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© Michael Ascanio Peguero

The best secret spots in Boston

Just when you thought you knew everything Boston had to offer…

Jillian Dara
Written by
Jillian Dara
Written by
Eric Grossman
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Oftentimes, we city-dwellers can get stuck in a rut visiting only our favorite bars and restaurants, and partaking in our usual go-to activities. There’s nothing wrong with this lifestyle, but it can sometimes start to feel mundane—and when that happens, you’ll need to add a little excitement to a night out or your weekend. From special, off-menu items to a half-million-dollar outdoor art gallery and more—this list will make you rethink just how well you know the best of what Boston has to offer.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in Boston

Best secret Boston spots

  • Things to do
  • South End

The Underground at Ink Block is the city’s latest triumphant effort to repurpose a forgotten space, this one tucked underneath a knotty snarl of South End/South Boston overpasses. The eight-acre park includes bike paths, boardwalks, a dog park and more than 150,000 square feet of mural work by artists from Boston, Los Angeles, New York and Puerto Rico. With a full events calendar, there’s no bad time to visit this unique space, from a graffiti festival to fitness classes and a rotating night market with a pop-up bar.

Spend an afternoon with the cooks of yesteryear: Schlesinger Library
  • Things to do
  • Harvard Sq

For the home chef, entering the Radcliffe College Schlesinger Library is like stumbling upon a thousand kitchen secrets. About one-fifth of the library’s collection is culinary related: ancient cookbooks, historical food journals and amusing commercial food pamphlets. Among the rare finds are the very first cookbook written by a woman back in 1679 and Julia Child’s private papers. This is the perfect snow day activity, as you can keep warm in the Library and learn something new—perhaps even a new favorite recipe that you can replicate that same evening.

 

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  • Restaurants
  • Steakhouse
  • Downtown

A steakhouse speakeasy? Such a magical thing does exist, tucked inside a back room inside cocktail bar JM Curley. Only the tiniest of signs points you to the doorway in back, but beyond is a Lilliputian chophouse, known as Bogie’s Place, doling out classics: caviar tray service, a wedge salad and surprisingly affordable steak cuts, adorned with the likes of bone marrow and foie gras butter. Equal love is given to the sides (sauteed spinach, bone marrow) as well as classic cocktails like the French 75 and the Ward Eight. Don’t think about making this a family affair, Bogie’s Place is adults only.

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  • Bars
  • Sports Bars
  • Seaport District
  • price 2 of 4

If you’re a gamer, you don’t need to travel far to play some of the hottest video games out there. At Kings Seaport, the Level Up BarKade presents both the newest and acclaimed retro games in its own private area away from all the commotion of the bowling lanes. The space is open to any age, so it’s also a wonderful option for families.

  • Shopping
  • Shoes
  • Fenway/Kenmore

Tucked into a side street off the heavily trafficked Mass Ave, at first glance, it looks like any other convenience store with windows lined with faded bleach bottles and paper towels. Something's odd though—it might be the too-stylish kid behind the counter or the fact that the bottles of detergent look more like decor than retail items. Step in front of the faux Snapple vending machine to activate the hidden sliding door and reveal the secret store within a store. Inside is the ultra-modern interior of Boston's flyest sneaker shop—carrying rare kicks from Air Jordan, DSPTCH and some 100 other brands—as well as deluxe streetwear and books on art and design.

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  • Restaurants
  • French
  • Back Bay
  • price 4 of 4

This newcomer restaurant to Newbury Street offers a secret lamb burger that is only available during lunch hours (11:30am—2:30pm). Priced at $23, the off-menu dish arrives piled high with toppings, including pickled onion and a secret sauce, offering an unexpected twist on the traditional bistro burger, and towering over a bed of crispy fries you won’t want to skip out on.

Pitch a tent inside the city limits: Long Wharf North
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Bill Ilott

8. Pitch a tent inside the city limits: Long Wharf North

If you’re the adventurous type but perhaps don’t have access to a car to journey further a field, get your camping fix on one of the four Boston Harbor Islands that allow overnight stays. Bumpkin, Grape, Lovells, and Peddocks provide an unexpected spot to pitch your tent, with all of the islands offering grills, picnic tables, hiking trails and at least one group camping site. Lovells has a private swimming beach, and Peddocks even has six yurts for glamping types. If this is something you’re even thinking about, be sure to reserve early, because these spots book up quicker than Cape rentals.

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  • Bars

Some of Boston’s oldest bars may have operated illegally as speakeasies during the Prohibition era, but many new establishments replicate the atmosphere, discreetly tucked away in the back of a restaurant or down an alley. You aren’t likely to stumble upon these locations on a night out, but you also don’t have to be an elite to garner access to them—check out our list of best speakeasies around town, where a low-key, well-made cocktail menu is the focus.

  • Things to do

If you’re visiting Encore Boston Harbor for a little gambling, you likely have a vested interest in the finer things in life, like the five statues on The South Lawn of the resort that are valued at half a million dollars. Wander through the international attractions, including three ethereal head sculptures part of the ‘Secret Garden’ series by Spanish artist and sculptor, Jaume Plensa, and admire the views of the harbor before rushing into the more recognized attraction at Encore Boston—its casino.

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  • Bars
  • Sports Bars
  • Fenway/Kenmore

Even if you aren’t a sports fan, you’ll adore this intimate bar that is tucked into the back wall of Fenway Park (82A Lansdowne Street) with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the nation’s oldest baseball field. Pop in for a pint during a Sox game—no reservation necessary—and experience the contagious aura of Boston sports fans.

Catch your dinner right in town: Jamaica Pond
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Dylan Pech

12. Catch your dinner right in town: Jamaica Pond

No, you still can’t fish the Charles River, and while Boston Harbor is now a safe place to cast out, those are world-weary city fish circling underneath—they’re not easily hooked by a line. Luckily, Jamaica Pond gets restocked with newbie trout and salmon every season, raising the odds of catching lunch or dinner. For those who obtain a permit, you can cast a line from shore or rent a rowboat to head out to the middle of the pond.

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  • Things to do

Dillon's Russian Steam Bath lets you dip a toe in the grand Russian tradition of schvitzing. (Don’t say we didn’t warn you: Dillons is not for the luxury-obsessed spa-goer.) For $26, you’ll sweat out the toxins in the wet sauna and steam bath; an extra 13 bucks will earn you the privilege of a thorough branch beating (aka the platza massage) and $30 gets you a 30-minute oil massage. Oh, and ladies? You’re only allowed to come on Mondays from 2—9pm for ladies’ night.

  • Shopping
  • Roxbury

City-dwelling golfers usually drive miles to hit the links, but they’re the foolish ones. The William J. Devine Course is an 18-hole course located smack dab in the middle of Franklin Park—and is also the second oldest public course in the country (Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx holds the number-one spot). The par-70 acre course features well-maintained greens, picturesque ponds, pretension-free staff members and a clubhouse complete with restaurant, bar and outdoor seating (keep an eye out for the grill sometimes set up at the end of the 6th hole). We know we said pretension free, but just note that when you play at Franklin Park, you’re on an Olympic-worthy course!

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Take a nature hike…before it goes back underwater: Squantum to Thompson Island Walk
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Stephanie Rogers

15. Take a nature hike…before it goes back underwater: Squantum to Thompson Island Walk

This activity may require a little planning and keeping an eye on the seasonal tides, but we’d bet even most longtime residents know nothing about this ephemeral beach walk, so the bragging rights are worth it. When the tide is low, a wide, flat sandbar appears in the Boston Harbor that allows you to walk right from Quincy’s Squaw Rock to Thompson Island, a largely private island that’s open to the public on weekends (you can also walk the perimeter at other times of the week) or you can choose to join a guided walk. The city and harbor views are second to none.

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • South Boston
  • price 2 of 4

GrandTen Distillery is one of our local success stories, cousins Matthew Nuernberger and Spencer McMinn converting an iron foundry into an incubator for small-batch spirits. The bar is an extension of the distillery’s can-do attitude, a crowdfunded space in the front room that’s open Thursday through Sunday. Walk through a garage door into the in-the-know space, where the creative cocktail menu—creative in part because our draconian liquor laws only allow usage of spirits distilled onsite—is written on a chalkboard-painted concrete column. Shuffleboard, foosball and throwback board games invite you to make a night of it as you choose from their list of small batch spirits, including rum, vodka, brandy and gin as well as their specialty creations like Craneberry, white rum infused with Cape Cod cranberries.

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  • Things to do
  • Downtown

The Observation Deck at Independence Wharf is a semi-hidden, 14th-floor deck that grants you terrific views of the harbor and the surrounding buildings. Bring your binoculars and your ID (you can’t go up without it), and get ready to check out the Harbor Islands and watch planes land at Logan Airport. When you’re finished taking in your surroundings, ground yourself at one of the seaport neighborhood’s noteworthy restaurants.

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