Across the Charles River from Boston lies Cambridge, Massachusetts, a city famous for elite academic institutions, Harvard and MIT. But in addition to those vaunted, ivy-covered buildings, you’ll find pedestrian-friendly squares filled with culture, history and the area’s best food and drink.
Les Sablons, a relative newcomer, is a cozy place to drink Sherry, perry or a glass of wine from a tightly selected Old World list. You’ll also find an impressive number of sour beers and English ales. If that seems slightly old school, Café ArtScience is the opposite. Billed as a “culture lab and café,” it serves cocktails that might be clarified, foamed or flash-frozen, but always spotlight quality ingredients. For a different kind of fun, try A4Cade. Drink wine by the can or magnum, or have a tiki drink in between rounds of skeeball. Nearby, tucked into a hotel, is bar-insider hangout Bambara Kitchen & Bar, where you can close your evening with a glass of bubbly.
Start with pastry from Sofra Bakery & Café, a casual, Mediterranean-inspired spot where Maura Kilpatrick, one of the area’s top pastry chefs, turns out date-turmeric rolls and sesame-pistachio pop tarts. More global eats await at Little Donkey, where you’ll find Turkish manti (meat-filled dumplings), matzo-ball ramen, biryani and pupusas, as interpreted by James Beard Award-winning Chef Jamie Bissonnette.
For something closer to home, try Loyal Nine, where dishes made with local ingredients are inspired by regional history, like bluefish on brown bread and crispy-fried beans. The wine list is from independent Old World grower-producers; you’ll find quirky selections in a range of prices. If seafood is your heart’s desire, go to The Hourly Oyster House, in a former bank. Slurp oysters while you decide between the lobster pot pie, grilled lobster and lobster bisque. It’s connected via secret tunnel to its sister restaurant, Russell House Tavern, where you can munch on smoked lamb-belly meatballs.
There’s no shortage of museums in the area, but if you only visit one, it should be the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology. You’ll find collections of weaponry, ceremonial masks, musical instruments and more from around the globe, spanning 10,000 years of history. It’s one of the largest museums of its kind, with 1.2 million artifacts in its collection. Not quite as ancient is Hasty Pudding Theatricals, the third-oldest theater company in the world. Pick up tickets to the all-male burlesque show. If the outdoors call, you don’t have to go far. A rental from Charles River Canoe & Kayak will give you a chance to row alongside the scullers and take in a view of Cambridge from the water.
Harvard Square, once gritty and punk, is now the center of the city’s shopping scene. While most of the major mall stores are here, history remains, and the literary character of the Ivy League creeps in. Housed in a grand 1925 building, The Coop (pronounced like the structure in which chickens live) serves as the college bookstore for both MIT and Harvard. You can stock up on merch for either school, or just peruse the two stories of books. Grolier Poetry Book Shop, opened in 1926, has been a source of independent publications since its launch. More visually driven readers can geek out at comic book shop Million Year Picnic, which has a comprehensive collection of graphic novels and periodicals. If all that reading works up an appetite, pop upstairs to Formaggio Kitchen to buy some rare and cave-aged cheese, or venture to nearby Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe, a Square institution packed to the gills with gourmet international snacks and wine.
4 Hour Getaway
A short drive will bring you to Walden Pond, where you can swim, go for a walk or take in writer/philosopher Henry David Thoreau’s cabin in the woods. Steeped in history, the surrounding area includes the Minute Man National Historical Park, where the first battle of the Revolutionary War was fought, and Orchard House, the preserved Civil War-era home of Louisa May Alcott that was the setting for her famed novel, Little Women.