More fun than a water slide: How to summer in Boston

Children splash through the water by the fountain at Boston's Frog Pond. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Children splash through the water by the fountain at Boston's Frog Pond. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

New Englanders will find almost any reason to complain about the weather, but besides the humidity, our summers are basically beyond reproach. The city comes alive with festivals and food trucks; the region’s many lakes and ponds do some of their best work; and the ocean is only a train ride away.

Check out the city’s summer guide and read on for an in-depth look at all that Greater Boston has to offer in the summertime.

(Midoriko Grace Abe for WBUR)
(Midoriko Grace Abe for WBUR)

Get outside


Time for a dip in the ocean or a lounge on the shore. Now, Massachusetts has relatively few public beaches, and so the sands tend to get crowded. But dozens of beaches, many of them lifeguarded, are accessible to Bostonians by public transit.

Some notable routes within the city include taking the MBTA’s Red Line to Carson Beach or Pleasure Bay in South Boston, as well as Malibu Beach in Dorchester. For iconic coastal fun a little farther out, you can catch the Blue Line to Revere Beach.

The commuter rail also can zip you to several of the most picturesque beaches along the North or South shores, like Singing Beach in Manchester-by-the-Sea and the beach at Stage Fort Park in Gloucester. Hop on the T's ferry to Hull, and then take a city bus to get to Nantasket Beach.

To better explore the coastline, dive into this handy resource on beaches that allows you to filter by region.

Two lifeguards chat on a lifeguard chair at Pleasure Bay Beach in South Boston. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Two lifeguards chat on a lifeguard chair at Pleasure Bay Beach in South Boston. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

National and state parks

The Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park absolutely slaps. This collection of 34 islands and peninsulas has everything: scenic campgrounds, old military forts, a wastewater treatment facility, a historic lighthouse, and a place called Bumpkin Island. The best part is: you get to ride to the islands on a ferry. Or on your own private sailing vessel, for which there are many conveniently located moorings. Access varies from island to island, so be sure to check the hours and details.

Whale watching

As a resident of Greater Boston, you must go on a whale watch at least once in your life. The Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, not far off the coast of Boston, is a hot spot for large-finned creatures: fin whales, humpback whales, North Atlantic right whales, sei whales, mink whales, porpoises and dolphins. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a whale leaping out of the water in the sparkling sunlight, which is exactly as magnificent as it sounds. (You may even see a mama whale with her baby — not to be confused with a sunfish, kehd.)

Book tickets for a cruise with the New England Aquarium, which is based out of Boston, or choose from one of the reputable whale watch cruises based out of Gloucester. PSA: If you are even a bit prone to motion sickness, take anti-nausea medicine ahead of time; when the boat slows it tends to rock.

Charles River

If you are a fan of boats, the Charles River is a great place to paddle. Bring your own kayak, canoe or paddleboard, or rent one from Community Boating on the Esplanade or Paddle Boston at various locations. Rentals run from roughly $30 to $50 depending on the length of the rental.

If you’d rather harness the wind, Community Boating offers sailboat rentals for as little as $85. The Boston Harbor Sailing Club offers a greater variety of sailing vessels for rent, starting at $75, and access to sailing in Boston Harbor. Splurge for a membership or sailing courses for all levels of experience.

Lakes and ponds

Walden Pond. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Walden Pond. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

New England’s lakes and ponds are some of the loveliest places to bathe in the summer: clear and warm, and surrounded by tall trees. Usually you have to pay a fee to park, and the most popular lakes can get quite crowded. That’s why it’s good to have a few spots in your rotation.

Walden Pond is the most famous small body of water in Massachusetts — thanks, Henry David Thoreau — and for that reason, the parking lot fills up quickly in the summer. If you can arrive early, you’ll benefit from the $8 fee for Massachusetts residents (out-of-state visitors must pay $30) and a nice sandy beach with lifeguards and restroom facilities.

You can also purchase an annual state park parking pass for $60. This will gain you entrance to Walden, plus a number of other lifeguarded lakes and ponds, like Houghton's Pond in the Blue Hills Reservation and Lake Quinsigamond in Worcester. Pearce Lake Beach in the Breakheart Reservation and Shannon Beach in the Mystic Lakes State Park both have free parking and don’t require a pass. Reservoir Beach in Arlington (accessible on the 77 bus) and Crystal Lake in Newton (accessible on the Green Line’s D branch) are also both worth checking out for their lifeguarded beaches and affordable fees.

Urban hiking

There is no shortage of green space in Boston, but its crown jewel (so to speak) is the Emerald Necklace. The system of parks was designed in the 1870s by renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. At the time, Olmsted was a rising star, having just completed Central Park in New York City. His novel vision for park design sought to imitate the wild landscape of the natural world in an urban oasis. In Boston, Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace stretches seven miles from Back Bay to Jamaica Plain, and took 20 years to complete. Stroll through the Public Garden for a respite from the crowded city, admire the flora and fauna in the Arnold Arboretum or wander through the vast expanse of Franklin Park. A full map can be downloaded here.

There are many green spaces to explore beyond the Emerald Necklace. Try the rambling Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain (also an Olmsted design) or the scenic Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge. (You can learn about the cemetery and whether there actually is a Mount Auburn here.) Or pick any section of urban hiker Miles Howard’s Walking City Trail, which offers a route that connects 17 Boston neighborhoods via parks and other green spaces.

Keep cool in the heat

Boston can get pretty hot in the summer, and climate change is only making it worse: 2022 saw the hottest 30-day stretch in the city’s history. It also tends to be muggy, which is pretty gross — and potentially dangerous for those with breathing issues.

Children play in the Rings Fountain at the Greenway on a hot day. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Children play in the Rings Fountain at the Greenway on a hot day. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

When a heat wave strikes, the mayor may declare a heat emergency. This triggers the opening of city cooling centers. Details about their locations and other tips for staying safe in hot weather can be found on the city's website. It also has this nifty map of pools and “tot sprays” (a.k.a. fountains you can play in) if you would like to douse your children — or yourself — in cool, soothing water. Finally, this article on how to survive a heat wave is both helpful and edifying.

Of course, during a heatwave it's often best to seek refuge in the air conditioning. This may, in fact, be an opportunity for fun. You can stroll through one of the city’s many art and science museums. (Several of them offer free or discounted tickets for college students.) Going to see a movie is a great choice, too, and the Boston area offers several excellent independent movie theaters. Want to return to the roots of your suburban youth? Pay a visit to the Prudential Center, a giant, air conditioned mall in the middle of downtown Boston that offers, among other amenities, a Shake Shack and a Sunglass Hut, though regretfully, no Hot Topic.

Eat, drink and lounge

Summer is the season of beer gardens, roof decks, food trucks and outdoor dining in general.

Beer gardens

Beer garden setups vary from summer to summer, but there are a few stalwarts you can usually count on for good vibes and even better beer: Night Shift Brewing on the Esplanade and other locations; the Notch Brewing Biergarten at the Charles River Speedway; Trillium on the Greenway, the Fenway and the Boston Common; an annual pop-up in City Hall Plaza; Aeronaut Allston’s summertime beer garden; and the backyard beer garden at Charlie’s Kitchen in Harvard Square. Food trucks tend to post up at these spots, too, but you can chase after your favorites with the city’s food truck schedule and map.

Rooftop bars

There’s no shortage of rooftop bars in the area, nor a shortage of lists compiling the best ones. (We recommend this roundup from The Rooftop Guide.) DECK 12 at YOTEL, the roof deck at Dorchester Brewing and the rooftop at the Sinclair in Harvard Square rank among the best rooftop bars, but they tend to be pretty packed. If you’re looking for outdoor dining off the beaten path, explore Eater Boston’s hidden patio map.

A man scoops ice cream onto a cone. (We Are/Getty Images)
A man scoops ice cream onto a cone. (We Are/Getty Images)

Ice cream shops

It wouldn’t be summer without ice cream. J.P. Licks is pretty much the uncontested local champ, and it lives up to the hype. (There are nine locations throughout Boston, Cambridge, Somerville and the suburbs.) But it’s far from the only game in town. Some highlights include Crescent Ridge, a dairy that's been in business in Sharon, Massachusetts, for more than 90 years and keeps a shop in the Boston Public Market; Gracie’s Ice Cream, a micro-creamery in Somerville’s Union Square that infuses its ice cream with quirky ingredients like potato chips and candy; FoMu, a dairy-free ice cream shop with multiple locations; Amorino Boston on Newbury Street, which serves its gelato in the shape of a delicate rose; Taiyaki in the Seaport and Harvard Square for its soft serve ice cream in fish-shaped cones; Cookie Monstah for ice cream sandwiches and the Scoop n Scootery for sundaes delivered to your door.

Mark your calendar for annual events, festivals

People march in the Pride parade, the largest Pride event in New England, on June 10, 2023, in Boston. (Michael Dwyer/AP)
People march in the Pride parade, the largest Pride event in New England, on June 10, 2023, in Boston. (Michael Dwyer/AP)
  • Nobody loves a feast more than the denizens of Boston’s North End. The neighborhood, long an Italian-American stronghold, kicks off the season in June with a procession in honor of Santa Maria di Anzano (a celebration marking the discovery of an image of the Madonna in an Italian village 400 years ago) and concludes in August with a three-day-long street festival called Saint Anthony’s Feast. A number of other feasts and processions honoring saints unfold in the months in between.
  • Boston Pride for the People recently took over the city’s Pride events after the dissolution of the Boston Pride organization. The new leadership aims to center people of color and transgender rights in the revamped festival and parade in mid-June. And Boston Dyke March kicks off that weekend with its annual anti-commercial, grassroots march that concludes with a festival on the Boston Common.
  • Boston’s free, annual Donna Summer Disco Party transforms City Hall Plaza into a glittering outdoor nightclub in celebration of the Queen of Disco, who grew up in Mission Hill.
  • Since 2021, the city of Boston has officially celebrated Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in the States, and Juneteenth happenings around town continue to proliferate. You may want to check out the Juneteenth celebration at the National Center for Afro-American Artists, which has been running for 13 years, or visit the MFA, which offers free admission that day.
  • The Boston Art & Music Soul Fest, or BAMS Fest, centers the cultural achievements of Boston’s Black community, with performances by local musicians and major touring acts. This festival brings back a long legacy of Black culture and music to Franklin Park.
  • The Levitate Music and Arts Festival in Marshfield is a popular three-day music fest that draws big names like Brandi Carlile, yet manages to produce a lineup that’s distinct from the cookie-cutter bills of so many festivals around the country. The music leans toward roots, reggae and funk with some jam bands sprinkled in.
  • Every July, crowds flock to Somerville’s ArtBeat festival in Davis Square. The vibrant street fair features crafts, live music, local vendors and activities for kids and families.
  • New England’s indie music scene converges in Somerville every July for Nice, A Fest, which features performances by national headliners alongside the most of the Boston underground.
  • The Revere Beach International Sand Sculpting Festival merges art, whimsy, food trucks and fireworks on the Revere Beach boardwalk. Dozens of world-class artists construct mind-boggling sand creations as they compete for first prize in the sand-sculpting competition.
  • Every July and August, Commonwealth Shakespeare Company stages a Shakespeare play for free on the Boston Common. Arrive early to reserve a decent spot and don’t forget to bring a chair or blanket to sit on.
  • Caribbean Carnival season in Boston kicks off at the end of August with a sequin-and-feather-bedecked parade and street party, and then gets a reprise a couple weeks later in Cambridge with a big festival in Central Square.
Revelers parade thru Franklin Park at the Caribbean Festival held at Playstead Park in 2021 in Boston. (Stuart Cahill/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images)
Revelers parade thru Franklin Park at the Caribbean Festival held at Playstead Park in 2021 in Boston. (Stuart Cahill/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images)

Do some wicked Boston things

History trails

Just follow the red brick road! History buffs will love a summer stroll through  Boston’s Freedom Trail. It's essentially a self-guided tour through the city that hits major historic sites, like the Paul Revere House, the Boston Common and the Old North Church. Start at any point on the trail and follow the red bricks embedded in the sidewalk in either direction and for as long as you please. For a more in-depth experience, the Freedom Trail also offers a number of ticketed tours led by guides in full colonial garb.

Boston’s Black Heritage Trail is a 1.6-mile walk, marked by signs, that winds through Beacon Hill and past 10 sites significant to Black history and the abolitionist movement here. Pick up a brochure from the Abiel Smith School and find the Black Heritage Trail on the National Park Service app to learn more about these important places and the historical figures associated with them. The app also offers virtual tours that cover the Underground Railroad in Boston and the women of Beacon Hill who fought for civil rights and suffrage.

Boston's iconic duck boat tours rolling out in 2020. (Steven Senne/AP)
Boston's iconic duck boat tours rolling out in 2020. (Steven Senne/AP)

Boston duck boat tour

If you wanna get real touristy, consider touring the city on a duck boat. These amphibious vehicles can be spotted careening down Huntington Avenue and puttering around the mouth of the Charles River, looking alternately like boats with wheels tacked on and colorful buses that accidentally drove into the water. The tour is fully narrated and takes you past many major Boston sites, first by land and then by sea (technically, river).


I’m not the biggest sports fan, but even I can get a craving for a hot dog and a beer at Fenway Park. Seats to catch our beloved Red Sox at the country’s oldest active ballpark can be expensive, but you can get standing room tickets for as low as $10 on weeknights. Students can register for $9 tickets, too.


Get outta town

Sometimes you just gotta escape the city. Luckily, there are great options within a day’s travel of Boston— though it’s a good idea to plan well in advance, as vacation rentals fill up early, especially on Cape Cod.


For foodies, we recommend making the two-hour drive (or bus or train) to Portland, Maine. The seacoast city boasts a cute, walkable downtown and an abundance of inventive restaurants.

New Hampshire

Try the port city of Portsmouth for a charming seaside getaway only an hour’s drive from Boston. The resort town of Hampton Beach is another popular locale, with a buzzing boardwalk and fireworks every week in the summer.

Hikers should definitely check out the White Mountains — though even in the warm months, caution is warranted on these steep and rocky climbs. Mount Monadnock, which is short but quite precipitous, is a good yardstick for inexperienced hikers who want to get a sense of the fitness and preparation required to scale the more difficult peaks of the Whites. And no matter where you plan to hike, always check the weather conditions beforehand and inform someone of your plans. More safety tips can be found on the Appalachian Mountain Club’s website.

The Islands

For breathtaking beaches without the crowds, take the ferry from Cape Cod to Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard. The two islands are favored havens of the rich and famous — the Obamas summer on the Vineyard — but there are plenty of vacation rentals for those without summer homes. Both islands are also extremely cute: Nantucket is cobblestoned and preppy, Martha’s Vineyard quirkier with distinctive gingerbread-style cottages. The town of Oak Bluffs on the Vineyard has a long and storied history as a summertime haven for the Black middle class, and the Inkwell remains a favorite beach for Black residents and visitors.

Tourists walk past Shop Therapy on Commercial Street in Provincetown. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Tourists walk past Shop Therapy on Commercial Street in Provincetown. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Cape Cod

If you want to visit the Cape but don’t want to get stuck in horrific traffic over aging bridges, hop on the ferry from Long Wharf in Boston Harbor to Provincetown. (The summer CapeFLYER train also is a good option to reach the Cape without a car.) Located all the way at the tip of Cape Cod, Provincetown (or P-town) has long been an oasis for the LGBTQ community. This queer haven comes alive in the summer, with events each week tailored for different affinity groups: queer women of color, bears and the men who love them, LGBTQ families and more. Check out the schedule to learn what’s happening when — though you can always find a drag show or cabaret. Beyond nightlife, art lovers will find plenty to explore in the town’s many galleries.

The Berkshires

If you prefer a woodsier escape, head to the Berkshire Mountains in western Massachusetts. There, you can rough it at a campground and go hiking, biking and swimming. Or you could rent a cottage or a room at a bed and breakfast. The Berkshires offer great opportunities to absorb the arts as the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood and the location of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.


Amelia Mason Arts And Culture Reporter
Amelia Mason is an arts and culture reporter and critic for WBUR.



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