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Somerville

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Somerville is an urban city near Boston.

Understand

Somerville has managed to hold onto its blue-collar roots while at the same time gentrifying. It's fairly ethnically diverse, with populations including Irish, Italians, Portuguese, Brazilians (probably the largest ethnic minority), Haitians, Tibetans, Indians, Chinese, and others. It is still the most densely populated city in New England (about 80,000 people in four square miles), so visitors will find lots of purely residential territory between the "fun" areas: Davis Square, Porter Square, Union Square, and Powderhouse Square (the location of Tufts University). Other notable neighborhoods include Union Square and Winter Hill, erstwhile home of the "Winter Hill Gang", the organized crime group headed by Whitey Bulger in the 1960's and 1970's, as well as East Somerville, probably the last non-gentrified area, which has a substantial immigrant population.

Somerville has a number of "squares", which are areas where several of the larger roads come together and which have various stores and parking. Navigating Somerville is easier if you consider the major squares as "hubs" connected by main streets as "spokes." The major squares include Davis Square, Teele Square, Powderhouse Square, Union Square, Magoun Square, and Ball Square. Many intersections have small plaques dedicating them as squares named after notable Somerville residents, frequently war veterans, but these areas are never actually referred to by those names.

Neighborhoods

Winter Hill, Located roughly north of Highland Avenue and west of the McGrath Highway, Winter Hill is home to a mix of restored homes and aluminium-sided fixer-uppers, replete with china gnomes and bathtub Virgin Marys. Once known as the home base of Irish gangsters Whitey Bulger (long on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list, now on trial for multiple murder counts), James "Buddy" McLean, Howie Winter and the notorious Winter Hill Gang, Winter Hill is now, like much of the rest of Somerville, experiencing gentrification and a resulting rise in property values and rents. Despite these changes, the area continues to hang onto its neighborhood flavor and is home to a large community of Irish, Italians, Brazilians, Portuguese, Cape Verdeans, and other ethnic groups.

Davis Square, This is a great late-night summer hangout, especially with J.P. Licks, a trendy local ice cream shop (also seen on Newbury Street in Boston and elsewhere), Boston Burger Company, Mr Crpe, Flatbread Pizza Company (and bowling alley), and other restaurants. It's right on the Red Line, and also a major bus transfer point. Many Tufts University students linger in the brick plaza. The Somerville Theatre doubles as a second-run movie house and music venue. Davis Square has several bars and coffeehouses, most notably the locally owned Diesel Cafe on Elm Street, that draw people day and night. A number of restaurants serve everything from burgers to crepes to falafel to Indian to East Asian cuisine to fast food.

Teele Square, Just up the street from Davis Square (heading west) it has a lot to offer in way of local restaurants. It's less crowded than Davis Square and less trendy. Head up this way if you're looking for good subs and pizza (Angelina's), Mexican food (Rudy's), or multi-ethnic Mediterranean fare from the Balkans and beyond (Sabur).

Union Square, It is not on the Red Line, so it's a bit off the beaten path. It is only a 15 minute walk from the Sullivan Square Orange Line station, and there are MBTA [1] buses arriving from Sullivan, Central, Harvard, Porter, Davis, and Lechmere T stops. (It's a nice walk in good weather from the West, but the neighborhoods to the East are less scenic.) There are a number of Brazilian restaurants and stores around, including a Brazilian butcher-slash-convenience store. The Brazilian community extends to Inman Square (Cambridge) and there's another pocket in Allston. There's also Indian, Mexican, and Peruvian fare here. The Sherman Cafe and Bloc 11 cafe are two excellent locally-owned coffee houses. Sherman Market sells local produce. Union Square is a nice, brick-based New England intersection of many roads. Ongoing improvements to the square include benches created by local artists. Recent reconstruction of Somerville Avenue between Union and Porter Squares brought an improved streetscape with better lighting, more traffic lights, and raised pedestrian crosswalks. The Brickbottom Artists Studios are just to the east of Union Square, next to the McGrath Highway, while "maker space" Artisan's Asylum is just to the west, off Somerville Avenue.

Get in

By plane

Fly in to Logan International Airport in Boston. A taxi from Logan to Somerville can cost anywhere between $20 and $35 depending on the route taken and time of day. You can also take the MBTA Blue Line subway from Logan to either the Orange Line (switch at State Street) or the Red Line. Alternately, you can take the Silver Line bus service to South Station, then transfer to the Red Line. The subway ride takes longer than a taxi and may involve some walking, which is something to consider when you have lots of luggage.

By train

Take the MBTA[2] Red Line to either the Davis Square or Porter Square Stations. If you're coming from downtown (e.g. South Station) you'll want to hop on an Alewife/Harvard bound train.

You can also take the Orange Line to Sullivan Square and then take one of the MBTA busses up Broadway through Winter Hill and beyond.

Should you be coming from northwest of Boston (e.g. Fitchburg) you can also ride the MBTA Commuter Rail.

By car

From points North: You can get to Somerville in two ways:

  1. take Interstate 93 and get off at exits 29-31
  2. take Route 3 and park at the Alewife station on the MBTA Red Line. Take the inbound Red Line to Davis Square. This is advisable on the weekends, as parking can be hard to find near Davis Square.

By bus

The MBTA bus system will take you from Sullivan Square (Orange Line) through Somerville on to Arlington center and Medford. You can also get to Somerville by bus from Lechmere Station (at the end of the Green Line in Cambridge, near the Cambridgeside Galleria and Boston Museum of Science).

Get around

Mass transit

Somerville is covered by many MBTA (Mass Bay Transit Authority) bus lines, and has two subway stations (the Davis Square Red Line stop and the Sullivan Square Orange Line stop) inside the city limits and several others within a few blocks of the city limits. Expansion of the MBTA Green Line light rail to include a number of stops inside the city limits is planned, but unlikely before 2015.

Somerville has several taxi businesses. There are cab stands in Davis Square, but in most of the city cabs must be called by telephone.

By Bicycle

The Minuteman Bike Trail,[3] a converted railway right of way, the main branch of which runs from Bedford to Alewife (in Cambridge) extends through Davis Square and a bit further to Cedar St., parallel to Highland Ave. There are plans to extend this route through the city and on to downtown Boston, in parallel with construction of new MBTA Green Line service to Somerville and Medford.

There are a large and growing number of Hubway[4] bike rental kiosks scattered around Somerville, as well as Boston, Cambridge, and surrounding areas.

Several of the city's streets now have clearly designated bike lanes, while many others are marked with "sharrows" to encourage drivers to share the road with bicyclists.

By Car

There is on-street metered parallel parking in all of the city's squares, while in most of the rest of the city, a resident parking permit is required to parallel park. There are a handful of parking lots, particularly near Davis and Union Squares, but few parking garages.[5]

See

  • Somerville has over 200 yard shrines (often referred to as "Bathtub Marys")
  • Powderhouse Square[6] has a Revolutionary War era stone gunpowder house.
  • Prospect Hill, behind Union Square, has a tower you can climb for good views of the surrounding area, including Somerville, Boston, and Cambridge. The hill is claimed to be the first location where the Grand Union Flag[7], America's first flag, was flown by George Washington's army on January 1, 1776. A replica of the flag is flown atop the tower. A large mural in Union Square at the foot of the hill depicts the event.
  • Somerville Museum[8], 1 Westwood Road, at the corner of Central St., Phone: +1 617-666-9810 Run by volunteers.
  • Arts at the Armory[9], 191 Highland Avenue, is a former National Guard military base that still looks like a castle fortress, but now hosts a performing arts center, gallery space, and a cafe.
  • Artisan's Asylum[10], 10 Tyler Avenue, is a makerspace or hackerspace[11] that hosts workshops, classes, and dozens of artists, engineers, and other "hackers".
  • The brick brownstone building at 365 Broadway in Winter Hill is the former home of Barack Obama, who lived here while studying at Harvard Law School from 1988 to 1991.[12]. (Note that this is a private home, so be polite and allow the residents their privacy.)
  • Davis and Union squares both host seasonal farmers markets where locally-sourced produce and other products are available. They also both host a number of restaurants, some of which have outdoor seating, and have a number of artistic park benches.

Do

Most tourists spend their time near Davis and Porter Squares (within walking distance of each other, Porter actually mostly being over the Cambridge border). Residents sometimes avoid the crowds and hit their favorite spots in Union Square and the Winter Hill area, further from the T subways but still quite accessible.

Davis Square attractions

  • The Somerville Theater, 55 Davis Square, Somerville, MA 02144, Phone: +1 617-625-5700,[13] is a former vaudeville theater which has had several smaller screening rooms added (without dividing the main hall). It shows fairly cheap 2nd-run movies as well as live musical acts. The basement is the home of The Museum of Bad Art (MOBA)[14], which advertises itself as the world's only museum dedicated to the collection, preservation, exhibition and celebration of bad art in all its forms. Admission to the MOBA gallery is free with your movie ticket.
  • Johnny D's, 17 Holland St. (Davis Square), Phone: +1 617-776-2004, [15]. M-F 12:30PM-1AM; Sa-Su 9AM-1AM. Johnny D's is a restaurant, bar, and music club which holds about 175 people. It's the Boston area stop for many nationally and internationally touring musicians, especially in the folk, folk-rock, rock, and blues spectrum. There's live music most nights (sometimes a series of dance or trivia nights on mondays), and they are also known for their weekend brunches which often have live jazz.
  • The George Dilboy Post of the VFW, 371 Summer Street, plays host to various dances and acts, ranging from swing to electronica to circus to vaudeville.

There are also numerous bars and restaurants as well as various shops, some of which are mentioned below.

Elsewhere

  • Union Square is host to several night clubs that feature DJ's or live music of many genres. At one time or another, clubs like Radio[16], Bull McCabe's[17], Toast and Club Choices have hosted nights for many sorts of music, ranging from Rock to Goth to Hip-Hop.
  • Taza Chocolate Factory Tours and Store, 561 Windsor St (off Webster Ave and Cambridge Street near Inman and Union Squares), 617-284-2232, [18]. The Factory Store is open W-F 11AM-6PM, Sat and Sun 11AM-5PM. Tours run 2-3 times daily, check the website for current schedule. Take a 45-minute tour of one of the few bean-to-bar chocolate factories in the USA. Get a close-up view of Taza's vintage chocolate making machines and learn how cacao is transformed into authentic stone ground organic chocolate. Visit the Factory Store to shop for limited edition chocolate treats and see the factory through special viewing windows. Lots of chocolate samples available in the store and throughout the tours. Tour admission $5 per person, children under 3 free.
  • Center for Arts at the Armory, 191 Highland Ave (Walk or bus from Davis Square.), 617-718-2191, [19]. Events on most evenings (check the website). The café is open M-F 8AM-6PM, Sa/Su 12PM-6PM, plus event times. The Armory is a historic building, with great architecture, that's been converted to an arts center. There are all sorts of artistic and cultural events. Depending on the day, you might catch jazz, opera, poetry, acoustic music, classic movies and TV, etc. Lots of them are free or only 5-10 dollars. Varies; many shows are free.
  • Artisan's Asylum, 10 Tyler Street (Just off Somerville Avenue between Union and Porter Squares), 617-863-7634, [20]. Artisan's Asylum is a makerspace or hackerspace[11] that hosts workshops, classes, and dozens of artists, engineers, and other "hackers". Check the web site for events that are open to the public.

Annual events

  • SomerStreets[21] is a series of events hosted by the city government at various times & locations throughout the year. Past events have included a June carnival at Trum Field, a July festival at Dilboy Field, September events including a carnival & fireworks along the Mystic River, and a fall Halloween parade from Union to Porter Square in October. Check the city's website[22] or official ResiStat blog[23] for details.
  • In May, the city's annual Memorial day parade[24], claimed to be the largest such parade in the region.
  • In July, the city's annual pre-July 4th fireworks.
  • In May is Somerville Open Studios[25], in which the public is welcomed into artists' home and studio space for a look at their work. Somerville has enough artists that it's basically impossible to see them all during the weekend-long event, which happens at various locations around the city, including Brickbottom Studios and Arts at the Armory.
  • In July is 'Art Beat[26]' a street festival in Davis Square focused on visual arts organized by the Somerville Arts Council[27].
  • In September What the Fluff? [28] Fluff Festival, a growing annual festival in honor of Archibald Query[29], who invented Marshmallow Fluff[30] in Union Square in the early 20th century. The theme changes each year, but the festival generally includes music, games, and street vendors.
  • In October is the annual Honk! Festival[31]. Over a dozen brass bands show up from as far away as New Orleans and Italy, playing on the city streets, particularly around Davis Square, and culminating in a parade from Davis Square through Porter Square to Harvard Square in Cambridge. Most years, the Honk Festival also coincides with Oktoberfest.
  • Also in October is Maker Faire Somerville[32], at which local artists, engineers, hobbyists, tinkerers, and more display technology being developed in the greater Somerville area. In addition to table displays, there are technology demonstrations, moving showpieces, and design and fabrication competitions. And a trebuchet.
  • SOS (Save Our Somerville) Annual End of Summer youth Basketball Tournament at Lexington Park.

Learn

Tufts University is a major American research university. The main campus is located next to the Powderhouse Square area, and includes the undergraduates and most graduate schools, including the Fletcher School of International Diplomacy. The Medical school and several other health sciences graduate programs and laboratories are located in downtown Boston next to Chinatown, while the Veterinary school is halfway across the state in Grafton, Mass.

Work

Somerville is largely residential, with some retail and professional services, a hospital, and some light industry such as cabinet makers, printing companies, and some very small junkyards. Somerville residents span a wide economic spectrum, and thus hold all sorts of jobs within the greater Boston area.

Buy

Davis Square

  • Magpie, 416 Highland Ave., [33]. One of the nation's best stores devoted to handmade hipster crafts, unique gifts, independent designers, and local artists.
  • Goodwill, Elm St. Two floors filled with all manner of stuff.
  • Comicazi, 407 Highland Ave., [34]. Well-stocked comic book shop, featuring a very friendly staff.
  • Artifaktori, [35] Artifaktori is a small boutique specializing in art, antiques and vintage clothing located at 22a College ave., Davis Square, Somerville, MA.
  • Davis Square also has a sewing machine parts store, a UPS Store for shipping, a large pharmacy, opticians, etc.

Elsewhere

  • Sherman Market in Union Square sells locally-grown produce, and locally-made items including honey and maple syrup.
  • Hub Comics, 19 Bow Street, [36]. An excellent comic book shop in Union Square. (Note that the staff may gently tease you on Twitter[37] if you amuse them.)
  • Assembly Square, once abandoned and run-down, was completely reborn in 2006. It is now a shopping center featuring Christmas Tree Shops, K-Mart, Bed Bath & Beyond, TJ Maxx & Home Goods, Staples, A.C. Moore, Sports Authority, and Home Depot. A multi-year redevelopment project is in the works to bring in additional stores, businesses, homes, and possibly a new stadium for the New England Revolution soccer team[38]. At one time, an IKEA store was planned for this area, but these plans were withdrawn in 2012[39].
  • Target is a large department near Union Square.
  • There are several supermarkets, including Stop & Shop near Sullivan Square, Market Basket near Union Square, and a Star Market in Porter Square.
  • Cambridgeside Galleria If you are interested in a real mall, you may want to visit the Cambridgeside Galleria in Cambridge. It's a large mall anchored by Macy's, Best Buy, Borders, and Sears. It can be reached by taking the bus/subway to Lechmere Station (green line) and walking a few blocks, or to Kendall Square (red line) where the mall runs a free shuttle every 20 min. or so. It's a 5 min. shuttle ride. A large garage also offers parking for $3.99 on weekends.

Eat

Including supermarkets and convenience stores, Somerville has nearly 200 places to get food. It's home to many restaurants, from low-priced pizza and ethnic finds to elegant dining.

Davis Square

  • Anna's Taqueria, 236 Elm St. (Davis Sq.), 617-666-3900, [40]. Fast Mexican food, much better than Taco Bell. People seem divided on Annas, some love it, some hate it.
  • The Burren, Davis Square, [41]. An Irish pub once said to pour more Guinness than any other in North America. Live Irish music. Music nightly in the back room, including the amazing Swinging Johnsons on Thursday nights.
  • Blue Shirt Cafe, 424 Highland Ave., Phone: +1 617-629-7641. Sandwiches, wraps, fruit smoothies, salads, and soup.
  • Diesel Cafe, 257 Elm St, Phone: +1 617-629-8717, [42]. Coffee and light dining, winner of several local awards. A local favorite providing an alternative to the Starbucks across the street, locally owned with art for sale on the walls and a couple of pool tables.
  • Martsa on Elm, 233A Elm St., Phone: +1 617-666-0600. Tibetan specialties, including momos and a variety of vegetarian dishes as well as entrees with meat. Lunch buffet.
  • Redbones, 55 Chester St. (Davis Sq), Phone: +1 617-628-2200, [43]. Excellent BBQ and great selection of microbrewed beers. While certainly not what you'd find in Texas or Mississippi, they clearly know what they're doing; you don't find hush puppies and okra on too many menus in New England. The art in the basement room is great, the bar has a "wheel of beer" in case you're feeling lucky or indecisive. They serve a late night menu until midnight, another area rarity.
  • Rosebud Diner, 381 Summer St. Rosebud is a historic landmark, being one of the last barrel-vault style diners in the U.S. still at its original location. Narrow with a bar with stools and a single row of about 8 booths, it feels very homey. The food is typical American; burgers, fries, mozzarella sticks. If you want spicy, go elsewhere; this is New England food.

Teele and Powderhouse Squares

  • Amelia's Kitchen, Broadway. Authentic Italian food by the Susi family from Abruzzi. Once essentially a glorified sub and pizza shop, they've moved upscale over the years and opened a second restaurant in Kendall Square. The pizza is still good, but now there's wine, and gnocchi on par with any in the northeast, New York included.
  • Tu Y Yo Mexican Fonda, 858 Broadway, Phone: +1 617-623-5411, [44]. (Powderhouse Square) Excellent authentic Mexican food. This is not the typical Mexican restaurant; the food is authentic and you won't find burritos here.

Union Square

  • Bloc 11 Cafe, 11 Bow St., Phone: +1 617-623-0000, [45]. M-F 7AM-8PM; Sa 8AM-7PM; Su 7AM-7PM. Sister cafe to the Diesel Cafe in Union Square, Bloc 11 features a few breakfast selections, pastries, soups, and made-to-order sandwiches, along with a selection of espresso/coffee/tea/soda beverages. The cafe features artwork by local artists, and hosts open mic music nights as well. Located in a former bank branch, the cafe also features seasonally-available outdoor courtyard seating.
  • Neighborhood Restaurant and Bakery, 25 Bow St., Phone: +1 617-628-2151, [46]. Daily 7AM-4PM. It is worth visiting Union Square for, especially in the summer months. There's an overhead grape arbor with real fruit growing on it. There's a large breakfast/brunch menu, and very colorful outdoor decor. The menu also includes some Brazilian fare, as well as alcoholic drinks.
  • Red House, 24 Union Square, Phone: +1 617-666-4300, Su-Th 11AM-1:30AM; F-Sa 11AM-2AM (Delivery 11AM-1:30AM) A New England-style Chinese restaurant (take-out only). Good food, clean kitchen (you can watch them prepare your food through a window in the waiting area), and open late. Recommended by Ben Affleck.
  • Ronnarong Thai Tapas, 255 Washington St., Phone: 1 617-625-9296, [47]. (Note that Washington Street skips across Union Square; Ronnarong is located on the east side of Union Square, facing into the small municipal parking lot, near the U. S. Post Office.) Ronnarong features smaller plates of Thai cuisine, independent craft beers, and a full wine and sake list. Many ingredients are locally-sourced, and chef Ronnarong ("Ronnie") is always found in the kitchen. Closed Sundays.
  • Sherman Cafe, 257 Washington St., Phone: 1 617-776-4944. (Note that Washington Street skips across Union Square; the Sherman is located on the west side of Union Square, headed towards Harvard Square.) Another independent, locally-owned cafe, the Sherman features made-to-order gourmet sandwiches with fresh, local ingredients and a selection of soups. All pastries and breads are also made right at the cafe. Espresso, teas, brewed coffee, and Italian-style sodas round out the menu. One hour of free Wi-Fi is available for customers in this friendly neighborhood cafe.
  • Cantina La Mexicana, 247 Washington St., (Union Sq), Phone: +1 617-776-5232, [48]. Friendly neighborhood taqueria, West Coast style. Burritos, tacos, tamales, everything cheap. Expanded in 2009 to include restaurant-style seating and a full bar.

Everywhere else

  • East Somerville is home to several good Brazilian churrascarias (barbeque) served rodízio style (meat is selected table-side and cut directly from a skewer. Side dishes are served buffet style or depending on the place you can get comida à quilo ("food by the kilo") - buffet food sold by weight. Though the best rodízio might be the Midwest Grill in neighboring Inman Square, Cambridge.
  • Fasika, Broadway (East Somerville). Ethiopians looking for a new place after they lost their lease took over a local bar and put a partition down the middle, keeping the bar on one side and having seating on the other. The result? Probably the only Ethiopian restaurant in the world with video keno! Townies having a beer watch yuppies chow down on very good yemasir wat.
  • Vinny's at Night, 76 Broadway (East Somerville). Phone: 617-628-1921. You get to this place by walking through Vinny's Superette, a convenience store. Honest. Fantastic family-style Italian fare.
  • Mama Lisa's Pizza, 312 Broadway (Winter Hill), Phone: +1 617-623-9463. Good pizza, fantastic ham & cheese calzones, but calzones are only made some days of the week so call to verify.
  • Li'l Vinny's, 525 Medford Street (Magoun Square). Phone: 617.628.8466. [49] Run by the nephew of Vinny's at Night. More great family-style Italian and friendly wait staff.
  • Sound Bites. 704 Broadway (Magoun Square). Phone:617-623-8338 [50] Voted "Best Breakfast in Boston" many times. Lines out the door on weekends.
  • R.F. O'Sullivan and Son, 282 Beacon St (Near Porter Sq.). Phone: +1 617-492-7773, [51]. Mainly a bar, with one food specialty: Outstanding burgers. The fries and onion rings are excellent, and that's pretty much the whole menu.

Drink

  • Rudy's Cafe, 248 Holland St. (Teele Sq), Phone: +1 617-623-9201. Unparalleled selection of Tequila. Opinions vary on the Tex-Mex food.
  • Orleans, 65 Holland St., Davis Square, Phone: +1 617-591-2100, [52]. Large beer selection and huge selection of exotic mixed drinks including a variety of Sangrias and martinis.
  • The Independent, 75 Union Square, Phone: +1 617-440-6021, [53]. A very cool unpretentious place for a drink.
  • The Joshua Tree, Davis Square, a good bar for the college/"young professional" set in the evenings. Numerous HDTVs, good food, friendly staff.
  • Also see Redbones and The Burren above

Sleep

Somerville is, as mentioned elsewhere, a heavily residential area; hence, there are few hotels. There are some bed-and-breakfasts that are not well-publicized; if you are visiting someone who lives here, they may be able to help you find one. Otherwise, you may do better to stay in Cambridge or in one of the outlying suburbs along Route 93 or Route 95.

Budget

Mid-range

  • AmeriSuites, 116 Riverside Ave, Medford, MA, +1 781-395-0077, [54]. Located off of I-93, near Medford Square. This hotel is 2.5 miles from Davis Square and 7 miles to the airport.
  • Holiday Inn Boston Somerville, 30 Washington St., Phone: +1 617-628-000, Fax: +1 617-628 0143, [55]. Just two miles from downtown Boston and four miles from Logan International Airport. Includes a photo gallery, rates, availability and on line reservations.
  • Morrison House (Bed and Breakfast), 221 Morrison Avenue, Phone: +1 617-627-9670, [56]. 4 rooms, near public transportation.

Splurge

Contact

Stay safe

The area around Sullivan Square and the Assembly Square Mall is a bit desolate after dark. You have to walk under the highway and there are several dive bars nearby. If you find yourself at Sullivan Square after dark, you might want to stick close to the bus stops where there are plenty of people around.

Get out

Boston, Cambridge, the North Shore are nearby. All of New England can be reached in a few hours.


Routes through Somerville
ManchesterMedford  N noframe S  BostonCanton


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