Seattle homes are a bargain, actually, and the traffic here isn’t bad at all.
A week in Boston made me appreciate our home port even more. Luckily, we weren’t in Boston to shop for houses or to commute. We found Beantown an easy trip (with daily direct flights from Sea-Tac!) and an incredibly family-friendly destination.
There is so much brick and history in that city, the kids couldn’t help but learn something on vacation. We’ll share our tips for having lots of fun and eating well — without spending a ton of money.
By the time Seattle was founded, Boston was already 221 years old. There’s a lot of history in those narrow streets and you can see much of it for free. Start at the Boston Common visitor center and follow the Freedom Trail, a well-marked brick path leading to the city’s most historic sites. The first dozen stops are conveniently compact, so you can hit a lot of places with little legs in tow. We found Paul Revere’s grave, the site of the Boston Massacre and the Old Corner bookstore. (Circa 1712 — it’s now a Chipotle.) Four-hundred-year-old churches nestled between skyscrapers — you just don’t see that on the West Coast.
The Freedom Trail leads to Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, which is like Pike Place mixed with Southcenter. Lobster rolls are a must in Boston, and at Quincy Market, they are slightly less pricey than elsewhere ($21.99). We snagged a table and dug into the local cuisine. The kids didn’t want any lobster, but took a nibble of the buttery roll and licked up every crumb of the Lay’s Chips.
Continue on the Freedom Trail to the North End, where Mike’s Pastry serves up supersized cannoli of every flavor. The line runs out the door and down the block, for good reason. At the counter, an employee laid out our heart attack of an order, then asked, “Sugar on top?” At least I’ll die happy and well fed.
Ride the swan boats
At home, we had dog-eared our copy of “Make Way for Ducklings,” and the kids were thrilled to ride the real, human-powered swan boats around the pond. It was surprisingly affordable for a tourist trap: A (seasonal) 15-minute lap around the pond costs $4 for adults and $2.50 for kids aged 2-15. Also, look out for bronze statues of Mrs. Mallard and the gang in the Public Garden. Across Charles Street is the Boston Common, where you’ll find Tadpole Playground and Frog Pond (wading in summer, ice skating in winter). The Boston Common often hosts festivals, concerts and plays, especially in summer.
Enjoy free museum admission
If you don’t have one already, sign up for a Pacific Science Center (PSC) family membership before heading to Boston. It will pay for itself many times over.
If you have a day to kill, the PSC membership gets you in for free at the Springfield Museums, two hours outside the city. You’ll find five museums clustered in one spot: a history museum, a science museum, two art museums and, best of all, a Dr. Seuss museum.
In Boston, your PSC membership gets you free admission to the Boston Children’s Museum and the Museum of Science. Kids will have a blast at both and it’s a good idea to have an indoor option in case of dicey weather.
The Museum of Science is all-ages and interactive. There are three massive wings to explore, including a physics-driven indoor playground and a two-story electricity theater. You can easily spend an entire afternoon there. Afterward, walk over to Kendall Square for Toscanini’s ice cream. Try the B3 (brown sugar, brown butter and brownies), then burn off the sugar high with a scenic walk along the Charles River.
The Children’s Museum is geared toward kids ages 6 and under. Themed play rooms include a construction zone, a bubble-making room and a pretend kindergarten classroom. Your climbers will love the three-story vertical maze. There is also an amazing free playground just outside, with a ship that kids can explore, nature-inspired climbing logs and slides built into the hill.
From the Children’s Museum, it’s a 10-minute walk to Chinatown, where I know I can always get something cheap, filling and yummy to eat. I never expect ambience — just really good food. Boston’s Chinatown even has an outdoor climbing gym right by the Chinatown gate.
Grab banh mi and shrimp rolls with peanut sauce to go at 163 Vietnamese Sandwich. Or try the da bao at Hing Shing Pastry — it’s a big steamed bun stuffed with meat and an entire hard-boiled egg — a meal in itself. If you have the time (or attention span) for a sit-down meal, we love the beef noodle soup and oyster omelet at Taiwan Café.
Visit the birthplace of two presidents
In the colonial days, lobster was fed to servants and prisoners. The real delicacy? Eel.
Adams National Historic Park isn’t a stuffy history lesson; the rangers who guide the tours are lively and knowledgeable. Think “Underground Tour,” but with way more history. Rangers led us through the humble farmhouses where John Adams and John Quincy Adams were born, as well as the family estate at Peace field, where the Adams’ descendants still hold an annual reunion. Quincy is just 10 miles outside of Boston and it’s on the red line of the subway, known around Boston as “the T.” We visited on a National Parks free day, but it’s well worth the $15 admission (free for kids under 16).
Get a jump start on college tours
Channeling my inner tiger mom, I took my kids on tours of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University. You know that both are top-tier schools, but did you know that MIT has wild bunnies and Harvard has wild turkeys?
We did the requisite photo op with the iconic Great Dome at Killian Court, but MIT’s entire campus made my photographer heart skip a beat; even the restrooms had beautiful light. The kids’ favorite stop was the Ray and Maria Stata Center, which is shaped like something out of a wonky Dr. Seuss illustration. There are interactive games in the lobby, and my kids could have played there all day.
From MIT, it’s two stops on the T to Harvard. There’s something monumental about walking on the same historic campus as John Adams. We didn’t see Malia Obama, but we did get some Area Four pizza (specifically because her dad ate there once when he was president). The Harvard Museum of Natural History is worth a stop, too. Bonus: It’s also free with a PSC membership. There’s a room of incredibly lifelike glass flowers and a ton of taxidermy.
We brought a car with us, but don’t make that mistake. Taking the T and Ubers/Lyfts everywhere is far easier than forking over mega bucks for parking garages or deciphering neighborhood parking regulations. It was $20 to park at the Children’s Museum with the museum discount.
We stayed at the Hyatt Regency Cambridge Hotel because it was less expensive than an Airbrb and has an indoor swimming pool. It’s also centrally located, so we got to spend our time exploring instead of driving.
I was feeling pretty proud that we managed to see so much of the city. After flying home, I asked my 8-year-old what his favorite thing about Boston was.
He didn’t miss a beat: “Swimming!”