North America > United States of America > New England > Massachusetts > Greater Boston > Somerville
Somerville is a city near Boston.
Somerville has managed to hold onto its blue-collar roots while at the same time gentrifying. It's fairly ethnically diverse, with populations including Irish, Italians, Portuguese, Brazilians (probably the largest ethnic minority), Haitians, Tibetans, Indians, Chinese, and others. It is still the most densely populated city in New England (about 80,000 people in four square miles), so visitors will find lots of purely residential territory between the "fun" areas: Davis Square, Porter Square, Union Square, and Powderhouse Square (the location of Tufts University). Other notable neighborhoods include Union Square and Winter Hill, erstwhile home of the "Winter Hill Gang", the organized crime group headed by Whitey Bulger in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as East Somerville, probably the last non-gentrified area, which has a substantial immigrant population.
Somerville has a number of "squares", which are areas where several of the larger roads come together and which have various stores and parking. Navigating Somerville is easier if you consider the major squares as "hubs" connected by main streets as "spokes." The major squares include Davis Square, Teele Square, Powderhouse Square, Union Square, Magoun Square, and Ball Square. Many intersections have small plaques dedicating them as squares named after notable Somerville residents, frequently war veterans, but these areas are never actually referred to by those names.
Winter Hill, Located roughly north of Highland Avenue and west of the McGrath Highway, Winter Hill is home to a mix of restored homes and aluminium-sided fixer-uppers, replete with china gnomes and bathtub Virgin Marys. Once known as the home base of Irish gangsters Whitey Bulger, James "Buddy" McLean, Howie Winter and the notorious Winter Hill Gang, Winter Hill is now, like much of the rest of Somerville, experiencing gentrification and a resulting rise in property values and rents. Despite these changes, the area continues to hang onto its neighborhood flavor and is home to a large community of Irish, Italians, Brazilians, Portuguese, Cape Verdeans, and other ethnic groups.
Davis Square, This is a great late-night summer hangout, especially given that J.P. Licks is here. (J.P. Licks is a trendy local ice cream shop, also seen on Newbury Street in Boston.) It's right on the Red Line, and also a major bus transfer point. Tons of college folk linger in the brick plaza. The Somerville Theatre doubles as a movie house (showing first- and second-run films, as well as arthouse fare) and music venue. The basement level of the Somerville Theatre also houses the "Museum of Bad Art," (MoBA), a small and profoundly eclectic collection that never fails to astonish. Davis Square has several coffeehouses, most notably the locally owned Diesel Cafe on Elm Street, that draw people day and night.
Teele Square, Just up the street from Davis Square (heading west) it has a lot to offer in way of local restaurants. It's less crowded than Davis Square and less trendy. Head up this way if you're looking for good subs and pizza (Angelina's), Mexican food (Rudy's), or multi-ethnic Mediterranean fare from the Balkans and beyond (Sabur).
Union Square, It is not on the Red Line, so it's a bit off the beaten path. It is only a 15 minute walk from the Sullivan Square Orange Line station, and there are MBTA buses arriving from Central, Harvard, Porter, Davis, Lechmere, and Sullivan Square T stops. (It's a nice walk in good weather from the West, but the neighborhoods to the East are less nice.) There are a number of Brazilian restaurants and stores around, including a Brazilian butcher-slash-convenience store. The Brazilian community extends to Inman Square (Cambridge) and there's another pocket in Allston. There's also Indian, Mexican, and Peruvian fare here. Bloc 11 cafe is an excellent locally-owned coffee houses. Union Square is a nice, brick-based New England intersection of many roads. Ongoing improvements to the square include benches created by local artists. As of mid-2010, major reconstruction of Somerville Avenue (as it travels from Porter Square to Union Square) is nearing completion, bringing with it an improved streetscape with better lighting, more traffic lights, and raised pedestrian crosswalks. The Brickbottom Artists Studios are just outside of Union Square, under the McGrath Highway.
Fly in to Logan International Airport in Boston. A taxi from Logan to Somerville can cost anywhere between $20 and $35 depending on the location in Somerville, the route taken, and time of day.
One of the two subway stops in Somerville is the Davis Square stop on the Red Line. To reach Davis with mass transit, take the Silver Line bus service to South Station, then transfer to the Red Line. The silver line is free and the trip to Davis should take 45 minutes to an hour. The second stop is Sullivan Square Orange Line stop. To reach Sullivan Square, one can either change from the Red Line at Downtown Crossing to the Orange Line or take the Blue Line from the airport and change to the Orange Line at State Street.
Other places in Somerville can be reached on buses from Lechmere which is on the Green Line. To reach the Green Line, one can change from the Red Line at Park Street or take the Blue Line from the airport and change to the greenline at Government Center.
Take the MBTA Red Line to either the Davis Square or Porter Square Stations. If you're coming from downtown (e.g. South Station) you'll want to hop on an Alewife/Harvard bound train.
You can also take the Orange Line to Sullivan Square and then take one of the MBTA busses up Broadway through Winter Hill and beyond.
Should you be coming from northwest of Boston (e.g. Fitchburg) you can also ride the MBTA Commuter Rail.
From points North: You can get to Somerville in two ways:
- take Interstate 93 and get off at exits 29-31
- take Route 3 and park at the Alewife station on the MBTA Red Line. Take the inbound Red Line to Davis Square. This is advisable on the weekends, as parking can be hard to find near Davis Square.
The MBTA bus system will take you from Sullivan Square (Orange Line) through Somerville on to Arlington center and Medford. You can also get to Somerville by bus from Lechmere Station (at the end of the Green Line in Cambridge, near the Cambridgeside Galleria and Boston Museum of Science).
By mass transit
Somerville is covered by many MBTA (Mass Bay Transit Authority) bus lines, and has two subway stations (the Davis Square Red Line stop and the Assembly Square Orange Line stop) inside the city limits and several others within a few blocks of the city limits. Expansion of the MBTA Green Line light rail to include a number of stops inside the city limits is planned, but unlikely before 2017.
Somerville has several taxi businesses. There are cab stands in Davis Square, but in most of the city cabs must be called by telephone.
The Minuteman Bike Trail, a converted railway right of way, the main branch of which runs from Bedford to Alewife (in Cambridge) extends through Davis Square and a bit further to Cedar St., parallel to Highland Ave.
- Hubway, toll-free: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. A bike sharing service that offers use of 1,300 bikes from 140 kiosks around Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville. Visitors can purchase a 24-hour ($6) or 72-hour ($12) pass with a credit or debit card; both offer unlimited trips under 30 minutes (longer trips incur expensive extra charges). In Somerville, there are stations in Davis Square, Powderhouse Square, Teele Square, and Packard Avenue/Powderhouse Blvd (near Tufts). There are also additional stations on Sumner Street, Magoun Square, Somerville Hospital, Danehy Park, Porter Square, and Union Square.
- Somerville has over 200 yard shrines (often referred to as "Bathtub Marys")
- Powderhouse Square, near Tufts University, has a revolutionary-war era stone powderhouse. It is located in Nathan Tufts Park, which has a grassy open space.
- Check out artistic park benches in Union Square.
- Prospect Hill, behind Union Square, has a tower you can climb for good views of Boston and was the location of the first American flag flown (January 1, 1776).
- Somerville Museum, 1 Westwood Rd, ☎ . At the corner of Central St., Run by volunteers.
Most tourists spend their time near Davis and Porter Squares (within walking distance of each other, Porter actually mostly being over the Cambridge border). Residents sometimes avoid the crowds and hit their favorite spots in Union Square and the Winter Hill area, further from the T subways but still quite accessible.
Davis Square attractions
- The Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Sq, Phone: +1 617-625-5700, is a former vaudeville theater which has had several smaller theaters added (without dividing the main hall). It shows fairly cheap 2nd-run movies as well as live musical acts. "The Museum of Bad Art (MOBA)" (which advertises that it's the world's only museum dedicated to the collection, preservation, exhibition and celebration of bad art in all its forms) recently added a second gallery in the basement of the Somerville Theatre. Admission to the MOBA gallery is free with your movie ticket.
- The George Dilboy Post of the VFW, 371 Summer Street, plays host to various dances and acts, ranging from swing to electronica to circus to vaudeville.
There are also numerous bars and restaurants as well as various shops, some of which are mentioned below.
- Union Square is host to several night clubs that feature DJ's or live music of many genres. At one time or another, clubs like Toast and Club Choices have hosted nights for many sorts of music, ranging from Goth to Hip-Hop.
- Taza Chocolate Factory Tours and Store, 561 Windsor St (off Webster Ave and Cambridge Street near Inman and Union Squares), ☎ . The Factory Store is open W-F 11AM-6PM, Sat and Sun 11AM-5PM. Tours run 2-3 times daily, check the website for current schedule. Take a 45-minute tour of one of the few bean-to-bar chocolate factories in the USA. Get a close-up view of Taza's vintage chocolate making machines and learn how cacao is transformed into authentic stone ground organic chocolate. Visit the Factory Store to shop for limited edition chocolate treats and see the factory through special viewing windows. Lots of chocolate samples available in the store and throughout the tours. Tour admission $5 per person, children under 3 free.
- In May, the city's annual Memorial day parade.
- In July, the city's annual pre-July 4th fireworks. Restarted in 2004, has since been the site of acts of violence yearly.
- In May is Somerville Open Studios, in which the public is welcomed into artists' home and studio space for a look at their work. Somerville has enough artists that it's basically impossible to see them all during the weekend-long event.
- In July is Art Beat a street festival in Davis Square focused on visual arts.
- In September What the Fluff?  In 2010: Saturday, September 25 (raindate 9/26) for "Fifth Fluff Fest: Whoopie (Pie)!" A Tribute to Union Square Invention Marshmallow Fluff
- October 2007 was the second annual Honk! festival in Davis Square. Over a dozen brass bands showed up, from as far away as New Orleans and Italy.
- SOS (Save Our Somerville) Annual End of Summer youth Basketball Tournament at Lexington Park.
Tufts University is a major American research university. The main campus is located next to the Powderhouse Square area, and includes the undergraduates and most graduate schools, including the Fletcher School of International Diplomacy. The Medical school and several other health sciences graduate programs and laboratories are located in downtown Boston next to Chinatown, while the Veterinary school is halfway across the state in Grafton, Mass.
Somerville is largely residential, with some retail and professional services, a hospital, and some light industry such as cabinet makers, printing companies, and some very small junkyards. Somerville residents span a wide economic spectrum, and thus hold all sorts of jobs within the greater Boston area.
- Magpie, 416 Highland Ave. One of the nation's best stores devoted to handmade hipster crafts, unique gifts, independent designers, and local artists.
- Goodwill, Elm St. Two floors filled with all manner of stuff.
- Comicazi, 407 Highland Ave. Well- stocked comic book shop, featuring a very friendly staff.
- Davis Square also has a sewing machine parts store, a UPS Store for shipping, a large pharmacy, opticians, etc.
- Sherman Market in Union Square sells locally-grown produce, and locally-made items including honey and maple syrup.
- The Assembly Square Mall once abandoned and run-down, this mall was completely reborn in 2006. It is now a shopping center featuring Christmas Tree Shops, K-Mart, Bed Bath & Beyond, TJ Maxx & Home Goods, Staples, A.C. Moore, and a Sports Authority. Negotiations with IKEA have recently moved forward to bring them here in the coming years.
- Home Depot near the Assembly Square Mall and Sullivan Square.
- Cambridgeside Galleria If you are interested in a real mall, you may want to visit the Cambridgeside Galleria in Cambridge. It's a large mall anchored by Macy's, Best Buy, Borders, and Sears. It can be reached by taking the bus/subway to Lechmere Station (green line) and walking a few blocks, or to Kendall Square (red line) where the mall runs a free shuttle every 20 min. or so. It's a 5 min. shuttle ride. A large garage also offers parking for $3.99 on weekends.
Including supermarkets and convenience stores, Somerville has nearly 200 places to get food. It's home to many restaurants, from low-priced pizza and ethnic finds to elegant dining.
Davis and Teele Squares
- [dead link]Amsterdam Falafelshop, 248 Elm St, ☎ . Sun-Wed 11AM-10:30PM; Thur-Sat 11AM-midnight. A small shop, part of a franchise that also has a few outlets in the Washington, DC area, that sells falafel sandwiches and falafel bowls with a build-your-own bar of toppings, which range from sauces to pickles, fried eggplant, and other vegetables. Also serves frites with a range of sauces, including mayo, curry ketchup, and peanut sauce. The falafel and frites are both freshly fried to order and are deliciously crunchy and tender. A cheaply priced place to get an excellent, casual vegetarian meal. Has a few tables for eating in, or take to the nearby square or a park.
- Anna's Taqueria, 236 Elm St (Davis Sq.), ☎ . Fast Mexican food, much better than Taco Bell. People seem divided on Annas, some love it, some hate it. $4-10.
- The Burren. Davis Square. An Irish pub once said to pour more Guinness than any other in North America. Live Irish music. Music nightly in the back room, including the amazing Swinging Johnsons on Thursday nights.
- Blue Shirt Cafe, 424 Highland Ave, ☎ . Sandwiches, wraps, fruit smoothies, salads, and soup.
- Diesel Cafe, 257 Elm St, ☎ . M-F 6AM-11PM, S-S 7:00-11PM. Coffee and light dining (including breakfast, sandwiches and salads), winner of several local awards. A local favorite providing an alternative to the Starbucks across the street, locally owned with art for sale on the walls and a couple of pool tables.
- Mann O' Salwas (S&S Market), 66 Summer St, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. M-Th: 11AM-10PM, F-S: 11AM-11PM; Su: 11AM-10PM; Tuesday closed. Incredible Pakistani food served out the back of a small grocery store. Mostly a catering place but you can eat what they're making on premises. Definitely the most authentic South Asian food in the area, and probably, in most of New England. The portions are substantial. $6-10.
- Martsa on Elm, 233A Elm St, ☎ . Tibetan specialties, including momos and a variety of vegetarian dishes as well as entrees with meat. Lunch buffet.
- Mike's Food and Spirits, 9 Davis Square, ☎ . Hours determined by games. The menu is enormous and contains just about everything including pasta, pizza, and calzones — none are fantastic but all are decent, cheap, and in large portions. There are many TVs playing Boston sports. A classic "Old Somerville" experience is sitting in Mike's in front of an open window looking out on the Square with a pitcher of beer and a pizza watching a Red Sox game. $10-20 for an entrée.
- Posto, 187 Elm St Davis Square (Davis Sq), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Mon-Thu 5:30-10p; Fri-Sat 5-11p; Sun 4:30-9:30p. Delicious pizza and various other Italian dishes. Their pizzas are cooked in a traditional wood-fired ovens and two of their pizzas have been officially approved by the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana. Reservations are taken and may be helpful during the businessiest times of the week but are generally not necessary. $15-30 for an entrée.
- Redbones, 55 Chester St (Davis Sq), ☎ . Excellent BBQ and great selection of microbrewed beers. While certainly not what you'd find in Texas or Mississippi, they clearly know what they're doing; you don't find hush puppies and okra on too many menus in New England. The art in the basement room is great, the bar has a "wheel of beer" in case you're feeling lucky or indecisive. They serve a late night menu until midnight, another area rarity.
- Bloc 11 Cafe, 11 Bow St, ☎ . M-F 7AM-8PM; Sa 8AM-7PM; Su 7AM-7PM. Sister cafe to the Diesel Cafe in Union Square, Bloc 11 features a few breakfast selections, pastries, soups, and made-to-order sandwiches, along with a selection of espresso/coffee/tea/soda beverages. The cafe features artwork by local artists, and hosts open mic music nights as well. Located in a former bank branch, the cafe also features seasonally-available outdoor courtyard seating.
- Neighborhood Restaurant and Bakery, 25 Bow St, ☎ . Daily 7AM-4PM. It is worth visiting Union Square for, especially in the summer months. There's an overhead grape arbor with real fruit growing on it. There's a large breakfast/brunch menu, and very colorful outdoor decor. The menu also includes some Brazilian fare, as well as alcoholic drinks.
- Red House, 24 Union Square, ☎ . Su-Th 11AM-1:30AM; F-Sa 11AM-2AM (Delivery 11AM-1:30AM). A New England-style Chinese restaurant (take-out only). Good food, clean kitchen (you can watch them prepare your food through a window in the waiting area), and open late. Recommended by Ben Affleck.
- Ronnarong Thai Tapas, 255 Washington St, ☎ . (Note that Washington Street skips across Union Square; Ronnarong is located on the east side of Union Square, facing into the small municipal parking lot, near the U. S. Post Office.) Ronnarong features smaller plates of Thai cuisine, independent craft beers, and a full wine and sake list. Many ingredients are locally-sourced, and chef Ronnarong ("Ronnie") is always found in the kitchen. Closed Sundays.
- Sherman Cafe, 257 Washington St, ☎ . (Note that Washington Street skips across Union Square; the Sherman is located on the west side of Union Square, headed towards Harvard Square.) Another independent, locally-owned cafe, the Sherman features made-to-order gourmet sandwiches with fresh, local ingredients and a selection of soups. All pastries and breads are also made right at the cafe. Espresso, teas, brewed coffee, and Italian-style sodas round out the menu. One hour of free Wi-Fi is available for customers in this friendly neighborhood cafe.
- Cantina La Mexicana, 247 Washington St (Union Sq), ☎ . Friendly neighborhood taqueria, West Coast style. Burritos, tacos, tamales, everything cheap. Expanded in 2009 to include restaurant-style seating and a full bar.
- Sound Bites, 704 Broadway (Ball Square), ☎ . Voted "Best Breakfast in Boston" many times. Lines out the door on weekends. Next door is Ball Square Cafe which is an (at least) equally highly rated restaurant started by original Sounds Bites that is almost identical in its menu and experience.
- True Grounds, 717 Broadway (Ball Square), ☎ . Independent cafe serving specialty coffee and espresso, breakfast and lunch fare. Rotating roster of local artists. All sandwiches named after nearby streets and squares.
- Kelly's Diner, 674 Broadway (Ball Square), ☎ . Mon-Sat 6am-3pm, Sun 6am-2pm (breakfast only). Traditional dining car in Ball Square, usually has a line out the door on Sundays. Well known for their pancakes, portions are generous.
- East Somerville is home to several good Brazilian BBQs with self-serve steam tables.
- Fasika, Broadway (East Somerville). Ethiopians looking for a new place after they lost their lease took over a local bar and put a partition down the middle, keeping the bar on one side and having seating on the other. The result? Probably the only Ethiopian restaurant in the world with video keno! Townies having a beer watch yuppies chow down on very good yemasir wat.
- Vinny's at Night, 76 Broadway (East Somerville), ☎ . You get to this place by walking through Vinny's Superette, a convenience store. Honest. Fantastic family-style Italian fare.
- Mama Lisa's Pizza, ☎ . 312 Broadway (Winter Hill). Good pizza, fantastic ham & cheese calzones, but calzones are only made some days of the week so call to verify.
- R.F. O'Sullivan and Son, 282 Beacon St (Near Porter Sq.), ☎ . A pub that is primarily a bar but has outstanding burgers, fries, and onion rings — and very little else on the menu.
- Tu Y Yo Mexican Fonda, 858 Broadway. (Powderhouse Square), ☎ . M-F 5PM-10PM; Sat 1PM-10PM; Sun 10:00-9PM. Excellent authentic Mexican food that is a member of the Slow Food association and focuses on pre-hispanic cuisine. This is not the typical Mexican restaurant; the food is authentic and you won't find burritos here. Many dishes have nopales (cactus) and huitlacoche (a corn fungus) which are both expertly prepared. appetizers $4.00-$11.00; mains $14.00-$19.00.
- Rudy's Cafe, 248 Holland St (Teele Sq), ☎ . Unparalleled selection of Tequila. Opinions vary on the Tex-Mex food.
- Orleans, 65 Holland St, ☎ . Davis Square. Large beer selection and huge selection of exotic mixed drinks including a variety of Sangrias and martinis.
- The Independent, 75 Union Square, ☎ . A very cool unpretentious place for a drink.
- The Joshua Tree, Davis Square, a good bar for the college/"young professional" set in the evenings. Numerous HDTVs, good food, friendly staff.
- Also see Redbones and The Burren above
- Aeronaut Brewing Company, 14 Tyler St, Somerville, MA 02143, ☎ . Microbrewery located in a large warehouse with an expansive taproom and many flavorful beers on tap. They also have board games and a Super Nintendo with such classics as Mike Tyson's Punch Out.
Somerville is, as mentioned elsewhere, a heavily residential area; hence, there are few hotels. Although there are plans for a hotel in West Somerville (i.e., in Davis Square), currently no hotels exist. Many more options are available in Cambridge or in one of the outlying suburbs along Route 93 or Route 95. Harvard Square has several hotels and is easily accessible to many parts of Somerville with mass transit.
- AmeriSuites, 116 Riverside Ave, ☎ . Medford, MA. Located off of I-93, near Medford Square. This hotel is 2.5 miles from Davis Square and 7 miles to the airport.
- Holiday Inn Boston Somerville, 30 Washington St, ☎ , fax: . Just two miles from downtown Boston and four miles from Logan International Airport. Includes a photo gallery, rates, availability and on line reservations.
- Morrison House (Bed and Breakfast), 221 Morrison Ave, ☎ . 4 rooms, near public transportation.
The area around Sullivan Square and the Assembly Square Mall is a bit desolate after dark. You have to walk under the highway and there are several dive bars nearby. If you find yourself at Sullivan Square after dark, you might want to stick close to the bus stops where there are plenty of people around.
|Routes through Somerville|
|Manchester ← Medford ←||N S||→ Boston → Canton|
|Newton ← Cambridge ←||W E||→ Medford → Revere|
|Lawrence ← Medford ←||N S||→ Cambridge → Boston|