A Weekend in Boston
By David McKay Wilson
The Boston area’s charm lies in its longstanding embrace of history and its development on the cutting edge of urban change. That mix makes the Boston metro region an international destination for those looking for history, culture – and it being Boston – professional sporting events.
Our visit came on a weekend in mid-June as the Boston Celtics were fighting for their lives in the NBA finals, the centuries-old cork trees provided welcome shade at the historic Arnold Arboretum, and swing dancers found their rhythm to a live quintet at the Boston Swing Central dance at the Q Ballroom in Cambridge.
I have a particular fondness for the city, having lived there for six years in the mid-70s and early 80s. I started in the Fenway by the Red Sox ballpark while earning my journalism degree at Northeastern and studying the Luigi Technique in jazz dance class.
Then I moved across the Charles River to Cambridge for my first journalism job, covering City Hall, housing, transportation, and the city’s transformation from its industrial past to a city brimming with the latest in urban living. I discovered improvisation dance in the parish hall of Christ Episcopal Church at Dance Free, where I was part of the crowd with the guy named Morrie who Mitch Albom celebrated in “Tuesdays with Morrie.”
Our base camp for the weekend was the Boston Seaport, the former industrial area along the Boston Harbor that, over the past 20 years, has blossomed into a popular destination for Beantown visitors.
That weekend, 20-somethings thronged the outdoor Cisco Brewers beer garden on Seaport Boulevard, sipping Nantucket Craft cocktails and all sorts of beers. You can walk out on the Fan Pier on Boston Harbor. Families and their young children gathered on The Lawn on D Street, and sightseers strolled on Seaport Boulevard past colorful geometric sculptures by Spanish artist Okuda San Miguel.
It came a week after international divers showed their stuff from a 90-foot-high platform off the roof at the Institute for Contemporary Art at the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series.
“Seaport Square has created what the area lacked for so long – mixed-use access to restaurants, entertainment, retail, open space, and public art, said David O’Donnell of the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau. “The Seaport has not only created a new neighborhood in Boston, but a new destination experience unlike anything our city has offered.”
Aiding the development was the relocation of interstate highways into underground tunnels in the city’s Big Dig, which opened up downtown Boston to large swaths of the waterfront. First came the John J. Moakley Federal Courthouse, which opened on Fan Pier in 1999 in what was then a no-man’s land of parking lots and vacant industrial buildings. Then came the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center in 2004 and the ICA in 2006.
Following was a slew of hotels – The Westin Boston Seaport, Hyatt Place Seaport, Hampton Inn by Hilton, Element Boston, Aloft Boston, Yotel, Envoy, and the Omni Boston Hotel at the Seaport, which opened during COVID times in September 2021.
We had the good fortune to stay at the Omni in a well-appointed suite on the 20th floor, with glorious views everywhere you look and modern cozy spots to sit in the living room area, dining room, and the bedroom, with a sleek desk, and comfortable chairs.
You saw South Boston and the Boston Harbor to the east from the floor-to-ceiling windows. There were the Blue Hills to the south. And the ever-changing Boston skyline had new skyscrapers rising to the west.
And wouldn’t you know it, the suite’s décor had a dance theme and a coffee table book that featured modern dancers I’d written about, and one with whom I had studied.
Long known for walking the Freedom Trail, downtown Boston has become even more walkable since the highways went subterranean. Where the interstate once divided downtown, the 1.5-mile-long Rose Kennedy Greenway emerged. It’s an urban park that winds from Chinatown to Haymarket through the heart of downtown. We started at Atlantic and Congress avenues and headed toward City Hall. We’d missed the brilliance of the daffodils in spring, flowering cherries in May, and even what you are taught on an information sign is called “wood snag” – standing deadwood that provides habitat for birds and insects.
At the Greenway’s Rings Fountain, children frolicked one warm Saturday afternoon, squealing with joy as bursts from its 64 nozzles drenched them. Nearby, other kids were giddy bobbing up and down on the Greenway Carousel.
The Greenway also provided a moment of reflection at the Armenian Heritage Park, a place to ponder the horrific genocide as you walk in contemplation along its labyrinth.
The Greenway led us to the North End, the neighborhood known for its Italian-American cuisine, and the Old North Church, with the adjacent bronze statue of patriot Paul Revere festooned with a Celtics scarf around his neck. The Old North Church is a stark reminder of the racial divisions that so long afflicted Boston, with the church balcony in the historic restricted to enslaved people and free blacks in the 18th century.
On Salem Street, we stopped at the Salmagundi hat shop, where I found a straw Panama hat that stood me well at summer events.
Music and visual arts abound in the Seaport. One afternoon, we walked through the ICA galleries, viewing cutting-edge modern art in the fourth-floor galleries, with large-scale art by David Antonio Cruz that explored the lives of the LGBT+ community, and Brazilian dance film that explored race, class, and sexuality.
Later that evening Troy Andrews, known as Trombone Shorty, rocked the Seaport’s outdoor 5,000-seat Leader Bank Pavilion with his rocking brand of New Orleans funk.
The Rose Kennedy Greenway builds on the city’s longstanding dedication to city parks, highlighted by the city’s Emerald Necklace of parks in the late 18th century – a seven-mile long park laid out by Frederick Law Olmstead that extends from the Boston Common through the Public Garden, the Back Bay Fens, the Arnold Arboretum and Franklin Park.
A stroll through the Arboretum was a fitting end to our visit. It’s located in the Boston neighborhood of Jamacia Plain, which you can reach from downtown by the MBTA’s Orange line subway. It’s Harvard University’s 281-acre museum of trees, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.
You learn from the metal tags attached to many of the specimens, listing its name – both common and scientific – and the plant’s origin and the year it was brought to Boston.
At the Arnold Arboretum, the tree tag tells you that the silver maple dates back to 1881.
It’s a remarkable outdoor museum, with specimen trees predominantly from eastern North America and East Asia. Springtime brings plentiful blooms from its collections of lilacs, crabapples and azaleas. By mid-June, the Japanese tree lilacs were still in bloom, while a stand of pink roses were brilliant in the afternoon sun.
We stopped to smell them.
David McKay Wilson, a veteran journalist who lives in New York’s Hudson Valley, is an avid skier, hiker, and swing dancer. His travel writing has taken him around the world, with his travel stories appearing in The Boston Globe, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Hartford Courant, and USA TODAY. He writes the Tax Watch for the Journal News/lohud.com, part of the USA TODAY Network.