Exploring Boston and Its Environs, Including Providence and Cape Cod By Daniel R. Schwarz

“Exploring Boston and Its Environs, Including Providence and Cape Cod,” with photographs by Marcia Jacobson Ithaca JournalElmira Star-Gazette andBinghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, Sept. 20, 2014, 1D-2D.,http://www.ithacajournal.com/story/life/2014/09/18/boston-providence-cape-cod/15683143/

penguinAnteater with baby on its back at the Providence zoo

The capital and largest city in Massachusetts, Boston was founded in 1630 by the Puritans. Boston is one of the great historic cities of the US. A crucial city in the American Revolution, it is the site of the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party, the Battle of Bunker Hill, and the Siege of Boston. Notwithstanding its strong ties to the past, Boston is also an exuberant city with a young population, having one of the highest concentration of young adults (20 to 34-year-olds) among the nation’s largest cities.

I look forward every year to the pleasure of my annual visit to my younger son, Jeff, who has lived there for 15 or so years, although I first got to know Boston on occasional visits while doing my Ph.D. in Providence in the 1960s.

Since Boston is a difficult driving town, I recommend leaving your car in a garage or on a street where permitted and relying on walking and public transportation to explore the city. But a car will be helpful in exploring some of the sites outside the city proper.

Historical Sites

On a first visit you need to walk all or part of the Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile-long red (mostly brick) path through downtown Boston that leads to 16 significant historic sites that are clearly marked and mostly free. These include the Bunker Hill monument, the Massachusetts State Capitol, the old State House, Paul Revere’s House, and the Boston Commons. Dating back to 1634, the Boston Common is the oldest public park in the US. The New England Holocaust Memorial, consisting of six glass towers representing major camps in which Jews were killed, is a few steps off the Freedom Trail.

As someone who never misses a state capitol building because these buildings are repositories of state histories, I would certainly recommend the Massachusetts State House where the governor and the state legislature conduct their business. The State House is at the top of Beacon Hill in Boston, adjacent to the Boston Common on Beacon Street. The original building dates to 1862 but has had several additions.  One should not miss the lavishly decorated Boston Public Library McKim building (1895) in Copley Square.

Another important historical site is the John Kennedy Presidential Library (Columbia Point; adults $14, seniors and ages 13 to 17, $10 and children free). The Museum and Library are devoted to President Kennedy’s life and place in history.

Family Activities

Boston has an amazing variety of activities for visitors. The Boston area is home to passionate sports fans who follow the Boston Red Sox, New England Patriots (whose stadium is in Foxborough), Boston Celtics and Boston Bruins –for all of which it is best to purchase tickets in advance--as well as the teams, among others, of Boston University, Boston College, and Harvard.

penguinBoston, Arnold Arboretum

Two great family-friendly sites are the New England Aquarium  (Central Wharf along Atlantic Avenue and adjacent to Long Wharf and the Rose Kennedy Greenway) and the Boston Zoo. The former features the Giant Ocean Tank, a cylindrical 200,000-gallon tank simulating a Caribbean coral reef and containing a host of sea creatures including sharks and stingrays. The Aquarium also sponsors whale-watching trips between April and November (adults $47; children ages 3-11, $36). The Franklin Park Zoo (1 Franklin park Road; adults $17.95, seniors $14.95, children $11.95) is a wonderful zoo showcasing examples the big cats (lion, tiger, and leopard). Franklin Law Olmstead who designed Central Park in Manhattan also designed Franklin Park.

Do not miss the splendor and beauty of a walk through the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, also designed by Olmstead (125 Arborway, free).

Cultural Attractions:

penguinBoston, Museum of Fine Arts, Meso-America collection

The Boston Museum of Fine Arts is among the great art museums in the US, containing the largest Japanese collection in the world outside Japan, a strong collection of French Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings and an outstanding collection of 19th and 20th century American Art (465 s open every day; adults $25; seniors and students $23; youths 7-17: $10, free after 3pm). The museum also has fine Rembrandts as well as important works by El Greco, Poussin, Claude, Titian, and Del Sarto.  Until Sept 1, the museum this summer featured an educational exhibit of a copy of the Magna Carta that stressed what that document meant to leaders o the American Revolution.

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (25 Evans Way; closed Tuesdays; adults $15, seniors $12, college students $5) has a wonderful eclectic collection although it has been diluted by the 1990 theft of some of its major treasures including The Concert by Vermeer, one of only 34 known Vermeers in the world, and three important Rembrandts. Featuring emerging artists, The Institute of Contemporary Art  (ICA; Fan Pier in South Boston Seaport District; closed Mondays; adults $15, seniors $13, students $10) opened its spectacular prize-winning if controversial new building in 2006.


Nor should one ignore the outstanding art museums on the Harvard campus in Cambridge. Currently closed, the Harvard Art Museums--including the Fogg Museum (featuring Western paintings), the Busch-Reisinger Museum (art from German speaking countries), and the Arthur M. Sackler Museum (Asian art)—are opening in one new Renzo Piano designed building on Nov 16, 2014 (Quincy Street).

While at the Fogg, I recommend a walk through Harvard yard to get the feel of the iconic university, the oldest and arguably the most distinguished in America, dating back to 1636. You might stop at the splendid bookstore, the Harvard Coop, at 1400 Massachusetts Ave. With its massive collection of books for sale, the store is a reminder of what great urban bookstores used to be. If you do walk in the vicinity of Harvard in the evening, you will see various street performers.

Looking Beyond Boston

I would also include visits to Concord and Lexington. The silversmith and engraver Paul Revere, whose work is in major museums, is remembered—in large part due to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “Paul Revere’s Ride”--for warning the colonists of the approaching British forces before the battles of Concord and Lexington. Hawthorne, Thoreau, Emerson, and Louise May Alcott all lived in Concord. I have enjoyed a day wandering around the historic and literary sites, including where the Revolution’s first battle was fought.

Thoreau lived at Walden Pond—really a lake-- for two years beginning in 1845 and wrote about his experience in Walden, or, Life in the Woods. Now established as Walden Pond State Reservation in Concord, you can walk the trails, visit a replica of Thoreau’s one room cabin, and swim in the lake.

Salem, the site of the witch trials, which are the centerpiece of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, is another venue worth visiting. You can visit the Custom House where Hawthorne worked and the House of Seven Gables on which the novel is focused. You will want to stop at the Peabody Essex Museum which is not only one of the oldest continually operating museums in the US, but holds one of the major Asian collections in the US.

In summer, I would visit some of the neighborhood beaches.  Keep in mind that beaches often charge a parking fee. One of my favorites is Crane Beach in Ipswich, with its four miles of beachfront.  Two others I have enjoyed are Horseneck Beach in Westport and Manchester-by-the-sea in Essex. Parking at the latter is limited to residents so you need to park in town and walk to the beach, but the beach is not far.

If you have more time you could visit Plymouth, the site of the original Pilgrim colony founded in 1620 by passengers of the Mayflower, and see the re-creation of the original village. Another day you could visit New Bedford, the center of the nineteenth century American whaling industry, and see the whaling museum.

If You Go:


penguinfrom Cambridge, view of Boston with Charles River and Statehouse

Marriott Kendall Square, Cambridge, 50 Broadway—my favorite Boston-Cambridge hotel with its spectacular view of the Charles River and Boston at night and with proximity to walking or biking along the Charles. Rooms are relatively ordinary, but the hotel is professionally run and does take good care of returning guests.  You need to ask for the river view rooms and will probably be charged a little more for them.

Hyatt Regency Hotel, 575 Memorial Drive; good value and also recommended.

Restaurants (A small sampling)

Hungry Mother—I highly recommend this upscale yet homey version of American Southern cuisine (233 Cardinal Medeiros Ave, Cambridge; 617 499-0090)
Tanjore—reliable Indian cuisine and considerable variety (18 Eliot St, Cambridge; 617-868-1900)
Dali –quite splendid tapas but perhaps somewhat overpriced; the fish cooked in salt is delicious and necessary to complement the small tapas, but the fish size varies and the last time I was there, they were out of fish. (415 Washington St, Somerville; 617) 661-3254)
Trattoria di Monica—delicious high quality reasonably priced Italian in the North End (67 Prince Street; 617) 720-5472); the North End has quite a number of splendid family-owned restaurants.
Emma’s—thin-crusted Pizza at moderate price (40 Hampshire Street; Kendall Square; Cambridge; 617-864-8534)
Blue Ribbon BBQ—excellent barbecue in a casual setting (908 Massachusetts Ave.
Arlington 781) 648-7427; and 1375 Washington St.
West Newton, 617; 332-2583)


I recommend preceding or following a visit to Boson with a day or so in
Providence, Rhode Island, one of great small cities in the US and much refurbished since I studied there.

penguinSnow leaopard at the Providence zoo

Among the splendid sites is a fine art museum, the RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) Museum (224 Benefit Street). A tour of the Rhode Island State House is essential if you are interested in history. I never miss a chance to visit an historic campus and Brown University, founded in 1764 and the seventh oldest college in the US is a must.  The John Carter Brown library contains such treasures as the Bay Psalm Book (1640), the first book published in America. I also recommend the Roger Williams Park Zoo, one of the oldest zoos in America, featuring red pandas, an anteater and its baby, and a snow leopard (adults, $14.95, seniors $12.95, children 3-12,  $9.95) The zoo is Located in Roger Williams Park (1000 Elmwood Ave) which include a Planetarium and Museum of Natural History as well as a Botanical Garden, and a Rose Garden  

penguinProvincetown, garden

On occasional nights-- usually but not always summer Saturdays--the city’s rivers are lit up for WaterFire Evenings, a kind of community celebration and arts festival.

If you have an extra day, visit the grand mansions of Newport, Rhode Island.

If You Go


Both the Marriott Hotel and the Courtyard--also in the Marriott chain--hotels near the capital are nice places, with the Marriott more of a full service traditional hotel than its sister hotel.
Built in 1922, the Providence Biltmore (11Dorrance St) is an historical downtown landmark of Providence life.


Rasoi- Indian and often quite original (727 East Ave, Pawtucket;
Cook & Brown Public House has excellent, imaginative cuisine with moderate prices (959 Hope Street; 401-273 7275)
Pizzico—good quality middle to high end Italian (762 Hope Street; 401-421-4114)

Provincetown, Cape Cod

penguinProvincetown, National Seashore, dunes walk

If you have a few days more to explore New England, I recommend a drive to Provincetown, at the end of Cape Cod and one of my favorite vacation spots. Provincetown has long been an enclave for artists and has a high percentage of gay residents and tourists, but it is becoming more and more heterosexual and international. My wife and I have been renting for a week every year on the Cape Cod Bay side of   Commercial Street, close to the wharf. Thus we have views of the bay and a sandy beach in front of our rental and get take a swim whenever we wish or we can drive a few miles away to the magnificent ocean beaches at the Cape Cod National Seashore, where the

penguinProvincetown, Cape Cod, morning, low tide

beaches are not terribly crowded. Herring Cove and Race Point are the closest National Seashore beaches to downtown. The beautiful and ever-changing light over both bay and ocean has stimulated generations of painters. This year we experienced exceptional tide variations—low and high--due to the unusual proximity of the full moon.

I recommend visiting some of the fine art galleries, often showing the work of superb local artists. But during the summer there are various other entertainments. At the Provincetown Playhouse, we not only saw a terrific Rent by the Peregrine Ensemble, the best production of the four versions I have seen, including the original one on Broadway, but also an excellent Hamlet.  On alternate Wednesdays at the Art Association and Museum, we also enjoy performances from the 20th century classic American songbook—George and Ira Gershwin, Duke Ellington, Cole Porter, etc. by Dick Miller and other musicians. Throughout the summer, Provincetown offers many other musical events—classical, jazz, popular and show music—as well as comedians and male entertainers impersonating females.

penguinProvincetown, whale watch

Among water activities, I highly recommend whale-watching excursions with the Dolphin Fleet. Although the whales are sometimes more visible than other times, this is always a great family activity (adults $46, children $31). There is fishing (but not much catching on my three trips over the last few years) with Cee-Jay’s boat that takes up to 40 people ($50).   If you can get a small group together, I recommend chartering your own boat.

Definitely visit The Province Lands Visitor Center, located at 171 Race Point Road, off Route 6, at the northern end of Cape Cod National Seashore in Provincetown. Rangers not only provide maps of walking and biking trials but also organize walks, seal watches (which you can do yourself at High Head Road off route 6), snorkeling, and other activities that are mostly free.
On our last trip we did a stunning dune walk that was organized by the Visitor Center.

If You Go:

Because of the very slow drive on summer Saturdays, when renters come and go, the best time to drive to the Cape is either weekdays or in some other months than July and August. Or, especially for a day trip, you can take a ferry from Boston and leave your car behind.


There are quite a few guesthouses and motels, and except for the summer you will have no trouble finding lodging at Airbnb.com.   I found Pat Shultz Real Estate helpful for summer rentals (508--487-9550).

Restaurants and Food:

Provincetown has many decent restaurants that are fun to visit. They tend to be overpriced for what they are and if you expect fine dining, you may be disappointed.  Because of the short season, each year many disappear to be replaced by new ones. Among the stable ones are Napi’s (7 Freeman St, 508-487-1145), serving competently prepared Italian food at moderate prices, and The Mews, reliable, a view of the bay and a bit pricy but not fine dining (429 Commercial St. 508-487-1500; during season you will need a reservation). Seafood Grille at Waterford  (386 Commercial Street, 508-487-6400) offers before 7 pm a $14 dinner and oysters for $1 each. The $14 dinners are serviceable and a good choice for an efficient pre-theatre meal and the oysters are delicious and a bargain.

Ristorante Marissa  (404 Commercial Street; 774) 538-6468), new in 2014 is both pretentious and mediocre. The tagliattelle bolognese was quite respectable but bread, desert, and the crab ravioli were disappointing,

You can get great sandwiches and breads at Angel Foods (467 Commercial Street) and terrific ice cream at Lewis Brothers (310 Commercial Street). For fresh seafood, either to be cooked in your kitchen or eaten on the premises, I highly recommend Mac’s Provincetown, 85 Shank Painter Road.


Author of numerous travel articles and the well-received 2012 book Endtimes? Crises and Turmoil at the New York Times (Excelsior Editions of SUNY Press, recently released in a new paperback edition). ), Daniel R. Schwarz is Frederic J. Whiton Professor of English and Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow at Cornell University. He can be reached at drs6@cornell.edu and followed on twitter at www.twitter.com/danRSchwarz andhttps://www.facebook.com/SchwarzEndtimes.