The Local Tourist

I’ve had the blessing of a run of visitors lately, which has been fantastic in itself but has also been a great opportunity to explore the local area more. I currently live about 11 miles, as the crow flies, outside of Boston, but it’s not like I’m running into the city every week. In the six months since I have been living in Waltham, Massachusetts, I have been to Boston six times, averaging about once a month. The rest of the time I’ve been doing fascinating things like looking for a house, going to the carwash, cleaning the house, doing laundry and grocery shopping in my spare time. But with family and friends coming in to town, of course there has been a great reason to get out and see the sights of this wonderful place.
Here’s a rundown on where I’ve been and what I’ve seen and my purely subjective opinions about them. A few things to keep in mind. I love American history, especially living history. I also have an extremely limited attention span. I’m not an especially big shopper, or a big hiker. I like good food, and comfort. So, if you’re a big adventure seeker, or someone whose perfect day is meandering through a quaint town looking at shops, you definitely want to buy a guide book, or ask someone with similar tastes.
The Boston public transport system (MBTA) is excellent and easy to use, and is how I have been maneuvering around in Boston except for the couple of times I’ve been driven in to town by a friend. I have not quite worked up the courage to drive myself around Boston, the traffic seems treacherous, the pedestrians fearless, and the parking scarce and pricey.
In Boston:
Faneuil Hall
I’m not sure why, but this is one of the first places I wanted to see in Boston. It has been a central marketplace and meeting place since 1743, and I guess I was expecting to find some super charming history there. Nope. Basically, it’s a huge crowded indoor/outdoor mall. And like most of Boston, it’s crazy expensive. I had a mad craving for ice cream one of the days I visited the hall. A small cone was $6.95!
Boston Duck Tours
There are several versions of Duck Tours, we took the “original” Duck Tour, which was a blast. You ride around Boston in an amphibious vehicle, which holds about 20 passengers, plus a driver. I’ve learned that the success of a tour depends largely on the skills, knowledge and personality of the driver, and we got a good one. The tour, which is narrated, goes around most of the major sights of Boston, and then eventually the jeep thing you are riding in turns into a boat and you drive right in to the Charles River. It was super cool, and a lot of fun. I loved it and would do it again. The only drawback is that there were certain sights I would have liked to explore, rather than just drive by.
Boston Hop on/Hop off Tours
Another narrated tour of Boston, the benefit to this one is you can get on and off at various sites (see above). And included in the price is a tour of the Old State House (see below). Our first driver was pretty lackluster, which definitely detracted from the tour. It also felt to me that the tour kept circling around, passing the same sights over and over from different directions. And, although there were 15 stops, we only chose to hop off at stop 5, which was the Old State House. Getting back on after our stop was tough, because subsequent trolleys were full, so you had to wait for a few to come by to get on, and they come every 15 minutes. I liked the tour but didn’t love it. But I did love the Old State House!
Boston Old State House
The Old State House, which was built in 1713, was the center for all political life in colonial Boston. It was the hub of the city and the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence in Massachusetts was done from the balcony on July 18, 1776. The tour docents are history students and they are excellent and really know their stuff. The Boston Massacre, which was one of the early touch points of the American Revolution, took place in front of the State House, and there is a separate tour that explains exactly what happened and makes it come alive. I was fascinated by all of this, and look forward to visiting the State House again.
Boston Museum of Fine Arts
I don’t know why I was so surprised by the awesomeness of this museum, I should have expected Boston would have a world class museum. But I was surprised and delighted by the depth of its collection. Picasso, Degas, Renoir, and Monet, are all well represented. They had a wonderful collection of early American silver, including works by Paul Revere. When we visited, they had just acquired a Frida Kahlo that was pretty magnificent. There’s probably a lot more that we didn’t see. Given my aforementioned short attention span, we didn’t stay for hours, and again, it’s a little pricey, adult admission is $25. But I can see myself going back soon.
North End
The North End is Boston’s oldest neighborhood, and it is also what we would call in other towns, Little Italy. It is a great place for walking around, the streets are filled with little restaurants and shops, and on a weekend night (or perhaps any night of the week), it is a lively and happening scene. A couple of tips if you want to eat there, check to see if the restaurant accepts credit cards and takes reservations. If not, bring lots of cash, and be prepared for a long wait! And even if they do take reservations, be sure to make them well in advance, the good ones book up quickly. I had dinner at Al Dente, which was delicious and does take reservations. I also recommend a stop at the famous Mike’s Pastries, which is known for its cannoli but also has all kinds of other goodies. Don’t be afraid of the huge crowds, the lines move pretty quickly and it’s a fun place to see and be seen while waiting in line.
Outside of Boston:
Salem, Massachusetts
Salem is a hoot! It is an absolutely charming and picturesque town, up the coast about 45 minutes from where I currently live. Famous of course for the infamous Witch Trials, which took place in 1692, the town economy is certainly centered around all things witchy. We did the Witch Museum tour, which is hokey but interesting and fun. We also walked all around the town, and saw beautiful old houses that were built back when Salem was a major sea port. The port of Salem was at its prime between the end of the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. I liked that part of our day better than the witch related stuff, but I would recommend doing the museum at least once. We didn’t get to the famous Peabody and Essex museum, which is supposed to be quite fabulous, but we did have an excellent lunch at a place called Finz that my dentist recommended. The lobster roll was superior to Legal Seafood, and costs about $5 less. It’s all about priorities. And lobster rolls!
Lexington and Concord
Last weekend, when my parents were here, we took the Liberty Ride Trolley tour through Lexington and Concord. The tour takes you through the historic sites where the first shots of the American Revolution were fired, including the path taken by Paul Revere on his famous midnight ride, and the Lexington Battle Green, where the Lexington militia confronted 800 British Regulars as the sun rose on April 19, 1775. It also takes you past the Old Manse, where Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ralph Waldo Emerson both stayed, and much to my delight, past the Alcott house. I actually got teary eyed looking up at the window where Louisa May wrote that charming story about her sisters. This was again a narrated tour, and our guide Marcia, a retired schoolteacher dressed in colonial garb, mobcap and all, did an outstanding job of bringing this important lesson to life. I loved this tour!
Before leaving Lexington, we also toured the Hancock-Clark house, where Sam Adams and John Hancock, he of the large signature, were hiding out from the British. This was where Paul Revere and William Dawes (the guy nobody mentions) were headed on that famous night, to give them the warning to skedaddle, because “the British were coming” to destroy the munitions they heard were being stored in Concord by the increasingly angry Patriots. If you’re a history buff like me, especially with a yearning to see how people actually lived during these pivotal times in our nation’s history, add this stop to your list.
And that’s it, that is what I have seen so far. My list of places to go next is long, and it’s going to take a while, I have a busy summer coming up, what with packing and unpacking and moving again(!) and settling in to my new, old house. But I’ve got time on my side, everything here has been in place for a few centuries already, and it will wait for me, while I make my own history.
The end, for now

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