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The Boston Globe

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Best of the New

Best Boston diversions of 2011

Not-your-average workouts, a Lego heaven, and the cutest babies at the zoo.

Cownose rays in the Aquarium's newest exhibit, The Trust Family Foundation Shark and Ray Touch Tank.

S. Cheng

Cownose rays in the Aquarium's newest exhibit, The Trust Family Foundation Shark and Ray Touch Tank.

The Bar Method

This ballet-inspired Back Bay fitness studio, delightfully bathed in natural light, earns rave reviews for its brisk workout classes, not to mention locker rooms stocked with products from Fresh. Co-owners McKenzie Howarth and Sarah Kuzniar are passionate true believers who bestow personal attention on all, remembering names, making tweaks to form, and encouraging students to push through the burn.

234 Clarendon Street, second floor, Boston, 617-236-4455, www.boston.barmethod.com

Brickapalooza

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Who needs Legoland? In classes offered at Brickapalooza, kids ages 4 and older learn engineering, science, and robotics using Legos – or just tinker around wherever their imaginations take them. Founder Eric Kingsley, a Lego lover who turned his hobby into his profession, hosts birthday parties at Brickapalooza in Tyngsborough and offers off-site after-school programs and classes all over metro Boston.

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164 Westford Road, Tyngsborough, 978-649-2654, www.brickapalooza.com

Clarins Skin Spa

Known for its luxurious skin creams, Clarins opened its first full-service day spa in the United States at Bloomingdale’s in Chestnut Hill. Stressing the power of touch in a host of face and body treatments, the spa offers a signature facial in which technicians perform 80 specific hand motions, plus hand and foot massages as a finishing touch.

Bloomingdale’s women’s store, first floor, The Mall at Chestnut Hill, 617-630-6772, www.clarinsusa.com

Corbu Spa & Salon

The newest addition to the Charles Hotel’s roster of indulgences – the top-notch restaurants, the lovely views of the river and Harvard Square – this upscale spa and hair salon features a menu of treatments that changes with the season. This winter, try an orange blossom and marigold body wrap (exfoliation comes first, then a restful wrap while the lotions soak into your skin, and finally a massage) or an oatmeal cookies-scented manicure and pedicure. The scrubs and lotions used in spa treatments are made on-site and incorporate fresh, local ingredients.

Charles Hotel, 5 Bennett Street, Cambridge,617-661-5772, www.corbuspa.com

The Esplanade Playspace

As their kids outgrew the tot lots, a group of neighborhood parents raised nearly $1 million via donations and fund-raisers to build a new playground on Boston’s Esplanade. With a tall, challenging climbing structure, a zip line, and multiple modern takes on the old-fashioned merry-go-round, the riverfront park is designed for kids 6 to 12. Here’s a tip for would-be visitors from other neighborhoods: The playground is on the Esplanade bike path and only a short walk from the Red Line’s Charles Street stop and metered parking.

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Next to the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade, Boston, www.esplanadeplayspace.org

The Fear at Fenway

New Hampshire’s long-running SpookyWorld attraction hit Fenway Park for the first time this Halloween. Kids’ matinees were deceptively G-rated, with candy, balloons, and face painting. After the sun went down, troupes of neon zombies (undead and 3-D!), bloodied banshees, and maniacal clowns turned the ballpark’s concourse into a series of nightmare scenes far more horrifying than any mid-inning beer line. Let’s hope that the demons will rise again from the dead next October.

www.spookyworld.com

GymIt

Launched by the team behind the Healthworks women’s gyms, this coed fitness center near Boston University keeps waistlines thin and wallets fat. No long-term contracts or uncomfortable used car-style sales jobs here. Members can sign up online for $19 a month. Far from no-frills, GymIt offers discounted garage parking and HDTVs worthy of a sports bar, more than 100 pieces of cardio equipment, and three strength training areas.

920 Commonwealth Avenue, Brookline, 617-208-4555, www.gymit.com

Hayden Planetarium

The Museum of Science’s planetarium reopened in February after a yearlong $9 million renovation full of major tech upgrades. Chief among them: a $2 million projector and new software that can display the entire known universe – all in the comfort of a mosquito-free, climate-controlled dome.

1 Science Park, Boston, 617-723-2500, www.mos.org

Hingham Skate Park

Board-crazy “groms” and adults alike are stoked with the slopes, benches, and steps of the new 7,000-square-foot skateboard park in Carlson Fields at Hingham’s Bare Cove Park. Skaters who dare tip into the mighty bowl, hoping to avoid an asphalt cocktail.

20 Bare Cove Park Drive, Hingham

Hubway

You never forget how to ride a bicycle. Good thing, because this summer, Bostonians and visitors gained access to 600 three-speed bicycles docked at 60 stations scattered around the city. Hubway is a new public transportation option for people looking to pedal their way across town or to work, school, or the store. Join for a day, three days, or the three-season year – Hubway closed for the winter on November 30 and will reopen, depending on the weather, on or after March 1 – then grab a bike and get riding. The $85 annual membership includes as many half-hour rides as you want, though longer trips cost extra, helping ensure that plenty of bikes are available for the next rider.

www.thehubway.com

MFA’s Contemporary Art Wing

So, the Musuem of Fine Arts has never been known for its modern collection. This year’s renovation and reopening of the west wing is making up for lost time. The new galleries include 20th-century names (Andy Warhol, Ellsworth Kelly, Lynda Benglis), along with younger artists (Mark Bradford, El Anatsui) you’ll want to get to know.

465 Huntington Avenue, Boston, 617-267-9300, www.mfa.org

Pirates and Patriots Tour

After a 200-plus-year absence, pirates are again swashbuckling around the streets of Boston. The Freedom Trail Foundation’s new 90-minute walking tour, offered May to October, ventures off the thin red line to explore the waterfront as costumed guides share salty tales of bygone buccaneers and revolutionaries, who, it turns out, shared quite a rebellious streak.

617-357-8300, www.thefreedomtrail.org

Rick Smith Golf Academy

Missed out on earning your PGA Tour card this year? Golf school at The International just might get you there the next time around. Rick Smith, who has tutored legends such as Phil Mickelson, is among the instructors who employ for the masses the same cutting-edge ball-flight radar tracking systems and motion-capture cameras used by the pros.

159 Ballville Road, Bolton, 978-779-1333, www.theinternational.com

The Paint Bar

Even if you haven’t touched a palette since elementary school, your creative juices will flow at Newtonville’s Paint Bar, where students have use of an easel, brushes, and paint – plus the slightly less traditional offering of beer and wine for sale. Artist and photographer Jackie Schon, who opened the place with her mom, Jill Kerner Schon, leads themed sessions six nights a week, ranging from interpreting a vase of flowers to re-creating Munch’s The Scream. Classes fill up quickly, so registration is a must.

823 Washington Street, Newtonville, 617-872-0720, www.thepaintbar.com

Red Panda Twins at the Franklin Park Zoo

Born on July 4 and aptly named Yanhua (“fireworks” in Chinese) and Duli (“independence”), these adorable little pandas were bred through an inter-zoo project to help compensate for their shrinking wild population due to habitat loss. Even in China, red pandas are nearly impossible to see outside zoos, which are committed to preserving the incredibly cute, cuddly species.

1 Franklin Park Road, Dorchester, 617-541-5466,www.zoonewengland.org

Shark and Ray Touch Tank

Imagine dipping your hand into the water and gently stroking a bonnethead shark or an exquisitely graceful Atlantic ray as it dives and glides. The New England Aquarium’s kid-friendly shark and ray touch tank is the largest on the East Coast, and it demystifies these sea creatures while highlighting their importance in a healthy ocean ecosystem.

1 Central Wharf, 617-973-5200,www.neaq.org

Treehouse at Hidden Hollow

Kids will enjoy the bird’s-eye view from the giant Treehouse at Hidden Hollow, perched 15 feet above ground and part of the Heritage Museums and Gardens’ outdoor discovery center in Sandwich. Built around two magnificent oak trees, the airy two-story post-and-beam structure blends seamlessly into the surrounding woods, providing a place to play, learn, or just dream.

67 Grove Street, Sandwich, 508-888-3300, www.heritagemuseumsandgardens.org

--Best of the New by Ami Albernaz, Michelle Bermas, Karen Campbell, Jaci Conry, Geoff Edgers, Devra First, Geoffrey Gagnon, Alyssa Giacobbe, Sheryl Julian, Marni Elyse Katz, Christopher Klein, Dan Morrell, Erin Byers Murray, Leon Neyfakh, Shira Springer, Tina Sutton, Visi Tilak, Kathy Tully, and Liza Weisstuch, Ellen Albanese. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.

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