Boston’s picturesque Back Bay is located along the Charles River, a canvas painted with Victorian brownstones and timeless elegance. Once a tidal bay turned marshland, it’s now considered one of America’s most beautiful neighborhoods. Today it’s home to architectural marvels, and a tapestry of upscale shops, art galleries, chic boutiques, trendy restaurants and vibrant bars.
What to Do
Arlington Street Church
This is a Unitarian Universalist church across from the Boston Public Gardens. It’s renowned for being the first public building built in the Back Bay. It was constructed between 1859 and 1861. What’s particularly cool about this building is that Tiffany Studios created the 16 stained-glass panels in the church windows. It’s believed to be the largest collection of Tiffany windows in any one church. Special Tiffany techniques were used, such as painting certain details and multiple layers of opalescent glass to achieve the effect of folds and drapes. The Visitor Center is open May to October.
Boston Public Gardens – Ride the Swans
The Public Garden was the first botanical garden in America. And since 1877, unique Swan Boats have graced the lagoon of the Gardens. You can buy your tickets at the dock (no reservation necessary), and take a 15-minute tour around the lagoon on these boats that are pedal-driven by a captain. In truth, this would have been more fun with the grandkids along. But it’s still a pretty fun thing to do. You don’t typically have to wait longer than 5 to 10 minutes for a ride. It’s open from April through September.
Suitsupply is an upscale retailer of men’s apparel, offering an un-trends selection of men’s suits and luxurious Italian wool, silk, linen, cotton, cashmere, and alpaca fabrics. But it’s the hidden gem beneath the suit shop that interested us.
Café Susu is a secret café offering a variety of European-style espresso beverages, exclusive cocktails, wine, beer, and cider. They partner with Café Madeleine for delicious pastry offerings as well, including scones with clotted cream and jam! The interior is small but charming, featuring retro furniture. And you can even watch the tailors in the back room as they alter suits brought into the store while enjoying your beverage and pastry. I tried their Rooibos Honey Lavender Latte, and it was awesome!
Mary Baker Eddy Library: “How do you see the world?”
We went here and paid $6 per adult to do the “How do you see the world?” experience, which included a visit to the Mapparium™: a walk-through three-story stained glass globe. The Mapparium shows the world at in one moment in time – 1935. You view this massive, colorful globe from a 30-foot long bridge that runs through its center. The short narration for this was a little cheesy, I admit. But looking at how countries were named and divided up during this pre-World War II era, was pretty fascinating. Plus, you get to stand inside a massive glass globe which was kind of cool.
Bodega Convenience Store
Tucked into a side street off busy Mass Ave., you discover what at first glance looks like an ordinary convenience store, it’s windows packed with dusty-looking non-perishables. But head inside and step in front of the faux Snapple vending machine to activate the sliding door and reveal the secret store within a store.
Boston’s most fly sneaker shop carrying rare kicks from Air Jordan, DSPTCH and 100 other brands – as well as deluxe streetwear and books on art & design. It’s a fun place to browse even if you don’t buy anything.
This little hidden gem is tucked away amid the Victorian brownstones and shops of the Back Bay. We literally stumbled upon it. But if you’re a Harry Potter fan you must go there. The shop is tiny but chock full of cool Harry Potter-related treasures, some of which I didn’t even see in the shops at “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” in Universal Studios when my daughter and I went there.
Tour Historic Fenway Park:
For $25/person you can take a one-hour guided walking tour of this legendary space. Sit on top of the world-famous Green Monster. Revisit the careers of Red Sox players like Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Carl Yastrzemski, and more. Learn about the celebrated history of this 100-year-old ballpark. Side note: Learn about how Fenway grows its own vegetables; Fenway Farms!
Where to Dine
We had good service and good food for dinner in this modern Irish Pub overlooking Boylston Street in Boston’s Back Bay. You can sip on pints of Guinness and local craft beer while munching on comfort food favorites like their soft pretzels with cheddar IPA dipping sauce, chicken pot pie, fish & chips, juicy burgers, sandwiches, and more. Their housemade chips (my great weakness!) were crispy, salty, and perfect. And if you’re not a beer drinker try one of their tasty blueberry lemonade cocktails. Yum!
True confessions: this particular restaurant is not near the Back Bay at all. It’s in Hingham. However, it deserves a special mention. So, apparently there is another famous Wahlberg running around. Alma Nove is a delightful waterfront restaurant founded by Executive Chef Paul Wahlberg, along with his co-owner celebrity brothers, Mark and Donnie. It’s named after the Wahlberg family matriarch, Alma, & her nine (nove) children. The restaurant is a pretty setting, framed by glass walls and topped by a rotunda. The interior is lit by pretty, hand-blown glass orb lighting. We had a delicious meal here. They serve an eclectic mix of flavors from the Mediterranean and Italy, including fresh-off-the-boat seafood, specialty pastas, and meat dishes prepared on a wood-burning grill. They also offer an extensive and delicious gluten-free menu.