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A Weekend with Kids in Boston

by David Peretz

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For those families mulling over family travel plans for Spring, Summer or Fall and reluctant to travel far and wide this year owing to recession, SARS or post-war concerns, we'd like to recommend a visit to Boston. Whether for a long weekend or an extended visit to New England that could include the Berkshires (Tanglewood in Summer), New Hampshire or Vermont, Boston is a great place to start with the kids. We learned from our grandkids (lst and 4th graders) that they were studying Colonial times and the American Revolution. What better place to take them than to a birthplace of our nation? The past decade has seen a revitalization of the city but its charm remains intact. Apart from its historical significance and the opportunities to explore American history, Boston is home to a variety of fine museums, Fenway Park and the Red Sox, the Boston Celtics, colleges and universities galore, fine dining, including great pizza in the North End, the original Filene's basement for shopping bargains and a lively theatre scene for evening entertainment.

Where to Stay

There is a wide range of hotels from moderate to luxury available in Boston and its environs. We preferred to stay downtown and given that choice our selection was an easy one. The Four Seasons group of hotels is far and away our favorite. The Four Seasons Boston is no exception. From its location facing the Boston Public Gardens and Commons (be sure to request a room with a view, if available), its child friendly program (how about milk and cookies in the room?), the tasteful luxury of the public spaces and the spacious comfort of rooms and suites to the friendly, knowledgeable staff, it proved to be perfect for a weekend with the kids. The huge swimming pool with splendid views of the Public Gardens and the Spa/Fitness Center met the needs of kids and adults, after a day of touring and prior to an evening of dining. There are several dining venues perfect for families with children. The dining is first-rate whatever your choice. The Bristol Lounge welcomes kids with coloring books, menus and toys. The California Pizza Kitchen is exactly that. Fire and Ice offers the opportunity to create your meal, prepared on an 8 foot grill. Maggiano's Italian Kitchen provides Italian favorites. Inquire about special weekend rates available for families. For reservations, contact your travel agent or Four Seasons reservations (800-332-3442) or visit www.fourseasons.com The hotel is located at 200 Boylston Street. Direct line to the hotel reservation desk is 617-351-2036. Other choices include the recently opened Marriot Residence Inn Boston Harbor, 34-44 Charles River Avenue, Charlestown Tel. 617-242-9000 ( www.marriot.com); In Cambridge, close to Fenway Park, you'll find the attractive Hotel Buckminster, 645 Beacon Street, (617) 236-7050, www.bostonhotelbuckminster.com , a renovated 19th century mansion and easy on the pocketbook.

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Where to Dine

You can find great dining in Boston, particularly in the North End, famous for its Italian fare. We dined at Prezza, highly rated by the Zagat and deserving of its rating. Our "gang" sampled Caesar salad, octopus and calamari with pancetta and beans, Mediterranean fish stew (three yums), trout wrapped in bacon and grilled on a wood grill with potatoes, loin of lamb, grilled asparagus, pasta (tagliatelle a la Bolognese). The adults drank Pinot Grigio and a delicious Cote du Rhone from Guigal, both reasonably priced. Chef Anthony Caturano has a deft hand and turns out delicious dishes. Prezza is located at 24 Fleet Street, Tel: (617) 227-1577; Fax: (617) 227-1587, www.prezza.com

If you're willing to drive 20 minutes from central Boston to Newton, you'll discover Lumiere, an outpost of original cuisine, 1293 Washington Street, West Newton. Michael Leviton is the chef. His wife, Jill is out front. Together they have created what one reviewer called "a culinary heaven where even the simplest ingredients sing." This is a restaurant clearly more appropriate for adults than the children. Consider arranging a sitter at your hotel and taking the drive to West Newton. The Four Seasons will assist, as will other top of the line hotels. Or, if reluctant to do so, introduce the children to this fine dining. There are dishes they are sure to enjoy, such as sage roasted chicken, filet mignon with fries, creamed spinach. We loved Michael's seared scallops with wild mushrooms. A nice selection of wines, warm, friendly service and a knowledgeable staff all lend themselves to a special evening. If you're driving to and from Boston, please be sure that you have a designated driver. Otherwise, consider a taxi.

At the Bristol Lounge (The Four Seasons), we had fun with the grandkids, rating the dinner dishes on a 1-10 scale, ten the best, of course. Salad with buttered pasta, New England Clam Chowder, Caesar salad, Lobster salad, Grilled Chicken with mashed potatoes and asparagus, Grilled Quail with Papaya and Tamarind, Arctic Char with Braised endives and capers, all rated at the high end, with the Caesar salad and Quail scoring tens. For the health-conscious dieter, The Four Seasons always has a number of excellent dishes. A Lemon Angel Food cake with strawberries and blueberries was fat free (egg whites). Breakfasts at The Four Seasons feature egg white omelettes with vegetables, scrambled eggs with potato cakes while kids, if they wish, can look forward to mini-pancakes with chocolate chips.

Legal Seafood There are several restaurants in Boston and Cambridge in this attractive seafood chain. They serve what reviewers describe as the finest and freshest seafood in the city. Three of our crowd dined at the restaurant around the corner from The Four Seasons while three were enjoying the game at Fenway Park. Their rating on the steamers, fried clams and shrimp was very high and on previous visits the lobster was also outstanding. Check with your hotel concierge for the location nearest you.

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What to See

Let's get a 9 year old girl's perspective.

The Freedom Trail

"On my trip to Boston, I saw many things. Among my favorites was The Freedom Trail. The Freedom Trail is a tour of Boston's history of the American Revolution. There is a red painted or brick line showing a trail that is fun to follow, stopping at historical sites. Our tour guide, Ms. Abigail Adams herself, realistically plays the role of a character from the 18th century. We stopped first at the Granary Burying Ground to look at gravesites of historical figures and their history. We looked at many graves including the ones of Sameul Adams, Paul Revere and John Hancock.

Next, Abigail took us to the Old State House where every year on Independence Day, the Declaration of Independence is read from the balcony. From a distance, Abigail explained the story of the Boston Massacre. Worried about cars, we didn't bother to stand on the circle.

Our next and final stop was Faneuil Hall. "What's on top of Faneuil Hall?," Abigail asked. "How am I supposed to know? I haven't gone on the Freedom Trail! A rooster?" Wrong! Go on the Freedom Trail to find out.

Abigail dropped us off at Faneuil Hall, leaving us to wander over to Paul Revere's house (Editor's Note: in the North End). After first stopping off at Ernesto's Pizza (my brother Isaac couldn't miss that!), we listened to an annual lecture on Patriot's Weekend by Paul Revere (David O'Connor). This may not be the best place for kids, but I liked it because I'm interested in the American Revolution. I strongly suggest that you go on The Freedom Trail when you visit Boston. Good luck on your trip! I 100% guarantee you will come back with a smile on your face."

Hillary Hubley, age 9

Editor's Note:

When you join a guide for The Freedom Trail, try for "Abigail Adams". Julia Donahue plays the role to perfection, in character from the moment she greets you until her departure. She is informed, witty, charming and an utter delight for children and adults, as well. And if you'd like her to come to your school as a "historical re-enactor", she can be reached at (617) 926-6444. We're sure the other guides are wonderful, too.

Here's Hillary's Dad describing Boston Family Fun:

"If there is an American city richer in diversion for the traveling family than Boston, I'm not sure what it could be. Along with its renowned historical sites, highlighted along the Freedom Trail and elsewhere, there is a broad variety of diverse and easily accessible attractions to whet the appetites of children and adults alike.

Curious about the "Shot Heard Round the World"? Why not head over to Beantown's legendary Fenway Park, where in 1975 Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk hit perhaps the single most famous home run in Baseball history! Fenway, home to one of America's most beloved, if hapless, sports franchises-the Red Sox-is itself one of our oldest ballparks. (Editors Note: at press time, the Red Sox were tied with the Yankees for first place) It's small scale makes it an ideal setting for children who can delight in watching manually operated scoreboards or marvel at its statuesque left field wall, the Green Monster.

Another magical sight (and just a long fly ball from Fenway) is the Mapparium, at the Mary Baker Eddy Library. This unique structure, built in 1935 and just recently renovated, is nothing less than a 30 foot walk through a globe comprised of 605 curved panels of stained glass, 260 light fixtures and some of the oddest acoustics one could imagine.

Finally, no trip to Boston with children could be considered complete without a sampling of its impressive array of pizzas-available in all sorts of stsyles, though most famously tending toward the North End coal-oven, thin-crusted variety. Though some of the city's most celebrated pies were beyond his reach in a recent three-day visit, (Santarpio's of East Boston, for example), Isaac Hubley, age 6, did manage to try more than a few of Boston's pizzas and rated them thusly:

  1. Pizza Regina. A North End stalwart featuring colorful clientele and crisp-crusted pies with tangy traditional flavors. (Editor's note: Pizzeria Regina has been in operation since 1926, 4 generations of family. For the crust, they use "a secret 75 year old recipe" with a special natural yeast, no preservatives and no additives) Expect a small wait for one of the cozy booths.
  2. Ernesto's Pizza. A small storefront eatery, also in the North End, with friendly, by-the-slice service and a sunny front stoop, just steps away from Paul Revere's House.
  3. Papa Gino's. Alright, not exactly up to the standard set by the other two, but admired by Isaac chiefly for it's ubiquity. We found this franchise-brand pizza at cafeterias, road stops, even at Fenway Park! "What could beat that?" asks Isaac. "Eating pizza at a ballgame."
Ray Hubley

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Further Sightseeing

Children's Museum, 300 Congress Street. A place of exploration and discovery.Daily 10AM-5PM. Friday until 9PM.

Museum of Science, Cambridge on the O'Brien Highway. Includes a planetarium, observatory, Omni Theatre with larger than life images on a 5 stories high domed ceiling. Hundreds of hands-on activities for kids.

Boston Duck Tours, (617) 723-3825, www.bostonducktours.com Take a historical tour aboard an authentic, renovated World War II amphibious landing vehicle. Approximately 80 minutes, departing from Prudential Center and Museum of Science. Advance ticket purchase recommended. The kids will thrill as the landing vehicle rolls through the streets with smiles and waves from pedestrians, then cruises on the Charles River.

Bunker Hill Monument, Located in Charlestown, the site of the first major battle of the Revolutionary War.

Museum of Fine Arts, Avenue of the Arts, 465 Huntington Avenue, (617) 267-9300. This fabulous fine arts museum is a must for art lovers, young and old. Its American collection is excellent and there are gems from every historical period, up to and including Impressionist, post-Impressionist and Contemporary art. Visit their web site, www.mfa.org for directions, hours and current exhibits.

Not far from the MFA you'll find The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. 280 The Fenway, (617) 566-1401. www.gardnermuseum.org This jewel of a museum, famous for the break-in and theft of a number of masterpieces many years ago, some recovered, some still lost, is celebrating its 100th anniversary. It is a must see, for its physical and architectural beauty, interior garden and collection.

Beacon Hill. Ask for the Beacon Hill Visitors Guide at your hotel or along Charles Street. Stroll this beautiful neighborhood and admire its splendid eighteenth and nineteenth century homes. Have a bite to eat in a café, topped off with gelati. Browse the many antique shops that line Charles Street from the Public Garden down to near the Charles River.

The Public Garden and Boston Common. The heart of downtown Boston, totaling 75 acres of parkland. Boston Common is the oldest public park in the nation, dating from 1634. In the center of the Common, you'll find the Frog Pond, a wading pool in summer and ice skating rink in winter. The Public Garden is smaller and a more ornamental park. Beautiful seasonal gardens and both the Swan Boats and Make Way for Ducklings statues are to be found here. In all likelihood, you read your kids the "ducklings" book and now you can show them the statues.

For basketball fans, in season, the Boston Celtics may be in town. Check with your concierge if you'd like to try and pick up tickets.

If your kids are in high school, consider having a look at the physical layout at one or more of the many, many colleges and universities in Boston and Cambridge: Harvard, MIT, Tufts, Boston College, Northeastern, Boston University, to name a few.

Last but not least, there's shopping. A souvenir for the kids? There's Zoinks, described as a "wicked cool toy store." And old, reliable F.A.O Schwartz has a Boston branch and an incredible selection. For the grown-ups, there are lovely boutiques in downtown-and there's always Filene's Basement for bargain-hunters. But be sure to go down to the basement and sub-basement for the discounted items. The main and upper floors are now a regular department store

I'll repeat what our correspondent Hillary Hubley wrote: "Good luck on your trip! I 100% guarantee you will come back with a smile on your face."

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