Everyone who visits Boston spends time in the Common, visits Beacon Hill, wanders the Museum of Fine Arts, and sees a game at Fenway Park. Boston is so much more than these top tourist attractions — and on your next Boston trip, you should commit to seeing a more unique side to the City on a Hill.
Like other big cities, Boston is full of unusual spaces and exciting activities — you just need to know where to look. Here are a few of Boston’s best-kept secrets, which should make your next Boston vacation feel extra special.
Leave it to Boston to hide one of the most exclusive, luxurious, and popular shops inside a rundown convenience store in the Back Bay. The Bodega is an incredibly upscale store filled with the best designer streetwear and shoe brands you can buy, but no one is going to help you find it.
There are no signs pointing to the Bodega or advertisements leading you to its entrance; you need to know which Back Bay corner store contains a fake Snapple machine for you to push aside to reach this exciting and wondrous shop.
If you do manage to find the Bodega, you might run into some famous faces, as Jamie Foxx, Maya Rudolph, Jason Sudeikis, and Kevin Durant have been known to visit.
The Harvard Bridge connects Boston with Cambridge across the Charles River, allowing students from Harvard and MIT to access the rest of the city. In 1958, MIT’s Lamba Chi Alpha fraternity required their new pledge Oliver Smoot to measure the length of the bridge — using his body as the measuring tool.
Because Oliver Smoot was five feet, seven inches tall, the unit of the “smoot” was created, and every year, MIT students remeasure the bridge in smoots, creating colorful markings every 10 smoots. You can walk the bridge and count the smoots for yourself, or you can make a new measurement unit using your own height.
Scarlett O’Hara is the heroine of the American South, so what is her house doing in Boston? Beacon Hill is one of Boston’s oldest neighborhoods, claiming houses from the 18th century. You can explore Beacon Hill’s cobbled streets on foot, seeing the historic homes, and at the end of one street you might spy a gleaming white, Greek revival–style home peeking from between two brownstones.
This is the Scarlett O’Hara House — except it isn’t a house at all, but a brick wall painted to look like a home. Created in the 1980s to hide an eyesore, the Scarlett O’Hara House is often ignored by visitors who don’ venture up close to appreciate the optical illusion.
Drink in the L Street Tavern
Ben Affleck and Matt Damon brought Boston into the limelight with their surprising smash hit “Good Will Hunting,” and during your trip to the City on a Hill, you can return to a key location in the movie — and likely an old stomping ground for Affleck and Damon — by visiting the L Street Tavern in South Boston.
Despite its reputation, the tavern maintains its neighborhood-bar atmosphere, feeling more like an extension of an Irish family’s living room than the set of a world-famous film.
If drinking isn’t your thing, you might be pleased to learn that in Massachusetts, marijuana is legal for recreational use. At licensed dispensaries, you can purchase up to an ounce of flower and consume it in private. In fact, being a bit buzzed might make some of Boston’s more touristy activities, like the Freedom Trail, so much more fun than it would be sober.
Mary Baker Eddy was the founder of Christian Science, which is an odd sect of Christianity that suggests illness is an illusion that can be overcome with faith — yikes. Eddy was born in New England and lived much of her life in Boston, and the Mary Baker Eddy library pays tribute to her life and works with a collection of resource materials as well as a few interesting exhibits to explore.
The most permanent and undeniably most interesting of these is the Mapparium, which is a three-story, stained-glass globe built in the 1930s. With different continents and countries assembled in huge, brightly colored glass, the Mapparium is an outstanding work of art that makes visiting the Christian Science center worthwhile.
Boston is huge; Boston is old; Boston is constantly changing. There is so much you can do to make your Boston trip feel unique, so the next time you are in the City on a Hill, you should try to find something unexpected.