Our family loves to venture into Boston. On this particular day, we decided to walk a portion of Boston’s Esplanade: from the Hatch Shell to the Boston University Bridge, and then wander back along Back Bay’s residential streets. Our afternoon ended with a stroll through the Boston Public Garden and Boston Common, and then we picked up a takeout lunch from a Chinatown bakery. What a lovely day!
If you choose to travel to Boston and are looking for a fun place to walk, bike, or rollerblade, at least a portion of the 3 mile one-way river walk along the Esplanade could make a delightful addition to your itinerary. It is paved, there is no cross traffic, and it is beautiful!
We decided to use the Spot Hero App to reserve a spot in the Boston Common Garage, which is underneath part of the Common. Usually the online price from the app is a bit cheaper than the drive-up cost, though this varies.
The official starting point of the Esplanade is the Boston Museum of Science, but we find that the most beautiful section starts at the Hatch Shell, so if you are looking to shave off some walking time, start here instead.
We then followed the Esplanade past the Harvard Bridge (which is actually located by the MIT campus) to the Boston University (BU) Bridge, which is right next to the BU boathouse shown in the picture below.
From here, we could have crossed the bridge and returned on the Cambridge side, but instead we decided to do a city walk that started on the BU campus and continued along Commonwealth Avenue, until we reached the Beacon Street fork.
If you are particularly tired, or want to go visit a different part of the city, there are tons of T stops along Commonwealth Ave. The green line of the subway has 9 stops between Boston University West and the Boston Common (Park Street), so you have lots of options for where to hop on.
From there you have several options on how to explore Back Bay and get back to the Boston Common:
- The Kenmore Square portion of Commonwealth Avenue is a great place to find some quick or budget food and will eventually turn into the Commonwealth Avenue Mall – a tree-lined grand boulevard.
- Marlborough Street is a beautiful residential street.
- Newbury Street is a famous shopping street that also has fancy restaurants and hair salons.
- Boylston Street has the mall at the Prudential Center – which is connected to the more upscale Copley Place mall. This street also hosts the Boston Public Library and quite a few restaurants.
- And there are plenty of other places you could visit along the way!
On our return to the Boston Common, we decided to walk a little further and get a take out lunch from a Chinese bakery. Our favorite bakery was a little too crowded for our comfort during Covid times, so we tried out a different one that was still delicious! If you want the absolute best bakery, look for the one with the longest line. Alternatively, my favorite Dim Sum restaurants in Boston’s Chinatown are China Pearl and Empire Garden.
Here is the approximate route that we took:
The Public Garden
After finding a parking spot, we made our way through the Boston Common, which was founded in 1634, making it America’s oldest park. Our path then continued into the Boston Public Garden, which was founded in 1837 and was America’s first public botanical garden. See some other botanical gardens that we have visited!
One of our favorite statues in the Public Garden is the “Statue of Ether,” a statue dedicated to the discovery of anesthesia nearby. The boys rolled their eyes a bit, but it really is one of the coolest discoveries ever. Can you imagine having surgery without it? And what types of surgery are now possible that weren’t before this discovery?
From here, you will want to make your way to the corner of the Public Garden, then walk a block or two to the Arthur Fiedler Footbridge. This will take you to the Esplanade!
The Esplanade is a 3 mile walk along the Charles River, stretching from the Boston Museum of Science to the Boston University (BU) Bridge. It is paved with some optional dirt paths, and you will get some lovely views of Cambridge.
While the section of the Esplanade between the Museum of Science and the Edward A. Hatch Memorial Shell is nice, I prefer to start at the Hatch Shell and continue on to the BU Bridge – or at least the Harvard Bridge – from there.
The Hatch Shell is used for outdoor performances, so if you happen to be in town for one of them, try to visit! It was built in 1940, but there were two previous temporary versions built in 1929 and 1934. The very first performance was a concert performed by the Boston Pops and conducted by Arthur Fiedler:
The Hatch Shell hosts an annual 4th of July fireworks/orchestra performance by the Boston Pops, which contains members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, but typically excludes the first chair performers.
In addition to the well known 4th of July celebration, there typically are Friday evening movies during the summer as well as a bunch of other concerts throughout the year. The best part is that all events are free. Just make sure you arrive early if you are trying to attend a popular event, or there may not be any space left on the grass for you. Check the event calendar for what’s coming up!
The Walk to the BU Bridge
If you happen to be visiting Boston with children, the Esplanade is fabulous for strollers and has several playgrounds that you can make stops. There is even an exercise park for the big kids – adults – in your family.
As you walk, you will get many views of the MIT campus. Many of the classroom and research buildings can be found in the section between the Hatch Shell and the Harvard Bridge. You can see a lot of the older MIT buildings on the left, and a lot of newer building that have been built over the last 20 years on the right.
If you want to take a walk through MIT, turn onto Massachusetts Avenue and cross the Harvard Bridge. Note that if you continue a couple of miles down Mass. Ave. (or similarly if you follow the river upstream), you will eventually reach Harvard.
In any case, walking this stretch of the Esplanade will get you plenty of nice views of Boston well as MIT.
Even though our boys aren’t as young as they used to be, they still enjoyed looking at the swans and squirrels along the way.
The walk is quite pretty and if your travels put you in Boston for long enough, you shouldn’t miss this section of the city.
Once you reach the Harvard Bridge, you will get a glimpse of the dormitories along the MIT campus.
Note that the Charles isn’t for swimming; not all that long ago it was fairly polluted (falling in during the 1960’s apparently required a tetanus shot), though these days it looks much nicer.
What a lovely walk to the BU Bridge/Boathouse!
City Walk to the Boston Common
From here there are many ways to get back into the Boston Common. We chose to start with a walk through a portion of Boston University‘s campus.
From the Esplanade, you will see a footbridge that ends at the Marsh Chapel, named for Daniel Marsh who was both a former president of BU and a minister in the Methodist church.
There is an interesting monument to Martin Luther King Jr. in the front.
One interesting remnant of the Cold War are the yellow signs indicating the locations of various Fallout Shelters. While the actual shelters are mostly gone, it is interesting to contemplate living in a time where people had great interest in knowing where they were.
If you are looking for lunch, there are plenty of places to eat near BU. Fast food can easily be found as you walk along Commonwealth (Comm.) Avenue towards Kenmore Square, but there are plenty of other options as well.
Residential Streets of Back Bay Boston
From here, we decided to leave Comm. Ave. and head into some of the residential streets. My recommendation is to get on Beacon Street at Kenmore Square, and then take another fork to get on Marlborough Street.
Marlborough Street is a great option for meandering, with somewhat a feel of a European city.
If you get tired of this street, consider heading a little further away from the river, and walk amongst the trees on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall. Or you can go closer to the river and walk on Beacon St.
As you get closer to the Public Garden, you may want to finish your walk along Newbury Street, a well known shopping street filled with boutiques, restaurants, and hair salons. The last block before the Public Garden is filled with high end shops that are a lot of fun to browse the windows. Plus your kids might get excited by all the luxury cars they see. We spotted a Lamborghini SUV, a couple of Porches, and a lot of not-quite-as-nice cars.
Back to the Public Garden and Boston Common
After arriving back at the Public Garden, the boys decided to check out the not-so-frozen pond. Since we were almost at the car, I went ahead and let them gingerly test the ice, but of course there was at least one foot that got wet.
In any case, they managed to extract a couple of sheets of ice and watch them shatter on top of the pond. Winter in Boston can be quite cold and windy, so make sure you dress appropriately. A pair of long underwear can make a huge difference on a walk of this length.
Since we were quite hungry, we headed for the corner of the Boston Common that would take us to Chinatown and picked up a few pastries/pork buns to eat on the drive home.
What a lovely day!