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Tips for newcomers living in downtown Boston

Posted by Jeremy C. Fox  September 8, 2011 11:28 AM

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(Essdras Suarez/Globe file photo)

The South Street Diner, at the corner of South and Kneeland streets, bills itself as “the only dining destination open all night in Boston.”

So you’ve moved to downtown Boston, a neighborhood that’s complex, historic, and endlessly fascinating, but also full of peculiar customs and unexpected challenges. You’ll be fine here, don’t worry, but just to help get you started, here are a few notes on what to expect and how to prepare.


Downtown shopping options range from the Macy’s department store and large discount stores on Washington Street, to clothing chains like Abercrombie & Fitch and Urban Outfitters at Faneuil Hall Marketplace, to great local stores like the Brattle Book Shop at 9 West Street. There are only a handful of high-end stores in the area — try Newbury Street and Copley Place, both in the Back Bay, for more — but most staples (and Staples, with a location on Court Street) are a short walk away.

Grocery stores

There aren’t any downtown. Some make do with the numerous convenience stores in the area and the giant CVS at the corner of Boylston and Washington streets, while others hop on the Green Line to the Shaw’s at Prudential Center or hike over to the West End for the Whole Foods Market at 181 Cambridge St. If none of those options are appealing, Stop & Shop’s Peapod service will deliver to downtown.

Late-night food

Though downtown is increasingly residential, parts of the neighborhood get pretty desolate after dark. Fortunately, there are still a number of options for dining in or getting takeout well into the wee hours.

Chinatown is a good place to start, as several of the restaurants there serve a full menu late into the night and cater to a young, hungry crowd. Nearby, a longtime favorite of Emerson students is Remington’s of Boston at 124 Boylston St., which serves pub fare until midnight and where each table offers useful conversation-starters: cups full of Trivial Pursuit cards.

A few blocks away at 25 Kingston Str., you’ll find Kingston Station, which serves bistro fare, has live music every Friday and Saturday, and offers a late-night menu every Thursday through Saturday, 10 p.m. to midnight. If you’re just getting started at midnight, head to the South Street Diner at the corner of South and Kneeland streets in the Leather District, which calls itself “the only dining destination open all night in Boston.”

Public Transit

You’re in luck. Downtown Boston is the center of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s subway service, with the Green, Red, Orange, and Blue lines all passing through the neighborhood and connecting to one another at various points, as well as dozens of MBTA bus lines.

Check out the subway map online or pick one up at a train station and try to learn quickly which lines go where and when it makes more sense to just walk. Taking the train from Park Street to Downtown Crossing or from Downtown Crossing to State Street is a sure sign of a newbie.


A nightmare. It’s difficult it is to even drive downtown, with so many clogged, narrow, one-way streets and parts of Washington, Winter, and Summer streets closed to car traffic. (Winter Street is actually just the block of Summer Street between Washington and Tremont, but you’ll get used to Boston’s unusual street-naming conventions after four or five years.) Still, Post Office Square Garage has $9 parking if you are in after 4 p.m., and out by 8 a.m., for any weekend activity in the city

Finding a parking spot on the street is next to impossible.

For those who must have a car and can afford to keep one downtown, there are a number of garages in the neighborhood that charge steep rates. But part of the point of living downtown is that the public transit options and proximity to so many desirable spots make cars unnecessary.

What makes downtown unique

Downtown is an endless parade of different types of people from all over the region and all over the world. Join them in discovering all that your new home has to offer.

Find some time to check out the Freedom Trail and maybe take a Duck Tour, but also visit the neighborhood’s other historic sites, such as the Union Oyster House, Durgin Park, and Jacob Wirth’s — three restaurants open since the 19th century.

Look out for some of the local characters, such as the musicians you’ll see playing for tips at subway stops and in Boston Common, but also for local celebrities like Mayor Thomas M. Menino and other elected officials stepping out of City Hall or the State House for a meal or a new power tie. And you may see national and international celebrities like Ben Affleck, Sarah Jessica Parker, or Adam Sandler, as an increasing number of movies are shot in Boston.

And if you get lost in downtown’s twisty streets, don’t worry. Just look for a hospitality ambassador from the Downtown Business Improvement District. They wear distinctive orange-and-green uniforms, with cargo pants stuffed full of maps to help you find your way.

E-mail Jeremy C. Fox at Follow him on Twitter: @jeremycfox. Follow Downtown on Twitter: @DowntownUpdate.

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