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View to a thrill
Taking in Boston from every angle

Whether you’re a newcomer to New England or a native, there are always new things to see and new ways to see them. Have you looked out at the Boston Harbor Islands from the historic Custom House? Gazed back at Boston’s skyline from one of those islands? Or from the Naval Yard in Charlestown, where the USS Constitution is docked? All these views and many more can be yours, whether you want to take in Boston from the waterfront, from the Harbor, from the Left Bank of the Charles River (a/k/a Cambridge), from the river itself, or from up above.

From the waterfront

There’s something symbiotic about eating seafood and looking at the water, and four veteran spots for doing just that are just across the Fort Point Channel from downtown Boston: Anthony’s Pier 4, Jimmy’s Harborside, No-Name Restaurant, and the Barking Crab. Both Anthony’s and Jimmy’s are large-scale — large on seafood, with large windows looking out on Boston Harbor. Anthony’s is famous for popovers and steamed lobster, Jimmy’s for chowder. Both require proper dress for dinner and are quite pricey. In sharp contrast are No-Name and the Barking Crab. The latter is a city clam shack, located almost under the Northern Avenue Bridge, with traditional clambake fare and a view of the boats hauling in lobster traps. No-Name has communal tables with terrific fried seafood, great homemade pies, and a view of Fish Pier.

Closer to downtown are several wharves — including Commercial, Long, Central, India, and Rowes — from which boats and ferries leave to cruise into the Harbor. But for landlubbers, the New England Aquarium is right on Central Wharf, and it offers a great perspective on the Harbor’s busy comings and goings.

Another building with a view of the Harbor (and more) is the Custom House, which at one time sat right on the water, before landfill created Atlantic Avenue and the wharves. It became Boston’s first skyscraper when, in 1915, a 495-foot tower was added to the existing 1847 Greek Revival structure. Although Bostonians were initially appalled by the eclectic mix of architectural styles, they have grown fond of this distinctive landmark, with its 22-foot-wide tower clock. The City of Boston bought it from the feds in 1987, but in 1997, the Custom House went condo, with the building now owned by the Marriott Corporation. Nonetheless, there are free public tours available at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., with spectacular vistas from a 360-degree observation deck at the top of the tower.

A different waterfront scene inhabits Columbia Point, where the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum is sited. From the 9.5-acre park surrounding the library, you see the spread of the Boston skyline. The building itself, designed in 1979 by I.M. Pei, is a blend of soaring glass and concrete, and its 50-foot-high windows give an unobstructed and far-reaching view of the rolling ocean.

From the harbor

There are many ways to get out onto the ocean itself. One of the simplest is to take the MBTA ferry to the historic Charlestown Naval Yard, now a national park, where the oldest commissioned ship, the USS Constitution, is berthed. The ship offers free tours daily, and the Constitution Museum next to it is well worth a visit. But be sure to take a gander at the skyline as you ferry out to "Old Ironsides," as well as on deck.

Another way to visit the Constitution is via the Massachusetts Bay Lines’ replicated steamship boats. The 55-minute narrated tour introduces you to the sights and sounds of historic Boston. Tours leave Rowes Wharf every day on the hour and 25 minutes after the hour, from noon to 6 p.m.

Traveling southeast within Boston Harbor, you’ll reach the Boston Harbor Islands, 34 of them, of varying sizes and topography. In 1970, the state began to acquire the remaining privately held islands to unite them into Boston Harbor Islands State Park, and in 1996, the islands became a national recreation area, administered by the National Park Service. Several have glacial drumlins (oblong hills); they range in size from less than an acre to 214 acres.

Georges Island, seven miles from downtown Boston, is reached by a 45-minute ferry ride from Long Wharf, and free water taxis take you from there to Bumpkin, Gallops, Grape, Lovells, and Peddocks. A special guided tour will take you to Little Brewster, site of the Boston Light, the oldest lighthouse station in the country (not the oldest tower); it’s still operated by the Coast Guard Reserve. The tour leaves from the University of Massachusetts, next to the JFK Library, and from Sand Pier, next to the Moakley Courthouse, Thursday through Sunday at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. This three-and-a-half-hour trip is worth every penny because the rangers are so knowledgeable about the natural, political, and geological history of the islands, and because you have the chance to climb to the top of the lighthouse and take in views encompassing a wide expanse of harbor and sky.

As you come back to shore, you’ll notice the old rusting pedestrian bridge over Fort Point Channel; the Custom House Tower; the distinctive arch of the red-brick Boston Harbor Hotel; and, off to the right, the Bunker Hill Monument and the new Zakim Bridge. Scanning the horizon in the opposite direction, past the channel, you’ll see the flapping sails of the new Boston Convention and Exhibition Center; the World Trade Center; Harpoon Brewery; the Black Falcon Terminal, where all the cruise ships dock; the colorful gas tank with its rainbow design by Corita Kent; and the JFK Library.

Other Boston Harbor tours are run by Boston Harbor Cruises, which offers a 90-minute historic sightseeing cruise, a trip to the USS Constitution, and a sunset cruise. For a two-hour sail among the Boston Harbor Islands, try out the Liberty Fleet of Tall Ships. They also leave from Long Wharf, and offer lunch, afternoon, sunset, dinner, and Sunday-brunch sails. One of the newest vessels touring the Harbor is the Lexington, an authentic side-wheel paddleboat, operated by the Charles Riverboat Company.

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Issue Date: July 23 - 29, 2004
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