There’s history and culture around every bend in Boston—skyscrapers nestle next to historic hotels while modern marketplaces line the antique cobblestone streets. But to Bostonians, living in a city that blends yesterday and today is just another day in beloved Beantown.
In a city synonymous with tradition, Boston chefs have spent recent years rewriting culinary history. The stuffy, wood-paneled formality is gone; the endless renditions of chowdah, lobster, and cod have retired; and the assumption that true foodies better hop the next Amtrak to New York is also—thankfully—a thing of the past.
In their place, a crop of young chefs have ascended, opening small, upscale neighborhood spots that use local New England ingredients to delicious effect. Traditional eats can still be found (Durgin-Park remains the best place to get baked beans), but many diners now gravitate toward innovative food in understated environs. Whether you're looking for casual French, down-home Southern cooking, some of the best sushi in the country, or Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches, Boston restaurants are ready to deliver. Eclectic Japanese spot o ya and iconic French restaurant L'Espalier have garnered widespread attention, while a coterie of star chefs like Barbara Lynch, Lydia Shire, and Ken Oringer have built mini-empires and thrust the city to the forefront of the national dining scene.
The fish and shellfish brought in from nearby shores continue to inform the regional cuisine, along with locally grown fruits and vegetables, handmade cheeses, and humanely raised heritage game and meats. But don't expect boiled lobsters and baked apple pie. Today’s chefs, while showcasing New England’s bounty, might offer you lobster cassoulet with black truffles, bacon-clam pizza from a wood-burning oven, and a tomato herb salad harvested from the restaurant’s rooftop garden. In many ways, though, Boston remains solidly skeptical of trends. To wit: the cupcake craze and food truck trend hit here later than other cities; the soft frozen yogurt movement has only recently arrived. And over in the university culture of Cambridge, places like East Coast Grill and Raw Bar, Oleana, and Rendezvous espoused the locavore and slow-food movements before they became buzzwords.
At one time, great lodging was scarce in Boston. If you were a persnickety blue blood in town to visit relatives, you checked into the Charles or the old Ritz on Newbury. If you were a parent in town to see your kid graduate from one of the city’s many universities, you suffered through a stay at a run-down chain. And if you were a young couple in town for a little romance, well, you could just forget it. A dearth of suitable rooms practically defined Boston. Oh, how things have changed.
In the early 2000s, Boston finally got wise to modernization, and a rush of new construction took the local hotel scene by storm. Sleek, boutique accommodations began inviting guests to Cambridge and Downtown, areas once relegated to alumni and business traveler sets. New, mega-luxury lodgings like the Mandarin Oriental and the Taj (the latter, in that old Ritz spot) infiltrated posh Back Bay, while high-end, hipster-friendly spots like the W Boston and Ames are drawing visitors to up-and-coming areas in Downtown. Even mostly residential areas like the South End now draw discerning boarders, thanks to the revamped Chandler and the nearby Inn@St. Botolph.
Speaking of revamped, it seems that nearly every hotel in town just got a face-lift. From spruced up decor (good-bye, grandma’s bedspread; hello, puffy white duvets) to hopping restaurant-bars to new spas and fitness centers, Boston’s lodgings are feeling the competitive heat and acting accordingly. You don’t just get a room anymore—you get an experience.
Boston is a Cinderella city, aglow with delights that for some end all too soon. With the T (subway and bus) making its final runs between midnight and 1 am and taxis sometimes scarce, most nightspots follow accordingly, with "last call" typically by 2 am. Though night owls may be disappointed by the meager late-night options, except in Chinatown, visitors find plenty of possibilities for stepping out on the early side. The martini set may stroll Newbury and Boylston streets in the Back Bay or Downtown, selecting from swank restaurants, lounges, and clubs. Coffee and tea drinkers can find numerous cafés in Cambridge and Somerville, particularly Harvard and Davis squares. Beer enthusiasts often have a viable option on nearly every corner, except in Belmont, where you may have trouble finding a pub to down a pint. For dancing, Lansdowne and Boylston streets near Fenway Park have a stretch of student-oriented hangs, sports bars, brewpubs, and techno clubs. The thriving "lounge" scene in Downtown’s cooler hybrid bar-restaurant-clubs provides a mellower, more mature alternative to the student-focused indie clubs. Tourists crowd Faneuil Hall for its pubs, comedy club, and dance spots. The South and North ends, as well as Cambridge and Somerville, cater to the "dinner-and-drinks" set, while those seeking rock clubs should explore Allston, Jamaica Plain, and Cambridge, especially Central Square. College-owned concert halls host homegrown and visiting ensembles nightly. Prominent among these are Harvard University’s Sanders Theater, New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall, Berklee’s Performance Center, and Boston University’s Tsai Performance Center.
Shopping in Boston is a lot like the city itself: a mix of classic and cutting-edge, the high-end and the handmade, and international and local sensibilities. Though many Bostonians think too many chain stores have begun to clog their distinctive avenues, there remains a strong network of idiosyncratic gift stores, handicrafts shops, galleries, and a growing number of savvy, independent fashion boutiques. For the well-heeled, there are also plenty of glossy international designer shops.
Most stores accept major credit cards and traveler’s checks. There’s no state sales tax on clothing. However, there’s a 6.25% sales tax on clothes priced higher than $175 per item; the tax is levied on the amount in excess of $175.