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Jan 21, 2009 01:55 PM

Boston first timers... Help!

Planning a week long vacation in May and since it's our first time, I don't have the foggiest idea of what to do and where to eat!

We are celebrating my husband's birthday too, so one special meal will be enough. The others suggestions, I hope will steer us towards the budget friendly yet chow worthy.

Also, since we want to make the most out of our stay, are there any day trips that we can do? Maybe drive to Maine for lobster or do the Ben & Jerry's ice cream plant tour in Vermont? We are renting a car so, getting to places won't be a problem. (I hope!)

I guess the question to answer is this: If you had a week in Boston (and access to nearby states/places), as a visitor on a budget, what would you do? What would you see? And above all, where would you eat?

Your responses are over the moon appreciated.

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  1. Here are a few links that might help:

    You can get to Maine for lobster (check the New England board for recs) or do the Ben & Jerry's tour and maybe check out Burlington which isn't much farther, though it would be a long ride. Portsmouth, NH is lovely and only about an hour north. Don't miss a Red Sox game if you can find tickets. You might want to check out for non-food recommendations.

    6 Replies
    1. re: soxchik

      From Boston outward, the best distance chow destinations are Portland ME (2 hrs) and Providence RI (1 hr). Portland in particular has probably the densest concentration of fine eats in New England in the Old Port area.

      B&J ice cream has been debased with cheaper ingredients in recent years and is not worth a tour (the Cabot outlet in Stowe is a better bet) and Burlington is nice but I don't think is anywhere near worth a 4 hr drive from Boston just for chow.

      In May, you could easily do Fried Clam heaven in Essex, Ipswich and Rowley on the North Shore. Them's good budget eats. (You don't have to go that far to get good fried seafood, there's good places in the immediate Boston area, but the North Shore from Cape Ann to Newburyport is a lovely area and eminently accessible from Boston).

      Another, much less touristed area that is underappreciated (though its chowishness is less notable, too) is the East Bay area of RI - Bristol, Portsmouth, Tiverton and Little Compton in particular. In other words, the constellation of towns to the north and east of Newport. Almost everyone I recommend to go there says how wonderful it is. (Further along, the south coast of Rhode Island from Wakefield to Watch Hill is similarly lovely.)

      So far, I've mentioned the New England options, most of which probably belong on the New England board.

      Where are you planning on staying in Boston, and what types of food/environment in urban food adventures are you interested in? You might get more responses about Boston if you are more specific in that regard.

      1. re: Karl S

        Newport RI is a very nice daytrip. Seaside, busy town. You can tour the mansions and walk the Cliffwalk. The Black Pearl is a nice restaurant, During the day it is sort of a Tavern. At night it upscales.

        Portland ME is a good recommendation, too. Fore Street Grile is much praised restaurant there. I have also enjoyed Cinque Terra.

        1. re: pemma

          If the week is around or after Memorial Day, I'd skip Newport, which is unpleasantly jammed in-season, as it were.

          One of the nice things about Boston in May is that students are in the process of leaving, and things loosen up before the height of summer tourism. And the weather is lovely. That said, one has to take into account commencements at local universities in planning dining near them....

          1. re: pemma

            I completely agree on the Portland ME recommendation! It has become my favorite "foodie" location in New England-my bf and I often reminisce about a truly outstanding meal we had at The Street and Co.

            1. re: fmcoxe6188

              Portland would be great if you can do it. If you are there during the week, Hugo's is currently offering a $25 3 course prix fixe on Mon, Tue, and Wed. Great food, awesome deal!

            2. re: pemma

              I'll second both of those and add that Lunch at Duck Fat in Portland sounds like the type of place you would love from the things you've told us. Incredible Duck Confit panini and those memorable fries cooked in Duck Fat.

              Try to get to Neptune Oyster for the Lobster Roll and more great fries. That can be combined with part of the Freedom Trail or just an exploration of the North End.

              It's too bad you are not staying in Boston. You could fit in a lot more if you were in the city. I know that in other parts of the country you don't think about long drives but if you switch to a hotel on the transit system you could spend much more time enjoying Boston instead of trying to find your way around and looking for parking.

              One of my favorite Spring activities is having breakfast in the Public Garden. You could pick up a wonderful meal at Bina's shop and then walk to the garden to enjoy it while you watch the city wake up and wander around you.

        2. Thank you everyone for your responses! The trip is slowly taking shape because of all your advice.

          We are planning to fly in from LA on the 17th and leave the 24th. That'll give us Memorial Day to rest when we get back. We plan to stay at the Marriott Fairfield Inn in Woburn, but we do have a car to get around.

          As far as cuisine choices, anything goes but we would like to experience places and flavors that are inherently Boston. We are more hole in the wall, diners and food finds type of eaters -- the occasional fine dining experience is appreciated -- but we find we enjoy the food most when the atmosphere is casual and the establishment is well-loved by the locals. I don't mind the occasional tourist traps because in this case, we are! I'm planning to go to Fanneuil Hall and we are doing the Duck Tours, for sure. We also want to do a walking haunted haunts tour at night.

          I do have a soft spot for bakeries, so please point me to the best. I plan to go to Flour to experience their cinnamon pecan buns, but I would like to visit a few other ones too.

          Thanks again!

          4 Replies
          1. re: sharkgirl88

            The Woburn area is not quite abounding in chowish choices, though if you search this Board for Woburn, Burlington, Reading, Stoneham and Wakefield you will get a better feel for options in that area.

            A word of advice about that hotel location: it's near one of the great commuting bottlenecks in the Boston area. Fortunately, you will be close enough to see traffic conditions directly. But you would do best to assume that you don't want to need to be on the interstates nearby from 7-9AM and from 4-6PM (and you might have a half hour or more to add to either window end depending on the day). You could easily access the commuter rail station nearby and take that into North Station, and from there hop onto the subway system (the T, as we call it).

            That caution aside, it is a good location for heading to the North Shore, Portsmouth, Portland, as well as the often unjustly overlooked monuments to the Industrial Revolution - Lowell (especially), Lawrence (more down at the heels, but with room for the adventureous) and Manchester NH (the mile-long Amoskeag Mills were the world's greatest textile mills). You can search the Boston and NE Boards for hints on eats in Lowell and Lawrence (not sure how much is in Manchester) - in fact, given what you want, your needs straddle both boards.

            The ocean is still cold in May (it will be in the upper 40s when you arrive), so don't plan on any ocean swimming unless you are a polar bear.

            FInally, a local tip: the pronunciation of Woburn: It's "Woo-buh(r)n". The "r" is barely hinted at. We drop r's here, and then in frugality add them someplace else to conserve them. Bonus points for FANN-el Hall.

            1. re: sharkgirl88

              Well, if you don't mind tourist traps you should go to Durgin Park. I haven't been in many, many years, but I'm sure they still have such local specialties as Indian Pudding and coffee Jello.

              1. re: pemma

                Have the Prime Rib (Yankee cut used to be 2 lbs, IIRC, don't know if it's still so under the newer management), and definitely the Indian Pudding. Can't comment on the chowders there, since I've never had them, but a sign of a more traditional chowder is that it is *not* thickened with roux or cornstarch but only with the potatoes and the dairy (partly because so many people have been conned into expecting chowders to be thick, that's what many places serve - it's also much easier for them to keep a thick chowder over heat for hours).

                1. re: pemma

                  I wouldn't call Durgin Park a tourist trap - tourist destination maybe, but trap to me implies that it's all hype, while DP - at least the last time I went - still delivers the real goods. I agree with Karl about getting the prime rib - the big cut, with its humungous bone that extends well off the edge of the plate - always makes me feel like I've ordered haunch of mastodon!

              2. I'd second the recommendations re: travel and traffic. Leave your car at Alewife station on the red line and then you could explore the Harvard Square area on foot before heading across the Charles to downtown. I think the T (as we call our subway) is easier to deal with than a commuter train. I know for myself, I never see half as much scenery and am twice as nervous if trying to drive around the city.

                I like the day trip idea to Crane's Beach and then fried clams or boiled lobsters- check out Woodman's of Essex or the Clambox. My in-laws really enjoyed the drive along route 1 in that area. There's also some orchards up there that will have some produce in season and hard ciders- sorry I can't remember the name but they make a nice "New England" experience and wouldn't be crowded at that time of year.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Parsnipity

                  I think you may be thinking of Russell Orchards in Ipswich, not too far from Essex. But in May, there is not much there (too early for strawberries and not the season for their awesome cider doughnuts).

                  I agree with previous posters. I think Woodman's is a great New England experience, perhaps with a walk on Crane Beach beforehand. If you are venturing north, Portland is a great city to explore, and Fore Street is a terrific dining destination.

                  1. re: Northshoregirl

                    The Clam Box in Ipswich will be open in May (it usually opens by mid-March). Big bellied clams might be easier to be had in May before high season. So my vote to recommend would be the Clam Box for at least that reason alone. But even better would be the Fried Clam Crawl route up from Essex to Rowley: Essex Seafood, JT Farnhams, Woodmans, The Clam Box, Agawam Diner, et cet. It is one of the most remarkable stretches of regional foods in that regard. And puurty, too.

                    And, in Portland, don't forget Street & Co, also in the Old Port (I love Fore Street, of course).

                2. Good, casual, neighborhood restaurants in area's you'll want to explore while in Boston/Cambridge/Somerville:

                  North End: Pizzeria Regina, Mike's Pastry
                  South End: Delux, Picco
                  Fenway: Trattoria Toscano
                  Back Bay: Parish Cafe
                  Beacon Hill: Figs, Grotto
                  Harvard Square: Bartley's Burger Cottage, Veggie Planet, Hi-Rise Bakery, Burdick's (a must for chocolate lovers)
                  Central Square: Garden at the Cellar, Toscanini's (a must for ice cream lovers)
                  Davis Square: Johnny D's for Jazz Brunch, Diesel for coffee drinks

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: pollystyrene

                    if you like hot dogs, Speeds in Boston is fabulous. If you search this board you will find information on how to find it by car (it is not in a tourist area).

                    1. re: Delhiwala

                      He used to close up shop in the winter, though. I'm not sure if his assistant (who took over the operation) is running year round. Directions are on the Place page linked below. On the web page lined there he said he was running through the end of December, but no mention of after that, so I'd bet he is closed until the Spring.

                      Speed's Hotdog Wagon
                      54 Newmarket Square, Boston, MA 02118

                      1. re: Chris VR

                        But they're not coming until May (see the OP) so that's not a problem. These guys know how to plan in advance!

                        1. re: BobB

                          That is great planning- good for the OP! It's still worth noting for anyone else reading along, though. I know I love to read threads like this when I visit other cities.

                  2. For the special birthday dinner, I would recommend a restaurant in Charlestown (15 min from Boston) named tangierino. The atmosphere and the service are excellent. I will not tell you specifically, But he will enjoy it... :)

                    After dinner, you can go next door to the hookah bar.. They have watermelon favor and it is kind of cool.... Oh! Bring him to newberry st for shopping next day... He will shower you with brand name imports for sure after a day of crazy fun... Enjoy...