Iced coffee and sandwich
December 16, 2013

An Insider's Guide to Boston’s Hidden Gems

Boston is truly a city of neighborhoods, each with a distinctive local flavor.  To jump start your exploration, here's a look at three neighborhoods that are a little further off the beaten path, along with some hidden gems that demonstrate Boston's unique personality and charm.


Jamaica Plain (or JP for short) lies southwest of downtown Boston. JP residents take pride in the quirky local galleries, hip eateries, and colorful shops along Centre and South Street, which are largely unexplored by those from other neighborhoods. (If you’re zipping from here, Centre and South Street have several cars.)

City Feed neighborhood grocery on Centre Street.City Feed neighborhood grocery on Centre Street.

City Feed, (672 Centre Street; 617-524-1700 or 66A Boylston Street; 617-524-1657; A neighborhood grocery and café serves as a gathering spot for locals as they pop in to buy produce for dinner or grab hot-pressed sandwiches for a picnic in nearby Arnold Arboretum or Jamaica Pond. City Feed stocks organic produce and a curated selection of locally produced products like Taza Chocolate, Fat Toad Caramel, Mem Tea, and Equal Exchange Coffee. Check the website for upcoming events, including free tastings with live music.  


Parts of Somerville are accessible via the Red Line, but the area has a few local spots that might require a bus transfer, some hoofing, or a Zipcar. Union Square, just over a mile from Davis Square, offers its own indie charms with locally run cafés and bars.

Brooklyn Boulders rock climbing gym in Somerville.Brooklyn Boulders rock climbing gym in Somerville.

Brooklyn Boulders (12A Tyler Street; 617-623-6700;, features 25,000 square feet of indoor rock climbing. In the interest of building community around climbing, entrepreneurship, and culture, it also includes a lounge area with video games, co-working spaces with wireless internet, a pro shop, art gallery, workout room, and yoga studio. Show your Zipcard for a discounted Brooklyn Boulders membership or Learn to Boulder class. Or if rock-climbing isn't your thing, check out the nearby Artisans Asylum (10 Tyler Street; 617-863-7634;, a 40,000-square-foot warehouse offering studio space and classes in everything from bike building and metalworking to robotics and fiber arts.

Bloc 11 café in Union Square, Somerville.Bloc 11 café in Union Square, Somerville.

For a post-climb snack, grab a sandwich and latte at Bloc 11 (11 Bow Street; 617-623-0000;, which is situated in a former bank in Union Square (you can even sip your coffee while sitting in the old vault). Bloc 11 Café serves direct trade coffee from Intelligentsia in Chicago and hosts coffee tastings, live music, and art shows. The laidback vibe attracts laptop-toting grad students, locals, and yogis from the studio upstairs. In warm weather, the courtyard overlooking Bow Street offers a nice sunny spot for relaxing with an iced coffee or sparkling limeade.


Dotted with upscale restaurants and art galleries mixed among mid-nineteenth century brownstones and parks, the South End has a diverse population and bursts with local color and flavors. Stroll along Tremont or Washington Street, and you're likely to see residents pushing strollers, walking dogs, or toting shopping bags from local boutiques.   

The art of the pour at Render Coffee in the S. End.The art of the pour at Render Coffee in the S. End.

Render Coffee (563 Columbus Avenue; 617-262-4142; is the kind of neighborhood haunt where patrons linger over a hazelnut latte and a book or laptop. Coffee connoisseurs rave about Render's single cup pour over coffee, and a new line of deli sandwiches uses Zoe's Meats and Iggy's Bread.

Natural beauty products purveyor, Tara Foley.Natural beauty products purveyor, Tara Foley.

Babson grad Tara Foley opened Follain (53 Dartmouth Street; 857-284-7078; earlier this year after discovering that many of the healthy products she wrote about on her beauty blog weren't available on the retail market. Accented with plants and vintage apothecary tools from the Brimfield Antique Show, the store features sections for spa-grade, U.S.-made skincare, hair care, and cosmetics that use clean, simple ingredients in place of harsh chemicals. It also offers a refill program where customers pay a one-time deposit on a pump bottle for hand and body soap and bring it back to refill with a rotating selection of scents like teak, rosemary citrus, and lavender.