Lifestyle

The 17 All-Time Greatest Things to Do in Boston

Rock out at the OG House of Blues, chug beers at dives, and learn about the city's infamous art heist.

Getty Images, photo illustration by Thrillist
Getty Images, photo illustration by Thrillist
Getty Images, photo illustration by Thrillist

All Time Greats is the ultimate city bucket list. Whether you’re a local or a visitor, consider this the essential guide to getting the most out of Boston. Looking for events happening this weekend? Check out our Boston weekend guide.Boston is old AF, and it’s the magic fairy dust that makes many of its experiences so unique. The city’s seamless amalgam of old and new is everywhere, which means you don’t need to go out of your way to explore its history-it’s just peppered in wherever you go.

Even those who don’t fancy themselves a history buff will have delightfully nerdish ah-ha moments, like when eating a nice dinner in a perfectly preserved jail cell from the 1800s. Sure, there’s plenty of¬†recreational weed dispensaries and¬†nearby stargazing, but don’t miss out on the city’s immersive experiences. You can take a riverboat tour of the architecture, rock out at the OG House of Blues, chug cheap beer at a dive bar, or try to solve the city’s famous art heist.

Things to Do in Boston in Fall and Winter 

Ice Skating at Boston Common Frog Pond

Downtown
Starting in November,The Boston Common Frog Pond transforms into a winter wonderland. While the warmer days here are usually relegated to the carousel, and spray pool, winter is wholeheartedly dedicated to the magic of ice skating. The surrounding trees twinkle with lights, and it’s a rom-com-like scene of people laughing and trying to stay upright. You can rent skates; just remember your woolen socks. When you’re done, head to¬†Emmets Irish Pub & Restaurant and warm up with some whiskey and traditional Irish beef stew.

Photo by Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images
Photo by Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images
Photo by Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images

Enjoy the Outdoors in Boston 

Fenway Park

Fenway
The oldest baseball park in Major League Baseball still has plenty of tricks up her sleeve. Red Sox Nation members can arrive early to watch batting practice during the regular season, but anyone can get in on a¬†Fenway Park Tour, including the popular Fenway in Fifteen for a quick 15-minute peek. You can also take to the skies in a¬†Boston Helicopter Tour for a bird’s eye view of the historic park. Afterwards, edit those selfies with drinks at The Bleacher Bar, which is built directly into the wall adjoining the park.

Boating on the Charles Rivers 

Citywide
Not only is Boston a harbor city, but it’s been doubly gifted with The Charles River. Some of our most beloved activities include the annual (and oh-so-elite)¬†Head of The Charles Regatta and the slightly less competitive iconic¬†Swan Boats in the Boston Public Garden. The whimsical swans have some lighthearted competition, however, from the famous¬†Boston Duck Tours. Commonly referred to as Duck Boats, the ’40s replica amphibious vehicles travel by land and river, showing people the city’s famous landmarks. The¬†Charles Riverboat Company puts a unique twist on things with its Boston architecture riverboat cruise. Or, stay on dry land and visit the¬†Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum.

The Running Scene

Citywide
Boston boasts a lot of “firsts,” the most famous of which is probably¬†The Boston Marathon, the world’s oldest annual marathon. Some folks drive the 26.2-mile course for fun, but you can skip to the good stuff-the finish line across from the¬†Boston Public Library and¬†Old South Church in Boston’s Copley Square-both worthwhile local bucket-list sights. If running isn’t your go-to sport, but you still want to dabble in Boston’s legendary haunts, hop in on a game of basketball or pickleball at the TRACK at new balance. Not only will you get a deal at just $10, but you can also get a glimpse of the new-to-Boston track, designed to be the fastest in the world.

Photo courtesy of Paradise Rock Club
Photo courtesy of Paradise Rock Club
Photo courtesy of Paradise Rock Club

See Live Music in Boston

Citizens House of Blues

Fenway
Talk about phenomenal music mojo; House of Blues (now¬†Citizens House of Blues)-recognized worldwide as a music mecca-started here in Boston. Of course, the site has changed to Fenway, but it’s still home to the soulful stank of live performance and the emotional exfoliation that only music can inspire. Obviously, blues is on the set list, but the venue features artists of all genres, from pop and hip-hop to country and gospel.

Boston Symphony Orchestra

Fenway‚ÄďKenmore
The first concert of the¬†Boston Symphony Orchestra was in 1881, but the organization has successfully navigated the ever-changing cultural landscape. For example, the annual holiday show is an absolute joy-fest; the¬†Holiday Pops musicians play classic holiday jams, and there’s even a sing-along at the end. That aside, you can often find tribute nights with over-the-top orchestral renditions dedicated to composers, like the person behind film soundtracks such as Star Wars, Jaws, and Jurassic Park. Plus, the BSO sometimes offers¬†Casual Friday performances, tickets to rehearsals, and¬†sensory-friendly editions of popular concerts.

Classic Music Venues

Citywide
When it comes to standout music venues, the¬†Paradise Rock Club has hosted some of our all-time greats like Tom Petty, Rage Against the Machine, and Billie Eilish. Brimming with cozy, subterranean vibes, the all-genres¬†Lizard Lounge in Cambridge is especially popular for a stellar Sunday night Poetry Jam & Slam. Though it’s impossible to include all the music houses,¬†The Sinclair in Cambridge and¬†Brighton Music Hall in Allston are also legendary.

New Music Venues 

Citywide
A few of Boston’s essential music spots are shaking things up a bit.¬†The Porch-a Southern Fare & Juke Joint-is a little slice of Southern goodness with authentic barbecue and live country, blues, and alt-country music. Whiskey is a popular sip there, but the focus is more vine-based at¬†City Winery-an elegant riff on the sticky floors of some bass-booming music venues. Taking the tunes outdoors, shout-out to the ever-welcoming¬†Hatch Shell, the warm weather darling of the¬†Charles River Esplanade in the Back Bay, which is known for outdoor movies in the area and free open-air performances by Landmarks Orchestra and other awesomeness.

Photo by David L Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Photo by David L Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Photo by David L Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Where to See Arts and Culture in Boston

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Fenway
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum‘s courtyard will make you gasp and clutch your pearls. It gives major Gilded Age vibes, and the museum itself has an extraordinary collection and continues prioritizing music, art, and horticulture just as its founder, Isabella Stewart Gardner, intended. When it was famously robbed in 1990-a crime still unsolved-the institution purposely left the empty frames on the wall. Visitors can delve into the mystery, attend many concerts, or sit quietly in the courtyard drawing, journaling, or conspiring to find the missing art.
 

Brattle Book Shop

Downtown
Can bibliophiles and Bruins fanatics live harmoniously? We say yes, and, in fact, they’re often one and the same here in Boston-home to the famedBrattle Book Shop. Far from a typical used bookstore, Brattle is stocked with two floors dedicated to used books, a third solely for rare and antiquarian tomes, and a discounted book area. They’ve got over 250,000 books, prints, postcards and ephemera, and (squeal!) maps. Hardly a pop-in-and-be-on-your-way shop, Brattle is a place to wile away the afternoon. Alternatively, you can fill out thishandy form, and they’ll help you find the book of your dreams.

Boston’s Evolving Architecture

Citywide
Adaptive reuse is a fancy term for keeping historic buildings preserved while incorporating them into modern-day use. For example,The Liberty Hotel, originally a 1851 jail, still has many original elements and is home to restaurants like CLINK, inside a preserved jail cell

You can also apply the concept to the Seaport District, and see the area’s transformation by binge-watching the ’80s series about a private investigator who loves lunch at¬†The Ritz-Carlton, Spenser: For Hire. Spenser regularly tackled (alleged) lawbreakers and organized crime in locales where we now meander Boston Harbor Walk, eat lobsters at Legal Sea Foods Harborside, and peruse art at¬†The Institute of Contemporary Art. Spenser would never believe we casually toss darts at¬†Flight Club-for fun and not to thwart would-be bad guys.

Photo courtesy of Dorchester Brewing Co.
Photo courtesy of Dorchester Brewing Co.
Photo courtesy of Dorchester Brewing Co.

Where to Drink in Boston

Boston Speakeasies

Citywide
If you want a snapshot of a city’s culture, wander its speakeasies. Boston’s best-known speakeasy, Bodega, is a nondescript convenience store. Once inside, a vending machine gives way to a secret, high-end sneaker and fashion hub. Similarly, the Seaport’sBorrachito Taqueria & Spirits looks like a simple taco takeout joint-until you ask them to open the enormous freezer door, behind which you’ll find an entire cool AF bar.

Downtown, you can only accessYvonne’s unapologetic glamour through a door at the back of a blow-dry bar. They’re big on high-end spirits and discretion‚Äďin that champagne-fueled shenanigans sort of way.

Boston’s Breweries

Citywide
On the one hand, we utterly adoreSam Adams Brewery. They’re steeped in Boston culture, host kickass events, and offer tours of the Jamaica Plain brewery. Selfishly, we’re giddy AF knowing how spoiled we are withTrillium Brewing Company,Winter Hill Brewing, andDorchester Brewing Co. at our feet as well. It also makes us pretty hoppy that employee-ownedHarpoon Brewery andDemocracy Brewing got together to create acollaboration beer that stands as a celebration of their Boston staff. Harpoon offers a dizzying array of fun events, and we say hell ya to Democracy’s Friday night piano bar sing-alongs and Saturday night comedy shows.

The Tall Ship

East Boston
Instant classics are tough to come by and nearly impossible in the local bar scene-untilTall Ship Boston came along. Moored on Pier One in East Boston, the ship is a commanding 245 feet long-with mahogany bars and an endless supply of fresh oysters and cocktails. Prone to seasickness? No worries. Enjoy the refined yacht vibes and order another Knotty Nauti tequila drink because this boat ain’t moving. In fact, alongside the ship, there’s a 40,000-square-foot waterfront oasis with gorgeous lounge seating, yard games, live entertainment, and food trucks. The Tall Ship is seasonal and usually opens in May and closes whenever management finally yields to New England’s finicky cold-weather season.

Bully Boy Distillers

Roxbury
The Prohibition era pretty much sucked, other than the snappy outfits, of course. Alcohol was an outlaw, and Boston-along with everyone else-had to shutter its distilleries. For those keeping track, Prohibition ended in 1933, and somehow, Boston went sans distilleries untilBully Boy Distillers came along in 2010. We’re all mighty grateful for the Willis brothers and their damn fine spirits, including a nod to Boston’s rum roots. Luckily, they’ve got a gorgeous bar and tasting room in Roxbury’s burgeoning Newmarket District.

Bell in Hand Tavern

Government Center
Though that pesky Prohibition thing temporarily closed it down,Bell in Hand Tavern is otherwise the oldest continuously operating bar in the country. The name is a little wink to the owner’s job as the town crier, and honestly, we love that Bostonians have been rockin’ a side hustle since days of yore. Ever since the first pour in 1795, the bar’s been known as a chill, welcoming spot. As it turns out, this block must have been the hot spot for food and bevy innovation back in the day becauseUnion Oyster House-America’s oldest restaurant, established in 1826-is a few doors down.

Boston Dive Bars

Citywide
The iconic bar,The Tam, has long claimed the title of best dive bar, but if a dive bar says it’s a dive bar‚Ķ is it really a dive? It’s small, crowded, cash-only, and the walls are plastered with eons of memorabilia. In short, it’s freaking awesome. Along those lines, The Sil (akaSilhouette Lounge) in Allston has cheap pitchers, live music, and pinball, and if you get a Sil tattoo, they’ll give you one free Sil-style hot dog every day for life. You’re on your own with the indigestion, but you’ll be an absolute legend. And for the dive bar purists among us, we purport that the diviest of all dive bars wouldn’t have a website. So, if you’re looking for a no-frills, cheap booze hang, Eastie’s iconic Eddie C’s is your spot.

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Melanie Carden is a private chef turned travel writer. She’s equal parts adrenaline-seeker and Golden Girls vibes. You can find her trying new things, thrifting for treasures, grinding it out on a trail, or lounging on a picnic blanket-Aperol spritz in hand. She’s fickle about¬†social, but the sporadic nuggets are worth the wait-cricket tacos, anyone?

Lifestyle

The Best New Bookstores in LA are Curated, Specific, and Personal

Discover a new favorite book, join a book club, and maybe even do some karaoke at the new wave of LA bookshops.

Photo by Innis Casey Photography, courtesy of Zibby's Bookshop
Photo by Innis Casey Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop
Photo by Innis Casey Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop

A couple of years ago, the legendary Powell’s Books in Portland released a perfume designed to evoke the smell of a bookstore. The scent has notes of wood, violet, and the lovely and unusually precise word biblichor, the particular aroma of old books. The reality of the scent is what it is-mostly sweet and floral-but more important is the imagery it conjures. The best bookstores are both cozy and mysterious, familiar and surprising, with endless potential for discovery.

Los Angeles has a wealth of independent book sellers, including beloved legacy shops like The Last Bookstore, The Iliad, and Chevalier’s. But a new wave of bookstores has been growing over the last few years, shops that eschew the traditional one-of-everything mindset to focus on specificity, curation, and point of view. There are bookstores with themes, bookstores that double as event spaces, bookstores that reflect their neighbourhoods, bookstores that take inspiration from a specific person-whether that’s the shop owner, a historical figure, or a little bit of both-and so many more.

Like the niche-ification of the internet and the culture at large, these new and new-ish bookstores provide a space to discover books, ideas, and perspectives led by an expert, the kind of things that you may never have found on your own. They can also be a safe harbour for pure nerdiness, a place to dive deep into your favourite category or cause. To help you on your way, we’ve put together a list of some of the best new bookstores in LA, with a focus on curated shops with their own specific perspectives.

Photo courtesy of Octavia's Bookshelf
Photo courtesy of Octavia’s Bookshelf
Photo courtesy of Octavia’s Bookshelf

Octavia’s Bookshelf

Pasadena
Pasadena is a famously book-friendly city, with bookstore royalty in the form of legendary Vroman’s and its own literary alliance. Now it has one of the most exciting new bookstores too. Octavia’s Bookshelf is owner Nikki High’s tribute to the science fiction master Octavia E. Butler, who was a Pasadena native herself. The name of the shop provides a clue into High’s inspiration, titles she imagines Butler would have had on her shelves, with a focus on BIPOC authors. The storefront is small, but the collection is impeccably curated and the space is cozy and welcoming for readers of all backgrounds.

Photo by Mads Gobbo, courtesy of North Figueroa Bookshop
Photo by Mads Gobbo, courtesy of North Figueroa Bookshop
Photo by Mads Gobbo, courtesy of North Figueroa Bookshop

North Figueroa Bookshop

Highland Park
Vertical integration can be a beautiful thing, especially when it allows independent creators more control over their products. The new North Figueroa Bookshop is a shining example of the concept, a storefront built on a collaboration between two publishers, Rare Bird and Unnamed Press. North Fig features titles from those presses, of course, including lots of striking literary fiction and memoir, but it also features a curated collection of other books. They’ve made it a point of emphasis to serve the needs of the local Highland Park, Glassell Park, Cypress Park, and Eagle Rock community-there’s lots of fiction from fellow independent publishers, other general interest titles with a focus on California history and literature, and plenty of Spanish-language books.

Photo by Karen Cohen Photography, courtesy of Zibby's Bookshop
Photo by Karen Cohen Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop
Photo by Karen Cohen Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop

Zibby’s Bookshop

Santa Monica
Speaking of vertical integration, there’s another new combined publisher and bookstore on the other side of town. Zibby’s Bookshop is the brainchild of Zibby Owens, Sherri Puzey, and Diana Tramontano, and it’s the physical home of Zibby Books, a literary press that releases one featured book a month. That system is designed so that each book gets the full attention and resources of the press. Owens is an author, podcaster, and book-fluencer, and she has become something of a lit-world mogul with a magazine, podcast network, event business, and an education platform too. The shop has a unique sorting system, built around a feeling for each book-in store many of the shelves are labelled by interest or personality type, like “For the foodie,” or “For the pop culture lover.” On their webshop, you can browse for books that make you cry, escape, laugh, lust, or tremble. There are recommendations from Owens and the staff, sections for local authors, family dramas, and books that have just been optioned. If this all seems a little overwhelming, you should probably avoid the section dedicated to books that make you anxious.

The Salt Eaters Bookshop

Inglewood
Inglewood native Asha Grant opened The Salt Eaters Bookshop in 2021 with a mission in mind-to centre stories with protagonists who are Black girls, women, femme, and/or gender-nonconforming people. Over the last year and change that it’s been open, it has also become a community hub, a place for Inglewood locals and people from across town to drop in, to see what’s new and to discover incredible works in the Black feminist tradition. They also host regular events like readings, discussions, and parties.

Lost Books

Montrose
Thankfully, legendary downtown bookshop The Last Bookstore’s name is hyperbole, and owners Josh and Jenna Spencer have even gone so far as to open a second shop, Lost Books in Montrose. Instead of the technicolour whimsy of the book tunnel at The Last Bookstore, Lost Books has a tunnel of plants that welcomes you into the shop, which opened in the summer of 2021. They sell those plants in addition to books, and coffee and vinyl too, which makes Lost Books a lovely destination and a fun little surprise in the quaint foothill town just off the 2 freeway.

Photo by Claudia Colodro, courtesy of Stories Books & Cafe
Photo by Claudia Colodro, courtesy of Stories Books & Cafe
Photo by Claudia Colodro, courtesy of Stories Books & Cafe

Stories Books & Cafe

Echo Park
Ok, this one is fudging the criteria a little-Stories has been open for almost 15 years. But over those years the shop has become a pillar of Echo Park community life, hosting readings, discussions, and events, and their cafe tables function as a de facto office for about half of the neighbourhood on any given afternoon. After the tragic recent passing of co-owner and Echo Park fixture Alex Maslansky it seemed like the shop’s future was in doubt, but thankfully after a brief hiatus co-owner and co-founder Claudia Colodro and the staff were able to band together to reopen and keep the beloved cafe and bookstore going strong.

Page Against the Machine

Long Beach
The name alone makes it clear what you’re getting at Page Against the Machine-revolutionary progressive books, with a collection centred on activist literature, socially conscious writing, and a whole lot of political history. The shop itself is small but the ideas are grand, with fiction by writers like Richard Wright, Colson Whitehead, and Albert Camus next to zines about gentrification and compendia of mushroom varieties. They also host regular readings and discussions.

Photo by Viva Padilla, courtesy of Re/Arte
Photo by Viva Padilla, courtesy of Re/Arte
Photo by Viva Padilla, courtesy of Re/Arte

Re/Arte Centro Literario

Boyle Heights
Boyle Heights has its own small but mighty combined bookstore, art gallery, gathering space, and small press in Viva Padilla’s Re/Arte. Padilla is a poet, translator, editor, and curator, and as a South Central LA native and the child of Mexican immigrants, she’s focused on Chicanx and Latinx art, literature, and social criticism. Re/Arte’s collection has a wide range of books, from classic Latin American literature to modern essays and everything in between. Re/Arte is also now the headquarters for sin cesar, a literary journal that publishes poetry, fiction, and essays from Black and Brown writers. There are always community-focused events happening too, from regular open mics and zine workshops to film screenings and more.

The Book Jewel

Westchester
Most bookshops host events, but few host them with the regularity of The Book Jewel, the two- year-old independent bookstore in Westchester. Their calendar is so full with readings, several different book clubs, signings, and meet and greets that there are sometimes multiple events on the same day. The shop also hosts a ton of family-focused readings, with regular storytime on Sunday mornings often followed by a talk with the author. It’s a great fit for the relatively low-key (but not exactly quiet) suburban neighbourhood, and it’s no coincidence that storytime lines up with the Westchester Farmers Market, which takes place right out front.

Reparations Club

West Adams
Most bookstores lean into coziness, aiming to be a hideaway for some quiet contemplation or maybe a quick sotto voce chat-not so at Reparations Club, the exuberant and stylish concept bookshop and art space on Jefferson. Owner and founder Jazzi McGilbert and her staff have built a beautiful and vibrant shop full of art from Black artists, including books but also records, candles, incense, clothing, and all sorts of fun things to discover. There’s a perfect seating area to sit and hang out for a while, and they host a range of wild and fun events from readings to happy hours, panel discussions to karaoke nights and more.

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Ben Mesirow is a Staff Writer at Thrillist.

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