For Boston Magazine's Concierge
Spending the day on a charming New England island doesn’t require a flight to Nantucket or a ferry to Martha’s Vineyard. Head to Boston Harbor, where you'll find 34 different islands offering history, hiking, picnicking, salt marshes, and beaches. Here's a look at some of our favorites.
Stroll Bumpkin’s shell-strewn beaches and wildflower-lined pathways. As you wander, look for remnants of a stone house, as well as a children’s hospital that was built by a Boston philanthropist at the turn of the 20th century.
Home to Civil War-era Fort Warren, Georges offers picnicking, paved walkways, and a gravel beach. Georges is a harbor hub: Most ferries from Boston stop at this island, and from here, visitors can hop ferries to most harbor islands accessible by boat.
Berries, birds, and a battleground — Grape has them all. History buffs will enjoy exploring the site of the little-known Battle of Grape Island, a skirmish fought over hay during the American Revolution.
Great Brewster Island
The bluffs of big Brewster offers spectacular views of Boston Light and several other lighthouses, as well as the inner harbor and Massachusetts Bay. Seagulls breed on the island, and lobster boats can often be spotted in nearby waters.
Little Brewster Island
Little Brewster is home to Boston Light, on the oldest continuously used lighthouse site in the country, still occupied by the U.S. Coast Guard. Guided tours depart from Fan Pier and the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum (see page 31).
Lovells’ was the site of a number of shipwrecks, including a French warship during the 18th century. The island is favored by campers and swimmers alike.
One of the largest Harbor Islands, Peddocks’ long history matches its long shoreline. American Indians and 17th century European-American farmers worked the soil, patriots guarded the harbor against the British from the shores, and the island's Fort Andrews helped defend the harbor during both world wars. Peddocks offers hikers a great variety of views, from forest to marsh and pond to sea.
Spectacle makes its debut on the harbor cruising scene this year. The island was a gambling hotbed in the 19th century, but then for decades (until 1959), it served as an offshore dumping ground. As part of the Boston Harbor Project and Central Artery/Tunnel Project cleanup, the island was rehabilitated and today claims two swimming beaches, walking trails and spectacular city views.
IF YOU GO
The season begins June 26, with camping seven days a week. Some islands are accessible earlier in the season, with camping on weekends only. Islands are open daily from 9 a.m. until sunset. To reach the islands, take a ferry from Boston’s Long Wharf to Georges or Spectacle islands. From there, ferries depart to the other islands accessible by boat (except Little Brewster). Private boats are allowed as well.
Long Wharf is across from Faneuil Hall Marketplace. Via the MBTA, take the Blue Line to the Aquarium stop or the Orange Line to the State Street stop. The National Park Service also runs tours to Little Brewster Island and the Boston Light. For more information, call 617-223-8666 or visit www.bostonislands.com.