It’s no secret that Boston can be a pretty hectic place, be it commuting into the city during rush hour, trying to walk through Allston, the Back Bay, or the Fenway area on a weekend night, or dealing with tourists in such areas as Faneuil Hall or the North End. For those who live or go to school in the city, it can definitely be nice to get away from it all, but it’s not always possible to head to the Maine coast, the Cape, or the Berkshires—especially without a car or if there isn’t much time to spare. Some articles here in the past have looked at hikes and picnic spots in the local area, and this one continues the “getting away from it all” theme, this time looking mostly at quiet towns, villages, and neighborhoods not too far from downtown Boston. All of these places make you feel like you’re far from the skyscrapers and endless crowds of people without being all that far from the city, and most are accessible by public transportation, so if you don’t have wheels, no worries at all—well, except for maybe the last two where it’s best to go by car. (Note that a recommended restaurant/bar is given for each area, though for some of these, a number of other good options exist so definitely do some research on your own.)
Old Town, Marblehead
Boston tends to feel more European than any major city in America, and this certainly extends to some of the communities nearby. Perhaps the best example of this is the historic district of Marblehead, which is hidden away just north of the downtown area of this beautiful North Shore town. In some ways, Old Town feels like a Cornish village on the south coast of England, with its old homes squeezed next to each other along narrow lanes and its spectacular ocean views from various hillside parks and cemeteries. This is one of those neighborhoods where you really don’t need to do anything other than walk around, breathe in the salt air, enjoy the peace and quiet, and wonder how you can be only 15 miles from downtown Boston.
[Restaurant/Bar Option: Maddie’s Sail Loft at 15 State St—old-school local hangout for seafood and drinks]
[Transportation Options: Car; commuter rail from North Station to Lynn, then 441/442 bus; Blue Line to Wonderland, then #441/442 bus]
Huron Village, Cambridge
The city of Cambridge can often feel as busy and hectic as Boston, with red-hot areas such as Kendall Square and student-heavy spots such as Harvard Square having a bustling, dynamic feel to them. It doesn’t take much to get into quieter neighborhoods, however, and in the case of Huron Village, you can actually walk from the endless crowds around Harvard to this mellow area in a matter of minutes. The “village” part of the area’s name is an accurate one, as Huron Avenue (the main drag) has a distinct village-like vibe to it and is home to one of the region’s great food shops, Formaggio Kitchen. Wandering up the streets south of Huron Avenue will take you past some huge homes, while continuing down to Brattle Street will bring you to mountain-sized mansions and historic structures as you make your way back to the crowds of Harvard.
[Restaurant Option: Armando’s Pizza at 163 Huron Ave.—classic thin-crust pizza and Sicilian slices at a tiny storefront that’s been around a long time]
[Transportation Options: Car; Red Line to Harvard then walk or take #72 bus]
Hull Village/Hull Gut
The Boston area has a number of peninsulas, including the aforementioned Marblehead as well as Winthrop, Nahant (see below), and Hull, and each of them has a bit of an end-of-the-world feel, as they’re mostly self-contained and, in the case of Nahant and Hull, their main roads simply peter out at the sea. Many people hear the name “Hull” and immediately think of the honky-tonk of Nantasket Beach, but not many go all the way to the end of the peninsula, which is where Hull Village and Hull Gut (also known as Pemberton Point) sit. Hull Village looks a bit like a picturesque hamlet on the Maine coast with its little church, weathered old homes, and, from the heights of Revere Park, dizzying views of the Atlantic. Just west of the village is the end of the line where Main Street simply stops, and the views of the Boston skyline from here are particularly interesting because it’s one of the few places in the local area where the sun actually sets over the ocean. Don’t attempt to use subways or buses to get to Hull, but if you don’t have a car, you can actually take a ferry from downtown Boston right to Hull Gut with spectacular views along the way.
[Bar Option: Jo’s Nautical Bar at 125 Main St.—townie bar with great water views and cheap drinks]
[Transportation Options: Car; ferry from Long Wharf on the Boston waterfront]
A bookend to Hull in a way, this little town sits on a much smaller peninsula north of Boston and is maybe 10 miles from Hull as the crow flies (or the boat sails) but a whopping 40 miles by car. Mostly residential, there really isn’t much to do in Nahant, but if you like to wander aimlessly through an area while catching endless views of the ocean—and seeing few people along the way—this is a very nice escape from Boston, and one that’s surprisingly easy to get to by commuter rail and bus. Some highlights include 40 Steps Beach, which is great any time of year and has scenes that look like they come straight out of Ireland; East Point, which is tough to find but well worth the effort for its rocky cliffs and endless ocean views; Baileys Point and its views of the Boston skyline; and the town wharf, which boat lovers will particularly like and which could easily be mistaken for Downeast Maine, especially when the fog rolls in.
[Restaurant/Bar Option: Tides at 2 Wilson Road—beachside American restaurant and bar with outdoor seating and water views]
[Transportation Options: Car; commuter rail from North Station to Lynn, then walk the causeway or take the #439 bus (note—bus runs only on weekdays)]
Savin Hill, Dorchester
It’s actually pretty easy to find quiet areas not all that far from downtown Boston, and one of the more interesting spots is the section of this neighborhood within a neighborhood that’s squeezed in between the Expressway and Morrissey Boulevard. Because it’s basically cut off from the rest of Boston by these two roads (along with Pattens Cove to the north and Savin Hill Basin to the south), the eastern part of Savin Hill is a real oasis, with beautiful old homes, narrow streets with little traffic, little-used tennis courts and a basketball court, a scenic walkway along the basin, and, in the middle of it all, a hilltop park with views of Boston Harbor and the surrounding area. There are few parts of Boston that are more peaceful than this, so if you want to get away but don’t have much time, Savin Hill isn’t a bad option at all.
[Restaurant Option: McKenna’s Cafe at 109 Savin Hill Ave.—local breakfast and lunch hangout with excellent coffee and good cheap eats]
[Transportation Options: Car; subway to Savin Hill station]
Lincoln Center/Lincoln Depot
Vermont is a long way from Boston even if you have a car, and parts of it can be nearly impossible to get to if you don’t. But you really don’t need to get that far out of the city to feel like you’re in the Green Mountain State. One suburb in particular that has a Vermont look to it is only four communities away from Boston and is maybe 15 miles away from Downtown Crossing, but the rolling green hills, weathered old barns, and pristine lakes and ponds could be 115 miles from the city if you have a good imagination. Getting off the commuter rail at Lincoln Depot or driving to blink-and-you-miss-it Lincoln Center will get you to good jumping-off points for such nearby places as Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary, deCordova Museum and Sculpture Park, and Walden Pond; and if you’re into walking you can stroll to any of these via little-used streets along with well-maintained trails and logging/fire roads. Don’t forget to take your phone or camera to post pictures, so you can lie to your friends and say you’re hanging out in some of the most remote parts of northern New England.
[Restaurant Option: Country Pizza at 161 Lincoln Road—pizzeria located within an auto garage of all places, with New London-style pizza offered there]
[Transportation Options: Car; commuter rail from North Station to Lincoln Depot]
Jeffries Point, East Boston
East Boston is often seen as one of the most congested neighborhoods in the city, but much like Dorchester’s Savin Hill, the Jeffries Point section of Eastie is a quiet area with little traffic, mainly because it is nearly impossible to get to. Cut off by Route 1A to the west, Logan Airport to the north, and Boston Harbor to the east, this small, hilly area is highly walkable and includes the glorious Piers Park (which has some of the best views of the Boston skyline), a section of the Harborwalk that curves along the ocean to the back of the airport where it ends, and rowhouses that wouldn’t be out of place in Beacon Hill or Charlestown. Jeffries Point also has hidden public ways here and there, including a loop off Webster Street high above Marginal Street that has more great views of the city. And if you’re someone who finds sitting and reading a good way to get away from it all, the little-used Brophy Park isn’t a bad place to do so.
[Restaurant Option: KO Catering and Pies at 256 Marginal St.—Australian meat pies and more from a funky spot that’s accessed by going through a guard gate]
[Transportation Options: Car; subway to Maverick station]
Lower Mills, Dorchester
Boston is a very large city area-wise, and there are parts of it that are miles away from downtown, including this historic spot that includes a charming village-like Main Street, old factories that are included within the National Register of Historic Places, an at-times raging river (the Neponset) that forms the border between Boston and Milton, and a recently expanded greenway that meanders along the river. Although Lower Mills doesn’t take up much space, there is a lot to see within this outer edge of Dorchester, and as is the case with so many options here, the best way to check everything out is by walking around while enjoying a bit of industrial-style history along the way.
[Restaurant Option: Lower Mills Tavern at 2269 Dorchester Ave.—comfort food spot including beer, whiskey, and live music, with Dropkick Murphys frontman Ken Casey being involved with the place]
[Transportation Options: Car; subway to Milton station]
As mentioned earlier, you can get just a little taste of Maine in Hull Village and at the tip of Nahant without actually going there, but to get more of a true feel of what the Maine coast is like, this hidden section of Cape Ann is worth the effort. The “cape” part of Cape Ann, which is almost fully cut off from the mainland, is comprised of Gloucester and Rockport, and the tiny village of Lanesville is just over the Rockport border in a section of Gloucester that looks an awful lot like Mount Desert Island in Downeast Maine where Acadia National Park resides. The village itself looks like a movie set for a Steven King film and seems like it should be always enshrouded in fog, while the adjacent Annisquam sits on a tiny peninsula and has breathtaking views of the ocean along with beautiful old clapboard homes and a smattering of businesses on its narrow lanes. If you have a bike, these two places are ideal for a leisurely ride, and it’s definitely worth heading into the nearby center of Rockport as well if you’re big into quaint seafaring villages.
[Restaurant Option: Roy Moore’s Fish Shack at 21 Dock Square in Rockport—classic New England seafood restaurant featuring scallops, lobster rolls, fried clams, and more]
[Transportation Options: Car; commuter rail from North Station to Gloucester or Rockport, then pick up the Cape Ann Blue Line bus from either stop]
Tower Hill Botanic Garden, Boylston
This last spot isn’t a town, village, or neighborhood, but if you want to feel like you’re in the mountains without driving all the way to northern New England or the Berkshires, Tower Hill is about as good as you’ll get within an hour of the city (well, maybe an hour and five minutes). This tranquil space—which is open year around—includes greenhouses, walking trails through woods, meadows, and garden areas, and views of Mount Wachusett and the Wachusett Reservoir from its cafe and seasonal patio as well as its trails. If you’re a lover of greenery, Tower Hill has some plants and trees that you may have never seen before, but even if you’re not, strolling the grounds of this special hilltop spot should quickly get rid of any stress that you may have.
[Restaurant Option: Armsby Abbey at 144 Main St. in Worcester—sure, it’s 10 miles away, but it’s considered one of the best beer bars in New England, and it serves Hill Farmstead beer, which is a rarity in the area]
[Transportation Options: Car]