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Green Guide to Boston

National Parks
by Steve Holt Feb 14, 2008

First things first. This isn’t the “White Guide to Boston,” so if green – grass, trees, plants – is what you’re seeking, visit Beantown between May and October.

This is not to say traveling to Boston in February would be a complete disaster – but you know what, don’t. Just don’t. Spring, summer and fall are just too good in Boston to waste a trip in the middle of winter. Plus, you’ve heard about the icy demeanor of New Englanders? Multiply that by ten when there’s two inches of slush on the ground and a teeth-chattering wind is blowing off the “hahbah.”

(Leaf-peepers need to time their trips pretty meticulously so as not to miss optimal viewing of God’s kaleidoscope that appears every fall in New England)

Disclaimers behind us, Boston is one of the greenest cities – in both the Al Gore and Kermit the Frog definitions of the word – in the United States. The left-leaning, young and active core of the city’s population makes sure they have ample places to relish in the area’s natural beauty, commute around town responsibly, and eat organically. This means the green traveler will find plenty to do – and eat and drink – in and around Boston.

Here’s a sampling…


They don’t call Boston “America’s Walking City” for nothing. You can literally get most anywhere in the metro area – from the core of the city as far out as Lexington and Concord or the Boston Harbor Islands – using your feet or public transportation, including the daily improving subway system (the T), above-average water taxis and ferries, and local buses. So don’t even think about renting a car when you come, or else send back your Sierra Club membership card immediately. The T is pretty easy to navigate, and if you get lost, fire up the notebook computer in a WiFi Café and click over to, where you can find riding and walking directions to just about anywhere.

Also, pick up a copy of Car Free in Boston, a self explanatory little booklet that will give you the very best Boston experience, exhaust-free.

To Do

Sure, there’s always the hyper-touristy Duck Tours and the Freedom Trail – the 2.5-mile walking path past many of the city’s historic spots downtown – but I’ll focus on some of the activities you likely won’t find in The Rough Guide. Take an eco-cruise out to the Boston Harbor Islands, a surprisingly fun day-trip that departs from UMass-Boston on Mondays for only $5 per person. (if you want to go on another day of the week, ferries leave several times daily from near the New England Aquarium, but tickets are $12 a person and the trip less ecologically focused) En route, you’ll get some unique skyline views from the water, and the wildly diverse set of islands offers camping, hiking, and a Civil War-era fort, among other things.

You’ll definitely want to take a day or two to explore the core of the city. Take the T to Park Street Station for a Frisbee or Wiffle Ball game on Boston Common, the city’s famous downtown park. Crossing Charles Street from the Common, wander through the Public Gardens, Boston’s hub for floral amazement. From the Garden, a relaxing urban walk down Boylston Street brings you to Copley Square, home to 17th century Trinity Church, the John Hancock Tower, and Boston Public Library’s main branch. Guided tours of Trinity are free when you attend a service beforehand, or $5 otherwise. The Library may seem like an unlikely destination, but you’ll understand when you enter its cavernous and opulent foyer, ascend the grand staircase, and take in one of the many interesting shows and exhibits revolving through the Boston landmark.

You don’t want to miss the bountiful recreation in and around Boston. A sure bet is to bike, walk, or blade a portion of (or all, if you’re hard-core) the 17-mile Esplanade trail along the Charles River, which separates Boston from Cambridge. You can also rent small sailboats and kayaks on the Charles, a timeless summer tradition.

Getting a bit out of the city, the Minuteman Bikeway – which takes you from the Alewife T station on the Red Line through the birthplace of the American Revolution – is a wonderful day-long option. Hop off the trail in the quiet town of Lexington to see where the first shots of the Revolution were fired. Just south of Boston, Jamaica Plain is the greenest – again, in both senses of the word – neighborhood within the city limits. Here, you’ll find beautiful Jamaica Pond (which you can hike, jog, or sail), colorful houses, and colorful people walking dogs, enjoying a book in the park, or experiencing a jazz concert.

For the inevitable rainy day, consider visiting Harvard’s Museum of Natural History, which houses the world-renowned Glass Flowers Exhibit, an extraordinary turn-of-the-century collection of 3,000 hand-crafted replicas representing over 800 plant species. You also might consider visiting the New England Aquarium, which not only showcases some of the world’s wildest marine life, but has as its primary mission the understanding and conservation of oceans and their habitats.

To Eat

In Boston, “local” is the operative word. The locals love and prefer their food to be local, so travelers won’t have a hard time finding quality, tasty, and healthy non-fast food options. Here are a few of the local faves.

East Boston’s 303 Café is perhaps Boston’s hottest new spot in one of Boston’s hottest and fastest-growing neighborhoods. 303’s menu offers a variety of vegetarian and vegan options, but all the food – even the Bison Burger – is both delicious and regret-free. After dinner, get an organic and fair trade coffee to go and walk one block to Piers Park, which provides the city’s best panoramic skyline and harbor views, hands-down.

Ashmont Grill in Dorchester offers local and organic food, including herbs grown on the restaurant’s patio. You’ll feel good knowing that the grease used to make your French fries will be turned into biodiesel afterwards.

A number of the spots listed on the Certified Green Restaurant Guide are in and around Boston – no surprise there. For snacks or picnic items to go, visit one of the numerous Trader Joe’s locations in the Boston area, including downtown stores on Boylston and Beacon Streets. Visit one of the many downtown farmer’s markets – including the city’s oldest and largest, Haymarket (open on Fridays and Saturdays) – for fresh produce and vegetables and a healthy dose of Townie charm.

To Stay

You could easily fork over $200 a night – or more – for a hotel room in Boston.


463 Beacon Guest House – at the advertised rate of $75 a night year-round, you can’t go wrong with this downtown bed and breakfast. Centrally located in the historic Back Bay neighborhood, 463 offers nightly, weekly, and monthly stays in a number of room styles, some of which include kitchenettes. 463 certainly lives up to its clever slogan: “Boston’s Best-Slept Secret.” I told you it was clever.

Hostels – Sleep in New England like you would in Old England. For simple and affordable lodging, consider one of Boston’s several downtown hostels, where you’re sure to meet up with other road warriors like yourself. Share stories, swap Boston travel tips, and make plans. That’s what green travel is all about, right?

Monastery – For something a lot different, consider one of the guest rooms at St. John the Evangelist Monastery in Cambridge. Explore mystical Christian spirituality with the brothers on a self-directed or group program retreat for between $60 and $105 a night, or just lodge at SSJE while touring Boston (no price break). Robe not included.

There’s also always camping, of course. The Boston Harbor Islands offer camping, along with many of the outlying suburbs of Boston. (you don’t have to drive far outside the city to begin feeling a tad pastoral)

For those of you who would ignore my imploring against staying in hotels, at least choose one that is eco-friendly. These hotels earned recognition from Boston’ mayor last year for operating in a particularly green way: the Seaport Hotel; Jurys Boston Hotel; the Hyatt Harborside and the Lenox Hotel.

Easier to Be Green in Boston

Boston has tons to do when the weather’s nice, but this guide has to end. This is only a start. Bottom line: Visit Boston (remember: spring, summer, or fall). Travel eco-friendly; Boston makes it easy. Now that you know, there are no excuses, right?

One of Matador’s newest contributors, Steve Holt is a freelance writer living in Boston, eager to explore the world and tell its story.

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