SMFA’s campus on the Avenue of the Arts in Boston is a quick trip by foot or public transportation to a wide variety of restaurants, historical sites, shops, galleries, museums, and more.
Explore these personalized maps from the SMFA Admissions team to get a better sense of the city that surrounds us!
Public art is free, fun, and COVID-safe for all. My favorite pieces of public art in town are all accessible by public transportation or (my favorite way to experience Boston) on foot. Check them out:
1. Glove Cycle by Mags Harries
Catch the T (Boston’s subway system) from the Porter Square station, where SMFA faculty Mags Harries’ clever installation, Glove Cycle, lives.
2. Dewey Square Mural
See a much-larger-than-life, rotating selection of murals in Dewey Square by internationally renowned graffiti artists, muralists, and artists like Os Gemeos, Super A, and Shinique Smith (an SMFA alumna).
3. The Charlestown Bells by Paul Matisse
Walk from Boston proper to neighboring Charlestown alongside the iconic Zakim Bridge. Where the Charles River meets Boston Harbor, you can play a lovely tune on this interactive installation by local artist Paul Matisse (grandson of Henri Matisse and stepson of Marcel Duchamp).
4. Sargent Murals at the Boston Public Library by John Singer Sargent
After you study John Singer Sargent’s mural sketches and paintings close up at the Museum of Fine Arts, see his work in action on the walls and vaults of the Boston Public Library. The BPL hours are limited during the pandemic, but you can always take an online tour!
5. Greenway Carousel by Jeff Briggs and William Rogers
Animals native to Boston Harbor (joined by a few imagined creatures), sculpted and painted by locals Jeff Briggs and William Rogers respectively, spin around the Greenway Carousel, delighting visitors of The Greenway and nearby Faneuil Hall, Boston Harbor, and the North End.
6. Make Way for Ducklings by Nancy Shön
Alongside the tulip-lined pathways of the Public Garden, SMFA Alumna Nancy Shön pays tribute to Robert McCloskey’s beloved tale, “Make Way for Ducklings.” Though maybe not intended as an interactive art piece, the community nonetheless delights in dressing up the ducklings in scarves, sunglasses, or the jerseys of the latest sports team to win something big.
7. Whale Mural by Ronnie Deziel
MA natives remember driving by the Whale Mural on I-93, in which clown fish spell out “BOSTON”. Nowadays, you can explore the South End neighborhood, passing through the SOWA Arts District, to see the iconic aquatic mural.
8. Rainbow Swash by Corita Kent
Former nun and prolific Boston artist Corita Kent designed this unlikely Boston landmark, a rainbow splashed across a gas storage tank in Dorchester, Boston’s largest neighborhood.
9. Giant Milk Bottle by Arthur Gagner
This milk bottle has been around town: originally a humble homemade ice cream stand on a Taunton roadside, its list of owners is varied and includes the Rough and Ready Underwear Company. It now dispenses snacks outside the Children’s Museum in Southie, a short walk from downtown across the Fort Point Channel. Is it art? I don’t know, but it’s definitely cute.
10. The Wall (Graffiti Alley) Central Square
Locals and internationally known street artists alike (think Shepard Fairey, Stikman, Swoon) collaborate on this colorful alleyway in Central Square.
The good news is that most of Boston’s bookstores are once again open for browsing—Just don’t forget your mask!
1. Motto Books at CCVA
If you want your artbooks fancy, international, and limited-edition you want Motto books. Who are these artists? And why am I so compelled to buy their books?
2. Brattle Book Shop
One of the oldest bookshops in the country. Antiquarian books on the third floor, $1-$5 sale books in their extensive outside stalls, and everything else in between!
3. Raven Used Books
John, the owner, started out by founding the Montague Bookmill which houses over 50,000 books in a former grist mill (it’s a bit of a drive to western MA though). Raven is more manageable in size, but still has a huge selection of books at 50%-80% off the cover price. Philosophy, literature, classical studies, architecture, art, music, and foreign language books galore!
4. The Museum of Fine Arts Bookshop
Our neighbors, our namesake, our one-stop artbook destination. Just cross the street to peruse hundreds of artbooks that reflect the diversity of the MFA’s encyclopedic collection.
5. The basement of Deep Thoughts Records
I needed to sneak at least one record shop onto this list – luckily Deep Thoughts has a first floor full of records and a basement full of used books!
6. Brookline Booksmith
“Dedicated to the fine art of browsing.” Book clubs, community events, and lots of recommendations. Used books in the basement (is this a Boston thing?)
7. Black Market Flea
Bi-monthly DIY flea market featuring an assortment of local zines and various hand-made sundries.
8. ICA Bookstore
Sit back and let the expert book buyers of the ICA curate your experience. Also, I should add that this is the best collection of art tchotchkes in town.
9. Harvard Book Store (named for the square not the university – though, to be fair, the square was named for the university). IMHO, the best of the best – a broad range of subjects, a deeply discounted remaindered and used book basement(!), author events, self-publishing, friendly (and knowledgeable) staff. You want it, they got it!
10. MIT Press Bookstore (this one is named for the university). Get your geek on! Art! Architecture! Computer science! Cognition! Neuroscience! Linguistics! Deep discounts on MIT Press books!
11. Grolier Poetry Book Shop
The name says it all (it’s all poetry!)!
Whether you’re just beginning your cinematic journey or you’re a full on cinephile, Boston’s independent movie theaters won’t disappoint! Check out these theatres next time you feel like experiencing a film on the big screen:
1. The Brattle Theatre
The Brattle is your premiere local independent movie theatre! Nowhere else will you find such an eclectic, bizarre assortment of movies both new and old. Everything from classics to cult-hits, you’re sure to find an exciting moviegoing experience here. This theatre also runs many great series including “Screening on 35mm” and “Weird Wednesdays” which can help introduce you to movies you may not normally see!
2. Kendall Square Cinema
Kendall Square Cinema is a bit more modern (this means super comfy seats) and is great for keeping up with newly released independent films. Where else can you see posters for Yorgos Lanthimos and Gaspar Noe next to the latest Marvel movie?
3. Somerville Theatre
This old theatre has a sound system that can pack a punch (and the popcorn is pretty good too). I had the pleasure of seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey on 70mm here and can tell you it was one of the most authentic movie-going experiences I’ve ever had. A lot of care goes into the screenings here, and the staff often give insightful introductions before the movie starts.
4. Cinema Salem
Boston’s commuter rail train system will take you to Salem, a busy town on Boston’s north shore famous for its witch trials and now filled with good food, great art, and of course – movies! Their local theatre is a small, unassuming theatre inside the mall, but they have an awesome team curating their screening selections. This is a great place to go for some “midnight movies” like Eraserhead and House as well as new releases!
5. Coolidge Corner
Full transparency: I have not been to a screening here yet (I know). But I’ve had many people recommend this theatre. They run amazing programs including “Big Screen Classics” and “Coolidge after Midnite”. The selection of movies in these two programs alone includes Die Hard, Terminator 2, Rocky Horror Picture Show, and The Shining (on 35mm at that!) If you’re a cinephile, you can’t go wrong here.
Looking for a change of scenery but don’t want to leave the city? This list of parks and gardens might just be your answer!
1. The Japanese Garden, Tenshin-en
“The Garden of the Heart of Heaven” is open to the public and is located just paces away from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University. This karesansui garden designed by Prof. Kinsaku Nakane of Kyoto contains over seventy species of plants and 200 stones that evoke the vastness of nature within the small urban space of the courtyard. The garden space transports you to rocky coastlines and forests without ever having to leave Fenway!
2. The Emerald Necklace
If you’re in the mood for a little walk you can cross over Fenway from the SMFA to stroll a piece of the 1,100-acre chain of parks, parkways, and waterways known as the Emerald Necklace. The Arnold Arboretum and Jamacia Pond are two spots located within this series of parks and gardens designed by landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmstead that always bring a smile to my face!
3. McKim Courtyard at the Boston Public Library
Since you’ll already be at the Boston Public Library checking out the incredible John Singer Sargent murals at Julia’s recommendation, take a moment to swing by the McKim Courtyard! This shaded arcade designed by Charles Follen McKim surrounds an open plaza inspired by the Palazzo della Cancelleria in Rome. The gurgling sounds from the fountain echo off the white marble walls and reflect the low greenery within the courtyard. Grab a book, bring a snack, take a seat, and enjoy!
4. Floating Docks on the Esplanade
The five floating docks that overlook the Charles River are a great place to gather friends together for a day of fun outdoors. This green band is a favorite spot for runners, cyclists, puppies, walkers, and picnickers alike. Bring a blanket and enjoy the views of the Cambridge side of the river. You might get lucky and catch a glimpse of a crew or sailing practice!
5. Castle Island
Castle Island, home of Fort Independence overlooks the Boston Harbor Islands and is a short drive, bike, or bus from the city. Stroll around the Harborwalk while watching planes take off and land from Boston’s Logan Airport as boats pass by and fisherman try their luck off of the pier. When you get hungry you can grab some classic New England Fare at Sullivan’s or Sully's to those in the know.