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Blueskieyes89's avatar

What is it like to live in Boston?

Asked by Blueskieyes89 (31 points ) December 4th, 2010

I’ll be graduating from college soon and am considering moving to Boston. What is it like to live there? I’d like to know anything—people, food, weather, general vibe, etc.

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15 Answers

Jeruba's avatar

Where are you now, or where are you from? That will help us frame responses with reference to what will and won’t be familiar to you.

jerv's avatar

My mother was born/raised in the Boston metroplex, and I spent almost every weekend of my childhood there, so I can tell you a few things if you can get a little more specific.

It’s a little pricey, as is the rest of the Northeast.

The food varies considerably as there is a lot of diversity.

The weather sucks. As is typical in New England, you can go from -35F to +105F, catch the tail end of hurricanes, get nailed by blizzards that will bury your car…

You damn well better be a sports fan; they take it seriously there. And if you are a Yankees fan then you better keep that to yourself.

Harvard Square is one of the coolest places on Earth. I’ve been a lot of places (mostly when I was in the Navy) but I can honesty say that there haven’t been many places that even come close. Harvard Square has a certain je ne sais quoi. Maybe it’s the air there, maybe the iconic news stand, maybe the street artists… it just rocks.

Don’t even think of driving. It may be worthwhile to have a car for escaping town every once in a while, but traffic is a bitch and parking is non-existent unless you want to fight somebody. And yes, I have nearly been killed for a space down there before, so I am not exaggerating when I say that you may have to get violent to park there. Some of the streets are almost too narrow for even one car to go between those parked on both sides, and in places you will average about a block every 20 minutes on a good day. The outlying areas (Cambridge, Sommerville…) are better and actually possible to drive around, though parking can be iffy. Often it is best to park in Arlington and just use the T.

The Porter Square subway station has a great escalator. The subway is over 100 feet underground, so you can guess how long it is. They also had to blast a lot in the process, and I watched them build it from a third-story window across the street.

ucme's avatar

It’s a place, I gather, where everyone knows your name! :¬)

marinelife's avatar

One thing Boston is full of is culture. I remember getting off the train from New York and hearing live music in the station. I thought to myself “How very civilized.” There are tons of museums and public art.

The winters might be tough if you are not used to snow. In summer, it can be humid. But if you enjoy four seasons, you will experience them.

There is a real sense of history infused in the city. I love the historic buildings everywhere.

There is a thriving ethnic restaurant scene and a sense of neighborhoods.

All in all, it is one of my favorite cities, and I could live there quite happily.

cookieman's avatar

I was born in Boston and have been here my entire life (39 years) – so, I’ll tell you what I know (largely abridged, natch).

Weather
Boston, like all of New England gets all four seasons in (mostly) their truest forms. Winter is snowy, cold and damp. Spring is rainy, cool with lots of budding trees and flowers. Summer is hot and humid with thunderstorms. Autumn is cool and breezy and the leaves change into amazing colors.

The weather can also be unpredictable and change on a dime. If you like variety of weather, Boston is for you.

Food
Simply put, I can’t think of a single style of cuisine that’s not well (and tastefully) represented within 20 miles of anywhere in Boston. Good range of prices also.

Transportation
If you’re not used to it, driving in the city is insane (hint: the roads were not planned a la Manhatten). I love it though. Ya just gotta be a little adventurous.

Otherwise the public transportation is great. The MBTA has trains (red, orange & blue lines), trolleys (green line), dedicated bus routes (silver line), commuter trains (purple line) and a boatload of city buses. You can easily (and affordably) get anywhere in the city and well out into the burbs. There’s even a Boston-Maine train and ferries out to the islands.

Culture
There’s waaaay too many choices to list here, so here’s some of my favorites: Museums (MFA, Gardener, ICA, MIT List, Museum of Science, Natural History at Harvard); Music (Boston Symphony & Pops, Scullers Jazz Club); Recreation (Public Garden, Boston Common); Cool Spots (Harvard Square, Davis Square, Jamaica Plain, East Cambridge, Arlington Square); Movie Theaters (The Capital Theater); History (Downtown Lexington); Odd Combo (Hang out at the Design Center on Drydock Ave in South Boston and watch the planes come and go from Logan Airport across the water in East Boston); Farm (Wilson Farm, Lexington ok, I work there. shameless plug)

Pick up The Improper Bostonian and Stuff at Night to find what’s happening in terms of clubs and events. Both rags are free.

Hospitals
Some of the best in the world and Massachusetts had guaranteed health care years before President Obama (which may be a good or bad thing depending on your perspective).

Politics
Well, as November’s election proved, Massachusetts is still one if the most liberal states in the country despite a vocal conservative group (Howie Carr, etc.).

Colleges
Can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a college or university. Lots of diversity of choice and cost. Some of the best in the country.

Demographic
Almost literally, people from all over the world. Stand in one spot in Harvard Square, Newbury Street or Jamaica Plain and dozens of nationalities will pass you by.

We do have a history of being a bit segregated (residentially) however.

Attitude
Big hearts, bigger mouths. Very sarcastic. Not always friendly.

You need a good sense of humor and a thick skin.

Cost of Living
Pretty high compared to other parts of the country. Living in the city proper is near impossible, but there’s more affordable options in the surrounding suburbs.

Getaways
Boston is within two hours of beaches (Gloucester, Newburyport, Rockport), skiing, islands (Marth’s Vineyard, Nantucket), Cape Cod, Providence RI, and Springfield.

Few more hours by car or train to Maine, Manhatten or even DC.

Anywho, hope this helps. Best of luck.

Aster's avatar

Never lived there but it was fascinating driving when the car next to us bumped my husband’s elbow.
We are not accustomed to such rudeness but there’s a lot of culture ! LOL Really; generally speaking, you don’t find this behavior in Texas. But I bet their pizza is good. And I’ve only seen street “musicians” in Austin. (;

jerv's avatar

@Aster Last time my wife and I were in Harvard Square, there were dancers and a pretty damn good street magician. And, of course, there are always at least a few guys with guitars around.

tragiclikebowie's avatar

Like @cprevite, I was born and raised here by two proper Bostonians (dad’s from Southie, mom’s from Dorchester), and have been here my entire life. I also briefly went to school and worked in Boston.

I am biased, but Boston is probably my favorite city I have ever been to Toronto is second. It’s not big. You can walk across it in a matter of a couple hours (it is a great walking city). Not much is open after 10pm (unless you’re around the college crowds).The T (subway) only runs until 12:30AM. I think some buses go later, but I can’t remember if they still do that or not. It’s hugely diverse, and there is a large gay community.

Most likely, you aren’t going to be living in the city proper. Look for places in Arlington, Allston, Somerville and Brighton which are right outside the city and generally house a younger crowd. Don’t even think about Cambridge, it’s too expensive. Chinatown may be an option, I heard it’s the city’s new up-and-coming area – however – Chinatown is still not a very nice place. Rent is expensive, even outside the city. I remember talking to a friend on Fluther from Portland – he used to rent a huge house for $1200 a month. My tiny 2 bedroom apartment a few miles outside the city was the same price. If you’re renting close to the city, do not bring a car. There is nowhere for you to park it. A few years ago or so, parking was $9 an hour and upwards of $30 a day to park in the city, unless you’re lucky enough to find meter parking on the street which generally has a 2 hour time limit. And in the winter with snow, it’s worse. If there’s a heavy snow, Boston shuts down. The streets are tiny many of them were old cow paths, I shit you not and we have nowhere to put the snow.

In the state of Massachusetts it is law that you have to have car insurance and health insurance, or else you get pretty heavily fined. We do have a state plan called MassHealth if you need to enroll.

There’s a LOT of tourist traps. And in general, the tourists suck. I know – I worked at Fanueil Hall and Quincy Market, which is the biggest tourist trap for miles.

People move pretty fast around here – we walk fast, talk fast and loud and drive fast and aggressively. We are not particularly friendly and can be often shell shocked if someone is nice to us. I found NYC to be much friendlier than Boston.

If you like history, this is the place for you. Walking down Tremont St. you pass Sam Adams grave, along with Mother Gooses. Then the old Parker House where Charles Dickens practiced his reading of A Christmas Carol into the 5th floor mirror. Then the King’s Chapel cemetery which has been there since the mid 1600s and is the oldest in the state.

In the summer there are tons of farmers markets in the city and surrounding areas, usually at City Hall Plaza or the Trinity church. Radio stations often host free concerts (I have seen so many acts for free at these things) at those places, as well as the Hatch Shell which is along the Charles River. We have a lot of greenery as well; the common, the public gardens, the emerald necklace – these are places people often run or take walks, and where events can happen. Free Shakespeare on the common every summer, the swan boats in the public gardens, the frog pond in the common ice skating just recently opened there, actually. There’s a ton of clubs that have live music every night. Some are just restaurants or pubs, and others are solely geared towards the bands like the House of Blues (which used to be the Avalon and the Axis – I have seen many, many shows at these places) and the Middle East which is in Central Square in Cambridge.

Of course there’s a lot of luxury shopping on Newbury Street as well as some sweet hidden gems (best sushi I ever had was at some underground place on Newbury). Copley plaza and the Pru have a huge shopping center which houses a large range of places, and is attached to a convention center which holds many events throughout the year. Berklee College of Music is also right near there, where you can see many student performances for relatively cheap shameless plug, I used to go there.

I could literally go on for hours but I will stop there. Feel free to PM me if you want to know anything specific.

@cprevite Since when is JP a cool spot? Whenever I’m there or even on the orange line I fear for my life. By the way I am totally going to come stalk you at your work one day. And I totally took field trips there as a child, I think.

jerv's avatar

“We are not particularly friendly…”
I haven’t ever really had a problem in the area that wasn’t either traffic or parking related. Maybe I get a break because of my native accent and cadence? Still, people generally keep to themselves and they would prefer it if you did the same.
Don’t be slow, don’t slow others down, remember that people on the street are just people on the street and not your friends, and you’ll be fine… unless you are driving.

tragiclikebowie's avatar

@jerv Maybe we just like to insist we’re not friendly, when really we’re not that bad :P I think it might be a bit of the pervading puritan influence that still lingers pretty strongly – which is funny if you think about how progressive we are at the same time.

I don’t have an issue with traffic or parking but I also grew up here so I’m used to it. However, the Beltway in Maryland is way worse than us, or at least as bad as us.

jerv's avatar

@tragiclikebowie I still have family there, so I have access to some off-street parking. I got used to the T at a young age, but there was a time when I had an aunt near Harvard Square, an Uncle in Harvard Square, and a grandmother with a big house about a five-minute walk from Porter Square, so there wasn’t much need to drive anyways.

Blueskieyes89's avatar

Great answers everybody—thanks for the responses. @Jeruba I was born and raised in the SF bay area, but go to school out in St. Louis and have traveled a bit around the country (least so in New England)... It sounds like a diverse, fast-paced city (maybe a little too much for me? But definitely worth checking out!). Thanks for the “insider’s perspective” :)

jerv's avatar

It’s all relative. I found SF to be so laid-back that I was tempted to check random people on the street for a pulse, and many from the South and Midwest need a poke with a stick. Then again, I was born and raised in New England, so I am used to a different standard.

I don’t think it’s too diverse for anyone who isn’t a bigot, but again, it’s what I grew up with. Italian, Irish, Lithuanian, Korean, Chinese, Jamaican, Puerto Rican…all Bostonians.

cookieman's avatar

@jerv: You’re so right about the different standards.

My brother-in-law worked for a company here in Boston. Did well – typical worker bee. They transfer him to San Diego. Same job, same responsibilities. Within a year he’s promoted and praised as a go-getter with a great work ethic. He hadn’t changed a thing about how he worked. Everyone else was just sooo laid back.

Jeruba's avatar

@Blueskieyes89, I made the opposite journey: born in New England, did all my growing up in a suburb of Boston, went to school in the Midwest, and then returned home and moved into the city. I lived in Boston and Cambridge until true love caused me to move to the SF Bay Area.

So—it is a different world, a different culture on the other coast, but Boston has a lot in common with SF in terms of character. It doesn’t sprawl and overwhelm you like New York (or LA); it’s relatively compact, and you can get everywhere easily on public transit. It’s got some of everything without having too much of anything, and when it comes to some things it’s got the best there is.

If I didn’t live here (in the South Bay), I’d be right back in Cambridge, which is to Boston as Berkeley is to San Francisco: a separate city, right across the river, but also a complementary part of a larger whole.

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