Eight hidden gems to explore along Boston’s waterfront

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Beat the crowds and visit these places.


Belle Isle Swamp photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

As summers get hotter in Boston, finding ways to cool down will continue to be a priority. Fortunately, it’s almost always cooler along the shore as sea breezes brush the water and relieve the heat. Many locals escape to lake houses and beach-side cottages, but there are a myriad of waterfront options in and near town that are just a short, pedal-ride away. or by train. Some of these places are great for finding comfort on a hot day, while others are cool places that can be visited in any season.

For those who combine picture-perfect harbor views at East Boston’s Piers Park, riverside biking with Memorial Drive, waterside movies with the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade, and swimming in the harbor with L Street Beach, here are some new options for exploring Boston’s coastlines and rivers. From the North End to the city’s southern border, there’s local waterside adventure at any time of the day or year.

Swim in the Mirabella pool

Floating pools are all the rage in European cities, but Boston has long had an outdoor pool with exceptional waterside views. Mirabella Pool sits on the North End waterfront between the US Coast Guard headquarters and the newly renovated Langone and Puopolo parks. Out of season, the nearby pétanque courts provide a great place to play or people watch. In addition to swimming and bocce ball, pool and park visitors can enjoy views of Charlestown, including the USS Constitution and Bunker Hill Monument, as well as the Tobin and Zakim Bridges.

Historical maps show that there was a waterfront park with a public beach at this location from 1895 until at least the late 1930s, so there is a long swimming legacy at this site. Today, the 38-meter pool is open to everyone, with a complicated but fair registration process thanks to COVID-era protocols that have made it both easier and more difficult to visit the pool. (It’s now free but also requires a reservation in advance.) Anyone with a Boston Centers for Youth and Families account can reserve free swim time 24 hours in advance. Morning lap swims and 105-minute pool access can be booked Wednesday through Sunday, with slightly shorter hours Thursday and Friday.

475 Commercial Street, Boston

Relax at Constitution Beach

Even the official State Parks website describes Constitution Beach as “one of Boston’s hidden waterfront gems.” The nearly half-mile beach arc slopes slowly into shallow water that’s sheltered enough to feel warm when the rest of the harbor is cold from the North Atlantic. The array of play equipment, tidy bath house, and seemingly ubiquitous presence of one ice cream truck or another make it a great place to go with the family.

From the beach there is a clear view of planes taking off and landing at Logan Airport, although they only fly directly over the beach if the wind is good. Meanwhile, the Blue Line runs on tracks parallel to the beach, and the Orient Heights T station is a three-minute walk from the beach entrance. The parking lot is also, for now, the northern terminus of the Mary Ellen Welch Greenway, a multi-modal route that extends to the waterfront near Maverick Square.

0 Barnes Avenue, Boston

Kayaking in Allston

Between the MIT campus and Back Bay, it’s easy to believe the Charles River is wide and straight. Paddling from Allston is a reminder of how narrow, winding and bridge-crossed it is. Go upstream from Charles River Canoe and Kayak the docks can feel like escaping into the wilderness with trees towering over the banks, ducks and cormorants watching from rocks and buoys, and only the occasional building visible above the trees. Heading downstream, the current helps get the job done as paddlers take in views of the campuses of Harvard and Boston universities and the city skyline.

Kayaks, canoes, and stand-up paddle boards are all available for rent. If you’re paddling with a child, you might want to hire a canoe, but if you’re a reasonably competent adult, kayaks tend to be a little faster and easier to steer. One-way rentals incur additional costs and some transport logistics, but the chance to skip traveling upriver and finish the trip by exploring Storrow Lagoon along the Esplanade is well worth it. If you start and end in Allston, the Owl’s Nest beer garden in Christian Herter Park is an eight-minute walk from the rental hub with Artesani Playground, and usually an ice cream truck, just beyond.

1071 Soldiers Field Road, Boston

Explore the Neponset River Greenway

A confident cyclist can travel over seven miles along the Neponset River from Readville to Joseph Finnegan Park. Anyone looking for the best of the Neponset River Greenway should start at Mattapan Square and walk, run, cycle or cycle to Pope John Paul Park. This segment is entirely on protected trails that meander intimately along the slow-moving Neponset River. The path here also parallels the Mattapan high-speed line which extends beyond the red line to Ashmont, providing transit stops that allow people to explore the path in shorter segments. The Harvest River Bridge is a highlight, with some of the best views across the river, and the Baker Chocolate Factory set provides a nice historical detour.

Regardless of the weather, the path will also be enjoyed by other users of all ages and walks of life. The dense canopy of trees provides a layer of protection from the sun on hot days and from light precipitation on rainy days. For a classic local snack or to escape the weather, visit Le Foyer Bakery in Mattapan, Steel and Rye in Milton or Yellow Door Taqueria in Lower Mills.

Climb the Bell Isle Swamp Observation Tower

Where East Boston, Winthrop, and Revere meet is a 350-acre salt marsh that recalls the area’s historic coastline before landfilling, dock building, and seawall construction. Leaving Bennington Street, the sights and sounds change dramatically. Birds flock to the special marsh ecosystem, and signage helps novice birders identify bird species by appearance, habitat, and season.

For an overhead view of the entire swamp, walk 5 minutes from the Bennington Street parking lot to a small island with a wooden observation tower topped with a weather vane. The ebb and flow of the tide, submerging and revealing the salt marsh twice a day, adds complexity to the view and rewards regular visits. The Boston skyline, less than four miles as the crow flies, sparkles beyond the swamp. For a more intimate but still elevated view, a quarter-mile walk along the southeastern edge of the swamp is accessible from Morton Street in Winthrop.

1399 Bennington Street, Boston

Watch a movie in Christopher Columbus Park

Emerging from the hustle and bustle of Faneuil Hall and crossing the greenway, Christopher Columbus Park feels like an oasis, even when it’s bustling with activity. There may be a busker performing along the Harborwalk, a winding ferry line, or wedding photographs under the trellis, and it will still provide the benefits of a good waterfront park by being greener. , cooler and quieter than the city behind it. One of the best times to visit the park is at dusk on a summer Sunday, when the Friends of Christopher Columbus Park screen period films on the lawn. The combination of watching movies and watching port is hard to beat.

During the colder months, don’t miss the annual trellis lighting around Thanksgiving that kicks off the holiday light season and continues to shine through the winter months. On Valentine’s Day, hearts and other decorations are added to make it a “tunnel of love”. Whenever there are fireworks in the harbor, this park has the best lawn to see them. Year-round, the rose garden, playground, and ferry arrivals make the park a joyful destination.

Atlantic Avenue, Boston

Vessel Watch on the Reserved Channel

Boston isn’t just a historic port city, it now boasts a vibrant waterfront, if you know where to find it. Last summer, Massport installed three new cranes to accommodate larger container ships at Conley Terminal, and after an initial pandemic lull, container ships and cruise ships are back in Boston Harbor and docked along the reserved channel. Watching a large container ship come into port or leave with a new load is best viewed from the end of Pier 88 Black Falcon, which is accessible to people walking and cycling when there is no boat to cruise docked there.

Ships carrying other cargo – fuels, salt, and cars – tend to continue through the harbor and up towards Chelsea Creek and the Mystic River. For a gritty working harbor feel and a chance to watch those other ships come and go, the Pier 10 park, also known as Drydock Green Space, offers benches for watching the sea and plenty of shade provided by a grove of trees and massive concrete silos. To watch boat repair operations from the city’s largest remaining full-time drydock, head inland to 3 Tide Street and climb to the observation deck at Drydock Plaza.

Drydock Avenue, Boston

Discover the Condor Street Urban Wild

Each of the 29 urban wilderness areas scattered across Boston is a hidden gem, a landscape less managed than a traditional park and often less obvious. The Condor Street Urban Wild is no exception, although it is neater than most. From the boardwalk, the grassy climb cuts off the view of the water, but follow the spiral path to the top of the hill and there are views: back through the American Legion playground to the bridges to three stories that line Eagle Hill as well as across the Chelsea Stream to Marginal Street, PORT Park (Public Organized Recreation Territory) and Salt Piles.

Although the urban wilderness transformed from industrial wasteland to public space nearly two decades ago, the trees aren’t yet mature enough to cast much shade, so it’s best enjoyed from a cooler day. Depending on the wind and tides there may be planes flying directly overhead and huge tankers being maneuvered into the creek by a team of tug pilots or there may only be occasional bird calls and the faint rumble of traffic on nearby bridge.

300 Condor Street, Boston


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