5 Great Neighborhoods in Boston
Learn about the flagship communities of South and East Boston, Jamaica Plain, Davis Square and Brookline, as well as nearby neighborhoods.
Boston is a small city. Its suburbs — Cambridge, Somerville and Brookline — are seamlessly part of city life. Residents constantly cross city lines on subways or the bridges that link Boston with Cambridge and Somerville, which lie across the Charles River from downtown. Condo prices in some of Boston’s core neighborhoods of South Boston, Back Bay and South End have become out of reach for most, reaching into the millions of dollars.
Young professionals suddenly discovered South Boston early in the decade. They flocked into this waterfront neighborhood, moving next door to second- or third-generation Irish and Polish residents. They drove up property values, but prices still remain more reasonable than prices in the nearby financial district and Back Bay. The housing stock is chock full of dressed-up working-class row houses and condominiums. But South Boston's prettiest amenity is its waterfront, a one-mile-plus stretch of waterfront beach ending at Fort Independence, a triangle of land jutting into Boston Harbor. Bostonians call it Castle Island, and they go there to walk their dogs, eat a hot dog or watch planes land across the bay at Logan Airport.
Also Consider: Charlestown
South Boston and Charlestown are filled with young professionals and appeal to those who can't afford Back Bay or Beacon Hill, yet want to be near downtown.
Jamaica Plain is hip, lefty and homey at the same time. This neighborhood also gentrified during Boston's housing boom earlier in the decade. Professionals moved in droves to this diverse neighborhood, with a large lesbian population, as well as Latinos and physicians working at the nearby Longwood medical area. The housing stock is a mix of grand, old Victorians, triple-deckers and single family homes. Jamaica Plain’s green space characterizes this neighborhood. Jamaica Pond is a focal point for locals and is perfect for jogging, dog walking and rowing. In the 1700s, wooden pipes carried water from the pond to Boston proper. Arnold Arboretum is also a draw.
Also Consider: Roslindale
Both neighborhoods are outside the bustle of downtown and offer a greener, more leisurely lifestyle.
Urban pioneers take note. Parts of East Boston have become gentrified but much of the neighborhood retains its longtime population, including Italians. Many live on Eagle Hill or in the secluded Orient Heights section. It is also a destination for immigrants from Guatemala, El Salvador and Brazil. Pupusas, fluffy tortillas filled with meat, beans and other goodies, are abundant. The urban housing stock is filled with triple-deckers and two-family homes. With the opening of the Ted Williams Tunnel to the airport, the tunnel connecting downtown to East Boston and the airport has become a much smoother ride.
Also Consider: Winthrop
These contiguous communities share access to the harbor, the airport and great views. Yet prices, while shocking to anyone outside the area, are not as steep as downtown.
Davis Square straddles Cambridge and Somerville. It’s one of the last stops on the Red Line. The neighborhood burst onto the scene in the late 1990s and never looked back. Utne Reader named Davis Square one of its hippest neighborhoods. Residents are a lively mix of Tufts University students, empty-nesters, professionals and aging residents who may be recognized by their Birkenstocks. It’s a dense, urban neighborhood with few open spaces but loads of restaurants and distinctive shops. The square has become so popular that chain eateries are moving in.
Also Consider: Ball Square in Somerville
Somerville's housing stock is, well, unattractive. Aluminum siding on two-families and triple-deckers is pervasive. But professionals manage to spruce it up. The city has prospered amid the spillover of Cambridge's high-tech and biotech boom next door.
Brookline might as well be another Boston neighborhood, rather than its own city. Coolidge Corner, Brookline's beating heart, is on the Green Line a few stops from downtown. The city's stereotype is of a Jewish settlement. While there is a large Jewish population (and stores selling mezuzah and other specialty items), the condos developed in Brookline's brick, post-War apartment buildings attract young professionals, and its spacious homes attract the wealthy. Coolidge Corner is the type of community that can keep alive a quaint independent bookstore. Also, there are loads of upscale ethnic restaurants, from Japanese and Turkish to Indian.
Also Consider: Allston-Brighton in Boston
Both neighborhoods offer a combination urban-suburban feel. Brookline is upscale, while Allston-Brighton is a mixed bag of lovely, hidden neighborhoods amid the clog of college students who live there.