date published: July 9, 2001

Summer in the city doesn’t have to mean endlessly long lines and hordes of fellow visitors at every turn. Here are the best spots to escape the hustle ’n’ bustle of the city—without ever leaving town 
by Scott Roberto
Holding court—The courtyard and arcade at the Boston Public Library, designed to resemble a Vatican palace, is an ideal spot for quiet contemplation.

An oasis, by the strict definition of the word, is a fertile place in the desert. One usually thinks of someplace a bit more tropical in temperature, not our fair city of Boston, when this word is uttered. But speaking from a purely metaphorical standpoint, an oasis can be a place to go and rest, reflect and recharge the batteries, so to speak. Using this meaning, Boston has many such places to clear the mind and replenish the spirit. So where are the places you should go when you’re tired of trails, museums, marketplaces and various historical sights? Where do you go when all you really want to do is simply enjoy a fine summer day…by doing absolutely nothing at all? Well, that’s where this handy survey comes in. From the Public Garden to Harvard Yard, the places listed on the following pages are some of the best to go in and around the city when you want to slow down and literally get away from it all. These locations are, for the most part, free from the usual crowds that gather in some of the more well-known sites in Boston. And best of all, most of these places are easy to get to, require very little planning to visit, and cost little or nothing at all. From parks to museums—even cemeteries—there’s plenty of hidden and not-so-hidden gems that allow visitors ideal places for quiet contemplation, relaxation, or even, perhaps, some good, old-fashioned daydreaming. 

Boston Common/Public Garden
Okay, so the Boston Common and the Public Garden aren’t exactly secrets, but they are both big enough that visitors can find their own little out-of-the-way niche. The starting point of Boston’s “Emerald Necklace,” a continuous strip of green space that arcs across the city, the Common slopes gently down from the golden-domed State House on Beacon Hill. Ideal for picnics, playing frisbee, or simply lazing in the sun, this venerable, verdant patch of green is the Hub’s oldest and perhaps most beloved park. At the heart of it all is the Frog Pond, which is open for wading in the summer for a quick cool-down. The Public Garden is smaller but more sheltered from the hectic city life around it by an ornate wrought-iron fence and a beautiful assortment of trees and shrubs (it is, after all, America’s oldest public botanical garden). Whether sitting quietly in the shade on one of the many benches or taking a leisurely cruise on the Lagoon in one of the famed Swan Boats (for a mere $1.75), peace and quiet are always the order of the day. Park Street station on the Green and Red Lines of the “T,” as well as Boylston on the Green Line, are located on the Common, while Arlington station on the Green Line is across from the Public Garden. 
The Public Garden

Riverway Park/Olmstead Park
These are possibly the least known jewels in the Emerald Necklace, but both are well worth the trip. Following the Muddy River, which forms the border between Boston and Brookline, these are strikingly attractive, narrow strips of green wedged between the busy River- and Jamaicaways of Beantown and the more tranquil Brookline side. Both spots offer popular biking areas and cool, shady hideaways for the less active. Named after Emerald Necklace designer Frederick Law Olmstead, the father of American landscape architecture, Olmstead Park also features two ponds: the geese-choked Leverett Pond (watch your step!) and the more secluded Wards Pond. Both parks are a short walk from the Fenway stop on the Green Line D train. 

Jamaica Pond
Jamaica Pond  
Moving farther down the Jamaicaway, we come to Jamaica Pond, once a city reservoir and established as a link in the Emerald Necklace in 1892. A beautiful area, and near-pristine considering it’s in the middle of a major city, the large, 60-acre pond contains a boathouse where rowboat and sailboat rentals are offered, and is highly trafficked by walkers, joggers and even a few anglers. But don’t let that disturb your reverie. Sun or shade, there are many sites to kick back and watch as sunlight glints off the gently rippling water.
The Arnold Arboretum
Arnold Arboretum
This 265-acre botanical garden, established in 1872 and operated by Harvard University, was basically conceived as a living museum to house just about any plant or tree that would grow in this climate. Primarily home to species from North America and Asia, the well-marked trails and walkways of the Arboretum are perfect for nature walks, the botanically curious, or anyone who appreciates the beauty of the natural world. And it’s not a bad place to show off to that special someone, either, with many out-of-the-way spots for sharing some of the lushest sights in the city. Picnicking is not allowed, however, but biking and dog-walking are. Be sure to check out the Hunnewell Building—which houses an intricate scale model of the park and sells maps for only a dollar—near the main entrance along the Jamaicaway. Note, however, that the popular Larz Anderson Bonsai Collection is closed for construction. The best way to get there is from the Forest Hills stop at the end of the Orange Line.

Franklin Park
Not as big or as famous as Olmstead’s Central Park in New York City, this 500-acre wonderland is nevertheless home to a number of recreational activities: golf, tennis, hiking, biking, jogging, ballparks and a zoo, to name a few. But we’re not here to talk about recreation—it’s all about relaxation. With plenty of open fields as well as woodlands, you’re bound to find a quiet place to sit or lie on the grass and enjoy the pastoral splendor. Like the Arboretum, Franklin Park is also accessible from the Forest Hills “T” stop.

George and Gracie on Lake Hibiscus at Forest Hills Cemetery
Forest Hills Cemetery
Boston may not be exactly Paris or New Orleans, two cities famed for their elaborate burial grounds, but Forest Hills is one of a handful of cemeteries in the Boston area that is definitely worth checking out. And what’s a better place to relax than a site that almost 100,000 people have chosen as their final resting place? Home to an abundance of lush vegetation, ornate monuments and a soothing central pond called Lake Hibiscus—complete with a pair of swans dubbed George and Gracie—you won’t even think about what lies below your feet while you’re there. Unless, of course, you’re into that sort of thing. In that case, there are many famous names to seek out, from poets e.e. cummings and Anne Sexton, to playwright Eugene O’Neill, to former Celtics star Reggie Lewis. For those still drawing breath, Forest Hills is also a great nature spot and popular for bird watching. But leave the blankets and tanning oil at home—sunbathing and picnicking are definitely not appropriate. As if it needs repeating, get there via the Forest Hills stop on the “T.”
Columbus Park in the North End

Christopher Columbus Park
Lying between the North End and downtown Boston, Columbus Park sits on Boston Harbor, just a few steps away from the New England Aquarium and Faneuil Hall Marketplace. A great place to rest between shopping at the Marketplace and dinner in Boston’s Italian enclave, the park offers a fine view of the harbor as well as striking, vine-encrusted archways, a playground and a fountain that lies next to a garden commemorating Kennedy family matriarch and born-and-bred North End-er Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy. Named after Christopher Columbus, the park also features a statue of the famous navigator carved in Italian marble.

John Joseph Moakley 
United States Courthouse

Not only is the recently re-christened federal courthouse on Fan Pier an architectural gem, but its immaculately landscaped grounds are a lovely jewel as well. With a backdrop consisting of the courthouse’s curving glass and steel wall, the surrounding park boasts a panoramic view of the inner harbor as well as beautiful Rowes Wharf across the way. Small and away from the crowds, here you can sit on a bench and literally wait for your ship to come in. Get there by going to South Station on the Red Line and crossing Fort Point Channel near Northern Avenue.
A view of the Esplanade from the Charles River
The Esplanade
One of the best areas to enjoy a view of the Charles River and Cambridge, the Esplanade is the site of many a Boston Pops concert. Several free performances are held at the Hatch Shell throughout the summer, including the big Fourth of July bash. If you’re looking for peace and quiet, though, pick a day when nothing’s happening. People-watching is a favorite pastime here, as many strollers, joggers, dog-walkers and rollerbladers populate the pathways between the green spaces when the weather is nice. Your best bet for getting there is the Charles/MGH stop on the Red Line or the Arlington stop on the Green Line.

The Museum of Fine Arts
The Tenshin-En Japanese Garden at the Museum of Fine Arts

Unlike many of the oases previously mentioned, the MFA is not free, but it does boast three outdoor garden courtyards that are usually devoid of the crowds you might encounter in some of the galleries inside. Tenshin-En, or the “Garden in the Heart of Heaven,” is a 15th-century Japanese-style zen garden that last year was honored as one of the ten best Japanese gardens in the U.S. by the Journal of Japanese Gardening. The Fraser Garden Court, the MFA’s largest, contains a central fountain, trees for shade, sculptures and flowering shrubbery. The Calderwood Courtyard is a nice spot as well, complete with a weeping willow and a 30-foot obelisk. Take the Green Line E train to the Museum stop for easy access.


Museum hideaways include the courtyard at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in the Fenway area
The Courtyard at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
The Gardner Museum, fashioned after a Renaissance-era Venetian palace, is home to one of the most breathtaking garden courtyards anywhere. It’s not a bad place to get out of the sun, either, since it’s all indoors, illuminated by the skylight above. Continuously in bloom with one seasonal flower or another, the courtyard is a heavenly place to relax after perusing the masterworks of Rembrandt, Titian and Matisse that are housed within the Museum’s walls. Located in the Fenway neighborhood, it’s a short walk from the MFA.

Boston Public Library
It doesn’t get much quieter than in a library. And it doesn’t get much more peaceful than the Boston Public Library’s courtyard and arcade, which was meant to echo a Vatican palace and was re-opened last Fall after extensive renovations. A bubbling fountain serves as the centerpiece, along with a copy of the nude Bacchanate and Infant Faun statue by Frederick MacMonnies that was once deemed a “menace to the Commonwealth” and removed after its initial installation in 1896. You’ll find nothing menacing about the courtyard these days, just a contemplative atmosphere. Get there by taking the Green Line to Copley Station.

famed Harvard Yard in Harvard Square, Cambridge
Harvard Yard
Hopping across the river to Cambridge on the Red Line to Harvard, you’ll find the home of the World’s Greatest University. You’ll also find throngs of people shopping and enjoying a variety of street performers. But once inside the walls of hallowed Harvard Yard (and, no, you can’t pahk your cah there), you’ll find nothing but shade and relative tranquility. De-populated during the summer school break, you won’t bump into too many students, but you might see a few people getting their pictures taken with the statue of John Harvard that rests there.

The Mary Baker Eddy Memorial and Tomb by Halcyon Lake at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge
Mount Auburn Cemetery
Our last stop has been the final destination for many famous Americans, including poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, former Supreme Court Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy and statesman and senator Henry Cabot Lodge. Consecrated in 1831 as America’s first garden cemetery, it has, like the Arboretum, most of its flora labeled for the curious. Four small ponds can be found there, as well as Washington Tower, where visitors can experience a spectacular view of the Boston skyline and the surrounding suburbs. Many interesting monuments decorate the grounds, and, like Forest Hills Cemetery, it is a favorite with local bird watchers. Audio tours are available, and, unlike some cemeteries, cars are welcome, although bikes, rollerblades, picnics and jokes about “seeing dead people” are not. For those not driving, the best way to get there is by a short, 1.5 mile walk down Brattle Street from Harvard Square.

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