Boston is often considered “a city of neighborhoods,” each with its own personality and attractions. The North End is where you go for pasta and cannoli, Beacon Hill for brownstones and swan boats, and Kenmore Square for Fenway Franks and the Citgo sign.
These Boston meccas are worthy of their immediate recognition, but they are by no means all that the city has to offer. Lesser-known, but no less deserving, are the smaller neighborhoods just slightly outside the destination giants. One of my favorites is Somerville’s Union Square, between Cambridge’s Inman Square, and Somerville’s Davis Square.
Located at the intersection of Somerville Ave and Washington Street, Union Square takes a bit of extra work to get to, but if you go hungry or in search of a little history, your efforts will be rewarded. At the heart of the square is a brick-paved pavilion, which hosts the weekly Farmers’ Market from Memorial Day through Columbus Day, as well as other special events during the year, such as the annual Fluff Fest in September. Fluff was invented in Union Square in 1917, and if you like the sweet sticky stuff you won’t want to miss this day-long celebration of all things Fluff, including Fluff-infused menus at local restaurants, and a Fluff bake-off.
Surrounding the pavilion is a cluster of niche food markets, restaurants, and bars. If you want to eat out there are options spanning all price points and appetites. On the lighter side, you’ll find stylish cafes serving up scones, soups, and sandwiches. For dinner you’ll have your pick of several bars and restaurants serving up heartier options like charcoal chicken, burgers, burritos and Thai tapas—some with live music or outdoor seating during the warmer months.
If you are eating in, you can fill your bag with groceries from one of Union Square’s numerous food markets. There are shops specializing in everything from Asian, Brazilian, Salvadoran, Indian, and Italian foods, to one shop that features only locally produced items.
The residential streets northeast of the square and up the hill towards Highland Ave are full of lovely old Victorian homes, many dressed in bright colors with peaked gabled roofs and wide porches. On Munroe Street you’ll find Prospect Hill Park and its replica tower. Both were built in 1903 to commemorate the site where General George Washington ordered one of the first raisings of the new “Grand Union” flag on January 1, 1776. Its presence was met with wild approval and gun salutes from the 4,000 Revolutionary War Continental Army troops encamped on the hill beneath it.
Today you can visit Prospect Hill Park and climb the steps of the tower to take in sweeping views of the Boston skyline. The site and its place in history are also celebrated with a larger-than-life mural in the square itself.
Union Square might not make it to the pages of the average Boston guidebook, but a true “city of neighborhoods” is the sum of all its parts, both large and small. Especially now with the MBTA plans to expand the green line through Medford by the end of 2014, Somerville’s Union Square will have its own stop . . . and be one to watch!
For even more information on Union Square you can visit http://unionsquaremain.org