Boston. Growing up less than three hours away in Albany, it was a frequent destination for everything from historical field trips to wholesome mother-daughter vacations. When I was in Junior High, my dad took a job there, and my mom and little sister and I started making more frequent trips to visit, in addition to his weekend commutes back home. In high school and into my early college years, the apartment he bought in Cambridge became an occasional crash pad for my friends and I when we were heading to Boston for a concert or event, or simply wanted to play grownup with an unsupervised group getaway. Suffice it to say, I’ve spend many a weekend in Beantown.
Yet frankly, it was never my favorite. I always saw Boston as New York’s uptight older sister, a buttoned-up city where last call was at 12:30, where the unofficial uniform was Ugg boots and a Northface jacket, where parking was a horror show and the subway nonsensically stopped running before the bars closed. I saw it as stuffy and stuck in the past. I wasn’t too bummed when my dad relocated again, this time to Philadelphia.
And then, this summer, my sister moved to Boston.
We all, Olivia included, were pretty devastated for her to leave New Orleans — but damn we were proud that she landed her dream job on the Clinton campaign! I immediately made plans to visit on the way back from Martha’s Vineyard. As she settled in, she reported seeing the city through new eyes. Trendy restaurants and cafes. A beautiful park stroll as a work commute. And, for the party animals out there, a handful of bars that do stay open until the legally-allowed 2am, and extended subway hours to get them home safely. If anyone knows how to find the best in a new city, it’s my tour guide extraordinaire little sister. Suddenly, I was excited to see it for myself.
We planned two short nights in the city post-Martha’s Vineyard. As most of the crew who’d been on the island had to travel onward through Boston, we had quite the caravan — me, Ian (who was taking a bus out of the city), Janine (who was visiting friends in the suburbs), Kirsten (who was flying out of Logan International), and Olivia (who lives there!).
While my sister is now living in a charming studio, at the time of our visit she was sleeping in more or less the hallway of a Craiglist multi-person sublet — not exactly ideal for hosting a group. Hence, we made other arrangements — a stay at the super swank XV Beacon hotel, located in the heart of Beacon Hill, and just a stone’s throw from the entrance to Boston Commons.
Exhaustive searches for boutique hotels and even hostels in Boston turned up few that I’d consider to match my taste. But XV Beacon checked all the boxes — amazing location, gorgeous views, thoughtfully designed rooms, and a trendy onsite bar and restaurant. I mean, can we just talk about this suite for a minute? Olivia very strongly considered moving herself right in.
With just two short nights I had little time to work, but the moments I did steal away to my laptop felt pretty luxurious from this desk, and with that view!
The downstairs lobby was small, but who needs one with a room larger than most city apartments? And there were some pretty amazing amenities waiting for us on the top floor. First, a small gym that thankfully we did get one chance to use. Second, a gorgeous rooftop balcony! Hello hot tub, and city views for days. I couldn’t get over this lush little patio.
After our first night in the city, which involved Kirsten and Olivia getting some cousin bonding time and Ian and I holing up in the hotel with a romantic dinner of Boloco burritos (before you cast judgement, let me direct you to the Nutella milkshake on the menu), we met up to escort Olivia to work via a stroll through Boston Commons. My only real regret of the trip is not making time for a run through this park. It’s Boston’s answer to Central Park, and I don’t know how I went so long without appreciating what a gem it is.
Anyway, while Olivia went off to change the world, Ian and Kirsten and I went off to sightsee. Our first stop? One of my childhood favorites, the New England Aquarium.
It was just as special as I remembered. I have high standards for zoos and aquariums, and this one’s focus on education and specific calls to action for sustainability left me freshly impressed. And it’s simply gorgeous on an aesthetic level — the building and the spiral design of the central tank is enough to make any architecture buff swoon.
And I mean, can we talk about the cuteness that is an upside-down baby stingray? Worth the price of admission alone! (Well, not really. The price of admission is pretty steep at $26.95, but it does become a better value if you can go for the IMAX package at $31.95. Sadly, we didn’t have time for a movie, which is a shame as the onsite theater is excellent.)
“Can’t pose for a photo right now, Meihoukai. I’m performing turtle surgery.”
And, you know, there’s a pretty bitchin’ gift shop on the way out. We couldn’t help but stop for a silly selfie.
Post-aquarium, I took my two sidekicks for a stroll through the iconic Faneuil Hall, and we settled down for a meal in the square. Cheers to that, indeed.
That afternoon, I said a sad goodbye to Ian, who I wouldn’t see for another two months. At this point I’m pretty much a pro at goodbyes, but they can still sting. The remedy? A big ‘ol dose of girl time, in the form of my cousin and little sis.
When Liv got off work we gathered at Mooo, XV Beacon’s onsite bar and restaurant. We kicked things off with a craft cocktail tasting at the bar and were impressed by both the knowledge of the bartender and the quality of his delicious creations. Even if you don’t head here for a meal, I can’t imagine any future trips to Boston without swinging by this gorgeous bar for a drink.
That said — do make it a meal, if you can. We were downright obsessed with this upscale steakhouse thanks to exceptional service, a beautiful dining room, and a killer prix fixe menu. While the prix fixe dinner menu has sadly been phased out, there’s still a great deal available for lunch. The best part? They delivered our to-go desserts straight to our room for some silly sleepover noshing.
The next morning, Kirsten and I sifted through an array of nearby yoga studios within walking distance and landed on iYoga for a morning vinyasa class in a brick-walled, light-filled studio. The best part? Our first class was free! And our teacher’s cute Boston accent was a bonus. After a healthy meal at the adorable Thirst Juice Co., also a whopping four minute walk from out hotel, we retreated to XV Beacon (who’d graciously granted us a very late check out) to spend a few final hours in rooftop bliss.
Before I knew it, it was almost time to say goodbye to Boston. As soon as Olivia was out of work, we met her and Janine (who’d very kindly taken my car to the suburbs so I could avoid the literal nightmare that is finding and paying for Boston parking) for a final early dinner. After that, it was a whole lot more goodbyes! One major thumbs up I can give to Boston: the airport is crazy close to the city center, and very convenient to reach both via public transit and car. A long final squeeze at the airport curb later, I was in the car and on my way back to Albany from Boston, once again.
This time, I was driving with a different attitude. This trip showed me a new Boston. One that’s probably always been there, but I wasn’t quite looking for yet. A city with beautiful scenes to photograph, fantastic cocktails bars to find, and vibrant young people breathing life into it all the time. There’s one in particular I’m quite fond of. And I’m sure I’ll be back to visit her soon.
Have you ever changed your mind about a city after years of telling yourself it just wasn’t for you? What can I not miss next time I’m in Boston?
Many thanks to XV Beacon for providing me with a media rate in order to write this review. As always, you receive my honest opinions regardless of who is footing the bill.