date published: February 8, 2010

Panorama’s guide to beating the winter blues in Boston
by Josh B. Wardrop

When Shakespeare had Richard III launch into A soliloquy with the words “Now is the winter of our discontent,” he probably had no idea he’d just invented the concept of seasonal affective disorder. Sure, it’s easy to get a little down in the mouth when the temperatures plummet and the snow starts piling up, but the truth is that winter doesn’t have to be some arduous task to be completed before the sunshine of spring comes around again. Here in Boston—where folks can’t wait to tell you tales of the Blizzard of ’78 once the first flakes fly—there are actually plenty of fun things to do when the mercury is low. Don’t believe us? Try a few of the following wintertime activities, and you’ll be humming “Winter Wonderland” before you know it.

The Great Skate
Whether you’re perfecting that double axel or just trying to stay on your feet, ice-skating is a favorite winter pastime for young, old and all ages in between. Lace up your skates and head over to Boston Common Frog Pond, where outdoor skating is guaranteed even on milder winter days thanks to the rink’s underground refrigeration system. For a quainter, more old- fashioned ice-skating experience, try the ice at Brookline’s picturesque Larz Anderson Park, or hit the rink at the Charles Hotel in Cambridge, where you can skate up a storm before hitting Henrietta’s Table for hot chocolate or grabbing a cocktail at Noir to warm up afterwards.

Fireside Dining
Ever since some enterprising homo-erectus man rubbed two sticks together and discovered how to spark a flame, mankind has had a passion for dining while a warm and toasty fire crackles in the background. This winter, savor the romance and rustic charm of fireside dining at restaurants like The Warren Tavern (2 Pleasant St., Charlestown, 617-241-8142), Stephanie’s on Newbury, Post 390 and (duh) The Fireplace (1634 Beacon St., Brookline, 617-975-1900), all top-notch eateries that offer innovative dishes along with charming ambiance.

A Tropical Getaway
While many of the animals at Boston’s picturesque Franklin Park Zoo remain on exhibit outdoors the whole year long, not every animal lover is as hardy a soul (to be fair, most of them don’t have full-body fur coats like, for example, Christopher the lion). That’s why the indoor, fully heated Tropical Forest is such a pleasant oasis for fans of exotic fauna like tapirs, lemurs, ocelots, birds and the pygmy hippopotamus. The star attractions in the TF, though, are Franklin Park’s fascinating family of Western Lowland gorillas, who’ll study you through the glass as intently as you’ll stare at them.

A Choc-ing Tour
If you didn’t get your fill of sweet chocolatey goodness on Valentine’s Day, the folks at Old Town Trolley Tours have you covered. Each Saturday, they offer the Boston Chocolate Tour—a rolling caravan devoted to satiating even the most diehard chocoholic. Participants visit popular restaurants Top of the Hub and Parker’s at the Omni Parker House Hotel (birthplace of Boston cream pie) to sample rich desserts before arriving at the coup de grace—the massive Chocolate Bar buffet at the Langham Hotel. Be warned: this is purely for those truly cuckoo for all things cocoa. 

Hot Hub Hockey
Boston’s Boys of Summer—The Boston Red Sox—are still more than a month away from kicking off the baseball season, but the Boston Bruins have kept the local sports scene cooking while the weather’s been cold. Following a February break so that B’s goaltender Tim Thomas and other NHL stars can participate in the Winter Olympics, the Black and Gold skate toward their ultimate mission of hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup, taking on the Montreal Canadiens (March 2) and the Toronto Maple Leafs (March 4).

Tea for Two
This winter, have your own Boston tea party—though we highly suggest refraining from tossing any tea into the Harbor (it bothers the cod). Instead, visit The Lounge at the Taj Boston (15 Arlington St., 617-536-5700) for an elegant Afternoon Tea (Saturday & Sunday at 2 and 4 p.m.) featuring a variety of international teas paired with platters of savory finger sandwiches and sweet treats while a harpist plays and you watch the passersby on Newbury Street. Or take your tea amidst the stacks at the Boston Public Library (refer to listing, page 14)—there, in the historic McKim building overlooking the BPL’s lovely Italianate courtyard, you’ll enjoy delicious, delicate brews accompanied by scones with clotted cream and assorted tartlets Wednesday–Friday from 2–4 p.m.

Maximum Expo-sure
Let’s face it: some people don’t give two hoots about how much fun others have during the winter. For them, cold weather is the pits, and they spend the entire period between Christmas and Easter lamenting all the things they can’t do until the weather gets warmer. Luckily for those folks dreaming of what they’ll do come spring and summer, Boston boasts so many expos this winter, it could be mistaken for a Montreal baseball team. Whether your warm weather fantasy is to ride your hog (Northeast Motorcycle Expo, February 13 & 14), set sail on your own yacht (New England Boat Show, February 20–28), do some home improvement (New England Home Show, February 25–28) or play 18 holes in the sun (National Golf Expo, March 5–7), Boston’s array of convention and expo centers are packed with events to get you salivating for sunshine. Refer to listings.

Polar Beers
For some, hot cocoa is the perfect liquid to fill up with in order to shake off the winter chill. Others, however, prefer the warm feeling they get from a somewhat stronger libation, and in Boston there are plenty of enjoyable ways for beer enthusiasts to fend off Old Man Winter with a delicious seasonal ale or two. The Sam Adams Brewery in Jamaica Plain hosts free daily tours that culminate with samples of the company’s most popular brews. History buffs can tip a pint or two where famed Colonials like Sam Adams and Daniel Webster did on the Freedom Trail Foundation’s Historic Pub Crawl each Tuesday afternoon. Or brewlovers can just hunker down at one of the area’s exceptional beer bars like The Sunset Grill, Deep Ellum (477 Cambridge St., Allston, 617-787-2337) or The Lord Hobo (92 Hampshire St., Cambridge, 617-250-8454) and wait for spring to come.

New Shoes
The DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln is one of the area’s most unique and lovely places to stroll and view amazing artwork. The sculpture park consists of 35 acres of green and woodlands, sprinkled with contemporary American art sculptures. Traversing the property does get a bit trickier in wintertime—unless, of course, you’re wearing snowshoes. On February 13 & 27, the DeCordova hosts snowshoe tours of the park at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., giving you a chance to exercise your body even as you fire up your imagination.

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