Part of the gorgeous string of parks and walkways known as the Emerald Necklace, the Arnold Arboretum is a breathtakingly beautiful respite from the bustle of Boston—and is the oldest public arboretum on the continent. Located in the Jamaica Plain and Roslindale neighborhoods, the arboretum is a great place to have a picnic, go for a walk or just enjoy some peace and quiet in an enormous expanse of greenery. If you're a budding arborist, you'll enjoy a living museum of over 2000 species of flora, all with tags identifying their origin and taxonomy. Designated areas also group together specific trees and plants, such as lilacs, oaks and bonsai. Check out the Visitor Center at 125 Arborway for more information and updates on new and upcoming art exhibitions. For those less focused on science, walk to the top of Peter's Hill for excellent views of the arboretum and the city skyline. After an afternoon in urban nature, be sure to explore the Jamaica Plain neighborhood and stop by the ever-popular Ten Tables for a bite.
Since opening in 2002, Ten Tables has been a dining destination for Bostonians and a beloved neighborhood standout for residents of Jamaica Plain. Now with a sister location in Harvard Square, the original Ten Tables in JP offers seasonal, nouveau-American and European-inspired menus featuring local, organic ingredients. What the restaurant lacks in size (the name doesn't lie, there really are just 10 tables) it makes up for in outstanding food and a relaxed, cozy atmosphere. Standout entrees include the bouillabaisse with hake, clams and fresh mussels or—for the land lover—the peppercorn-rubbed hanger steak. Reservations are definitely recommended, but its worth waiting for a table and you can head next door to the newly added TT Bar for small plates while you wait. The restaurant also offers reasonable deals on certain days of the week, for instance on Sundays stop in for dollar oysters and for Wednesdays enjoy a three-course menu for $38. After dinner visit a few nearby art galleries (Axiom, Hallway Gallery) or pop into the quirky stores dotting Centre Street.
Boston is an old city by American standards, but the fantastic Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is a veritable time-warp to medieval Europe. Truly a singular and idiosyncratic Boston treasure, the Gardner Museum is home to some of the most rare and priceless artwork in the world, housed in an impressive facsimile of a 15th century Venetian palazzo. The museum contains a concert hall, greenhouse and an airy, skylit courtyard filled with fresh flowers year-round. With a new wing recently opened in 2012, the museum houses a magnificent mélange of paintings, sculptures, tapestries and furniture, spanning centuries of artistic craft. Perhaps most impressive are the Michelangelo, Botticelli, Rembrandt and Sargent pieces, as well as an extensive collection of medieval art. You might notice some conspicuously bare spots on the walls—reminders of the 1990 heist that remains one of the most sensational and costly art thefts in history. If you're in the mood for more, the Museum of Fine Arts is within walking distance and is home to one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of art in the country—with exhibits covering antiquity to contemporary art.
Near the waterfront on the Cambridge side of the Charles River is the MIT Museum, a small but packed collection exploring the intersection of art and science. The museum features changing and ongoing exhibitions of holography, robotics, photography, architecture, design and photography as well as current research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Perhaps most impressive is the world's largest collection of holograms, an eye-popping display of 3D imagery. Another standout in the permanent collection is Arthur Ganson's whimsical kinetic sculptures; interactive machines that the viewer puts into motion. Be sure to check out the excellent Museum Shop for unique, science-themed gifts that are great for kids and adults alike. The museum is open daily and admission is free the last Sunday of each month. After finishing up at the museum, walk a couple blocks down Massachusetts Avenue to Flour Bakery + Cafe for outstanding baked goods and sandwiches while taking in a stroll along the Charles River for gorgeous views of Boston.
Flatbread Company in the trendy Davis Square section of Somerville is a great place to get a quality pie and try out some candlepin bowling—a fun variation on the traditional 10-pin. If you've never tried this recreational oddity—found only in New England—you'll notice the pins are skinny and stick-shaped, and the balls are much smaller. Open since 1939 (originally called Sacco's Bowl Haven), this Somerville institution has since transformed itself into a buzzing pizzeria hangout, featuring locally grown and organic ingredients. Diners can create their own pizza—but the homemade sausage pizza with sun-dried tomatoes and caramelized onions is always a good choice. Order from the menu while bowling, or sit in the dining area, which is great for big groups. You may have to wait for a table or a lane (they take reservations for parties eight and up) but it's well worth it. If you feel like skipping the pizza, head around the block to Redbones Barbecue for spectacular ribs and brisket and then for some local Davis Square color, check out The Burren for an eclectic mix of daily live music.
J.P. Licks has served up exceptionally good ice cream, baked goods and coffee for over 30 years. While offering competently made traditional flavors, the shop is known for its more unorthodox concoctions and sense of creativity (with flavors like Oreo Cake Batter and Hemp Maple Walnut) as well as rotating seasonal and monthly flavors. True to its baseball-obsessed hometown, J.P. Licks also offers flavors like Cherry Ortiz, a cherry ice cream named for beloved Red Sox slugger David Ortiz (formerly called Cherry Garciaparra). The shop's eclectic interior, featuring a constantly changing display of oil paintings and its trademark oversized porcelain cow's head, appeals to a diverse clientele—from young families to the more eclectic artist-oriented denizens of J.P. After getting your ice cream, explore Centre Street in the heart of Jamaica Plain, where you'll find many interesting shops (check out Fire Opal and Boomerang's), great restaurants and a warm neighborhood feel. If it's a nice day, consider getting to or from Centre Street via the Emerald Necklace, a lush chain of parks and walkways designed by architect Frederick Olmsted.
While the city beaches of Boston may leave something to be desired, the stunning coastline of Nantucket—a small island off of Cape Cod—make it a beach destination worth visiting. Over 100 miles of coastline (nearly all of it open to the public) rim this quaint island getaway with rolling, scrub-dotted dunes. Beaches along Nantucket Sound on the north shore offer warmer water and gentler surf, while south on the Atlantic side the waves are heavier. Check out the popular Surfside Beach on the south shore of the island, great for swimming and lined with a bike path. To avoid big crowds try Madaket Beach on the western tip; home to the island's strongest waves and finest sunsets. The sole town on the island—also called Nantucket—is a classic 19th-century seaport town and the entire island has been designated a historical landmark, with its streets and architecture virtually unchanged. Check out galleries, locally made arts and crafts and clothing stores along with the Whaling Museum on Broad Street. Restaurants are on the expensive side, but try the fried clams at Sayle's Seafood for a true New England specialty. Transportation to and from the island isn't the easiest, but it's worth the effort. The two hour drive out to the Cape is a beautiful ride, and the ferry across only adds to the feeling of an isolated island getaway. Nantucket is a known summer destination, but for smaller crowds and a more intimate experience, visit during the late spring or early fall.