On any given day, Beacon Hill’s brick sidewalks are dotted with camera-toting tourists. It is one of the oldest and most historic neighborhoods in the city, home to the gold-domed State Capital and one soon-to-be Secretary of State, and it’s a must-see on any travel itinerary. For some Bostonians, the Hill is almost too perfect, a life-size model of a historic city, guarded by a zealously preservation-minded civic association.
Between the gas lamps, the cobblestone streets, and the slate-roofed Federal style townhouses, the neighborhood does appear to have been built by a team of set designers. In these streets, the world’s perception of Boston as a patrician, bookish, history-minded place is distilled into something like proof. But there’s no denying its beauty and romance. I’ve lived in Boston for just about 15 years and a walk through these streets always makes me fall in love with my home all over again. Come along…
If you’re driving in from out of town, drive down Charles Street to see if you can park at a metered space (I usually have good luck). Alternately, you can park at the underground Boston Common Garage. If you’re traveling by T, get off at the Charles/MGH stop.
There’s lots to see on Charles Street, the main commercial drag…
…but I like to start on the side streets. It’s a compact-enough area that you can’t get lost or wander too far, and you’ll come across all kinds of unexpected treasures. For example: The homeowners of Beacon Hill don’t have large yards to maintain, so they focus all their effort on window boxes, urns, and small pocket gardens. A whole cottage industry of floral designers is kept afloat by this one zip code. This makes for abundant eye candy on every side street.
Even the doorways are beautiful.
Notice the purple glass in the windows below? In the early 1800s, glass windowpanes containing excess manganese were installed all over the neighborhood. Over time, the element began to turn purple as it reacted with sunlight. The faulty panes are now something of a status symbol.
Some of the grandest homes can be found on Mount Vernon Street (which, incidentally, is a citywide magnet on Halloween, famous for its over-the-top decorations).
Louisburg Square, a private square bordered by early 19th Century Georgian houses, is currently home to John Kerry and Teresa Heinz, and the former address of William Dean Howells and the Alcott family (including daughter Louisa May).
Time to get back to Charles Street with its charming shops, cafes, and restaurants. For a glass of wine and delicious tapas, I love to stop at Bin 26 Enoteca.
For lunch, I go to Beacon Hill Bistro at the far end of Charles, near the Public Garden. It has the look and feel of a Parisian eatery.
For shopping, you can peruse toys and clothes at The Red Wagon…
…buy the perfect hostess gift and cute jewelry at Flat of the Hill…
Last of all, I have to share my favorite house in all of Boston, Sunflower Castle, located at 130 Mount Vernon Street, at the corner of River Street. This Queen Anne gem is the former home of the artist Gertrude Beals Bourne and the architect Frank Bourne, who gave the house its name. It is now on the market for a mere $4,495,000.