the U.S.
Not only does Boston Common have a playground, off-leash dog areas, and a “frog pond” (though with far too much chlorine for actual frogs), but it also sculptures, memorials, great views of the Boston skyline, and another cemetery—which, unfortunately, was closed when we got there, so I just got one picture over the fence.
Because graveyard porn.
That blue skyscraper shooting up above the others is, a local informed me, the John Hancock Tower, which is the tallest building in Boston. I didn’t realize I was capturing an Interesting Thing. I just liked the way the skyline looked at sunset.
The New England Aquarium. This was my first time at a proper aquarium, and it was SO COOL. You have no idea. I was geeking out so hard. ANYWAY. Tickets are around $30/person for adults or $20 for kids, plus there are additional tickets if you want to go whale watching or watch documentaries at the aquarium’s IMAX theater.
There are tanks–including the giant ocean tank rising up through the middle of the building–plus interactive exhibits, two touch tanks, a shark nursery, a lobster nursery, live trainings and feedings, and a penguin exhibit.
Maybe it’s just me, but I didn’t realize there’d be penguins at an aquarium. And wow, are they loud. If you’d asked me before what noise a penguin made, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you, despite years of watching Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. Turns out penguins—at least African penguins, sometimes called jackass penguins for this very reason—sound an awful lot like donkeys. Weird.
Also, I had no idea sea dragons were a thing! I couldn’t get a great picture through the glass, but here’s a picture from the Internet.
They’re seahorses but cooler. How did I not know about them?
Mutual of Omaha, you have failed me. Again.
There’s also a sweet interactive exhibit called the Sea Turtle Hospital. Apparently, the New England Aquarium does a lot of sea turtle rescue. Mostly because young turtles get swept onto the New England coast by the currents and suffer from hypothermia. So the aquarium has volunteers who comb the beaches for frozen turtles and then they and the staff examine the little beasties and nurse them back to health and release them (unless that’s not possible).
The Sea Turtle Hospital (which, oddly, is also where most of the jellies are) walks you through the procedures it takes to rescue sea turtles. You give model turtles “x-rays” by waving a wand over different parts of their bodies and then treat them.
Other than the touch tanks—which of course were some of my favorite exhibits for the obvious reason that you get to touch the wildlife—my favorite things to see were all the training and feeding presentations
Oh my God, the sea turtle! Look how huge the sea turtle is, guys.
The best time to go is when the aquarium first opens at 9a.m. You get there before the big crowds and can while away the morning hours before you check out other Boston sights.
The Freedom Trail. This is a 2.5-mile trail that takes you past 16 different historical sites. The Granary Burying Ground is part of it, as it Boston Common, so we’d already seen a bit of it at this point. You can pay for a tour, if you want, but you can also follow the trail on your own. Three guesses which one we did.
These plates are laid into the ground every so often to let you know you’re going the right way. There are also some street signs and a thin line of bricks set into the sidewalk, different from the surrounding bricks, that is there for the same reason.
Irish Famine Memorial. This is a memorial commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Great Famine of 1845 and the Irish immigrants who fled to America in its wake.
On one side is a statue of starving rural Irish, stretching out their hands in supplication. On the other are well-fed, well-dressed urban Irish who are clearly indifferent to their suffering. Not only does this memorial symbolize Ireland’s class structure at the time, but it can remind us of similar inequalities and injustices today.
King’s Chapel. A $2/person donation is requested for entry—more if you want an actual tour, although most people were content to wander on their own.
There are signs all around the chapel, letting you know its history—it was the church to belong to if you were a prominent Bostonian back in the day, I guess—and telling you where famous patrons’ pews can be found.
The only one I was really interested in was that of Robert Gould Shaw and family—colonel of the 54th Massachusetts regiment—but according to the sign it was #114, and the numbers of the pews on the main level only went up to the 90s.
And the upper area was primarily for black people and poor white people sat. I have a hard time imagining a person from the upper echelons of society would deign to sit with them, but maybe I’m being too pessimistic about human nature.
Old City Hall. Now mostly occupied by businesses, Boston’s Old City Hall is still a spot for tourists.
There’s information on the walls inside about the first public school in America, which originally stood in the spot Old City Hall is now. (It was later moved around the corner.) There’s a cool marble inlay in the doors, which are thought to be made from two different original pieces, although no one’s really sure why, and statues and murals of historical people and events around the grounds.
Plus, there’s a steakhouse. Ruth’s Chris Steak House, in case you’re interested. Obviously we didn’t go (it’s a liiiiittle pricey), but maybe next time.
The Old State House. Admission is $10/person. Be prepared to learn loads about the Boston Massacre! Most of the exhibits talked about the events leading up to it and tried to make sense of what really happened that night.
The cool thing about this museum is that you’re given a character card on your way in, with information like socioeconomic class and political stance. Throughout the museum, signs ask thought-provoking questions about America in the late 1760s and early 1770 and what your character would do or feel about the happenings at the time.
Chinatown. Boston’s historic Chinatown is a cool place to walk around, but mostly we went there in search of the Chinatown Gate, which we found on our subway map.
We found it in a little park that’s part of the Rose Kennedy Greenway.
We meant to eat in Chinatown, but we went right after lunch at Lucy’s Ethiopian. So we were definitely not hungry, even by the time we left.
Salem. Okay, so it’s not in Boston. But I really wanted to go, and, luckily, Salem is an easy day trip.
Salem Visitor Center. A good first place to stop, the Visitor Center provides souvenirs, pamphlets for activities and sightseeing, and some exhibits on Salem’s maritime history.
Because even though most of you—like me—probably think of Salem as that place with the crazy witch happenings back in 1692. But as it turns out, it was a thriving, hugely important seaport in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Apparently, it was even the sixth largest city in the world at one point. Whoa.
The Salem Witch Museum. Because of course I was mainly there for witches, having the same morbid fascination with the Salem Witch Trials everyone else has.
(Sorry, people of Salem.)
Not to be confused with the Witch History Museum, mind you. Admission is $10/person, which gets you a two-part presentation and a sticker you can show around Salem to get discounts at various businesses.
The Witch House. Admission is $8/person. The home of Jonathon Corwin, it’s the only house still standing that has direct ties to the Witch Trials—Corwin was one of the presiding judges.
Artists’ Row. Yep—not only does Salem have a rich maritime history that I still know nothing about after visiting, but it loves art, too. Artists’ Row is a short stretch between Washington and Other Streets.
On Labor Day, some of the shops were closed, but the ones we checked out were pretty sweet. I really wanted a mug from Ceramics by Sibel, but we still had shopping to do in Salem’s pedestrian zone.
The Witch Trials Memorial and Burying Point. Yep. We’re back to witches. Witches and really old cemeteries.
Anyway, the memorial is amazing. It looks like a tiny park at first glance.
But the Witch Trials Memorial is rife with symbolism. My favorite was the one that was probably also the most obvious.
The victims’ protestations of innocence, cut off by the stones of the memorial. Wow.
The Burying Point, next door, could’ve been even more interesting than the Granary, but there was no Jimmy Cole handing out guides at the entrance. It was a lot harder finding famous graves with nothing more than a sign with a list of names and a crude map.
But we managed to find Judge John Hathorne, Captain Richard More, and Nathaniel Mather. The victims of the Witch Trials aren’t there, though—which is hardly surprising, given what the community thought them guilty of.
Salem’s Pedestrian Zone. Sorry, Boston, but Salem’s pedestrian zone is definitely cooler. The shops are way more interesting—although, to be fair, that could be partly because so many of them relate to magic.
Plus there are two sweet fountains.
The second fountain was the East India Square Fountain. The top level of stone shows the original coastline, while a lower level shows the coastline after centuries of filling.
The pedestrian zone in Salem got the most money of the trip (outside lodging, food, and gas). I picked up some stones from the Village Silversmith to make jewelry and strappy booties from Modern Millie, and the bf decided to get a small bottle of the October Moon blend from Aromasanctum Perfumes.
Waikiki Beach and Fort Pickering. We finished the day by driving to Waikiki Beach to see the Atlantic, and wow was it windy. Maybe it was the tail end of Hurricane Hermine.
Waikiki Beach is at Winter Island Park, which has camping, boating, a gift store, and an old fort and lighthouse. Fort Pickering is kind of strange to check out, because it’s nothing like Fort Mackinac. It’s not a massive walled structure you can wander around.
Actually, it’s mostly underground.
But then we found a dirt path from the fort down to some rocks, which was better for the wind on our faces, a view of the ocean, and a good photo op.
Of course, there’s way more to Boston than what we saw. But for a budget and just a few days off work, it was a great time!
One thought on “Boston Adventuring”