Boston with Tweens: A Perfect Family Day

Boston with Tweens: A Family Vacation

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Planning a fun family day in Boston with tweens is easy, as choices for activities and delicious food abound. From breakfast at a classic diner and an afternoon at a hidden beach to dinner in Boston's Little Italy, even the most doubting tween is sure to have fun. The great thing about 8- to 12-year-olds is that they are old enough to handle the walking and transportation changes that are often needed to get around Boston but young enough to still tolerate interaction and participation with the adult members of the family.


In a city where walking and running for public transportation is commonplace, it's a good idea to start the day with a hearty breakfast. A favorite spot is Charlie's Sandwich Shoppe (429 Columbus Ave., Boston, MA 02116; 617-536-7669) in the South End. This classic Boston diner is open from 6AM to 2:30PM, Monday through Friday, and 7:30AM to 1PM on Saturdays. If you're using public transportation, it can be accessed from the Prudential Station stop on the Green Line. If you can, try to sit at the counter where you can watch the owner and his cooks maneuvering the tight fit behind the counter, flipping pancakes, and grabbing eggs out of their vintage wooden icebox. Most items on the menu are around $10.

One thing to note when eating at Charlie's is there are no public bathrooms, just a sink to wash your hands. So try to take your tweens to the bathroom beforehand or you will be visiting a bathroom shortly after breakfast. Weekdays are the best time to go to avoid a long wait. Charlie's has only about 32 seats, so if you cannot sit at the counter, you may find your family assigned to a table with other patrons already enjoying their morning breakfast. All part of the ambiance (as is their cash-only policy).

If you're staying closer to Cambridge, The Friendly Toast (1 Kendall Square, Suite B3101, Cambridge, MA 02139; 617-621-1200) is another good breakfast option. From the life-size Barbie in the lobby to the Mayor McCheese-looking hamburger statue standing amid random tables, the Friendly Toast exudes the style of the 1950s. Again, the best time to go to the Friendly Toast is during the week, when most of the tourists and neighborhood college students are elsewhere. The Friendly Toast is open every day starting at 8AM.

After filling up with a good breakfast, head over to the The Museum of Science, Boston (1 Science Park, Boston, MA 02114; 617-723-2500). There are so many exhibits, it could literally take weeks to go through everything and no matter how many visits, tweens always seem to discover some exhibit they haven't yet explored. The best time to go is early morning when the crowds are small and you're less likely to lose your roving tween in a crowd. Some of the best exhibits include "Science in the Park," the "Human Evolution" exhibit and the "Lightning" presentation. Tickets for the exhibit halls run $21 for adults and $18 for children under 12.


Although the Science Museum Cafeteria has reasonable food and a nice view of the Charles River, I would suggest heading over to the Barking Crab (88 Sleeper Street, Boston, MA 02210; 617-426-2722) for lunch. You can get here by driving (there is parking along the street) or by taking the Red Line Train to the South Station stop. The Barking Crab is a choice family lunch spot because the open picnic-table seating, fishing decor and "no barking" signs give the restaurant a relaxed, tropical vibe that really sets a vacation mood for your trip to Boston with tweens. Most of the entrees range from $10 to $25.

From here head over to Castle Island Park (617-727-5290), located off of the JFK exit on Route 3. Not only is it one of the few places in Boston where parking and admittance are absolutely free, but tweens will love it because it is a beach, historical site and park all rolled into one. There's a great walk along the almost two-mile causeway around the small bay at the park. When you reach the half-way point there are expansive views of Dorchester Bay and other coastal islands. After this scenic walk, head for the beach area. Although this beach is small and in some parts, rocky, tweens can collect shells, get their feet wet and have fun studying the many hermit crabs scrambling along the shore. Late in the day you can lie in the grassy hill near Fort Independence and watch the planes fly overhead into Boston Logan International Airport or the cruise ships and sailboats coming into or out of the bay. Fort Independence was built in the 1600s as a sea defense for Boston. Tours inside the fort are available in the evenings.


For the end of a perfect day in Boston with tweens, go to the North End for dinner. A great place for authentic Italian food, fired in a traditional brick oven, is Antico Forno (93 Salem St., North End, Boston, MA 02113; 617-723-6733). Everything on the menu is delicious. On warm days, the front windows are opened to the street and great for people watching. Also -- if you park at the Parcel 7 garage on Sudsbury Street, the restaurant will validate your parking.

After dinner, take a walk and explore the wonderful Italian food and pastry shops. You can stop in at Mike's Pastry (300 Hanover Street, Boston, MA 02113; 617-742-3050), a touristy spot that even the locals are crazy about. Cases of cannolis, tiramisu, lobster tails and more fill the small shop while customers shout orders in unorganized lines and walk away with large boxes of treats secured swiftly with string. It's a fun, frenzied place to take the kids but make sure you have a good eye on them in the crowd. If you want something a little less flashy, Maria's Pastry Shop (46 Cross St., Boston, MA 02113; 617-523-1196) has delicate homemade cookies and pastries, as well as cannolis that are filled fresh as you order. And don't forget to stop by Polcari's Coffee (105 Salem Street, Boston, MA 02113; 617-227-0786) for some Italian roast coffee beans that make a delicious morning brew.

After a full day in Boston and a good night's rest, the whole family can now sit around the breakfast table with their Boston coffee and North End pastries and spend the morning reminiscing about the great vacation day in Boston.

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