For many, East Boston is synonymous with Logan International Airport, New England’s largest airport and, with 28 million passengers annually, the nation’s 19th busiest. But with its prime waterfront property, this working-class neighborhood offers some of the most breathtaking views of Boston Harbor and the city’s skyline to be found anywhere. Long a home to various immigrant groups, East Boston today offers a wide-range of restaurants offering all kinds of cuisine as well as lots of recreational activities.
The neighborhood, established in 1836, was created by using landfill to connect five islands in Boston Harbor. East Boston’s waterfront location made it a center for shipbuilding and other marine industries—a legacy that continues today.
Many Canadians settled in East Boston in the1840s, followed by Irish immigrants in the 1850s. Russian and Eastern European Jews were the next to arrive; Italian immigrants settled in East Boston at the beginning of the twentieth century. Today, the neighborhood is home to a mixture of newly arrived immigrants from Central and South America and Southeast Asia as well as people of Italian and Irish descent. South Boston’s many ethnic stores and restaurants reflect the tastes and traditions of the neighborhood’s diverse residents.
BU Today has compiled a list of some of the best places to visit in East Boston.
Piers Park is a perfect location for spending the day outdoors. You can walk the 600-foot promenade, exercise using the park’s outdoor fitness machines, or embrace your inner child on the playground. Several decorative gazebos and spray fountains offer relief on hot summer days. Piers Park offers direct access to the waterfront and an amazing view of downtown Boston across the harbor.
Piers Park Sailing Center
95 Marginal St.
While you’re at Piers Park, take advantage of the nonprofit sailing center that operates out of the park. The center offers lessons for novices, intermediate, and experienced sailors. If you just want to take out one of the center’s 23-foot Sonar sailboats, you’ll need to first pass a “check-out sail” test before gaining membership to the center. Discounted memberships are available for college students and East Boston residents and are good for the entire sailing season. You can also purchase five-day passes. Piers Park Sailing Center offers outreach programs for underserved youth, as well as one of the country’s best programs for disabled sailors. With its superb access to the Inner Harbor and Harbor Islands, this is one of East Boston’s best-loved attractions.
LoPresti Park is another great location for outdoor recreation. Grab a ball and head to one of the four-acre park’s two basketball courts (you can play under the lights at night) or put on your helmet and head over to the street hockey rink. You can even go fishing on the waterfront, a popular dusk activity at LoPresti Park. If you are interested in a more relaxing activity, simply take a stroll along the pier and enjoy the beautiful Boston skyline.
Belle Isle Marsh Reservation
A large salt marsh inside the city limits? Who knew! The Belle Isle Marsh Reservation preserves 152 acres of the 241-acre Belle Isle Marsh, the last remaining salt marsh in Boston. The reservation’s protected waters serve as a breeding ground for numerous fish and shellfish, as well as for native vegetation. The marsh offers a wonderful vantage point for viewing wildlife rarely seen in a metropolitan area. While at the marsh, you can take a guided informational walk or scan the marsh, Logan, and Winthrop from an observation tower.
You don’t need to travel all the way to Cape Cod or Nantucket to find a great beach. Just take the MBTA Blue line to Orient Heights and spend the day at Constitution Beach. It features a new bathhouse, tennis and handball courts, a picnic area, and playground; no wonder it’s one of the city’s most popular beaches. Lifeguards are on duty during the summer season. When you’ve had enough of the beach, cross the MBTA tracks using a nearby pedestrian overpass and explore the neighborhood’s many dining options.
East Boston Branch Library
276 Meridian St.
The East Boston Branch Library was established in 1869 as the first municipally supported branch library in the country. It carries a vast collection of books on the history of East Boston, including material on the clipper ships that once crowded Boston Harbor. The collection also includes many Spanish language materials. Don’t miss the series of paintings called “The History of Shipping” on display in the library. The 14 canvases, by American painter Frederick Leonard King, recall the vital role East Boston played in the shipbuilding and shipping industry.
Condor Street Urban Wild
Once a marine industrial site, the area known as the Condor Street Urban Wild is now one of Boston’s 40 “urban wilds,” or natural landscapes. It features meadow grasses and salt marshes, as well as a boardwalk, walking paths, and a viewing platform overlooking Chelsea Creek. In the winter and spring, harbor porpoises can sometimes be seen swimming along this part of the creek.
111 Waldemar Ave.
One of East Boston’s most significant attractions is Suffolk Downs, the city’s historic thoroughbred racetrack. When it opened in 1935, the racetrack boasted the largest clubhouse in the world and the nation’s largest grandstand. Many famous horses have raced at Suffolk Downs, including Seabiscuit and Cigar. In recent years, the racetrack has also become a venue for concerts. Click here to see the current racing schedule.
Easily the most iconic site in East Boston is the Madonna Shrine, a 35-foot statue of the Madonna, built in 1954 from copper and bronze, which is located atop Orient Heights. The shrine serves as the national headquarters for the Don Orione Fathers, an order of Catholic priests. The statue, a replica of one built in Rome, was constructed by the Jewish sculptor Arrigo Minerbi as thanks to the Don Orione Fathers in Italy, who shielded him and his family from the Nazis during World War II. The shrine offers some of Boston’s best views of the waterfront and downtown skyline. Weekly outdoor masses are held each Thursday beginning at 10:30 a.m.
258 Saratoga St.
East Boston offers some of the best ethnic food to be found anywhere in the city, much of it at very affordable prices. If you are in the mood for Italian food, look no further than Rino’s Place. This eatery has been featured on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, as well as the Fox25 Morning Show and Phantom Gourmet. With an extensive lunch and dinner menu, Rino’s is sure to satisfy your craving for red sauce, thick-cut veal, and ravioli. Paninis, which run between $6 and $8, are a popular lunch item, and the shrimp scampi is a must for dinner.
111 Chelsea St.
Arguably East Boston’s most famous restaurant, Santarpio’s Pizza was established in 1903 and recently won Boston Magazine’s 2011 Best of Boston® Award for best traditional pizza. Prized for its pies, this family-owned eatery also serves lamb, steak, and sausage skewers cooked fresh over the fire of an indoor grill. The restaurant has a very welcoming atmosphere, in large part thanks to its friendly staff. During your visit, be sure to check out the pictures of heavyweight champions on the wall, and pick a song to play on the electronic jukebox in the back.
Oliveira’s Steak House
297 Chelsea St.
Oliveira’s Steak House is a must for meat lovers. Known best for its Brazilian churrasco (barbeque), the restaurant offers a variety of skewered meats, including pork sirloin, sausage, sirloin steak, chicken, and more, seasoned with traditional Brazilian spices and sea salt and slow roasted or grilled over an open flame. Patrons can either pay a fixed price for an all-you-can-eat buffet, or weigh their plates and pay by the ounce. The selection of meats and sides is fresh and changes every day. Oliveira’s also makes fresh orange, passion fruit, and cashew juices, in addition to many beautiful and authentic Brazilian desserts.
387 Chelsea St., Day Sq.
Since 1924, four generations of the Jeveli family have nurtured this destination Italian restaurant, which has attracted a loyal clientele that keeps coming back for the dependable service, delicious food, and comfortable atmosphere. Whether you want a fast lunch, a big dinner, or just drinks in the restaurant’s “Terminal J” Lounge (the bar side of the restaurant), Jeveli’s has it all—even fresh Italian desserts. Try some spumoni, or pick up a few fresh cannolis on your way out. President Bill Clinton made a stop at Jeveli’s while he was in office, and the room where he ate has been called “The White House” ever since. Check out the restaurant’s collection of presidential memorabilia, including, but not limited to, items belonging to Clinton.
Rincon Limeño Restaurant
409 Chelsea St.
This authentic Peruvian restaurant serves breakfast, tapas, soups, seafood, and many traditional plates. Try the seco de cabrito (Peruvian style lamb stew), cau-cau (Mondongo or tripe stew accompanied by rice), or plato montanero (grilled steak with rice, beans, fried pork, egg, plantains, and salad). The small restaurant offers a warm and cozy atmosphere and is decorated with authentic Peruvian décor, including a large painting of Machu Picchu.
131 Lexington St.
This family-owned restaurant offers traditional regional dishes from the state of Puebla, Mexico. Start off with some flautas (crispy corned tortillas filed with lettuce, avocado, cheese, and chicken or potatoes), then try the albondigas (ground beef stuffed with boiled egg and cheese, cooked in a chipotle sauce), and end your meal with a traditional or chocolate flan. Angela’s Café serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner and is known for its superb moles, the richly flavored sauces that are a staple of authentic Poblana cuisine.
305 Meridian St.
Saigon Hut pays homage to the large number of immigrants from Southeast Asia who have made East Boston their home over the last 30 years. The restaurant serves Vietnamese cuisine and is the perfect place for an intimate meal. The restaurant is very small (there are only eight tables inside) and decorated with colorful paper lanterns, which gives the place a whimsical feel. You can order from a long list of soups, vermicelli bowls, rice plates, and fried noodles. The menu also has a vegetarian section.
Getting there: To get to East Boston, take any MBTA Green Line trolley to Government Center. Transfer to a Blue Line outbound train and get off at the Maverick, Airport, or Wood Island stops.
Click on the points in the map above for more information on the places listed in our guide to East Boston.