The spring thaw in New England tends to be a whole-body experience. After months of suffering through frigid temps and blistering snow fall, even a day of bright sun and tepid heat is enough to send city dwellers out into local parks in nothing more than shorts and a t-shirt. Needless to say, when it's finally springtime, with sun beginning to peek out and temperatures on the rise, Bay Staters sure know how to take advantage. Here are a few of our favorite ways to welcome the return of blossoming buds, late sunsets and the promise of many months without a snowflake.
CATCH A SOX GAME
The Boys of Summer actually get their season started in early April. But even though it's a long six months before Red Sox fans really start to contemplate the end of the hometown team's 86-year-old championship draught, you'd better believe this city of rabid sports fans will sell out storied Fenway Park for every single home game. If you have trouble scoring tickets to a game while in the Hub (see our tips on page 23), you can still tour historic Fenway Park daily up until two hours before game time. The history-steeped ballpark-the oldest active stadium in the Major Leagues-is a must see for even the casual sports fan.
EXPLORE THE EMERALD NECKLACE
Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted did us Bostonians a huge favor when he sought to create a ring of greenspaces around Boston. Because of him, we have an abundance of parkland to explore when the weather is right. The actual necklace is comprised of six parks: the Back Bay Fens, the Riverway, Olmsted Park, Jamaica Pond, Arnold Arboretum and Franklin Park. They stretch five miles from the Charles River to Dorchester, and if you're up for it, the Boston Park Rangers will take you on a walk through all six parks. Not to be missed, but not technically part of the Emerald Necklace, is historic Boston Common and the Public Garden, the nation's first botanical garden.
3 RIDE THE SWAN BOATS
Perhaps the most toy-like and beloved fixture in the Public Garden are the world-famous Swan Boats. Owned and operated by the Paget family since 1877, the stately paddle wheel-propelled vehicles take passengers on short jaunts around the central Lagoon. The trip, one of the best bargains for visitors in town (only $2.50 for adults, $1 for kids), is unquestionably the most relaxing way to take in the Garden and the surrounding skyline.
4 SEE WILDLIFE AT FRANKLIN PARK ZOO
The Franklin Park Zoo, founded in 1911 as part of Frederick Law Olmsted's legendary Emerald Necklace, is home to more than 200 species of animals-including giraffes, lions and kangaroos. And spring tends to be the time of year when that number increases as the park welcomes the birth of new furry friends.
5 EAT HOT DOGS AT CASTLE ISLAND
William J. Day Blvd., South Boston, 617-268-5744. This free, family-friendly destination is perfect for spending a sunny afternoon. Kids will love exploring Fort Independence or cavorting on the playground, while the whole family can enjoy chowing down on the famous foot-long hot dogs served at Sullivan's Snack Bar. After the kids work up an appetite running around, order up enough eats for the whole gang and dig in while watching planes take off and land at Logan Airport across the Harbor. Or make like a local by getting in some fishing while basking in the afternoon sun.
6 LICK AN ICE CREAM CONE
352 Newbury St., 617-236-1666; 659 Centre St., Jamaica Plain, 617-524-6740. Bostonians eat more ice cream per capita than anyone else in the country, so it's no surprise that the Hub boasts some of the best ice cream parlors of any city. Try the homemade, hometown flavors of JP Licks, which include such offerings as Cherry Garciaparra-vanilla ice cream with chocolate chips and cherries, named after Red Sox short stop Nomar Garciaparra. We also like the fact that the Newbury Street locale provides some great people-watching opportunities.
7 TOUR THE CITY
Springtime is when citywide tour groups kick their sightseeing excursions into high gear, offering visitors a guided spin through town, be it by car, boat or on foot. If you're tuckered out and want to rest your feet, consider Old Town Trolley tours, which drives visitors to all the big sites and allows you to get on and off as you like; or board the amphibious vehicles of the Boston Duck Tours and see both land and waterfront landmarks. If you want to exercise while sightseeing, try Boston By Foot (call 617-367-2345 for more information), which gives guided, themed walks, including one on the Victorian sites of the Back Bay and another on Boston's underground featuring our historic subway lines and the Big Dig.
8 BIKING ON THE CHARLES RIVER ESPLANADE
The Esplanade is perfect for all sorts of outdoor activities, including kayaking, sailing and jogging. But the picturesque, tree-lined asphalt paths that run along the Charles River are especially great for bicycling. Try renting a bike from Back Bay Bikes (366 Commonwealth Ave., 617-247-2336).
9 WANDER THE SCULPTURE GARDENS
The Victorian landscaping of Forest Hills Cemetery provides an elegant backdrop for its nationally recognized 19th- and 20th-century memorial sculptures. You can visit the final resting spots of everyone from Anne Sexton and e.e. cummings to playwright Eugene O'Neill in this 275-acre cemetery founded in 1848. Be sure to also check out the recently-opened contemporary sculpture path with its ever-changing free exhibits. Walking tours are offered Sundays at 2 p.m. for $8. Nearby Lincoln, Mass. is home to another striking outdoor sculpture park at the DeCordova Museum. The 35 acres of rolling woodlands and lawns boast an exhibition of large-scale, contemporary American sculpture that can be explored free of charge.
10 CHALLENGE THE CHESS MASTER
Au Bon Pain, 1360 Massachusetts Ave., Harvard Square, Cambridge, 617-497-9797. Every May for more than two decades now, chess master and Harvard dropout Murray Turnbull takes his place at the table nearest the sidewalk in front of the Au Bon Pain in Harvard Square. For $2 a game, you can attempt to check mate him. We wish you luck, but our money's on Murray.
CATCH A STREET PERFORMANCE
No one wants to be indoors on a nice day. So forego those big, pre-summer blockbusters in favor of the talented street performers who showcase their acts at Quincy Market and Harvard Square. Expect to see anything from a magic show to choreographed breakdancing routines, all for free-or for whatever you can toss in their hats at the end of the show. Weekends are the best time to catch a wide array of acts, but performers can usually be found any day of the week.
12 CRUISE BOSTON HARBOR
Springtime weather may be too tempermental for a day at the beach, but it's the perfect time to get out on the water. Boston Harbor Cruises (One Long Wharf, 617-227-4321) offers various tours of Boston Harbor, including visits to the harbor islands and the U.S.S. Constitution. If you have the time to spare, they also offer that New England favorite-whale watching.
13 SHOP 'TILL YOU DROP ON NEWBURY STREET
If you're looking to update your fair weather wardrobe, look no further than Newbury Street. The Rodeo Drive of Boston features an array of fashionable boutiques, ranging from Urban Outfitters and NikeTown to Chanel and Louis Boston. And best of all, instead of being cooped up inside a mall while you shop, you can be out under the sun, strolling past the brownstones of the Back Bay.
14 ENJOY A PEDICURE
The Daryl Christopher Salon & Day Spa, 37 Newbury St., 617-424-0250. While you're on Newbury Street, you can reuinite with the feet you've hidden inside heavy boots all winter and get ready for sandal season with a spa pedicure. Sit back and leave the scrubbing, filing and toenail painting to the experts and, before you know it, you'll be ready to slip into those strappy Manolo Blaniks you shelled out all that dough for.
15 EAT AND DRINK AT AN OUTDOOR CAFE
Newbury Street is also a great destination for outdoor dining. Several of its eateries-including Thai, Japanese and Spanish options-have patio seating. Fashionistas flock to the French bistro cuisine of Armani Cafe (214 Newbury St., 617-437-0909) while the huge, delectable salads at Stephanie's (190 Newbury St., 617-236-0990) always draw a crowd. If you would rather just sip a drink while sitting outside, Sonsie (327 Newbury St., 617-351-2500), with its French doors that open up to the sidewalk, is a good bet, as is the Otherside Cafe (407 Newbury St., 617-536-9477), especially popular with the younger crowd.
16 WATCH THE SUNSET FROM THE TOP OF THE PRUDENTIAL
One of the best places to soak in the late evening sunsets of spring is from the Skywalk Observatory atop the Prudential Tower or at the Top of the Hub restaurant on the 52nd floor. You can dine on the restaurant's New England fusion menu or sit in the lounge and listen to live jazz while sipping cocktails. From either spot you can't miss the glorious panoramic view of Boston aglow with the vibrant colors of the setting sun.
One of the best ways to enjoy Beantown may be on two wheels. You can bike past city sights with the wind whipping across your face, paying no mind to traffic jams that plague the car-bound. Of course, with cobblestone streets, potholes and a streetplan that dates back to the Revolutionary War, biking around Boston can serve up some rough terrain. If you'd prefer a more structured route, most bike shops sell maps of the state's urban and rural biking paths, such as the previously mentioned Charles River Esplanade. Or combine some sightseeing with your ride by enlisting the services of Boston Bike Tours & Rentals (refer to listing, page 52). A knowledgeable and, from what we hear, entertaining guide leads you on one of several different tours of Boston-area sights. Specialized tours follow Paul Revere's ride out to Lexington on the Minuteman Bikeway. Or try the Bike, Beach and Brew tour which takes riders along Boston's waterfront and concludes with a visit to the Harpoon Brewery. For those without wheels, the company offers bike rentals at a reasonable price, as do the following shops: