Why the Back Bay, Boston is for You
Back Bay is Boston’s premier shopping and dining neighborhood. Back Bay is perfect for people watching and socializing, and provides ample opportunity to dine, shop, party, and vacation all at once, and all within close range of the T. There are plenty of things to do in Boston, but consider the Back Bay your one-stop-shop for all things high-end entertainment and relaxation.
Before this part of the city was home to good eats and fashion-forward tourists, the area that is now Back Bay was home to a giant mill dam that birthed a swampland full of mosquitos on the bay. But thanks to some spare dirt laying around (shout out to the 1849 Boston health department), over 450 acres of steaming tidal area was filled to grade and re-sanctioned for development. In the years since, many magnolias have been planted, neighborhood associations formed, and new district names given to reflect the ongoing changes. Now, this area of the city is formally known as the Back Bay Architectural District.
Highlights to Explore
As you’re walking along Commonwealth Ave., take a second to absorb your surroundings. You’ll be amazed by the gorgeous Victorian brownstones in the residential areas, a marker of the old Boston wealth that settled here after the area was re-zoned for residential construction over one hundred and fifty years ago. Back Bay has long been considered one of Boston’s most desirable (and expensive) places to live, and notable buildings include the giant and ornate Boston Public Library and the tallest building in the city, the John Hancock tower at 200 Clarendon.
If you’re exploring with children, take a two-hour tour of the bay with Capt. Berry on his floating classroom bay cruise tour. Your littles will learn all about how to hunt for jellyfish, identify bay-area birds, and hold a crab without getting pinched. Availability is limited, so make a reservation in advance to guarantee your spot with the Indiana Jones of the Chincoteague. If you’re looking for an exploration of the bay but don’t feel ready to dig around in mud, book a tour on one of the bay’s Swan Boat Tours.
Atmospheres to Enjoy
After you’ve had your fill of walking and shopping, these are the places to go for a delicious drink or an evening of partying. Sonsie on Newbury Street offers a wide variety of cocktails and pairings, as well as a Gluten-free menu for guests with dietary restrictions. It gets packed during the late-night hours and is known to be a social hub, but it offers a more relaxed vibe before it fills to capacity in the evening. For a more alternative drinking experience, Bukowski’s Tavern is where you should go. If all you do is write venomous drunk poetry and ramble about your own hopeless pit of self-loathing, you’ll be in good company with many other Charles Bukowski fans, but those qualities aren’t required for entry. Don’t expect to find the place empty (which is probably what Bukowski would have wanted). Bukowski’s Tavern is actually known for their peanut-butter burger and never-ending playlists of punk rock as much as for their great beer selection and has made its way onto a series of “Best Dive Bar in Boston” lists.
Shopping to Appreciate
The Back Bay is stocked with every high-end brand you’ve ever coveted, so whether you’ve been shopping Louis Vuitton for years or simply lusting over it, the Back Bay has every store can you think of along its avenues. Window shop or shop until you drop, run your fingers through some fine linens and silks at the stores of the Prudential Center, along Newbury Street, and at Copley Place. The shopping grid is easily decoded, and the more down-market stores like Urban Outfitters are located near Mass Ave. but as you progress eastward, you’ll notice progressively high-end shops (e.g. Lucky Jeans). You’ll know you’ve hit the boundary of the eight-block shopping stretch when you find yourself peering into the windows of Chanel and Cartier. For the most comprehensive list of stores, visit this list compiled by the Back Bay Association.
Food to Adore
The Back Bay is home to a variety of restaurants, and options cater to all price ranges and food preferences. If you’re looking for elegance and sophistication, stop into L’Espalier on Boylston Street for refined French-English fusion. Their calling-card is a gorgeous eight-course menu, which promises to entrance guests and leave them satisfied. If L’Espalier is a little spendy for what you’re looking for, try Stephanie’s on Newbury, an award-winning restaurant known for its sophisticated comfort food. The restaurant is close to some of the city’s most upscale and popular shops and art galleries, making it the perfect spot to grab a bite and continue exploring. Alternatively, Trident Books and Café is the perfect stop for those of us who enjoy a slightly less traditional pairing: great books and better coffee. Their café is well-known for their all-day breakfast menu and antioxidant rich smoothie selection.