By Judy Antell

Boston — When Skies are Blue

  |  Travel  

On our recent trip to Boston, we prayed for rain. No, the city is not besieged by a drought, but there are so many fabulous indoor activities, we hoped for some bad weather to force us inside. Mother Nature didn’t quite cooperate, so we settled for a mix of museums and outdoor attractions. One of the first things you should do in Boston is walk the Freedom Trail. This free, 2.5-mile marked trail winds around downtown, passing by 16 historic sites. Accounting for stopping, you should allow at least four hours to cover the trail, but unless your kids have strong completion issues, you can just pick up a few spots on parts of the path. Don’t miss Paul Revere’s house, and the Granary Burying Ground, where Revere, Samuel Adams and John Hancock are buried. If you want a more thorough introduction to Boston’s history, there are costumed guided tours of the trail. These 90-minute walking tours are geared toward families and can help focus somewhat disinterested parties. While walking the trail, you’ll see the new Dreams of Freedom museum. This museum is worth a visit, no matter how sunny and pleasant the day. New York school children who have studied immigration may be surprised to learn how many people from different countries settled in Boston. Most of the exhibits are interactive; you can go through the customs process, see what immigrants brought with them, and explore how immigration changed from the 19th to the 21st century. The trail also takes you near Faneuil Hall Marketplace, the now-cliched prototype for tourist-y urban revitalization projects. Faneuil Hall has a huge food court where you can sample a wide range of local specialties, restaurants, and too many chain stores. But if you want to shop, you can bribe the kids with a stop at a local independent toy store, Zoinks! The store has set up displays where kids can try out games and toys, and a reading area, where Boston’s favorite children’s read, Make Way for Ducklings, is prominently displayed. After reading the book, head for the source. It is in Boston Common (the nation’s oldest public park) where the famous swan boats reside. This seasonal boat ride (boats are idle on very hot and windy days, and all winter) is for very young kids, or tweens who enjoy looking back on their childhood; jaded 7- to 10-year-olds are apt to be bored silly. My 4-year-old could have ridden all day. The swan boats are also featured in the book, The Trumpet of the Swan. Museum of Science The Museum of Science contains a plethora of cutting-edge science exhibits as well as a planetarium, Omni theater and laser shows. Almost every exhibition in this museum is interactive; we particularly liked the “Electricity” exhibit, where we played virtual volleyball. The huge Discovery Center has puzzles and activities for babies and toddlers. Just opened, “Scream Machine: The Science of Roller Coasters” lets visitors explore how roller coasters are created. There is a G Force bike ride on an 18-foot loop, and an accompanying film at the Omni theater called “Thrill Ride: The Science of Fun”. Both the exhibit and movie run through September 2. In the Virtual FishTank, we used computers to create virtual fish. But for the real thing, head to The New England Aquarium. The New England Aquarium The New England Aquarium has a large coral reef recreating the Caribbean with coral, tropical fish, turtles and sharks. In the penguin exhibit, light beams simulate fish for the penguins to chase. Sea lion demonstrations are held daily on the ship Discovery; the aquarium also has daily summer whale watches, five-hour excursions with naturalists during which you might see several species of whales along with sea birds and other marine animals. There are shorter (and less expensive) “Science at Sea” programs, where you can help conduct experiments, use a net or a lobster trap, or enjoy a two-hour tour of Boston Harbor. The aquarium recently opened an IMAX theater. The Children’s Museum of Boston Inside the Children’s Museum of Boston, children will discover a tremendous water play area, a Latino supermarket, and an area called “Grandparents’ Attic”, where kids can dress up in old costumes and play with vintage toys. There’s a big rock-climbing wall for older children, a medium-sized one for ages 5-7. and a smaller one for ages 3-5 — like Goldilocks, children can find one that is just right for them. There is an inflatable “Wonderland” where kids can jump around shoeless. Our girls spent time climbing and crawling in a two-story maze, for children over age 4 only. My kids loved the serene Japanese house, a real house reconstructed inside the museum. You remove your shoes, sit on tatami mats, and see what a house in Japan is really like; there is also a reading room with Japanese picture books. They were intrigued by the deep bathtub and cabinets where futons are stored during the day. The Children’s Museum has picnic tables outdoors where we ate lunch and decided the sky was too blue to be inside. We are hoping for crummy weather on our next trip, so we can spend some time at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, for starters. The vitals: • For general information, contact the Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism, • Dreams of Freedom, 1 Milk St., is open daily, 10am-6pm. Admission: $7.50; $3.50 ages 6-16; free under age 6. (617) 338-6022. • The Freedom Trail Foundation tours begin at the Boston Common Visitor Center, and are offered Saturdays and Sundays, 11am and 1pm, through September 1. Tickets are $12/adults, $6/under 12. (617) 227-8800. • Zoinks! is open Monday-Saturday, 10am- 9pm, Sunday, 11am-6pm. (617) 227-6266; • Faneuil Hall Marketplace is open daily. For information on restaurants and performers, go to • Museum of Science, Science Park, is open daily, 9am-7pm; till 9pm on Fridays. After Labor Day, closing time is 5pm, except on Fridays. Admission: $11/adults; $8/ages 3-11; there are combo tickets with Omni, planetarium and laser shows. (617) 723-2500; • The New England Aquarium, Central Wharf, is open Monday, Tuesday and Friday 9am-6pm, Wednesday and Thursday 9am-8pm, weekends and holidays 9am-7pm. After Labor Day, Monday - Friday 9am-5pm, weekends and holidays 9am-6pm. Summer admission through September 4: $14.50/adults; $8/ages 3-11; under 3/free. There are combo tickets with whale watches or harbor cruises.(617) 973-5200; • Children’s Museum, 300 Congress St., is open daily 10-5pm, till 9pm on Fridays. Admission: $7/adults; $6/ages 2-15; $2/one year olds; under one/free. On Fridays, from 5pm-9pm, admission is $1 for everyone. (617) 426-8855. • Boston Public Garden has 15-minute paddleboat rides on swans, 10am-5pm. $2/adults; $1/ages 2-15. (617) 522-1966. • If you are lucky to get bad weather, the ‘CityPass’ includes admission to the aquarium, Museum of Science, Harvard Museum of Natural History, Museum of Fine Arts, JFK Library and Museum, and John Hancock Observatory. The pass is $30.25/adults; $18.50/ages 3-17; you save money and time waiting in line. On sale at any of the attractions, or at Where to Stay: • Boston Marriott Long Wharf Hotel is next to the aquarium, and offers great views of the harbor. After dinner, we sat on the wharf and watched boats go by and planes take off from Logan. Newly renovated, with a beautiful pool, and a decent seafood restaurant, Oceana, with a kids’ menu. (617) 227-0800; • The Charles Hotel, Cambridge, is right in Harvard Square (617) 864-1200; • The Ritz-Carlton, Boston, is near the Public Garden, so kids can get their ya-yas out. (617) 536-5700; Where to Eat: • Jasper White’s Summer Shack, in Cambridge, is like eating on the beach without the sand. There are long picnic tables (and booths) with chowder, lobster, and for non-seafood eaters, corn dogs, franks and beans, and macaroni and cheese. You can watch the lobsters avoiding their fate, and fish being cleaned, till the food comes. (617) 576-CHEF. • Regina Pizza, North End, has brick oven pizza. (617) 227-0765. • Henrietta’s Table, in the Charles Hotel, has New England classics, with an emphasis on organic and local products; expensive, but very accommodating to families.