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One thing that makes Boston so neat is the diversity of its neighborhoods. Each one has a unique feel and character to it, with different architecture, different people and even different food. Boston's neighborhoods include: Allston/Brighton, Back Bay, Beacon Hill/West End, Charlestown, Chinatown, Dorchester, Downtown, East Boston, Fenway/Kenmore, Hyde Park, Jamaica Plain, Mattapan, Mission Hill, North End, Roslindale, Roxbury, South Boston, South End/Bay Village and West Roxbury.
Convenient to Copley Square, the South End and Back Bay are both full of trendy bistros, cafes and nightclubs. Not far from Government Center and Faneuil Hall, you'll find the North End, with its fabulous Italian cuisine. Closer to the Common, Chinatown has streets full of Asian food choices -- perfect for dinner before or after a show in the nearby Theater District.
The beautiful residences in Beacon Hill and Back Bay have the flavor of historical Boston. Beacon Hill is home to many of the founding families of Boston known as the Brahmins, descendants of the first New Englanders. The brick homes are of the more traditional Federalist style, complete with porticos and columns. The Massachusetts State House, built by Charles Bulfinch, is one of the finest examples of this architecture. Be forwarned that the Beacon Hill area has many one way streets which makes driving nearly impossible. Louisburg Square, situated between Mount Vernon and Pinckney Streets, is one of many residential squares in Boston, but tucked away as it is, one can almost hear the sounds of carriages and horses picking the way over cobbled streets. Number 8 Louisburg Sq. was the Boston home to Louisa May Alcott, and where she wrote many of her novels. The North Slope of the Hill, long considered the poor relation, houses a diverse mixture of students, young families and elders. Historically those who worked as domestics in the grand houses along Beacon and Mount Vernon Streets made their way back to the small tenements on the other side.
The Back Bay, the only area of the city which was laid in a true street grid pattern, was created completely from fill. Large, imposing homes were then built for affluent families as they migrated to the neighborhood. They built homes on Marlborough Street and Beacon Street as it extended through the city westward. The cross streets take the names Arlington, Berkeley, Clarendon, Dartmouth, Exeter, Fairfield, Gloucester, Hereford, Ipswich, and Jersey. If you haven't noticed, they are in alphabetical order -- very organized streets for the otherwise haphazardly-planned Boston!
The South End (not to be confused with South Boston or "Southie") has undergone a renaissance over the past couple decades. In the early 1980s the neighborhood became a magnet for the gay community and over time became Boston's version of Greenwich Village, Castro, or West Hollywood. But, by the early to mid-90s the South End became one of the hottest neighborhoods to live in because of its relative affordability and proximity to other downtown neighborhoods. The main streets in the South End include Columbus Avenue, Tremont and Washington Street. (between Berkeley Street and Massachusetts Avenue) These streets now host an incredible number of restaurants, cafes, theatres and ateliers. Some of the prettiest sections of the South End include Union Park (between Tremont Street and Shawmut Ave), the side streets between the Southwest Corridor Park and Columbus Avenue and Appleton Street. The greatest number of restaurants and shops can be found on Tremont and Washington Street between Berkeley Street and Massachusetts Avenue.
Fenway/Kenmore Square teems with activity with the many colleges in the area including Boston University, Emerson, Simmons, and Wheelock as well as many medical centers. Add to the mix the historic Fenway Park, which is surrounded by a variety of restaurant choices, and you've got a part of town that is hopping.
Charlestown has a very historical flavor to it, with Old Ironsides located there, but also is home to lots of young professionals who buy old triple deckers and refurbish them. Charlestown is also the home to the Bunker Hill Monument, standing on the summit of the July 1775 battlefield. The Charlestown Navy Yard, now a historic park, was once a thriving shipyard responsible for creating and repairing many of the vessels used by the U.S. Navy.
To talk about Boston's neighborhoods without leaving downtown is to do the city a disservice. South Boston has long been known for its Irish population, but today it is a diverse neighborhood full of upscale restaurants that coexist with more traditional Irish pubs. Few tourists make it to Castle Island, which is a shame for the tourists but a boon to Southie, leaving plenty of room for the "regulars" who walk to the "sugarbowl" and enjoy the fantastic views of the harbor. ("T" stops for Southie on the Red Line: Broadway and Andrew. Castle Island is not directly near a T stop but it's a short cab ride from the JFK / UMass stop. If you get off the train there, you just follow the beach along Day Boulevard.)
Dorchester is known for being rough--the movie "The Departed" provides a grim view of the 'hood, but there's a lot to love about Dorchester. Its diversity translates into wonderful restaurants along "Dot" (Dorchester) Ave. You'll find Indian, Irish, Vietnamese...just about every type of food you'd want. The JFK / UMass T stop has a free shuttle out to the university and JFK Library. There's a Harborwalk there that connects all the way up to Castle Island. Dorchester has its share of Irish pubs, too. At the Savin Hill stop, you'll find Savin Kitchen and the Harp and Bard, both not too far from the T stop.
Jamaica Plain (or JP) --Orange Line, Stonybrook and Green Street T stops. JP used to be a lot like East Boston: mostly poor and working class Hispanic families. Now, it's full of lots of different types of people, many of them working professionals who enjoy the diversity of the neighborhood and its proximity to downtown. JP has loads of ethnic restaurants, the Arnold Arboretum, and Jamaica Pond. Both the Arboretum and the Pond have scenic walking paths -- a great way to while away an afternoon. You can also rent boats at the Pond in season. Don't miss the Samuel Adams brewery tour in JP, which includes free tastings.
West Roxbury, near JP, is full of lovely homes and is where a lot of the politicians live. There are some nice Irish pubs in West Roxbury.
Allston / Brighton (on the Green Line) is a student enclave to Boston College and Boston University. Harvard Ave is a popular street running through Allston, acting as a main street. It is lined with shops and restaurants.
Mattapan, North Dorchester, and Roxbury (accessible by both Red and Orange Lines) are home to many of the city's African American and Hispanic residents. You'll find soul food restaurants, hair braiding shops, and Spanish grocery stores. The Strand Theatre in Upham's Corner (T stop: JFK / UMass--in the opposite direction from the university / beach) has entertainment. Blue Hill Ave is a main street full of shops and restaurants.
Hyde Park, Readville and Roslindale (Rozzie) are all near Mattapan, near the Dedham line. They are all diverse, working class parts of the city. Roslindale has a significant Lebanese population; you'll find incredible bakeries here.
East Boston (on the Blue Line, Maverick, Airport, Wood Island, Orient Heights and Suffolks Downs T stops) used to be mostly Italian immigrants, but now it's changed to mostly Hispanic, with other cultures mixed in. There you'll find shops and eateries, several beaches ---and the airport! Santarpio's Pizza is worth a trip to Eastie. People drive miles to go to Santarpios and it's not for the grimy interior. The pizza is phenomenal.