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Where to stay near walkable, local food/shopping

Greetings all,

The wife and I are expecting this fall and are taking our last opportunity to take an easy vacation by spending three days in Portland, ME and two and a half in Boston.

I have only been to Boston once - about 20 years ago - and I recall nothing of its geography. Our goal is walkable areas with shopping and good food. From what I've read in other recent posts, it seems that we can't really go wrong with the North End, Downtown/Beacon Hill, Boston Common area, or Copley Square/Back Bay - but if one of those areas has the densest amount of good food and cool shops, that's the one we want.

We'll be coming off of three high-end dinners* in Portland, so I think we'll be looking for cheaper fare in Boston - but we still want good local stuff, of course. I'm not ever going to complain about a plate of fried clams or a good plate of pasta. I've seen some great-looking recs in other recent posts, but they mostly seem geared toward higher-end stuff. Neither wife nor I is picky at all other than her having to avoid a few things due to being in the family way (i.e. probably no raw bar). We've got a wide range of cuisine available here in Indy (although seafood is lacking) and so I think we're just looking for interesting stuff - seafood, Italian, good pastries/bakeries, whatever.

Thanks in advance!

*(Hugo's, Five Fifty-Five, and Fore Street)

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  1. I live in the burbs so I am not the one to ask, but here is a link to the feature a very good local TV program, Chronicle, did on bed & breakfasts IN Boston. They looked extremely comfortable and convenient, and I assume would be a nicer experience, and probably more affordable, than one of Boston's downtown hotels. There's even one on a houseboat. http://www.wcvb.com/chronicle/Wednesd...

    1. Boston is very walkable, so you can stay pretty much anywhere and have easy access to foodie areas. It's hard to recommend one neighborhood over another though. For example, Copley Square/Back Bay at first seems a poor choice because it's filled to the gills with chain restaurants (Cheesecake Factory, etc.). But staying there gives you easy access to the South End (where hotel options are limited), which has some great restaurant options.

      My advice: Find the hotel/price that works for you, and don't worry too much about location. Getting around on foot is easy if you stay in any of the areas you've noted above (North End, Beacon Hill, Boston Common area, or Copley Square/Back Bay).

      3 Replies
      1. re: huuvola

        Being pregnant, I would think your wife isn't going to feel like walking a long distance when it's summer weather here or up and down the hill to a hotel on Beacon Hill. That being said, I think Copley Sq is probably the most convenient location and walkable to more destinations than other areas. You'd be a few blocks to the South End(lots of good restaurants and some shopping), steps to the shops on Newbury St, a few blocks to the Public Garden with the swan boats and a nice place to walk through. Charles St is on the other side of the Public Garden and has lots of little shops and restaurants too. You could take a cab to the North End and do that area by itself.

        1. re: catsmeow

          I think cat's advice is spot on. While Kendall Sq,Camb is a neat newly developed area, if i had one area to stay in for its combination of history and iconic boston beauty, combined with shopping, sidewalk cafes, and access to restaurants- it would be Copley Sq or the Public Garden area.

        2. re: huuvola

          Agree with others that Copley/South End have some good places to stay (Inn at St. Botolph comes to mind as one of the few places truly in the South End, or more classic/expensive places like the Lenox or Fairmont Copley) and would be easily accessible to some of the best summer sightseeing spots.

          A few lower-key food options of the types you mentioned would be the Giacomo's South End location (Italian with an emphasis on seafood), and Flour or Buttery as excellent bakery options for breakfast or lunch.

        3. You might also want to consider staying in Cambridge, where innovative local restaurants are much thicker on the ground thanks to lower costs of entry.

          If it fits your budget, The Charles Hotel or Sheraton Commander in Harvard Square are both good options. There are also several hotels in Kendall Square. Be careful to avoid hotels on Memorial Drive like the Hyatt and Courtyard by Marriott. Those aren't very walkable to restaurants & shops.

          1 Reply
          1. re: VintageMolly

            I prefer Cambridge myself, but be advised the walking distances are typically longer than in Boston.

          2. You also can't go wrong with the Kendall/Cambridge area. (The Kendall hotel is really nice at a decent price point for downtown-ish Boston/Cambridge.)

            1 Reply
            1. re: antimony

              I'm a big supporter of the Kendall Square area in Cambridge. You can pop on the Red Line to go to Central or Harvard Square in one direction or Charles St. and Park St. in the other. (The latter 2 are across the river in Boston. One and two stops away on the Red Line.)

              Kendall Square has been booming with new restaurants over the past 4 or 5 years, (I live here, so I appreciate this immensely.) While it is not as much of a tourist destination, it is so close to things like Charles St., Boston Common, The Public Garden, Harvard, etc. that is does not matter. It's true that the Boston/ Cambridge area is small and easy to get around.

              I agree that you need to be sure your hotel is not one of the ones far away on Memorial Drive. Those locations are not good for visitors.

              (I've been pregnant 4 times and understand the feeling, especially in the summer!)

            2. Big fan of the Nine Zero Kimpton Hotel on Tremont St if the price works - it is right in the middle of the city and you can walk almost anywhere in Boston within 20 minutes (even less to Chinatown, Beacon Hill, and North End), as well as have easy access to several of the subway lines - there are tons of shops a couple of blocks away at Downtown Crossing, but not nearly as high end as those in Beacon Hill on Charles St, in the South End, or in the Copley / Prudential Malls in Back Bay. You are also right across the street from the Common and on the Freedom Trail.

              1 Reply
              1. re: rlh

                Downtown Crossing has lower end chain stores like TJ Maxx, Marshalls, budget priced shoe store chains, etc. Keeping in mind his wife is pregnant, a 20 minute walk to the areas that offer better shopping/restaurants would wear me out being about 7 months pregnant. Better idea to stay closer to better attractions.

              2. Thanks for all the tips so far! I will run the numbers on pricing and figure out where we're staying tomorrow - then it's time to figure out where we're eating. :D

                10 Replies
                1. re: nickblesch

                  I've stayed on Charles St many times and love that neighborhood. Check out the John Jeffries House for accommodation.

                  1. re: villadeste92

                    Check out the Liberty Hotel - it's an old converted prison and very nice. It's at the head of Charles St. with great shops and boutiques and some restaurants. There is a T stop right there so you could hop on that to get to various different spots throughout the City, or since your wife is pregnant, you could just UBER throughout the city. UBER is great for short jaunts, so much better than a taxi, IMO.

                    1. re: krisa20

                      Although that is at the end of Charles St, it's not near anything else. I would think it would be a better idea to have more options right outside your door.

                      1. re: catsmeow

                        We stayed at the Liberty a few months ago and loved it.
                        Have you stayed there?

                        It is right by the river, it is right by the Charles street redline, and it is right by Charles Street with lots of lovely shops and food options. I really think it is a lovely choice during temperant weather.

                        And again, we've stayed there.

                        I found nothing wrong with eating lobster pizza in bed with a chilled vodka while watching a movie. It's a great hotel with a great pumped up vibe on the main levels.

                        EditL and although we didn't imbibe, they do offer you a glass of champagne or non alcoholic beverage while checking in, which is a nice touch..

                        if you've actually stayed at this property catsweow, I would really enjoy your first hand experience report.

                        1. re: Bellachefa

                          The John Jeffries House is right accross the street from The Liberty. A lovely property. I have to say I've always enjoyed staying in the neighborhood. The Charles-MGH T stop accross from both properties will take you anywhere and makes for easy access to Logan
                          via South Station and the Silverline.

                          1. re: villadeste92

                            We've yet to stay at John Jeffries House, but have for many years heard positive things from both tourist and MGH patients.

                          2. re: Bellachefa

                            Not to mention that Scampo is a great restaurant within the hotel itself! Don't need to go far for good food. Can also easily take the red line a stop or two? over to Kendall and all the restaurants there. Again, Boston is so small, nothing is that far away.

                            1. re: Bellachefa

                              I have not stayed there but have lived on Comm Ave in Boston for over 30yrs so am familiar with Boston proper...to say the least. I often have relatives/friends that visit Boston and stay in hotels. it's not the hotel that I was commenting on but the location. Relatives/friends have stayed at the Mandarin, the Westin Copley as well as the Westin near the convention center, the Marriott Copley, the Millennium Bostonian, the Commonwealth, the Sheraton Copley, etc, so I know visitors' opinions on these hotels and locations. if you want to discuss hotels, this isn't the right forum. My comments are geared towards what location would make more sense and be more convenient to a variety of both attractions and good restaurants. I know that when I travel, I stay in hotels located where I am able to walk vs ride to a variety of attractions in that city. It just makes more sense.

                              1. re: catsmeow

                                I think it depends on what you're after, catsmeow. Some visitors like the obvious tourist orientation of much of the area around Copley. Others might prefer to walk along the Esplanade, a tour through Beacon Hill, or to get to Back Bay (if that's your destination) by a nice stroll down Charles Street, through the Public Garden and then down Beacon or Marlborough or Comm Ave, rather than the louder, busier, more tourist-oriented Boylston or Newbury.

                                1. re: catsmeow

                                  this isn't a competition, but (your word), I've worked in boston for over 30 years, lived in boston for a number of years in different hoods, and visited boston over the past 45, and I have stayed at over a dozen hotels over the years, including many of the ones you mention, so I am commenting first hand on both knowing the city intimately and staying at a property that I enjoyed recently. Lucky you, I always suggest visiting friends and family walk the Comm Ave Mall in all 4 seasons.

                      2. It's probably helpful to define what you mean by "cool shops". With that said, to varying degrees all the neighborhoods you mention tend to cater to tourists, so the unique and local factor is lower than in some other neighborhoods. You may wish to consider other areas, where you're likely to find restaurants that are both more unique and a better value. However, if you want to make sure that you "see Boston", meaning the stereotypical stops (which are still quite worthwhile, mind you), I'd go with the Copley recommendation.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: LilBrownBat

                          I'm always a little puzzled by the characterization of the Copley area is "touristy and not really Boston." What's not Boston about the great Public Library, the farmer's market in Copley, the gorgeous churches, the Public Garden and the architecture on Commonwealth? If you come for the shops on Newbury you can find them in any wealthy city, but you really can't find the historic buildings and sites. The same is true for Charles Street: wonderful to wander through the architecture of Beacon Hill, up to the state house, over to Faneuil Hall and the old state house, etc. Lots of overpriced crappy stores on Charles Street and Newbury can't overwhelm the charm of both these neighborhoods. Good food can be found in both areas (and bad food too).

                          1. re: teezeetoo

                            Having worked in Copley Square for 30 years, I assure you it's very touristy.

                            But you are right that it is also very Boston, at least to me.

                            1. re: C. Hamster

                              Very Boston, very touristy in the commercial aspect, but usually a first choice area when staying in the winter/snowy months as the Copley/Pru mall and T provide good access to indoor exploring during poor weather.

                              In the spring, summer and early autumn, I prefer other hoods.

                              We've pricelined the Copley area twice and were awarded the Westin twice, which was a great win for short money. However the gamble of the Sheraton, which we don't enjoy now makes it a riskier endeavor.

                          2. I'd consider staying in the Seaport area; easy access to Legals Waterfront which I personally enjoy although there are dissenters on this board, as well as the excellent places on Congress St: Row 34, Tavern Road, etc.

                            From Seaport you can hop right into a water taxi which'll take you to Long Wharf: Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market for wandering, and the North End for great Italian food are right there.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Niblet

                              Does the Seaport include new shopping destinations I've missed?

                              1. re: Bellachefa

                                Not so new...Some consider Louis a shopping destination.

                            2. Fur is not flying quite yet, but hackles are raised, so please, OP, help restore order by revealing your choice of accommodation. And all the best with the new kiddo!

                              1. We can point you to good food in most Boston hoods these days. It may actually be harder to find cool shops! There are some in the N. End, some on Charles St. in Beacon Hill, some on Newbury, a bunch in the S. End, some spread throughout Cambridge/Somerville.

                                1. Hi all!

                                  I apologize for disappearing - I'm self-employed and getting things in order to be gone for a week is, shall we say, an adventure.

                                  Since there seemed to be no consistent advice on where's the best place to stay, we ended up picking a spot in the theatre district (?) just south of Boston Common for easy access to fancy shops that we can't afford anything from (but where my wife loves to look) and the architecture and whatnot in Copley as well as an easy distance to everything further north. It appears to be a place that has little going for it other than being in the middle of everything else, but that's not so bad.

                                  A good rate on the hotel through Hotwire ended up being the most reasonable option by far, so we're in some swanky-looking place (The Revere) for less money than anything else within several miles. I am personally quite bummed about not staying in the old jail hotels.

                                  So, that said: I appreciate all the advice! We've got a couple free lunchtimes and one free dinner, so if there's anything that is worth hitting up midweek, well take any recs. In particular I don't want to leave town without eating good Italian - not necessarily fancy, just good - so if there's a can't miss spot for that I'd appreciate any tips.

                                  Thanks again, all! I will report back following the trip so that future co-pregnant travelers may learn from our successes and any errors. :D

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: nickblesch

                                    For a casual, authentic delicious Italian lunch (pizza, pasta w sauce, salad, or sub etc.), go to Casa Razdora on Water St. between Broad and Batterymarch - the line moves fast and the menu is on the wall as well as a couple of laminated cards - they never have the AC on, so try to go when it's not too stifling if you're going to eat in.

                                    The pizza (HUGE slices), any pasta / sauce combo with chicken or shrimp, and the subs (especially Italiano and Tacchino turkey) are all favorites.

                                    1. re: nickblesch

                                      No matter how cute you think it sounds - you're not co-pregnant. Only she is pregnant!

                                      The Revere has gone thru many little reincarnations thru the years. Great location, as you are a block from where the Public Gardens and the Commons meet. Pick up a copy of Make Way for the Ducklings and then do a photo shoot in the Gardens with the little brass ducks, and swan boats to share with your child in the future.

                                      Italian nearby. I think Erbaluce, Teatro, Via Matta or for seafood/redsauce/parm - Giacccamos in the South End. Add Coppa to your list to vet as well.

                                      On Charles Street you could have bfast at The Paramount. Close by is a great baby store, you might want to avoid! The Red Wagon. Bought lots of baby gifts there over the years. You could share an eggplant parm sandwich or a roasted lamb and garlic eggplant sandwich from Artu and have a picnic in the park by the ducks. You could head out early to Mike and Patty's and bring back breakfast sandwiches and coffee for breakfast in bed.

                                      You could do lots of great things not far from the old 57 hotel.

                                      1. re: Bellachefa

                                        I like the ducklings photo shoot idea for memories, and maybe a swan boat ride (not to be confused with a duck boat tour, which is also maybe not a bad idea if your wife gets footsore). But it's "the Common", not "the Commons".

                                        Your hotel is close to Dumpling Cafe (not to be confused with Gourmet Dumpling House). Great for a light meal especially late - don't miss the juicy pork dumplings.

                                        1. re: LilBrownBat

                                          And it is the Public Garden. A must see in any season.

                                          If it is nice weather, you could try having lunch at the food trucks at Dewey Square and sit on the Rose Kennedy Greenway. Get there about 11:45 to avoid the lines, although they do move quickly. There are places to sit.

                                          Have fun!