Every year, and for the last 20 years, Sara and I meet in Boston for a girlfriend shopping getaway. She drives up from Philly. I tool up from Connecticut. And we spend three days popping into shops and stopping for meals from one end of Newbury St. to another.
Twenty years brings change to commercial city streets and to people – especially to women in and out of marriages, who are well into middle age. So it’s no surprise that our lives have paralleled the ups and downs of “Boston’s most enchanting street with eight blocks filled with salons, boutiques, and fabulous dining,” as the district touts itself. (This year, 2021, the topic, of course, was Covid, missing our 2020 summer in Boston, and the world opening up again.)
Shopping In Boston – The Ups and Downs
And, as Boston revives other neighborhoods, we’ve been exploring other, developing shopping districts – like the “SoWa Arts and Design District.”
Shopping in Boston is just an excuse to catch up, to talk, to “get real” and break bread together. It’s never been just about shopping. We try to solve problems, we gossip, we celebrate each other’s achievements and suffer each other’s sorrows.
We cheerlead and talk sense into each other while pounding the pavement, trying on clothes, getting our nails and hair done, meeting shopkeepers, and drinking wine, or specialty martinis, or craft cocktails.
Our first year celebrated Sara’s new (second) marriage. Our kids – each of us has two boys – were pre-teens. This year, two sons are married: one (mine) in Denver, another (hers) an Air Force Fighter Pilot living in Italy. A third (hers), getting married soon, lives and works in Boston. The fourth (mine) lives and works in New York City. They are grown. As they’ve changed, so have we. And, so has Newbury St.
Restoration Hardware now occupies the 1862 Boston Society for Natural History building. The museum became Bonwitt Teller and then Louis Boston, where we once ogled designer fashions and purchased cutting edge cosmetics. Since then it’s been transformed into that upscale furniture store known by its monogram – RH.
Through all this change, though, there has been at least one stalwart. The artist, Charlie Wang, has been selling his prints and watercolors of Boston landmarks without fail for years on the corner of Dartmouth St. A constant in the constantly changing face of Newbury St., Wang has himself become a Boston Landmark.
Of course Sara and I have our favorites. A few are still here, but many have closed or decamped for cheaper areas, like the cool new South End, aka SoWa Arts District.
Boston Shopping in the SoWa Arts and Design District
A new shopping/gallery/artist hotspot, SoWa was originally derived from a shortening of “South of Washington.” It now spans the area from Mass Ave to Herald Street and from Shawmut Ave to Albany Street.
A high-fashion boutique, OKW became our number one preference by virtue of its friendly owners and incredible, unique clothing. We could not ignore OKW when it moved from Newbury to SoWa, so, every year now, we get to Boston Friday mid-day and start there.
Dahlia, named for owner/hand-weaver, Dahlia Popovits, also sells the work of other innovative clothing artisans and designers.
Cute fashions and home goods made by women – next door to OKW.
Crafty handmade one of a kind gifts from handbags to soaps and so much more.
….and the beautiful Zainab Sumu, whose “Primative-Modern” African designs grace her best selling scarves. (But who also sells eye-catching t-shirts for $50).
Shopping On Newbury Street In Boston
Newbury St., which runs eight blocks from Arlington St. to Mass Ave., can be divided into two realms, shopping-wise.
The top half bordering Boston Public Garden– alphabetically, Arlington to Essex– is mostly the “high rent” district, where you’ll find The Newbury Hotel (formerly Taj Boston), Burberry, Dolce & Gabbana, Chanel, Armani, and the like.
The lower half – Essex to Mass Ave., tends toward smaller boutiques, start-ups (like Ministry of Supply), and chains like North Face and Diesel.
There are several places we’ve tried once and determined not for us. We are not into fairies, unicorns, or hemp, so we’ve passed on The Fairy Shop and Hempest almost since day one. And we’ve been puzzled by the staying power of Johnny Cupcakes, a purveyor of $30 pop-culture t-shirts.
And, of course, there are those places we’ve outgrown. Urban Outfitters, on Newbury at Mass Ave. had incredible summer deals on teen boy furnishings, so every year I’d stock up on lighting, collapsible chairs and desk knickknacks for my kids’ rooms.
Over the years, as prices increased and inventory appealed more to the pierced and tattooed, we’d spend less and less time there. Now, next door neighbor, MUJI, is our go-to for design-forward home goods, modern clothing, and my favorite pens.
Favorite Boston Shops
Though some stores have closed, others pop up in their place. Here are some of our favorites in 2021, some old, some brand new:
I was thrilled to find this store on our 2021 Boston Shopping foray, as Rhone has been the apparel brand favored by my husband and two sons. Plus, we’ve got “history.”
About seven years ago, at the annual JCC Holiday Gift Mart in my hometown of Stamford CT, I met a few young guys touting the comfort and durability of workout pants they were just starting to make and market. Though expensive, I purchased a pair for my hard-to-buy for husband.
He loved them, and couldn’t get enough. Good thing their start-up office was just five minutes from us. Fast forward 7 years, and Rhone has become a go-to brand for athletes and athletic types – like all my boys. So much so, they opened five stand alone stores: three in NYC, one in Stamford CT, and this, the only Rhone in MA.
Royal Robbins makes clothing that’s “lighter on the skin and planet.” RR sells tops, pants, and dresses that are ideal for active adventure travelers – some even with bug-repellant and UPF protection technology. Plus everything is ethically and sustainably made. A total win-win-win.
I was drawn in by the fantastic oversized sweatshirt jacket in the window. Just had to have it (I know, to each his own). This is VDR’s first brick and mortar shop in the United States, with pretty reasonable prices for 80’s hip-hop and other, more geometric-styles. (That jacket and other quirky designs average in the $200’s).
Ministry of Supply
MIT textile geniuses opened the first Ministry of Supply men’s clothing shop where they sell moisture-wicking, anti-microbial, breathable, wrinkle-free shirts for just over $100 – a bargain given that a runner completed the NY Marathon wearing the Men’s Archive Dress Shirt and, at the finish line, looked and smelled like he had just put it on.
And every year, we save some time for the sale racks at Betsy Jenney (not Betsy Johnson, another favorite, that sadly closed). Several years ago, I made a special purchase – the perfect Mother of the Groom dress that Betsy herself picked out for me! Betsy Jenney is crammed with funky, fashion-forward dresses, shirts, skirts and accessories. Stay long enough and something is bound to speak to you.
This clean, organic, toxin-free beauty store has everything from cosmetics to sunscreen and underarm deodorant.
Dining On and Near Newbury Street and SoWa
Shopping in Boston certainly works up a thirst – and hunger. These are our constants:
Are you into historic watering holes? Head to Boston’s oldest pub – run by 3rd and 4th gen Foley’s. The food is what you’d expect from a place that’s got a bunch of fresh brews on draft, and a large selection of great Irish Whiskey’s – really ok, but doesn’t define the place. What does is it’s neighborhood feel – in the SoWa District – a full service bar, and friendly Foley’s, like 4th Generation Jeremiah (pictured).
Terra – Eataly, Prudential Center
Imagine seeing your food wood-smoked right in front of your eyes. You can at this eatery upstairs in Eataly at Boston’s Pru Center. Many menu items are char-kissed over an open flame. Pasta is freshly made in-house (wonderfully el dente), and the breaded Chicken Milanese arrives to the table on a blackened plank of wood. Food is mouth-wateringly good – no wonder the place is consistantly packed.
Tatte Back Bay
Tatte Back Bay (on Boylston) serves up the best Israeli and Middle Eastern food this side of Tel Aviv, and it’s our go-to for incredible Shakshuka.
Jonquils Cafe and Bakery
Jonquil’s Cafe and Bakery has the most geometrically and theatrically designed baked goods in New England (which are every bit as delicious as they look), plus fantastic sandwiches, and teas that bloom dramatically. An artistic “Living Wall” at the cafe’s entrance provides a good idea of the eye-popping treats within. A meal or mid-day treat here is an experience unlike any other on Newbury St.
One of our never-miss favorites is Stephanie’s – the traditional long-standing salad spot on Newbury. Twenty plus years on, and it’s still a-wait-to-get-a-table kind of place.
We devote at least one lunch to fresh pizza by the slice at this uber casual pie place.
A decent spot to dine, but it’s really where everyone ends up to watch the game. And, interestingly, it’s located in the first First Spiritualist Temple in the USA, built in 1885.
Best Hotels Near Newbury Street – Boston
Initially, in 2001, we looked for 4 and 5-star hotels nearby with summer weekend rates under $200, and found them. We could score a room at The Lenox, The Elliot, Park Plaza, The Fairmont, and others for a song.
By the mid ‘aughts, the only place to find that price was at the Newbury Guest House right on Newbury St – and we were amazed with our large room’s classic beauty.
Yes, we’ve tried them all. Here are some of our favorites for a Boston Shopping trip.
The Lenox Hotel (corner of Boylson/Exeter)
With its high-ceiling European-lush rooms dressed in elegant hues, Italian marble baths and brass chandeliers, I felt coddled and swathed in the warm glow of hoteliers who seemed to care. I know that it was not an act. The Lenox, located at the finish line of Boston Marathon, became a victim of the bombing in 2013. Windows were shattered and guests had to be evacuated quickly.
Then, throughout the week of April 15, 2013, The Lenox turned into Central Command Center. Hotel employees fed over 500 police and FBI around the clock, with other local restaurants and hotels donating food as well. Wait staff handed over thousands of dollars in tip money to The One Fund, created to help bombing victims.
Now, rooms have been kept up, and the dark lobby glows with a lit fireplace, a “locally made” Mercantile, and doors open to the inviting City Bar. It was the perfect spot for our end-of-shopping day glass of wine.
The Lenox does chocolates on the pillow one better, in my estimation, with a bag of about 6 or 7 Lindt Chocolate Truffles awaiting in the room. That’s because the Lindt store is attached to the hotel. How convenient! Rooms from $200 per night.
STAY: Boston Park Plaza
In 2019, our hotel choice was the newly renovated (in 2017) Boston Park Plaza. It’s amazing how $100 million can perk up a place.
Built in 1927 as the Statler Hotel, the newly renovated Boston Park Plaza stands on Arlington Ave. a block from Boston Common and the Public Gardens, and two blocks from the top of famous Newbury St.
Over the years, the Park Plaza has welcomed US Presidents, foreign dignitaries, and Hollywood celebrities. But, as with any shining star, the hotel lost its luster in the later 1900’s.
For its 90th anniversary in 2017, the Park Plaza went through a $100 million top to bottom renovation, and judging by the crowds checking in on a sweltering July Friday, the luster is back.
First Impressions of Boston Park Plaza Hotel
How did I like walking into the lobby on a very hot summer day and encountering a friendly guy peddling an old-fashioned ice cream cart? Incredibly much, thank you! Especially since the gourmet ice-cream bars were free for guests checking in on “Ice-Cream Fridays” in the summertime.
Memorable perks and experiences like this form a positive opinion of a place before you even have a minute gauge your surroundings. But the Park Plaza’s new two- story lobby is a stunning room, anchored by a large bar, and full of tables, couches, and smaller nooks in which to wait for friends and family, have a drink or bite, or open a laptop.
Reception is friendly, efficient, and quick – even in my case, when pilots and flight attendants from Italy (Air Italia) were all checking in at the same time I was. Apparently, the Park Plaza is a favorite among airplane crews flying in and out of Logan Airport.
Rooms at Boston Park Plaza
Guest rooms, with new patterned grey carpeting, contemporary grey valances, and several pieces of furniture along with beds clad in white duvets, are rather minimalist. Bathrooms have been updated with modern tile and raised ceramic sinks.
No art adorns the walls; there are no colorful throws or pillows for punch. But when it’s 100 degrees outside, air conditioning turns each room into a bright cool sanctuary.
Dining at Boston Park Plaza
There are three opportunities for grabbing a bite without having to exit the property.
Off The Common encompasses the Bar and most of the lobby interior. Best to order craft cocktails, and appetizers like great fried calamari, Buffalo “Chicken Pops,” and artisanal Flatbreads.
Strega Italiano – a tony steakhouse with fantastic cuts of meat, fish, and chicken dishes. Steaks range from $38-$65 and more for Japanese Waygu, but it’s worth it for a special night splurge.
Starbucks – this is not your average hotel Starbucks. This is a full-service, takes-your Starbucks-card, has everything property. And, it’s right off the hotel lobby.
Just the Facts
The Boston Park Plaza is a dog-friendly hotel: up to two dogs of any size are allowed in each room (but cannot be left alone). Rooms start at $120 midweek in Winter, and average in the $300’s per night during the summer months. Wi-Fi is an additional $12.95 per night, valet parking $58 per 24 hours, and there’s a $75 pet cleaning fee.
STAY: The Colonnade Hotel, Boston
The Colonnade Hotel is the best place to stay in summer as it’s the only hotel in Boston with a roof deck pool.
Across the street from the Prudential Center in Back Bay, The Colonnade has been hosting businesspeople and tourists for decades. Every now and then a hotel of this caliber needs to update, and so the Colonnade has, to beautiful effect. Pleasant rooms have been redone in handsome earth tones, and the lobby impresses with vivid art, but it’s the roof-deck pool that elevates The Colonnade Hotel to standout status in Boston.
Rooms at The Colonnade Hotel
Modernized rooms feature white soft duvets punctuated by brown throws, ergonomic chairs around a small table, flat screen TVs, Keurig coffee makers, white marble baths with rain showers, and upscale Thyme amenities. Bedding is marvelously downy, and floor to ceiling windows reveal constantly moving “city life” views of Back Bay Boston
If it’s a nice day, order breakfast or lunch beside the Roof Top Pool (RTP). The food is decent, but who really cares when you’re surrounded by the Boston skyline. Views like this make everything taste exemplary. At night, the roof deck turns into a huge bar scene. The pool is just an added bonus.
The RTP (Roof Top Pool)
This is why you book a room at the Colonnade in the summer. Guests of the hotel can access this rooftop resort for free, while all others must pay $45. And yes, I call it a resort because people actually pay good money to tan and dip and shower and drink up here for the day.
At night – the place turns into an illuminated wonderland. Floating balls in the water glow with ever-changing colors. There’s a “beautiful people” element to the crowd at the bar: 20 and 30-somethings capturing themselves and surrounding views on their cellphones, getting progressively boisterous as the drinks pour. It’s a party crafted nightly by weather and personalities – a good deal of fun, even more so for hotel guests since it’s just an elevator ride (and a two-level staircase) away. Room rates start at $225 in cold season, $349 in summer, includes free wi-fi. Parking an additional $48 per night.
STAY: Loews Boston
In the former Boston Police Headquarters, Loews Boston is nostalgic, luxurious, and quirky.
There are reminders everywhere of Loews Boston Hotel’s original identity as Boston Police Headquarters from 1926 until 1997. In 2004, the Irish hotel company, Jury’s, purchased and repurposed the “last major Italianate Renaissance Revival building erected in the city” into a luxury hotel. It became a Loews Hotel in 2009.
Two large blue lights flank the former front door of the Police Headquarters, there’s a plaque commemorating the history of the building in the entryway, and you’ll find black and white photos of men and women in uniform sprinkled throughout the hotel.
As a nod to its former occupants, each meeting room is named after a Boston Police Chief or officer– including Dorothy Harrison (Harrison Room), the first African American woman Detective, who studied Opera at Boston University but felt that her race would “keep her from a full professional music career.”
Harrison served from 1944-1972. As with all women police officers back then, was not allowed to carry a firearm – relying only on her badge and intelligence to do her duty.
First Impressions of Loews Boston
The reception area is modern and minimalist – punched by a large cherry blossom photo behind three mirrored desks. The welcome is friendly and efficient, with starkness of the room offset by a comfy “living room” area complete with a Loews trademark: a full wall TV screen.
There’s an espresso/cappuccino/coffee machine at the ready 24/7, a communal work table with plenty of outlets for laptop computers, lots of seating, and a fireplace.
The outdoor patio just off the downstairs pub, the only recessed hotel patio in town, thrums with patrons each evening, no matter the weather – from steam bath to deep freeze. In January last year, locals celebrated a Game of Thrones “Winter Is Coming” pop-up event that lasted all month. Even without heaters, the patio was crammed with fans clad in fur and other GOT get-ups. In summer, you’ll never know what to expect – last weekend, baby goats intermingled with patio guests. It seems that hotel staff are getting increasingly creative.
Rooms at Loews Boston
Larger than average standard rooms (300-345 sq. ft), renovated in 2014, are handsomely designed “like a fine tailored men’s suit.” Navy throws on white duvets top cloudlike beds that sport dark wood and cream-colored leather headboards, and sturdy armchairs are upholstered in a tweedy houndstooth fabric. Streamlined to the max, Keurig coffee makers and small refrigerators are concealed inside contemporary bureaus, and electrical outlets can be found on walls just above bedside tables.
Marble and granite bathrooms feature warming towel racks and generous bottles of Julien Farel Anti-Aging Haircare Treatments and Products. “Doe-Skin” Chadsworth and Haig robes have proven so popular; guests ask where to buy them.
Dining at Loews Boston
Precinct Kitchen and Bar, called Cuff’s until 4 years ago, serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner – with a concentration on tweaked comfort food – what restaurant copywriters call “Classic Boston Cuisine” (whatever that means…. a little Irish? A smattering of Seafood? Yep – all those things). Try the gluten-free Protein Pancakes in the morning, made with oats, bananas, blueberries, and egg whites. Healthy never tasted so good.
The bar, generally packed after work hours on weekdays, stands next to the police station’s Gun Safe, left in place as another reminder of what was once here. Craft cocktails are terrific – and tend to be potent – thanks to mixologists who know their stuff. Room rates start at $199 off-season up to $745 in season, plus tax. Parking $53 per day.
Weekend Getaways In Boston
- American History; Boston Style (With Martinis)
- Dark, Spooky, and Delicious Boston
- Boston MA On The Water; Two If By Sea
- Boston MA: A Terrific Girlfriend Shopping Getaway
- or Boston MA: Immersed In Art–Good, Bad, and Yours