Monday, July 11, 2011

Trip Report: Boston

I'm excited to share how we spent our five days in Boston. It was definitely our most ambitious family travel experience to-date, and our first big city adventure with a 2-year-old. We managed to pack in a lot of fun, but also tried to keep our son happy with naps and bedtimes. While it may have meant we didn't get to do everything we would have liked, it was a good strategy when tackling a very crowded place on a hot holiday weekend with a toddler.

Day 1: Arrival in Boston

Dinner on the patio at Bella Luna in Jamaica Plain
We departed Indianapolis around noon, and arrived at Logan around 2:30. The arrow managed to sneak in a quick nap on the flight, so he was ready to ride the "train, train, train!" when we landed. (We had prepped him very well for the many T rides we'd be taking in advance of the trip!) We hopped a free shuttle bus from Logan to the Airport T station, and from there headed out to our HomeAway rental property in Jamaica Plain, a great neighborhood just outside of downtown Boston (that we soon learned the locals call JP).

We were greeted warmly by our property owners (who live on the second floor of the house), and sent on our way toward City Feed and Supply for some basic groceries. It's a cute, organic grocery store and the walk there allowed us to get a sense of the neighborhood. We loved it--diverse, safe, artsy and walkable.

By 5 p.m., my brother-in-law and his fiancee arrived from Iowa to join us for the rest of the trip, and we were all famished. So we headed to Bella Luna, a hip pizza place just a 2-minute walk from our house. Is there anything better than pizza on a sunny patio to kick off your first day of vacation?

Day 2: Walking Downtown Boston and Harvard

Swan boat rides in Boston Common
We were up and ready to tackle the city today, and the weather cooperated with temperatures in the low 80s and sun (it would turn out to be the coolest day of our trip). We headed straight for the Swan Boat Rides at Boston Common, and after our 15-minute ride in the boat, we walked more of the beautiful park. Then we picked up the Freedom Trail and walked along, slowly meandering our way toward Quincy Market. (Along the route, we were greeted by a couple of different performances from historical reenactors. We saw Red Coats and a Minute Men but managed to avoid getting caught in a battle between them!) We grabbed an early lunch at the Salty Dog Seafood Grill, and then explored a bit more of the market. From there, we decided it was best to let the arrow stretch his legs at the Christopher Columbus Park. This location proved to be one of our favorites in the entire city, mostly because it was so close to many attractions, but we could let the arrow run free and be a 2-year-old for a few minutes here and there. We stopped in a few times throughout our trip. (Read about a fun street performance we participated in at Christopher Columbus Park here.)

By now the arrow was worn out, so we headed back to Jamaica Plain for a nap. Later that afternoon, everyone met back in Cambridge for dinner at the Border Cafe, followed by a romp through Harvard's campus and ice cream in Harvard Square. What a great first full day!

Day 3: Celebrating the 4th at Georges Island

Our family enjoying Fort Warren on Georges Island
This was July 4, and we decided to escape some of the crowds that were already gathering for fireworks and festivities in downtown Boston by hopping on a ferry headed toward Georges Island. This is one of the Boston Harbor Islands, a network of 34 islands and peninsulas in the Boston Harbor. The ferry ride itself is only about 20 minutes and offers great views of the Boston skyline. After we arrived on the island, we picked up a map and began exploring Fort Warren, which is mostly known for housing Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. While you'll quickly realize you're in a prison-like atmosphere, it's natural surroundings out on the water make it a beautiful spot to spend an hour or two. And its history is pretty fascinating as well.

After the ferry ride back to Boston, we walked to the North End and had lunch at a little Irish pub. Then our group split--the arrow and I headed back for a nap, while the rest of the gang took in a Red Sox game at Fenway. That evening, the baseball group was worn out and sunburn, so I picked up take-out at Canary Square in Jamaica Plain for an easy dinner at home.

Day 4: Boston Children's Museum
Playing at the Boston Children's Museum
This was our last full day in Boston, and since the arrow had been such a trooper for our first few days, we wanted to end on a very kid-centric note. So we headed to the Boston Children's Museum, where he spent a few hours exploring the many exhibits (several of which cater specifically to toddlers--love that!). After a quick lunch near the museum, we headed back to Jamaica Plain. Following his nap, we spent some time at the Southwest Corridor Park, a portion of which was just outside the front door of our rental house. Then we headed to dinner at Doyle's, a famous pub that was featured in several movies, such as Mystic River. (This was one of our only regrets of the trip--the food and service were very average, and we didn't even recognize the place.)

Day 5: Goodbye Boston

Unfortunately, this day entailed only a very early wake-up call and a ride on the T back to Logan for our flight home.

So what did we miss? Plenty! Fortunately, my husband and I had been to Boston just a few years earlier, where we did the Freedom Trail in great detail, the JFK Museum, and long walks around MIT and Harvard. But on this trip, I would have really liked to make it to Mike's Pastry in the North End for cannolis. And on our last night, we should have walked toward Jamaica Pond for dinner instead of settling on Doyle. Certainly, I would have loved to experience the July 4 fireworks and Boston Pops concert, but everything I read and everyone I talked to suggested that it's just not very manageable with a 2-year-old.

I have a lot more on my to-see list in Boston, like the Harvard Museum of Natural History, the Arnold Arboretum, the Franklin Park Zoo and the New England Aquarium. But that's why there's always "next time."

I have so much more to share about our trip, so stay tuned. For advice on planning your own trip to Boston with kids, check out my review of the guidebook Around Boston with Kids.

This post is a part of Mondays are for Dreaming at The Mother of All Trips.

Disclosure: As the winner of HomeAway's recent blogging contest, HomeAway paid $2,000 of our travel expenses to Boston. For us, this meant they covered all of our lodging costs and a portion of our flight costs. We paid all other expenses. All opinions expressed about the trip, the contest and HomeAway are entirely my own and I was not asked to share a particular point of view.