City Guide: Boston

By: The Young Austinian
Compensation for this post was provided by Discover card via AOL Media. The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and are not indicative of the opinions or positions of Discover card or AOL.

It's been exactly four years since I moved up North and made the Boston area my home. And it only just dawned on me that in all my recent adventures – to Paris, Iceland, and all over the US – I've never done a tour of the great city of Boston. With a whirlwind summer nearly behind me, I thought I'd share some of my favorite stops around downtown and a few of my frequent haunts in Beacon Hill.

While I'm not quite a regular at the new Tatte Bakery location on Charles Street, I'm well known enough by the weekday staff to get the "to stay" cup without asking. Paired with one of the many lovely pastries and Middle-Eastern tinged fare – my go-to is a massive croissant or the large bowl of yogurt with homemade muesli and chopped fruits – you can quickly see why this is a local favorite. I like to go early, set up my computer and answer some emails or edit the newest batch of food photos, but I generally get distracted by the passersby and end up packing up my things with very little work done and going out to explore the crooked brick streets of old Beacon Hill.

But first I like to pop across the street to Follain for a few healthy (and all made in the US!) beauty essentials. I'm currently loving the body butter by Organic Bath Co. (made right here in Boston) and the belly oil by Soap-Walla – the perfect things to keep this growing baby bump in shape. The shop is so perfectly curated – with products for both men and women – and is quite honestly picture-perfect, too.

Whenever I'm in Beacon Hill, I like to hike up to the historic Acorn Street – one of the last cobblestone streets in Boston. It may be the "most photographed street in the country" and a huge pull for visitors from all over the world, but it's still well worth the stop. Snap a few shadowy Instagrams with the American flag that always seems to be flying halfway up the street and you have a perfect (and free!) souvenir from your trip to Boston. And though I live here, I still like to walk by every so often to catch glimpses of the old city and smile at the sweet wedding shoots that often take place on the bumpy little street.

To walk off the last flaky bits of croissant, I like to pass through the Public Gardens and the Boston Commons. There are so many routes through and around the two green spaces, you can see something new each time. Walk around the edges to avoid the large crowds of tour groups that gather in the summer and meander through the middle during the fall to gawk up at the sunset hued leaves that turn the whole city into a post card. In fair weather months you can catch street performers, summer concerts organized by the city, and the occasional Revolutionary reenactment.

My next stop – even when I don't have the time for it – is always an old book shop. I have several downtown favorites, but recently I like to pop by Commonwealth Bookstucked away on the little historic Spring Street. In my opinion, the older and dustier the bookstore the better – that's where the best treasures are anyways – but the main lure of this shop is the resident orange cat that has his own little reading nook in the front window. When you finally stop trying to win the cat's affection, you'll find stacks upon stacks of old books – some tucked away behind glass cases due to their age and rarity – deftly piled to create narrow aisles to help you navigate around the store. Give yourself plenty of time and maybe pack an extra tote to carry back all your dusty finds.

By this point, I've likely spent a bit too long in the bookstore and need to refuel. My new favorite stop downtown is the brand new Boston Public Market. A permanent, year-round indoor market featuring dozens of local vendors from all over New England, this old-world style market has everything from farm stand finds and locally sourced meats and cheeses to baked goods and artisan donuts. There are also several booths selling ready-to-eat and take-away fare like the local food-truck-turned-market-vendor Bon Me and other places to grab a great green juice (Mother Juice), hot chocolate (Taza Chocolate), or herbal tea (Soluna Garden Farm). Essentially, you can grab a few things, bits and pieces from here and there (and maybe a jar of local Boston honey for later), and make yourself an affordable little personal picnic. Find a spot out on the greenway across the street or snack while you walk through the nearby middle section of the Freedom Trail packed with things like Faneuil Hall, Quincy Market, and the Boston Harbor.

The market is so conveniently located next to Boston's North End – our little Italy, if you will – that it's almost a shame to walk by it without at least looking at the cases of delicate and oh-so-sweet cannoli. The popular stops are tucked further into the neighborhood and usual consist of long lines, throngs of confused people, and grumpy locals who are just trying to walk down the narrow sidewalks. I say skip those and pop intoMaria's Pastry Shop located just on the edge of the North End near the intersection of Cross and Haymarket Streets. This semi-hidden gem is a local favorite and only features the basic cannoli in either plain or chocolate ricotta or sweet cream with pistachios or chocolate chips (compared to the popular rivals' 18 plus flavors). It's a bare bones establishment and Maria herself can often be found tucked away in the back talking quite loudly on the phone, but that somehow makes it all the more worthwhile.

A great way to end the afternoon, and fit in a few extra steps to counteract that earlier croissant and more recent cannoli, is to walk along the harbor to the Seaport district and the Harpoon Brewery and Beer Hall. If you're new in town or meeting up with a few friends, you can take a tour of the brewery for a mere $5 (which includes a spell in the tasting room sampling as many brews as you can manage). Meet back out in the beer hall for your favorite pint (or a Prohibition Era-pour root beer) and a freshly baked pretzel made with spent spelt and grain recycled from the brewing process. Through the wall of windows along one side of the hall, you can watch the sun set with a drink in hand and a great day of walking and snacking under your belt.
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