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Boston Neighborhoods

Many Boston neighborhoods were once isolated enclaves easily stereotyped by ethnicity and income. But gentrification is making inroads across the city, except the most gang-ridden parts of Dorchester and Roxbury. Interesting ethnic restaurants, cultural offerings and shops can be found in almost any of Boston's neighborhoods, if you ask around. Still, the most popular Boston attractions tend to be concentrated in the corridor between the waterfront and the city’s western boundary.

North End

The narrow, twisting streets and brick buildings of the North End have an old-world feel—appropriate since this has been home to the city’s Italian population for decades. On street festival weekends, you’ll still be soaking in the Boston neighborhood's culture. In recent years, the North End has become more gentrified, especially now that the Central Artery is no longer there to wall it off from the rest of the city. Stroll down Hanover or Salem Street, checking out the shops and little bakeries. Search out the original Regina Pizzeria or dine in one of the new upscale eateries. Antico Forno offers the best of both worlds from its wood-fired ovens.

Beacon Hill

The shining golden dome of the Massachusetts State House marks the top of Beacon Hill, one of the nicest Boston neighborhoods. If you hear a local spitting out the words “Beacon Hill” like a curse, they’re probably using them as slang for the state government. Actually, this is one of the city’s prettiest and most desirable places to live, with its steep, narrow streets lined with historic brick townhouses. Be sure to see picturesque Louisburg Square and cobblestoned Acorn Street. Senator John Kerry is one of many well-to-do residents. Tour the State House or visit the Museum of African American History. Charles Street, at the base of the hill to the west, offers a short but pleasant stretch of shops and restaurants.

Back Bay

The city filled in the original Back Bay—an actual body of water—to create this neighborhood, a project completed in the 1880s. Relatively quiet residential streets lined with brownstone mansions fill the blocks closest to the Charles River, including the tree-lined beauty of Commonwealth Avenue Mall. Restaurants and shopping rule Newbury and Boylston streets, while the Prudential tower, the John Hancock skyscraper and the Berkeley Building dominate the skyline. Copley Square features the classical architecture of Trinity Church and the Boston Public Library. Upscale shoppers favor the glitzy Copley Place Mall. Berklee College of Music and the headquarters of the Christian Science church grace the blocks along Massachusetts Avenue. The Back Bay is also home to a large and super-cool Apple store (815 Boylston St.) that gave some preservationists fits.

Seaport

This waterfront district across Boston harbor from the airport was long a wasteland of wharves and warehouses, visited mainly for a few beloved old-school seafood restaurants like Anthony’s Pier 4. Now it’s home to the glitzy new Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, hotels and restaurants, the Harpoon Brewery and the Bank of America Pavilion. The streets still feel a little empty, but there’s enough going on that the mayor talks about building a new City Hall here. And the Fort Point Channel neighborhood is full of industrial lofts rehabbed for artists. Seaport is one of the up-and-coming Boston neighborhoods and a new hot spot destination for dining.

Cambridge

Harvard and MIT are the crown jewels of this municipality across the Charles River. Take the Red Line to Harvard Square, still a must-visit when in Cambridge, though the influx of chain stores and restaurants means it’s not as funky as in days past. Start with “the world’s greatest university” by strolling Harvard Yard, then visit the Widener Memorial Library or see a performance at the Sanders Theatre. Pick up a souvenir at the Harvard Coop and bang down a cheap martini at Charlies Kitchen, where the guy on the next stool could be a burnout or a Nobel Prize-winning professor. There are numerous fine restaurants in all price ranges. Finally, walk or take the Red Line one stop to Central Square for a pint at The People’s Republik tavern.

South End

Once a thriving part of the city, Boston's neighborhood known as the South End was largely a slum by the mid-20th century, home to a busy urban hospital, homeless shelters and not much else. Naturally, over the last 20 years it’s become the city’s hottest development frontier. A strong gay population brought in restaurants and shops and began renovating brownstones; galleries popped up in vacant industrial lofts along lower Harrison Avenue. The final piece of the puzzle was the opening of the Boston Center for the Arts on Tremont, home to several theaters and restaurants and the Beehive nightclub.
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