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Boston is the undisputed epicenter of American History. Much of the political ferment that spawned the nation took place here, and visitors are often awed by the dense concentration of sites. Locals, on the other hand, take them in stride. Sure, they revere Revere as much as the next guy. Yet Bostonians refuse to see their hometown as some sort of frozen-in-time memorial to the days of yore. This is a living city—not a museum—and, as such, it continues to evolve.
Although no one refers to Boston as "The Athens of America" anymore, appreciating art seems to be as characteristic of folks here as dropping "R's" and taking the "T." That explains why the Museum of Fine Arts renovated its I. M. Pei building and reopened it as the Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art in 2011—less than a year after the ribbon was cut on its new Art of the Americas wing. The latter, boasting 53 galleries on four floors, an auditorium, and soaring central courtyard, increased MFA's size by almost a third. Not to be outdone, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum unveiled its own addition, complete with new entry, concert hall, and gallery space, in early 2012. The glass and copper-clad wing was designed by Renzo Piano. He's also the man behind the Harvard Art Museum's $300-million makeover, which will debut in 2013.
This city has long been defined by its harbor: after all, the first colonists were largely drawn here because of it, and local commerce has been inextricably bound to the water ever since. Over time, development obscured the view—and what was visible wasn't always pretty. (Suffice it to say that more than British tea got dumped in it!) Nevertheless, a decades-long, $3.8-billion clean-up effort has paid off. See for yourself on HarborWalk. Now 39-mi long, the path allows convenient access to the New England Aquarium and other top harborside sites, as well as picturesque piers, parks, working wharves, and urban beaches. New attractions are popping up on it, too, like Liberty Wharf, which opened in 2011. It includes four restaurants (the most notable being a huge Legal Sea Foods outlet), a water-view plaza, and public marina.
Communing with Kennedys
2013 marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and the memory of Boston's beloved native son lingers on. As proof, witness a new 90-minute walking tour covering sites associated with JFK or the inauguration of a 30,000-square foot wing at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum, which includes archival space and a gallery for temporary exhibits relating to his 1,000 days in office. The legacy of brother Ted is equally apparent next door at the $60-million Edward F. Kennedy Institute. Slated to open in spring 2013, it will host public programs and house a replica of the Senator's Capitol Hill office. Of course, the late family matriarch hasn't been forgotten either: the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, a lovely linear park threading through Downtown, was named in her honor.
There are lots of ways to get around Beantown: car, cab, bus, ferry, train, trolley, water taxi … Factor in cool conveyances aimed at vacationers, which run the gamut from Segways to World War II-style amphibious craft, and the list lengthens. But these days there's another feasible way for travelers to be transported—three-speed bicycle. Begun in 2011, the Hubway bike-sharing program makes it easy because pedal pushers can affordably access one of 600 cycles from self-service "docks" citywide: 61 are open 24/7 in key locations like Kenmore Square and the Back Bay. Here's how it works: purchase a casual membership from a Hubway kiosk ($12 for three days, $5 for one), then simply use your credit card to release a bike and return it to any dock. Rides less than 30 minutes are free; usage fees apply for longer ones.
Lights! Camera! Action! Those words are being heard a lot lately, because a state tax credit for film producers has translated into a movie-making boom. As a result, playing "spot the star" is a popular pastime. Big names like Leo DiCaprio, Christian Bale, and homegrown celebs Ben Affleck and Mark Wahlberg (raised in Cambridge and Dorchester respectively) have all worked here recently. Ditto for emerging talents such as Jesse Eisenberg, Mila Kunis, and Anna Faris. Interested in an entirely different type of star? No problem. The Museum of Science is more stellar than ever thanks to the 2011 unveiling of its renovated Charles Hayden Planetarium, the centerpiece of which is a $2-million Zeiss Starmaster Projector. The museum also hosts free Friday night stargazing sessions, from March through November, at its rooftop observatory.
Changing the Channel
Revitalization of the Fort Point Channel neighborhood began in earnest nearly a decade ago with the 2004 opening of the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center. That was followed by the 2006 debut of the Institute of Contemporary Art and 2007 expansion of the Children's Museum. Another high watermark was the opening of the Atlantic Wharf complex in 2011. As for upcoming attractions, the most anticipated aren't beside the channel but rather in it. After assorted disasters and delays, the Boston Tea Party Ships (a trio of replicas with a matching museum) were set to open by the Congress St. Bridge in June 2012. Since legislation has passed allowing for enhanced on-the-water recreational options, you can expect an uptick in tour boats, kayaks, even floating restaurants and entertainment barges in the mile-long channel as well.
Eating Wicked Good Food
For all the emphasis placed on traditional dishes like baked beans and cod, this area lays claim to a long line of innovative chefs: for instance, M. Sanzian (the inventor of Boston cream pie) made quite a stir in the mid-1800s, and a century later Julia Child launched a culinary revolution from her Cambridge kitchen. Today it's Todd "Iron Chef" English, Gordon Hamersley, Joanne Chang, Barbara Lynch, Ken Oringer, Michael Schlow, Lydia Shire, Ming Tsai, and Jasper White who make dining out a gastronomic adventure. These hometown favorites have created a thriving independent restaurant scene; and the ideal time to taste their creations—along with those of up-and-coming competitors—is during Restaurant Week. The event, held in March and again in August, sees more than 200 eateries serving three-course prix-fixe dinners for as little as $33.
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