Allston-Brighton, Massachusetts is a part of the city of Boston, though it has alternated annexation over the years. First founded in 1646, Allston-Brighton was known as Little Cambridge for the better part of the 18th century. In 1807, Allston-Brighton separated from the City of Cambridge. For nearly a century, Allston-Brighton thrived as a meat-packing and slaughter town; in 1874, the City of Boston annexed Allston-Brighton.
Today, Allston-Brighton is known as the student village, owing to the enormous number of college students and recent graduates that live in the area. Boston University and Boston College bookend Allston-Brighton.
For more general history, visit the Allston-Brighton Historical Society.
Allston-Brighton is located on the western edge of Boston, bordering Brookline to the south, Boston College and Newton to the west, Boston University and Kenmore Square to the east, and Cambridge, Watertown, and the Charles River to the north. Though the boundaries between Allston and Brighton tend to be quite blurred, for practical purposes Warren St. cuts Allston-Brighton in half, with Brighton to the west and Allston to the east.
Like the rest of Boston, driving a car is generally a bad idea and a means of transportation to be avoided if at all possible. If you must use a car, however, exit 20 off the Mass Pike (I-90) will bring you to Allston-Brighton.
The MBTA Green Line B trolley travels the length of Allston-Brighton along its southeastern edge and is free going outbound (west). Major stops from east to west are Packard's Corner, Harvard Ave., Washington St., and Chestnut Hill Ave. The 57 bus traverses Allston-Brighton through its center; board at any B-line stop from Kenmore Square to Packard's Corner. The 66 and 64 buses respectively connect Cambridge's Harvard and Central Squares to Allston-Brighton.
The main drag of Allston is Harvard Ave., specifically the stretch between Cambridge St. and Comm Ave. A cluster of interesting shops and eateries are to be found here. Walking west 1/4 mi. from the intersection of Harvard and Brighton Ave. towards Cambridge St. is Union Square, marked by the wonderfully old Twin Donuts sign.
Grab the 57 bus or walk about a mile down Cambridge St. to the heart of Brighton, Brighton Center, at the corner of Washington and Market Streets. Farther down Washington St. at the westernmost edge of Boston lies Oak Square, a largely residential neighborhood with several great bars and restaurants. Taking Chestnut Hill Ave. a mile south from Brighton Center you'll come across Cleveland Circle right on the edge of Brookline, with lots of bars, restaurants, a movie theater, and the end of the Green Line C trolley.
Without being too crass, one of the best activities in Allston-Brighton is people-watching, for whatever your motivations. You'll find an exciting mix of ethnicities and age groups, from upper middle class college kids to Vietnamese immigrants to the local Russian community. Take in the sights at the White Horse Tavern or The Kells on Brighton Avenue during summertime when the floor to ceiling windows are open, or just grab a patch of stoop and watch.
Things to do in Allston largely include just walking about and enjoying the area. There's a lot of little boutiques, some interesting crowds, and a relatively easy-going atmosphere.
Need supplies for magic or just new age stuff? Visit Ritual Arts, on Harvard Avenue. 153 Harvard Avenue, Allston. The former store O has been incorporated into Ritual Arts, and offers exotic gifts for women.
Allston-Brighton has some of the best ethnic restaurants in the metro Boston area, bar none. Brazilian and Vietnamese dominate, and the bars aren't half bad either, but more on that later. The best indicator of the local restaurants' quality are the patrons - if you want good Vietnamese, follow the Vietnamese crowd.
Allston-Brighton is the student village of the area, and naturally you would expect bars. Lots of bars. You'd not be incorrect. As of 2003, there is no smoking in any restaurant or bar in the metro Boston area.
Oddly enough, for a college-burg, Allston-Brighton has few hotels. You'll probably need to venture into Boston or Cambridge for accommodation. For less expensive hotels, try Natick or Framingham, west of the city. Be aware that as a college town, any area hotels fill up quickly in early September and around graduation-- book well in advance.
Allston-Brighton has a large college student population, so criminals of opportunity - burglars, pickpockets, petty thieves - tend to visit Allston-Brighton in droves. Peak seasons for them are any time students are moving in and out - May and September. Allston-Brighton also has its fair share of very aggressive panhandlers and drunks - and not just the students.
Late at night, it's a good idea to travel in groups until you know the area. Even then, travelling in groups is not a bad idea. Allston-Brighton has reasonably good mobile phone coverage outside of buildings, so calling for help is relatively straightforward. However, due to recent budget cuts by the Boston Police Department, response times to 911 calls are significantly lower, in some cases 15-30 minutes for police or ambulance response.
Allston-Brighton also has one of the best martial arts schools in America, though you'd never be able to tell based on the building's appearance. The Boston Martial Arts Center, located at 161 Harvard Avenue, offers self defense classes six days a week. For those moving into the area or planning to stay awhile, it's a good idea to take a few.