Checking Out the Gay Scene in Historic Boston

Pride flag flying over Fenway Park
Adam Glanzman / Getty Images

The capital of America's first state to legalize same-sex marriage, Boston has long been one of the most politically progressive and socially liberal cities in the country, as evidenced by its highly visible LGBT community. Famous for its many universities, rich history, and charmingly walkable neighborhoods that feel as old-world European as any in the United States, Boston is a compact but nevertheless world-class gay destination. A sterling performing arts scene, fantastic museums, and countless swank hotels, restaurants, gay bars, shops, and galleries round out the city's many attributes.

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The Seasons

Boston's popularity is year-round, although summer tends to draw the greatest numbers of tourists from afar (particularly Europe), and fall draws travelers within driving distance who come because the city is a good base for exploring the turning fall foliage in the surrounding region, and because city has a number of collegiate events at this time.

Average high-low temps are 36F/22F in Jan., 56F/40F in Apr., 82F/65F in July, and 62F/46F in Oct. Snow and sleet are common in winter, and humid and sultry days in summer, making fall and spring better times to visit. Precipitation averages 3 to 4 inches/mo. year-round.

The Location

Compact and hilly Boston is in eastern Massachusetts, on Massachusetts Bay, at the confluence of I-93 and the eastern terminus of I-90. The very picturesque Charles River forms its northern boundary with the similarly liberal and collegiate city of Cambridge.

Driving Distances

Driving distances to Boston from prominent places and points of interest are:

Flying to Boston

One of the busiest airports in the country, Boston's Logan International is just a 10-minute drive or taxi ride east of downtown Boston and is served by most major domestic airlines as well as numerous international ones. It's cheap and fairly easy to reach the airport using MBTA bus and subway service.

It can be significantly cheaper to fly into T.F. Green Airport, an hour south outside Providence; and Manchester Boston Regional Airport, an hour north in New Hampshire.

Taking a Train or Bus to Boston

Boston is easily reached via Amtrak train service and Peter Pan Bus Lines service from such major East Coast cities as Providence, New Haven, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C., as well as from Montreal.​​

Peter Pan fares are typically quite reasonable when compared with other forms of transport, even driving (if you factor in gas and possible rental-car charges). One-way tickets from NYC to Boston, for instance, are about $30. Amtrak provides reliable and very comfortable service throughout the region. Depending on the destination, you can opt for faster Acela service or standard regional trains, and tickets are available in categories ranging from Saver to Premium. As an example, a one-way ticket from Boston to New York, booked at least 14 days in advance (which yields much lower fares), costs anywhere from around $50 for a saver ticket on a regional train to $75 on Acela in value class to $200 in first-class. The trip takes about 3.5 to 4 hours, depending on the train.

Boston Pride Parade
Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

LGBT-Friendly Events Calendar

A number of resources out there offer extensive information on the city's gay scene, including Boston Spirit Magazine, the Rainbow Times, EDGE Boston, and Bay Windows). The Boston Globe-owned is the city's best mainstream news source.

Quincy Market, Boston, Massachusetts, USA,
Robert Mullan / Getty Images

Downtown Boston Highlights

The leafy Boston Common (and adjacent Boston Public Garden) has been downtown's hub since 1630 and remains a joy to explore. Just north is the largely-colonial Beacon Hill neighborhood, with its brick sidewalks, townhouses, and fancy boutiques. Northeast of the Common you'll find the touristy but fun Quincy Market, loaded with shops and restaurants. Walk the nearby Freedom Trail for a 1.5-mile tour of New England history, or head east to the fantastic New England Aquarium. Nearby is Boston's North End, a network of narrow, crooked streets and 19th-century brick tenements that house a prominent Italian community.

Snow and row homes in South Boston
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Exploring Notable Boston Neighborhoods

The South End: Boston's most gay-identified neighborhood has also become one of the city's most pricey and exclusive. Most of the neighborhood's bowfront redbrick homes, many embellished with elaborate details, were built in the 1850s. The area devolved into blight steadily throughout the 20th century, before experiencing major (and gay-inspired) gentrification in the early '80s. Its primary commercial spines, Columbus Avenue and Tremont Street, are loaded with gay-popular restaurants, cafes, and businesses. Farther south, Shawmut Avenue and Washington Street have become the city's latest hot spots, with scene-y restaurants, loft condos, and such.

Back Bay and the Fens: The relatively young Back Bay - with its broad avenues of four-story townhouses, sidewalk cafes, and swank boutiques - recalls Paris; it's still one of Boston's preeminent residential districts. The 62-floor John Hancock Tower and 52-story Prudential Center, the latter surrounded by a massive indoor shopping mall called Copley Place, dominate the skyline. West of Mass Ave is the Fens, the final piece in Boston's jigsaw puzzle of landfill, an amalgam of residential and industrial blocks and site of Northeastern and Boston universities (plus Fenway Park). Plenty of gay folks live in both neighborhoods. Back Bay Fens Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, contains the esteemed, handsomely redesigned Museum of Fine Arts and fascinating Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, a stunning, idiosyncratic collection of art and furniture.

Jamaica Plain: For many LGBT folks (especially lesbians), Jamaica Plain is Boston's top "streetcar suburb," known for placid Jamaica Pond and the once-exclusive residential neighborhood around it. This enclave has been rediscovered by city dwellers in search of relatively affordable housing. Check out the handful of homo-popular restaurants and businesses along Centre Street.

Cambridge: Often lumped in as just another of Boston's many neighborhoods, Cambridge is actually an independent city of 100,000. It was settled in 1630 and six years later became home to the nation's first university, Harvard, which today anchors Cambridge and is surrounded by superb museums plus dozens of great restaurants and shops. To the southeast, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology fringes the Charles River near Kendall Square, a small dining and shopping hub. Cambridge, along with Watertown to the west and Somerville to the east, has many gay residents.

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