The Hidden Hub: 9 lesser-known Boston destinations

  • 6 min to read

At times, it seems there’s nothing new under the sun. Yet that doesn’t keep us from venturing beyond the shade to see what’s out there. The challenge is to find something new to you, close to home.

While a trip up to Boston might not seem to offer much for anyone who has spent an afternoon at Fenway, followed The Freedom Trail, or wandered through Mrs. Jack’s Venetian palace, the fact is, it takes more than a visit or two to exhaust all there is to see and do in the old City Upon a Hill. Faneuil Hall and Bunker Hill aren’t to be missed, but check out these under-the-radar destinations once you get off I-93.

Custom House Tower

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The Custom House tower is now the Marriott Vacation Club Pulse at Custom House Boston.

Walking in the shadows of all the tall buildings in Boston today, it’s hard to believe that just 40 years ago the Prudential Tower, I.M. Pei’s John Hancock Tower, and the Custom House in the Financial District pretty much had the skyline to themselves. While “the Pru” and the Hancock — not to mention newer arrivals — offer great views, the Custom House (now Marriott Vacation Club Pulse at Custom House Boston) is well worth a visit if you’re in the area (and you will be if you’re taking in the New England Aquarium or enjoying the Rose Kennedy Greenway). For starters, the building is gloriously old school, with a temple-like base (erected in 1849) and a richly detailed, neoclassical tower, added in 1915. And its 26th-floor lookout offers killer views of Boston Harbor. The observation deck is open daily 2-6 p.m., weather permitting, and it’s free to take a peek. On your way up (or down), check out the first-floor rotunda with an exhibit of maritime art and artifacts from Salem’s Peabody Essex Museum.

3 McKinley Square, Boston; 617-310-6300, marriott.com

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First Church of Christ, Scientist

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Fiirst Church Of Christ, Scientist, Mother Church, in Boston

Whether cherished for their historical importance (The Old North Church) or architectural significance (Richardson’s hulking Trinity Church on Copley Square), Boston’s places of worship are a key component of the city’s identity. Arguably less appreciated — despite its sheer size — is this 114-year-old landmark on Massachusetts Avenue across from Symphony Center. Part of the 14-acre Christian Science Plaza, the site is the headquarters of the Church of Christian Science, founded by Mary Baker Eddy in 1879. Outfitted with one of the world’s largest pipe organs and seating for more than 3,000, the church’s impressive domed sanctuary is actually an extension of the original adjacent Mother Church, erected in 1884. Tours through both are offered daily, and while you’re there pop in to the Mary Baker Eddy Library to visit the Mapparium, a three-story, stained-glass globe constructed in 1935. On the outside, the plaza features a colonnade, a 670-foot reflecting pool and a fountain.

250 Massachusetts Ave., Boston; 617-450-2000, christianscience.com

Boston Athenaeum

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A member reads a newspaper in the Albert Gorden Reading Room at the Boston Athenaeum.

Boston is known for the Museum of Fine Arts, the Institute of Contemporary Art, and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. But even well-informed gallery-goers may have marched right past the Boston Athenaeum. Founded in 1807, this private library greets visitors with floor-to-ceiling shelves of books spanning multiple floors, with a total collection in the hundreds of thousands. The library has always had an eye for art (much of which ended up in the MFA) and continues a solid program of public exhibitions. On view through March 14 is Required Reading: Reimagining a Colonial Library, a display of 17th-century books from the library collection of King’s Chapel, Boston’s first Anglican church. Among the dozen-plus tomes in the exhibit are John Calvin’s Opera Omnia Theologica, a 1695 copy of Shakespeare’s Othello, and Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan. An array of sculptures includes works by John Singer Sargent, Gilbert Stuart, Polly Thayer Starr, and N.C. Wyeth. And just steps away from the State House and the Granary Burying Ground, founded in 1660, the Athenaeum is steeped in history.

10½ Beacon St., Boston, 617-227-0270, bostonathenaeum.org

Club Passim

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The Boston Celtic Music Fest is one of the many music events held at Club Passim in Cambridge.

Back in the ’70s, when Cambridge-set Love Story and The Paper Chase appeared, Harvard Square was hippy, dippy and a little gritty. While the area still has its non-conformists (and folks with nowhere to go), a lot has changed. From the Wursthaus to Out of Town News, the square has lost many of its long-cherished landmarks. But Club Passim endures. True, it’s metamorphosed over time — becoming a nonprofit in 1994 — but this basement boite in alley-like Palmer Street behind the Harvard Coop remains a well-respected music venue, committed to its folk roots and the art of the singer-songwriter. Founded as Club 47 in 1958, the venue has hosted legendary musicians such as Bob Dylan, Tracy Chapman, Suzanne Vega, Jackson Browne, Jimmy Buffett, Muddy Waters, Joni Mitchell and Stevie Nicks. Need a good, old-school coffeehouse fix? Check it out.

47 Palmer St., Cambridge; 617-492-7679, passim.org

Mount Auburn Cemetery

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Mount Auburn Cemetery is open to visitors free of charge year round. The cemetery's diverse collection of plants and trees helps to provide year-round horticultural interest.

Bostonians live more closely with their dead than the residents of most American cities. From Copps Hill in the North End to the Central Burying Ground on the Common, the city is punctuated with graveyards that folks pass by every day. When Cambridge’s Mount Auburn Cemetery opened in 1831, it was the antithesis of the smaller, crowded resting places, such as King’s Chapel Burying Ground, which welcomed its first guest in 1630. Designed by Henry Dearborn of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, this parklike setting of ponds, paths and plantings was among the country’s first garden cemeteries and was immediately popular for a stroll or a picnic. And it continues to draw folks who appreciate its historic, artistic and botanical significance, all in a serene setting a short distance from the commotion of Harvard Square. Among the luminaries resting here are B.F. Skinner and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Highlights also include an arboretum, a bird sanctuary, and a safe habitat for wildlife. The Friends of Mount Auburn Cemetery maintains a full program of activities, including walking tours, which continue through the winter.

580 Mount Auburn St., Cambridge; 617-547-7105, mountauburn.org

Larz Anderson Auto Museum

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The Larz Anderson Auto Museum in Brookline, Massachusetts

It wouldn’t be a surprise to find this museum in Detroit, but outside Boston, “home of the bean and the cod”? Just 10 minutes from the red-brick heart of the city in suburban Brookline, this institution is a legacy of a Cincinnati-bred Harvard grad and his Boston-born wife, Isabel. The couple bought their first motor-powered vehicle shortly after their marriage in 1897 — an 1898 Winton Runabout. That horseless carriage was just the start. The Andersons’ collection grew to include a 1905 English-made Electromobile, a 1915 Packard Twin Six (the company’s first mass-produced 12-cylinder vehicle) and an imposing 1926 Lincoln Seven, among others. Today it’s known as “America’s Oldest Car Collection.” In addition to its permanent collection, the museum mounts special exhibitions within its carriage house, which was constructed in 1888 and designed by Boston’s city architect, the aptly named Edmund Wheelwright, also known for the Boston Public Library. The Golden Age: Era of Distinction, Style and Grace: 1915-1948 is on view until April. The museum is set in the 64-acre Larz Anderson Park, which in the warmer months hosts musical events and car shows such as Tutto Italiano, the largest Italian Car Festival in the Northeast.

15 Newton St., Brookline; 617-522-6547, larzanderson.org

Cusser’s Roast Beef & Seafood

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The famous roast beef sandwich at Cusser’s Roast Beef & Seafood

Not one to park yourself at a table for lunch? This grab-and-go window in Back Bay may be just the spot for you. A street-level outpost of Mooncusser Fish House (two floors up), its tight, no-nonsense menu includes the expected roast beef sandwich, fish tacos, a lobster roll, hot dog, onion rings and french fries, and for dessert, whoopie pie. Really hungry? Order the Yankee Happy Meal with chowder, a lobster roll, whoopie pie, and sumac lemonade. The window is open weekdays 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. And if you’ve got places to go and things to do, order online and lunch will be ready when you are.

304 Stuart St., Boston; 617-917-5193, moonbarboston.com/menu/cusser-take-out-window

Time Out Market

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TIME OUT BOSTON MARKET

Casual-destination dining has certainly evolved since vendors began serving up sandwiches and ice cream at Quincy Market in the 1970s. Today’s food halls offer some pretty fine plates from celebrated chefs and restaurateurs. The media company Time Out launched its first one in Lisbon in 2014 and has been making a big push in the U.S. with operations in Miami, New York, Chicago and Boston all opening in the past year. We dare you not to find something to your taste at the 25,000-square-foot Fenway outpost, where the menu includes the pork belly and sweet potato sandwich at Bisq, Greek Street’s swordfish souvlaki, and za’atar chicken wraps from Anoush’ella. In all, there are 15 eateries, two bars, a demo cooking area and a video-installation wall, plus entertainment such as DJs, wine tastings and kid-friendly activities.

401 Park Drive, Boston; 978-393-8088, timeoutmarket.com/boston

No Relation

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No Relation, a nine-seat sushi bar that’s a bit hard to find.

Boston has come a long way from the days when places like the recently closed Durgin-Park defined dining in the Hub. Today, the culinarily insatiable have a tough time deciding which destination to try next. But there’s one thing for sure: locals and tourists alike have to plan well ahead to savor an omakase dinner at No Relation, the nine-seat sushi bar tucked into Shore Leave, the lively tiki bar and restaurant in the South End. Devised by chef Colin Lynch, the 14-course menu ($95-$120 per person) changes nightly. Seatings are at 6 and 8:30 p.m. and can be made through an online service, resy.com. If you’ve never ventured to Shore Leave before, bear in mind that it sits at the bottom of a flight of stairs next to a CVS. As the reservation website advises, “Just look for the wooden door, and the host at the bottom of the stairs can further assist you.” Don’t worry, you’ll be OK.

345 Harrison Ave., norelationboston.com 

This article appeared in the March 2020 issue of Connecticut Magazine. You can subscribe here, or find the current issue on sale hereSign up for our newsletter to get the latest and greatest content from Connecticut Magazine delivered right to your inbox. Got a question or comment? Email editor@connecticutmag.com. And follow us on Facebook and Instagram@connecticutmagazine and Twitter @connecticutmag.