About CambridgeTake the short trek from Boston to Cambridge—“Boston’s Left Bank”—and you’ll notice evidence of a college town before you even arrive. Harvard University’s school color, crimson, is reflected in the Red Line subway running into the city. As you cross over the Charles River, look for the bright, dutifully maintained markings along the 364.4-smoot-plus-an-ear-long Harvard Bridge; in 1958, 5-foot-7-inch fraternity pledge Oliver R. Smoot served as measuring stick.
Scholars attracted by educational goliaths Harvard University—the country’s first college, founded in 1636—and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology also leave their indelible imprints worldwide. Authors Ralph Waldo Emerson and Michael Crichton as well as Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy are among Harvard’s graduates, while MIT boasts more than 20 Nobel Prize-winning alumni.
Ranging from free-spirited artistic savants to Quadratic formula-loving bookworms, nearly 30,000 people attend school here each year. Leave Cambridge’s substantial student population out of the mix and you’ve still got a rather zesty melting pot. In Cambridge you’ll see tattooed rocker-types browsing through boxes of used books; baby boomers sampling ethnic delicacies at a sidewalk fair; and spectacled, iPod-wearing professors biking to and from the city’s many academic campuses.
Like Boston, Cambridge encompasses a variety of individual districts, including Kendall Square, the home of MIT and the hub of the city’s technology industry. Before visiting a few of MIT’s thought-provoking museums, find inspiration along the Entrepreneur Walk of Fame, which, starting on the sidewalk by the outbound side of the Kendall/MIT MBTA station, honors such innovative individuals as Thomas Edison, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.
Afterward, head to nearby Central Square for dinner and take your pick among the Ethiopian, Indian, Italian and Thai restaurants clustered there. Every September, the Cambridge Carnival parade passes through this multicultural neighborhood as well as through Cambridgeport and Kendall Square. Celebrating African and Caribbean traditions, the event also features musical performances and family activities.
In the Alewife district outdoor enthusiasts hike and enjoy bird-watching at Alewife Brook Reservation, a 120-acre urban wilderness. Cyclists and inline skaters (and, in winter, cross-country skiers) can access the Minuteman Bikeway at the Alewife MBTA station. The 11-mile trail passes through Arlington and Lexington before terminating in Bedford. Recreational activities, including bicycling and jogging, also can be enjoyed along the banks of the Charles River and at the Fresh Pond Reservation. Located in northwest Cambridge, Fresh Pond also offers a nine-hole golf course at 691 Huron Ave.; phone (617) 349-6282.
Of course, the epicenter of Cambridge is Harvard Square, crowded with bookstores and hip clothing boutiques, historic gems, intimate bistros and lively coffee houses. Frequent special events—including Mayfair, Bastille Day (in July) and Oktoberfest—add to the hubbub of this popular scene, while street performers entertain crowds of shoppers, tourists and preoccupied undergrads anytime the weather is agreeable.
After enjoying the outdoor shows put on by commanding cello players and comical jugglers, take in a production of the American Repertory Theater, 64 Brattle St., (617) 547-8300, or the José Mateo Ballet Theatre, 400 Harvard St., (617) 354-7467. In addition Harvard’s various cultural venues feature everything from opera to Shakespeare; phone (617) 496-2222 for the Office for the Arts at Harvard box office.
Visitor Centers Cambridge Office for Tourism 17 Dunster St., Suite 203, Cambridge, MA 02138. Phone:(617)441-2884 or (800)862-5678
Self-guiding ToursMaps of Old Cambridge, which include historic sites in and around Harvard Square, are available for $2.50 from the information booth in Harvard Square. Contact the Cambridge Office for Tourism for more information.
ShoppingMore than 150 stores manage to squeeze into just a few blocks around Harvard Square.
The Harvard Cooperative Society (1400 Massachusetts Ave.) is universally known as The Coop (pronounced like the poultry enclosure). Alongside textbooks and dormitory necessities, everything from stationary imprinted with the Harvard insignia to silk ties and caps in crimson (the school's official color) can be bought at the collegiate department store founded by Harvard students in 1882.
The university town also boasts several great booksellers, including Harvard Book Store (1256 Massachusetts Ave.), Grolier Poetry Book Shop (6 Plympton St.), Raven Used Books (52-B John F. Kennedy St.) and Schoenhof's Foreign Books (76-A Mount Auburn St.), all of which are located in the Harvard Square vicinity. Or, scan titles proffered for a steal at the appropriately named Honor System Books on Brattle Street, where the merchandise is priced and left unattended—trustworthy customers simply deposit the correct amount in a locked tin.
Located kitty-corner from the Harvard Square MBTA station, The Curious George Store (1 John F. Kennedy St.) delights young readers with a large selection of children's books (as well as toys, games and apparel) showcasing everyone's favorite inquisitive brown monkey. In the heart of the square you also can pick up a light read for the trip home at the historical Out of Town News kiosk, which carries newspapers and magazines from around the world.
For a unique keepsake, stop in at the Cambridge Artists Cooperative Gallery (59A Church St.) and marvel over handmade bracelets and earrings, mosaic frames, and earth-colored plates and jugs. Or stop in at Goorin Brothers Hat Shop (43 Brattle St.) and gawk over the stylish headgear—from bowlers and fedoras to ball caps and knits. Prefer vintage pieces? Try some on at Oona's Experienced Clothing (1210 Massachusetts Ave.). Founded in 1972, the well-organized resale boutique stocks men's and women's clothing and accessories.
Funkier, reasonably-priced shops also thrive farther down on Massachusetts Avenue, particularly near Central Square. Pop into Cheapo Records (538 Massachusetts Ave.) and chat with an erudite cast of characters well-schooled in the ways of classic rock, jazz and blues.
To the east near Kendall Square lies The Garment District (200 Broadway St.). Although the secondhand clothes store is quite a hike from both the Central Square and Kendall/MIT MBTA stations, a trip here really is like no other. As you enter the colorful warehouse, a colossal mound of clothes lies ahead, with plucky scavengers strewn about the uneven expanse. If diving into this “Two-Dollars-A-Pound” area isn't your style, try on a retro pair of hip-huggers, a vintage Hawaiian shirt or a summery halter dress from the well-organized second floor, where many items are categorized by decade. Nearby is the Cambridge Antique Market (201 Monsignor O'Brien Hwy.), which has five floors crammed with “oldies but goodies.” The finds here range from artwork to books to fine silver.
Free shuttle buses run from the Kendall/MIT station to the CambridgeSide Galleria (100 CambridgeSide Pl.), which is anchored by Macy's and Sears. Just outside the shopping center, 7.5 acres of public green space—picturesque Lechmere Canal Park—provide respite for mall-weary shoppers.
NightlifeAs night falls, scores of stand-up comics start work in Greater Boston, a locale known as a breeding ground for gifted humorists. Highlighting the region's fresh talent is The Comedy Studio (1238 Massachusetts Ave.), where you can sip fruity concoctions beside tomorrow's comedic stars. A few Asian touches adorn the otherwise sparse third-floor comedy club, which sits atop Harvard Square dive the Hong Kong Restaurant. Before the show starts at 8 (doors open 30 minutes prior), order some spicy Szechuan wontons and chop suey, then wash everything down with a Scorpion Bowl. But beware—one too many slurps from the Hong Kong's trademark, over-the-top cocktail will have you falling off your chair even before the punch lines land. Phone (617) 661-6507 for The Comedy Studio or (617) 864-5311 for the Hong Kong Restaurant.
Sweetened by spoken word poetry and acoustic riffs, The Nameless Coffeehouse (3 Church St.) typically offers live entertainment the first Saturday of every month. While attending Tufts University in Medford, singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman strummed her guitar at the volunteer-run venue, which also welcomed such comedians as Andy Kaufman and Jay Leno early in their careers.
In the 1950s and '60s folk great Joan Baez, along with a young Bob Dylan, entertained patrons of Harvard Square's legendary Club 47, now Club Passim (47 Palmer St.). This unpretentious basement-level listening room is at the core of a non-profit arts organization that also coordinates music classes and workshops as well as the weeklong BCMFest (Boston Celtic Music Fest) in mid-January. Phone (617) 492-5300.
Regattabar opened in Cambridge in 1985. The sleek club at The Charles Hotel (1 Bennett St.), quickly rose to the top of the charts, securing its status as one of the area's best with sophisticated vibes and top-notch performers; phone (617) 661-5000. Nearby on Eliot Street, Charlie's Kitchen is a hard-to-miss beacon with its mishmash of kitschy neon signs advertising everything from pints of Guinness to “Shish-K-Bab.” The awesomely tacky signage continues inside the ground-floor, ‘50s-style diner, which, as the light bulb-framed marquee will tell you, is acclaimed for its classic double cheeseburger. A beer garden, live music and social calendar events like karaoke and trivia night cater to a buoyant college-age crowd. Phone (617) 492-9646.
Exiting Charlie's, hang a right on Winthrop Street and stop in at The Red House . Located inside a onetime residence built in the 1800s, the elegant restaurant has patio seating available in warm weather, while its fireside bar keeps winter season barhoppers nice and toasty. Phone (617) 576-0605. Also on Winthrop Street is Grendel's Den , an underground haven for beer snobs. The menu eschews big brands like Budweiser and Miller in favor of brews from Lindemans, a family-run Belgian operation that produces lambic beers, and New England's own Narragansett. Phone (617) 491-1160.
If a bit of twilight relaxation and reflection is what you're after, savor the flan served up at Café Pamplona (12 Bow St.), a traditional European-style bistro patronized by local intellectuals since 1959. Or, nibble on sweet potato fries at Cambridge Common (1667 Massachusetts Ave.), then head downstairs to the lush, dimly lit Lizard Lounge , an intimate showcase for aspiring lyricists and hometown musicians. Phone (617) 492-0352 for Café Pamplona, (617) 547-1228 for Cambridge Common or (617) 547-0759 for Lizard Lounge.
Music venues and bars are scattered all along Massachusetts Avenue. If you're heading southeast from Harvard Square toward Boston, you'll pass through Central Square, another of Cambridge's nightlife hubs. Dominating the scene here is The Middle East Restaurant & Nightclub , at Mass Ave and Brookline Street. A fixture since the early 1970s, it boasts multiple performance spaces and welcomes underground hip-hop and rock groups, jazz and blues singers, and reggae artists. Phone (617) 864-3278. Or, if you're looking for an evening of scintillating conversation, you can mingle with future astrophysicists and software engineers and other genius-types at the laid-back Miracle of Science Bar + Grill (321 Massachusetts Ave.), located on the outskirts of MIT. Phone (617) 868-2866.
Things to Do Charles Riverboat Co.
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