Just 15 minutes from BU by bike, bus, or T, Jamaica Plain (JP to anyone who lives there) is one of Boston’s most diverse neighborhoods.
You won’t find chain stores here. What you will find is a community committed to the environment, fair-trade commerce, and sustainable agriculture, a place that’s hip and way left-of-center when it comes to politics.
Once described as the “Eden of America,” JP evolved after the Civil War from a series of large farms to one of the country’s first streetcar suburbs. The neighborhood includes a key part of the city’s famed Emerald Necklace Conservancy, a seven-mile series of contiguous parks designed by renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted in the late 19th century.
The Great Outdoors
Jamaicaway and Pond Street
To get to Jamaica Pond, follow the bike path that runs along the Emerald Necklace from the Landmark Center on Boston’s Park Drive to JP. Covering 68 acres, Jamaica Pond is a great place for a stroll (dogs must be leashed). This kettle pond formed by glaciers was once a reservoir for the city of Boston. Today, holders of a Massachusetts fishing license can fish the pond. Sailboats and rowboats are available for rent by the hour during the summer months.
The crown jewel of all of JP’s open spaces, the Arnold Arboretum offers a stunning landscape that changes with the seasons. Like Jamaica Pond, the Arboretum is a link in the city’s Emerald Necklace. Originally owned by Harvard University, the Arboretum was established in 1872, making it the oldest public arboretum in North America. It was deeded to the city of Boston in 1882, and Harvard was given a 1,000-year lease and operates the property. Today, it is one of the world’s preeminent research institutions, with more than 1.3 million plants spread across 281 acres. The arboretum is famous for its annual Lilac Sunday, held each May to celebrate and showcase its world-class collection of lilac trees.
Forest Hills Cemetery
95 Forest Hills Ave.
One of the country’s premier examples of the garden cemetery style, Forest Hills was created in 1848 to replace old colonial graveyards in what was then the city of Roxbury. The cemetery, set on more than 275 acres, was designed as a place to mourn the dead, but also to contemplate nature. Many famous Americans are buried here, among them the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, Nobel-winning playwright Eugene O’Neill, and poets Anne Sexton and E. E. Cummings. The cemetery also includes wonderful examples of Victorian architecture and spectacular sculptures, including a towering bronze angel created by sculptor Daniel Chester French, famous for the Lincoln Memorial’s Abraham Lincoln sculpture in Washington, D.C.
The parklike setting is ideal for strolling and contemplation, with its woodlands, grassy slopes, waterfall, fountain, and the man-made Lake Hibiscus. The Forest Hills crematory was the first built in the United States. The cemetery was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2004. Guided tours are available from April through October, and summer concerts are offered in the chapel.
Franklin Park Zoo
One Franklin Park Rd., Dorchester
Although the address of the 72-acre Franklin Park Zoo, nestled in Franklin Park, is officially Dorchester, we include it because Boston’s largest park is spread over parts of Jamaica Plain and Roxbury as well. The zoo is home to 160 species of animals in a variety of habitats, among them the Outback Trail, featuring kangaroos, kookaburras, emus, and sheep; a savannah containing Masai giraffes; and Serengeti Crossing, four acres of grassland and wooded hills where Grant’s zebras, ostriches, and wildebeests roam. It has one of the world’s best indoor gorilla exhibitions and a tropical rain forest. Opened in 1912, the zoo is operated by Zoo New England, a private nonprofit committed to conservation. This popular destination for families is open year-round and attracts about 400,000 visitors a year.
El Oriental de Cuba
416 Centre St.
Hyde Square is home to a large Hispanic community, much of it anchored by the El Oriental de Cuba restaurant, a neighborhood fixture since 1994 and possibly the best Cuban restaurant in Boston. This no-frills place offers up appetizers like mofongo (mashed green plantains with pork rinds in garlic sauce), a variety of rice dishes, including rice with spicy octopus, and classic fare such as braised oxtail, and caballo steak topped with fried eggs. Menus are in both Spanish and English.
Brendan Behan Pub
378 Centre St.
Popular with locals, the Behan, as it’s called, has been named the best Irish bar in Boston by Boston magazine four times. This classic Irish bar is famous for its large selection of draft and bottled beers, including dark ales, stouts, and lagers. And as the pub’s devoted clientele will tell you, the Behan is also famous for conversation. You’ll find no TVs or pinball machines here, just knots of people talking with one another. It’s also one of the few dog-friendly bars in Boston.
365 Centre St.
This restaurant celebrates Low Country Southern cuisine, with delicacies like smoked duck gumbo, fried green tomatoes, charred okra, collard greens, and the restaurant’s signature Low Country Boil, a stew studded with shrimp, house-made smoked sausage, corn, potato, and crab. There are a dozen craft beers on tap and an extensive wine and cocktail list. It’s also a popular weekend brunch destination, offering up Southern classics like shrimp and grits and biscuits and gravy. Dishes are reasonably priced and the staff is especially welcoming.
A Taste of History
12 South St.
A superb example of Georgian Colonial architecture, the Loring-Greenough House is one of the oldest structures in JP. Built in 1760 by Joshua Loring, a Colonial American commodore in the English navy, the house saw a number of uses after English Loyalist Loring returned to England at the start of the American Revolution. It was used as a military hospital during the Battle of Bunker Hill. In 1784, it was bought by the Greenough family, who occupied it until 1924, when it was saved from demolition by a group of civic-minded women. The house is open to the public each Sunday between 1 and 3 pm from April 1 through mid-November. Visitors will see American furniture and decorative arts from the 18th through the early 20th centuries and archival material chronicling the history of Jamaica Plain. Special exhibits and concerts are also held at the house.
The Footlight Club
7A Eliot St.
Founded in 1877 with the mission of providing “pleasant and useful entertainment by the aid of drama,” this is the oldest community theater in the country. And yes, it still produces enjoyable dramas, musicals, and comedies, all cast with local nonprofessional actors.
The Eliot School of Fine & Applied Arts
24 Eliot St.
In 1676, 38 residents of Jamaica Plain donated land to support a school. Funded by an endowment from local farmer John Eliot, the school educated Africans, Native Americans, and colonial children before turning its focus to the arts in the late 19th century. Alarmed at how “manual arts” like woodworking, sewing, and bookbinding were disappearing in Boston, the Eliot School began offering courses in such crafts for schoolteachers and adults, and then for children in after-school programs.
Today, the Eliot School of Fine & Applied Arts offers courses for children and adults in woodworking, sewing, fiber arts, drawing and painting, photography, and bookbinding. Classes offer a modern twist on many of these art forms: there are courses in drawing for comics and
cartoons, digital photography, and even how to market yourself as an artist.
Still operating out of its original 17th-century schoolhouse, the Eliot School has twice-yearly sales of art created by faculty and students, in June and December.
Jamaica Plain’s main shopping and dining venues can be found along Centre Street, the principal artery cutting through JP Center (at one end it becomes South Street, at the other, South Huntington Avenue). Below are highlights.
767 Centre St.
The latest entry into JP’s burgeoning coffee scene, the wittily named Espresso Yourself is open from 8 am to 7 pm seven days a week. In addition to offering an extensive coffee and tea beverage menu, the café serves an array of breakfast and dessert pastries made at Danish House in Watertown, cakes from Eva’s Pastries in Peabody, and Belgian waffles from Zinneken’s in Cambridge. You’ll also find the Middle Eastern treat halva—a blend of tahini, a sesame-based paste; sugar; and natural flavors like hazelnut and berries. Espresso Yourself features at least a dozen flavors for customers to try. While sampling your halva don’t forget to order one of the café’s mouth-watering sandwiches. Try the JP—prosciutto, fig jam, goat cheese, tomato, herbs, and olive oil served on Tuscan wheat bread—or the chicken avocado brie—grilled chicken, brie, avocado, arugula, tomato, red onion, and pesto spread served on six-grain bread. They’re both delicious. The café showcases a constantly changing array of art by local artists for sale and offers free Wi-Fi.
765 Centre St.
Salmagundi’s owners, husband and wife Jessen Fitzpatrick and Andria Rapagnola, believe that there’s a perfect hat for every man and woman, and their shop has more than 12,000 to choose from. In addition to chapeaus of every stripe, the boutique offers a wonderful selection of handbags, jewelry, men’s ties, belts, and wallets—and even flasks. The store also offers cleaning and blocking services. (Salmagundi has a second location on Salem Street in the North End that harbors an extensive collective of 4,000 hats.)
716 Centre St.
Love vintage clothing and want to support a good cause? Stop by this secondhand shop, which carries a wide selection of men’s, women’s, and children’s used clothing, as well as used furniture, electronics, toys, art, books, and CDs. All sales benefit the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts. The store’s inventory changes often as people donate goods constantly, so you’ll want to visit frequently. It has some real bargains, and if you’re looking to stock a new apartment, you cannot do better.
711 Centre St.
This Mexican restaurant, owned and operated by the same folks who run Tres Gatos and Little Dipper (see below), has been open since May 2016 and attracts diners from all over the area. It’s easy to see why. The restaurant offers a wide selection of snacks, including elote (grilled corn with a cilantro aioli, squeeze of lime, and a pinch of chili), tacos, tortas, and sandwiches stacked with fillings like pork and chipotle tofu, served with Chihuahua cheese, chipotle aioli, and chile lime fried plantain tajadas. Casa Verde also has an innovative cocktail menu and an extensive list of draft and bottled beers. If going during peak hours, be sure to make a reservation: the place fills up quickly.
703 Centre St.
Carrot Flower, a smoothie, salad, and juice bar, is the neighborhood’s newest restaurant, but has already attracted a dedicated following. Owned and operated by lifelong friends Audrey White and Cheri Clarkin, this inviting and eclectic eatery offers beautiful and filling acai bowls, fresh juice, and homemade cashew milk, as well as delicious salads, toasts, and a selection of “health shots” (such as wheat grass and turmeric/ginger/lemon).
Wonder Spice Café
697 Centre St.
The small Wonder Spice Café bills itself as both a Cambodian and a Thai restaurant, offering such stalwarts as pad thai, chicken satay, and sweet chili shrimp, alongside more exotic fare. Try the Somlah Machoo, a delightful Cambodian soup with choice of chicken, tofu, or shrimp with pineapples, tomatoes, and fried garlic, garnished with fresh mint. Wonder Spice is open for lunch and dinner.
683 Centre St.
If you’re looking for an unusual wedding or birthday gift, a visit to Fire Opal is a must. It has a beautiful selection of glassware, pottery, tiles, furniture, and textiles. You’ll also find elegant handcrafted jewelry (the shop has an excellent collection of wedding rings and offers a bridal registry) and stylish clothing. Fire Opal has a second location, on Harvard Street in Coolidge Corner, Brookline.
676 Centre St.
Independently owned, this small gem of a gift shop offers something for everyone. It features a small but select choice of clothing, handbags, jewelry, kitchen appliances, paper supplies, and other housewares. It’s the perfect place to find a quirky birthday present, a housewarming gift, or a JP T-shirt. New merchandise arrives weekly. The store is open seven days a week.
The Purple Cactus
674 Centre St.
With an emphasis on fresh ingredients and vibrant flavors rather than heavy sauces, Purple Cactus offers a lighter, healthier interpretation of classic Mexican cuisine. The restaurant’s mantra is “big on flavor, low on fat.” Black beans are simmered without lard or additives, and the kitchen uses low-fat sour cream and lean steak in its dishes, which include an array of fabulous fajita wraps, rice and bean or shrimp burritos, excellent quesadillas, and a vegetable taco salad that comes with a zingy cilantro-lime vinaigrette. The superb guacamole is made daily. The Purple Cactus may represent the best dining value in all of JP.
City Feed and Supply
672 Centre St.
This grocery-café-deli is reminiscent of an old-fashioned general store, but with a modern twist. City Feed’s motto, “Buy Fresh, Buy Local,” emphasizes its commitment to sustainability and locally grown or prepared foods. A popular breakfast haunt among locals—particularly on weekends—City Feed offers excellent fair-trade coffee and a mouthwatering selection of sandwiches and baked goods. The produce is organic; the sodas, root beer, and sarsaparilla locally manufactured. The store also offers a great selection of artisanal cheeses as well as locally produced craft beers. City Feed often holds free food tastings and cooking demonstrations, and actively supports local charities. A smaller City Feed can be found at 66A Boylston Street, a short walk from the MBTA Orange Line’s Stony Brook station.
669 Centre St.
Centre Street Café, one of JP’s most-beloved restaurants, underwent a complete facelift and has been rechristened Little Dipper. As its name implies, it’s a space-themed diner featuring model rockets hand-built by co-owner David Doyle, who’s also behind Tres Gatos and Casa Verde. From its teal walls and soaring rockets to its menu, the café is bursting with whimsy. Breakfast/lunch items include Kepler’s Classic Breakfast (two eggs any style with beans, toast, and home fries), pancakes the size of Saturn (a two stack) or Jupiter (a three stack), a Minotaur Burger (a classic burger with special sauce, American cheese, and pickles on a potato roll with a side of fries) and more traditional brunch items like huevos rancheros (featuring a cilantro crema.) The diner is open Tuesday through Friday from 7:30 am to 2:30 pm and weekends from 9:30 am to 2 pm. Dinner is served on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 5:30 to 9:30pm.
668 Centre St.
This wonderful little children’s boutique offers a huge selection of organic fiber children’s clothing (ages newborn to eight years), as well as eco-friendly creative toys including puzzles, games, wooden toys, rattles, and stuffed animals.
Cacao Nuts and Chocolate
660B Centre St.
Chocolate lovers, rejoice: this delicious new confection shop just opened on Centre Street and sells delicious house-made chocolate and nut-based treats, as well as prepackaged chocolate goods from local manufacturers like Taza. Owner Leo Baez, who hails originally from the Dominican Republic, is passionate about bringing the flavors he grew up with to Jamaica Plain. The perfectly balanced frozen cocoa is the perfect treat for a warm day and the chocolate barks are a guilty pleasure. The tiny shop also sells organic honey and dried fruits.
J. P. Licks
659 Centre St.
This original J.P. Licks ice cream shop (there are now 14 in and around Boston) could be the most popular place in JP. Referring to itself as an ice cream maker, coffee roaster, destination, and good neighbor, J.P. Licks offers ice cream in dozens of flavors, as well as nonfat smoothies, frappes, floats, egg creams, and sorbets, and hard and soft yogurt. Each month the store has seasonal specials. Not to be missed is the strawberry rhubarb ice cream available each June and the pumpkin custard in the fall. The restaurant’s large fireplace is put to good use during winter months and outdoor tables make it an inviting place in warm weather. Everything made here is Kosher-certified.
658 Centre St.
This intimate, unpretentious taqueria offers up authentic Mexican street fare: everything from tostadas and enchiladas to quesadillas, tortas, and burritos. Of special note are the restaurant’s corn tortilla tacos: you can select from carne asada, beef lengua, and papas con chorizo. The restaurant offers seating for 20, but does a big takeout business. Be sure to check out the original Chilacates, at 224 Amory Street, near the Stony Brook T stop, as well.
JP Comics and Games
603 Centre St.
This store is a must for any gaming fanatic or comic book fan. It has a great selection of comics, graphic novels, board games, card games, Magic: The Gathering, and Pokémon, and hosts RPG encounters every Wednesday, game nights on Thursday, and Magic gatherings on Friday and Monday nights and Saturday and Sunday afternoons. JP Comics and Games will also let you do trades.
597 Centre St.
This welcoming restaurant puts an emphasis on fresh ingredients from local purveyors, served in an intimate, elegant setting. Lights are dim and candlelight casts a glow over the tiny restaurant and adjoining bar. It serves wines from vineyards that practice organic or biodynamic winemaking and an interesting array of cocktails. The menu changes with the season, depending on what ingredients are available.
470 Centre St.
No ordinary tapas bar, Tres Gatos is the city’s “first full-service restaurant/book and music store,” according to its website. Formerly the book and music store Rhythm & Blues, Tres Gatos still sells books and music, and has a menu featuring classic tapas items, charcuterie, and appetizers, with an emphasis on local produce, fish, and meats. It also has a nice selection of classic and contemporary Spanish wines and hard-to-find brews. Based on the belief that “sharing good food, music, and books is essential to a happy life,” Tres Gatos has become enormously popular with locals. Seating varies from a bar to a large common table, several smaller standing bars, and a seasonal outdoor area. Be sure to check out their weekend brunch service, too.
435 South Huntington Ave.
No matter what night of the week, this place is almost always packed. The environment is friendly, the food unpretentious but delicious, and the cocktail menu wildly inventive. Can’t make up your mind about what adult beverage to order? Ask for the 99 Problems But My Drink Ain’t One, where the bartenders surprise you with a new concoction daily! Canary Square also offers more than two dozen draft beers. Outdoor seating is available seasonally.
36 South St.
Monumental Cupcakes offers some of the most scrumptious cupcakes in town, as well as breakfast pastries and locally roasted, sustainably grown coffee beans, courtesy of Biscuit Brand Coffees. The inventive flavors change daily, but classics like red velvet and Belgium chocolate are mouthwatering fixtures, as are the shop’s vegan options. The staff is as sweet as the confections they serve, treating everyone with a smile.
Off the Beaten Path
7 Pond Coffee Bar
7 Pond St.
This tiny space insists on calling itself a bar, not a café, and one peek inside will tell you why. There’s seating for only a dozen—7 Pond is designed for people who want to get a great cup of coffee on the go, not for those looking to linger with their laptops and earbuds. The pastries are made by the Danish Pastry House, in Watertown, and a majority of the coffee is roasted locally by Barrington Coffee Roasting Company, in Lee, Mass., with occasional guest appearances from other local roasters. The knowledgeable and friendly baristas specialize in made-to-order “pour-over” coffees made from single-source beans. The bar features a small selection of teas as well, many of them organic. It’s at the corner of Pond and Centre Streets.
5 Green St.
This pint-sized bookstore specializes in the offbeat. Yes, you’ll find the latest John Grisham best seller here, along with a select choice of cookbooks, graphic novels, children’s books, poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, but also books by authors deemed overlooked by owner Kate Layte, and books that are beautifully designed. Layte, a former publishing executive and JP resident, has an eye for the unusual. Cutlass Press, a new independent book publisher dedicated to publishing cutting-edge books, also operates out of the store. One visit and you’ll keep coming back.
The Video Underground
3203 Washington St.
Created to offer Boston cinephiles an extensive selection of independent films, Video Underground has more than 15,000 titles, including many you won’t find online. The knowledgeable staff researches films to add to the store’s collection on a daily basis. The store also offers local artists a chance to sell their work, such as buttons and tote bags. You can buy or rent VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray films here, and the salesclerks will happily order, at no extra cost, any available title they don’t have in stock. Films are categorized by subject, such as Drugs & Booze, Comics & Superheroes, and Cops & Criminals. The store’s website makes it easy to see what titles are available.
3484 Washington St.
In business since 1882, this is the grand dame of the neighborhood’s eating establishments. Stepping inside is like taking a trip back in time. The walls are loaded with signs for now-defunct Boston breweries and all kinds of political memorabilia, including photos of nearly every Boston mayor, governor, senator, and representative of the last 100 years. One room is dedicated to former Boston mayor John F. “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, the grandfather of President John F. Kennedy. A favorite watering hole among politicians, the café has figured prominently in a number of films, including Celtic Pride, Mystic River, and The Brink’s Job, as well as television shows like Boston Public. Home to one of New England’s largest selections of draft beers, Doyle’s was the first bar to put Samuel Adams Lager on tap.
Brassica Kitchen + Café
3710 Washington St.
A café by day, offering coffee drinks, bagels, pastries made from scratch, and sandwiches, Brassica Kitchen + Café transforms itself at night into a hip, sophisticated restaurant serving up an innovative seasonal French-American-inflected menu, which includes chef tastings and à la carte plates. (They also serve a popular Sunday brunch.) The menu is constantly changing, reflecting the seasons. You’ll find everything from roast duck dumplings to a spicy fried chicken, and a delicious rye gnocchi. Located within walking distance of the Forest Hills T stop, Brassica is owned by the trio that created the very popular pop-up Whisk.
Bella Luna and the Milky Way Lounge
The Brewery Complex, 284 Amory St.
Located in the former Haffenreffer Brewery, this restaurant and music venue is one of the neighborhood’s most popular destinations for dinner. Bella Luna is famous for its pizzas and calzones, and there is often a wait for a table, but the place also does a booming takeout and delivery business. An outdoor deck provides one of the best al fresco dining options in JP. The attached Milky Way Lounge offers lively entertainment, ranging from stump trivia game nights, open mics, dyke nights, live comedy, and dance parties with Latin, reggae, and queer themes. Bella Luna offers Teacher Tuesdays, where each Tuesday, teachers with valid certification ID can receive half-price appetizers. The restaurant and lounge’s mission is to “create community through delicious food and beverages, art, and music; to be a gathering place where everyone feels comfortable and has fun.” Judging from the crowds, it’s clear they’re succeeding.
The Brewery Complex, 284 Amory St.
In the same complex as Bella Luna, this wonderful bakery–coffee shop carries fair-trade roasted coffee, espresso, and a wide selection of loose-leaf teas, as well as fresh salads and delicious pastries. The free Wi-Fi attracts a lot of young professionals bearing laptops.
Getting there: The easiest way to get to JP is to take the #39 bus from Copley Square to JP Center. The bus takes you down Huntington Avenue to South Huntington Avenue, which merges onto Centre Street. Or take the MBTA’s Orange Line to either the Jackson Square stop (for venues in Hyde Square) or the Green Street stop. The neighborhood is also within an easy bicycle ride; the Emerald Necklace bike path is one of Boston’s best.
Click on the points in the map above for more information on the places listed in our guide to the Jamaica Plain area.
Check out our Jamaica Plain list on Foursquare for more neighborhood tips.
This story was originally published on June 27, 2008; it has been updated to include new locations and current information.