Snow Optional

The lack of a white blanket won’t put a wet blanket on your fun at these four well-rounded destinations.

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Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts

Drive time: About six hours.

Summer is prime tourist time in Beantown. And while winter isn’t exactly quiet in this hotbed of higher education, you’ll find it easier to get into the most popular attractions. You’ll also discover all kinds of free (or, at least, cheap) family-oriented activities and events both downtown and in Cambridge, aka “Boston’s Left Bank.”

Harding House (288 Harvard St., Cambridge; 877-489-2888, is a homey 14-room Victorian just a short walk away from Harvard Square, the heart of Cambridge—or a short subway ride to downtown Boston. A one-night stay (double occupancy) will set you back $145-$200. With that, you get a nice continental breakfast, an off-street parking space (valuable in Cambridge, even if it is first-come, first-served), and free museum passes.

For something a little ritzier, there’s the much larger (294 rooms, 45 suites) Charles Hotel on Harvard Square (1 Bennett St.,, 800-882-1818). Rates begin at $199 in December, rise to $299 in January and February, and increase again to $319 in March.

An outstanding spot for any meal—particularly breakfast—is the sustainable-centric Henrietta’s Table (617-661-5005, at the Charles Hotel, where executive chef Peter Davis allows great ingredients to shine. His red flannel hash is a craveable classic. Breakfast entrées range from $5.25 to $8.75. Lunch entrées start at $12.50, and dinner at $14.75.

In the nearby Boston burb of Brookline, owner/chef Jim Solomon has gained a loyal following for his rotisserie and wood-smoked specialties. The maple-glazed chicken is his signature dish at The Fireplace (1634 Beacon St.,, 617-975-1900). There’s a separate gluten-free menu, and entrées range from $23 to $36. From Sunday to Thursday, look for the nothing-costs-more-than-$20 “Humble Offerings,” and stick around for the live jazz or Latin music on Wednesday and Thursday evenings.

Even if you don’t matriculate at Harvard or MIT, you can blend in with the lively collegiate crowd at Russell House Tavern, right off of Harvard Square in Cambridge (14 JFK St., 617-500-3055, The menu is varied, ranging from small plates ($5-$9) to giant entrées ($18-$28). The lamb shank is fall-off-the-bone tender, and the pastry-capped short rib Wellington appetizer ($10) is a meal in itself.

Your sweet tooth will thank you (even if your waistline won’t) after something sinful at Finale Desserterie & Bakery Café on Harvard Square (30 Dunster St., 617-441-9797, And don’t miss the famous all-you-can-eat Chocolate Bar every Saturday at the Langham Hotel (250 Franklin St., Boston;, 617-451-1900). The cost is $38 for adults, $25 for kids.

If you plan to hop around a lot of museums and other sites during your visit, you might want to invest in a customizable Boston Explorer Pass or Go Boston Card (, 800-887-9103). Prices vary based on the number of attractions and the days you choose.

In Boston, try less known museums like the Isabella Stuart Gardner ($12; 280 The Fenway, 617-566-1401,, a 15th-century palace filled with masterpieces by Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Raphael, Botticelli and others. The Institute of Contemporary Art ($15; 100 Northern Ave., on the waterfront, 617-478-3100, will make you question your visual perspective on pretty much everything. In Cambridge, see the world’s largest collection of holograms at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Museum ($7.50; Building N51, 265 Massachusetts Ave., 617-253-5927,

After dinner, share some laughs and a scorpion bowl (it’s a killer drink) at The Comedy Studio (tickets $8-$10; Hong Kong Restaurant, 1238 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-661-6507, Or enjoy some jazz at the Regatta Bar (tickets $15-$30; The Charles Hotel, 617-395-7757,

Get where you’re going by bus or—even better—subway. The routes are color-coded and run efficiently, and the stops are winter venues for the buskers (street performers), who you’ll usually see entertaining for tips in warmer weather on Harvard Square. Free events include hot chocolate tastings, a chili cook-off and a giant Chinese New Year celebration, complete with a lion dance parade (617-491-3434,

Take a free guided tour of the unbelievable array of museum-worthy art at the Central Public Library at Copley Square in downtown Boston (700 Boylston St., 617-536-5400, Strap on your skates (or rent some) and hit the ice with the locals on Frog Pond at America’s oldest public park, Boston Common (617-635-2120,; $4/adults, kids 13 and under free), or with the college crowd in Cambridge at the Charles Hotel ($5/adults, $3/kids).

Destination No. 3 on page 3 ...