The South End’s two parallel arteries, Tremont and Washington Streets, are at the center of the area’s thriving food and drink scenes. It also has a rich cache of culture, taking in the likes of the Boston Center for the Arts and the domed structure of the Boston Ballet headquarters. In recent years the area south of Washington Street, known as SoWa, has exploded with showrooms and studios—notably, the converted warehouse at 450 Harrison Avenue, which houses myriad artists’ studios and exhibition spaces. Small shops, selling everything from kids’ gear and pet accoutrements to fashion and chic home accessories, are dotted throughout the neighborhood. Once you’ve had your fill of the South End, find more to do by checking out our guides to the best restaurants in Boston, best live music in Boston, and best museums in Boston.
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Where to go in the South End
Since 1947, this unassuming South End spot has been the premier showcase for Boston jazz talent, including plenty of students from Berklee, the Boston Conservatory and the New England Conservatory of Music. The crowd is a colorblind mix that usually includes multiple generations of music enthusiasts. The drinks are strong and reasonably priced. Nightly live music includes sets of blues, jazz, and/or funk. No matter the day of the week, it's invariably jazzy, often inventive and always without a cover charge.
As the city’s premier artistic hub, the 450 Harrison building is a veritable hive of artistic activity in the back of the South End. Many artists open their doors a few times a month for open studios events where they greet locals and visitors. First Fridays is the flagship event; held each month, more than 200 artists, galleries, shops and showrooms welcome everyone from art aficionados to afterwork activity-seekers for an evening of art, wine, and mingling.
A wall of record sleeves, graffiti-covered restrooms and a low budget, laid-back feel make this place a favorite with locals, passing bike messengers, and people from all over town who appreciate a cheap drink or two. Friendly bartenders and an eclectic vibe add to the kind of atmosphere that can only be found at a place that keeps a fake Christmas tree on the bar all year long. The Delux, in all its kitschy glory, is a hidden treasure.
The rustic cubbyhole of a storefront Toro occupies is as jam-packed and convivial as ever, with revelers passing porróns of Cava around; day-one staples like grilled street corn and quince-glazed duck drumsticks are still breaking the hearts of every first-timer. Its success has wrought changes aplenty for chef-partners Jamie Bissonette and Ken Oringer, who’ve gone on to open an offshoot in New York (not to mention an equally celebrated South End trattoria, Coppa).
Searching for a quick fix of prosecco and bivalves? There may be no better option than Barbara Lynch’s subterranean South End eatery, which carries a daily selection of more than a dozen different east and west coast oysters. The cooked classics are all here, including fried Ipswich clams and a pair of lauded lobster sandwiches: a classic lobster roll and a lobster BLT. When the weather allows, the backyard patio is a popular spot for alfresco slurping.
It’s polished, chic, and packed with designer-clad South Enders swirling wine goblets and nibbling on pâté…it’s a butcher shop? Yes, indeed—as well as a cosy soapstone-and-slate wine bar. Owner Barbara Lynch stocks the display cases with every delicacy, from pigs’ heads and whole hams to quails’ eggs and truffle butter, and fills the short menu with equally delicious, simple fare. House-made charcuterie and antipasti can be washed down with a selection of boutique wines.
The pie-slingers think differently at this South End gem, flame-roasting the pizza to produce the signature charred crust. Artfully-composed pies fit in perfectly with the stylish neighborhood. Also popular is the rotating list of homemade ice creams; as you wait for a table, you’ll see local after local come in for a pie and a pint to go.
For its seasonal cocktail menu, the South End subterranean pseudo-speakeasy preps classics (tikis, Collins) with house-made cordials, juices and infusions. Those looking to impress can splurge on one of the “black card” cocktails; packed with pricey ingredients, these run up to $100 each. Food comes by way of a rotating kitchen, where every 6 months a new restaurant group comes in to dish out bold, creative plates.
In a stylish South End space, restaurateurs Chris Coombs and Brian Piccini offer their unique take on the modern steakhouse experience. The expansive menu kicks off with raw bar items and hot and cold starters, and contrarians can skip the prime steaks and chops, not to mention seafood dishes, in favor of the "rarely celebrated" section. Here, diners can sample chicken-fried sweetbreads, grilled marinated beef heart, and tongue that the kitchen brines, braises, and then grills.
Opened by a mother-daughter duo, this South End boutique is the perfect place for ladies of all ages to try on girly wares from hard-to-find designers, with an emphasis on proprietor favorite Lauren Moffatt. Tucked away just off the main drag of Tremont Street, the shop’s rustic, whimsical decor is positively enthralling.
Boston brunchers know that the South End is the place to be every Sunday morning, and the classic tastes of the Buttery rarely disappoint. (Lunch and dinner prove popular as well.) Enter through the bakery and coffee shop and descend into the grotto-like dining room, where cozy banquettes and colorful bud vases decorate the fireplace-warmed space. The continental menu is small but sufficient, with options that range from braised beef cheeks and eggplant parmigiana to house-made veggie burgers. Be sure to order a side of fries—some of the city’s best.
Need further proof that the South End is London writ small? A visit to this tucked-away gem will transport you to Notting Hill. Andrea Halliday’s full-service floral enclave charms with seasonal arrangements (flowering branches, fringed poppies, peonies) as well as vertical planters and flower chandeliers.
From the folks behind The Gallows, this donut spot has won legions of loyalists thanks to its new-wave flavors. The ovens churn out a kaleidoscope of donuts daily—from sesame sriracha and salted toffee to blackberry lavender—delighting local Instagrammers.
Landscape architect Lindsey Swett will inspire your inner gardener. Her South End store stocks not just cut and potted flowers, but seeds, succulents, hanging moss, outdoor decor and all the tools necessary to cultivate your own city plot. Floral arranging and terrarium classes assure your home a sophisticated horticultural pastiche; Swett will also help you propagate the perfect window box.
A colorful mix of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes are served throughout the day, catering to South End residents in search of a quick, healthy meal. Warm, thin flatbreads are used to scoop up flavorful dips and spreads made from local, organic ingredients. A customizable menu ensures customers can combine whichever flavors they like. Salads and grain bowls delight the medical professionals who pop in for a healthy meal.