When I think about the big life choices I’ve made, moving to Boston in 2007 emerges as one of the best.
It fulfilled a lifelong dream for this native New Englander. I walked to Fenway Park and ran along the Charles River. I reveled in the city’s history, culture and energy for six months…and then moved out of Boston.
Why? I discovered Cambridge and Somerville. Just over the Charles River from Boston, these sister cities come together to form Camberville, an interwoven community of vibrant neighborhoods (squares), each with a distinct personality and vibe. It’s the best of all worlds: History, art, food. When paired with Boston, it ticks all the boxes for residents and visitors alike.
Considering a trip to Boston soon? Here are my tips so that you can infuse your discoveries with the best Camberville has to offer. I invite you to see greater Boston the way I do!
Davis Square, Somerville
What it is: Davis is currently one of metro Boston’s hottest neighborhoods—a far cry from its reputation as “Slumerville” in the early ’80s.
What to do: People-watch. It feels like there’s almost always something happening in Davis, from weekend 5K runs to HONK!, the activist street band festival that takes over the square each fall. But even on an average day, it’s worth carving out some time to settle down on a bench in Statue Park. With proximity to the historical Somerville Theatre and a J.P. Licks ice cream shop, the air smells like movie popcorn or waffle cones. Buskers often perform live, and you’ll likely see small children dancing beneath twinkle-light-dotted trees. It’s blissful.
What to eat: While Davis’s culinary options have scaled up dramatically in recent years, eating a burrito from Anna’s Taqueria (236 Elm St.) is a local rite of passage. Say yes to the hot sauce.
Union Square, Somerville
What it is: The next big thing. A project is underway to extend Boston’s subway and light-rail system to Union. A similar project connected Davis Square to the system back in the 1980s and led to that skyrocketing rise in popularity.
What to do: Dabble in Revolutionary War history on Prospect Hill. This hilltop was considered a key strategic location during the war—the city of Somerville claims that George Washington ordered the first U.S. flag to be raised here on Jan. 1, 1776. Today it provides an incredible view of Boston and beyond.
What to eat: Bow Market (1 Bow Market Way) has been transformed from a former storage facility into a multi-level complex of shops and eateries, many of whom love to collaborate. Case in point: If you pick up empanadas from Buenas Maxi Kiosko and bring them across the courtyard to Rebel Rebel Wine Bar, they’ll pair your wine to your empanada.
Harvard Square, Cambridge
What it is: Known for its famous university and infamous yard. No, Virginia, you cannot park your car on Harvard Yard.
What to do: Confession time—I’m embarrassed by how long I waited to visit the Harvard Art Museums (32 Quincy St.). The Fogg, Busch-Reisinger and Arthur M. Sackler museums feature a combined collection that spans centuries, continents and styles. I love to stop in to spend time with some of my favorites: Degas, Monet, Manet, Matisse and van Gogh. There’s even a double-sided Picasso on display.
What to eat: Up for a walk and a bit of planning ahead? Make an advance reservation for Giulia (1682 Massachusetts Ave.), a cozy and refined Italian restaurant about a half-mile walk from Harvard Square. I enjoy the cuisine in Boston’s famous North End as much as any other carb-loving person, but Giulia’s pappardelle with wild boar is downright inspired. Bonus recommendation: Save room for dessert and pick up an ice cream cone to go from nearby Honeycomb Creamery (1702 Massachusetts Ave.).
Kendall Square, Cambridge
What it is: The home of Boston’s tech and pharmaceutical scene. With easy access to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a one-stop subway ride to Harvard, Kendall is where big brains and big money come together.
What to do: Walk down to the Charles River. The best views of the Boston city skyline come from along Memorial Drive, so if you want to get that iconic postcard shot, this is where to go. If the weather’s warm, consider renting a kayak from Charles River Canoe & Kayak (15 Broad Canal Way) and get yourself out onto the water. Just mind the Duck Boats—they have the right of way out there.
What to eat: Roll up your sleeves for barbecue at The Smoke Shop (25 Hampshire St.). There are three Smoke Shops in the Boston area now, but it all started here. Treat yourself to the fried green tomatoes and make sure you get the cornbread as a side. You deserve it.
Inman Square, Cambridge
What it is: A dance along Camberville city limits. Depending on where in Inman you’re standing, you may be in Somerville or Cambridge. In either case, you’re a little off the beaten path for most visitors— without its own subway stop, Inman requires a short drive or decent walk from more touristed squares.
What to do: Pamper yourself at Inman Oasis (243 Hampshire St.). This popular local spot offers hot tub soaks and massages. Given that your time in greater Boston has likely involved a fair amount of walking—including some time on cobblestones—this is a chance to relax and unwind.
My favorite event of the year
Cambridge and Somerville love to host unique events all year long. Cultural festivals, open art studios, dance parties—there’s even a festival dedicated to Marshmallow Fluff. (It was created here. You’re welcome.) But there’s one weekend I make sure to be in town, no matter what.
During the last weekend in September, the Glass Lab program at MIT hosts my favorite event of the year: The Great Glass Pumpkin Patch.
This outdoor event is the culmination of a year’s worth of work by Glass Lab students. More than 2,000 hand-blown glass pumpkins are put out onto the grass at MIT’s Kresge Oval and offered up for sale. The pumpkin assortment includes wildly diverse sizes, colors, patterns and level of detail. I’ve seen ones selling for $30, others for upwards of $1,000.
This year’s event, scheduled for Sept. 28, will be my ninth—and I’ve gotten my parents and brother hooked on it as well. My pumpkin collection includes pieces that are green, blue, clear, even one that’s striped red and black. (Surprisingly, no orange.) What will this year’s pumpkin be? I’ll be excited to find out.
Story topics: Travel