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37 can’t miss Boston waterfront attractions

What to do there now

Legal Harborside.

Russ Mezikofsky

Legal Harborside.

 To see a whole lot of waterfront — and waterfront attractions — meander along Boston’s HarborWalk, which right now includes almost 40 miles of pedestrian- and bike-friendly public access at the water’s edge. (Remember, it’s not all continuous.) 617-482-1722, bostonharborwalk.com

Russ Mezikofsky

The Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway runs from Chinatown to the North End — about a 30-minute walk if you don’t stop to play in Rings Fountain or ride the carousel (which, by the way, has an opening party on May 17 from 6 to 8 p.m.). 617-292-0020, rosekennedygreenway.org

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Thanks to the Greenway Mobile Eats program, you’ll find high-quality trendy treats this summer from six food trucks, one trailer, three mobile kiosks, three bikes, and three carts. For cheesy goodness, it’s hard to go wrong with a sammie from new vendor Roxy’s Gourmet Grilled Cheese (roxysgrilledcheese.com, @RoxysGrilledChz). And no, it’s not at all boring to order the Vermont cheddar “Rookie Melt.” Go to returning favorite Bon Me (bonmetruck.com, @bonme) for the best Vietnamese sandwich you’re likely to find in the city. And then cool off with a savory-sweet popsicle like watermelon-blueberry-basil from Culinary Cruisers (culinarycruiser.com, @culinarycruiser).

Get away to the islands — the Boston Harbor Islands, that is. A quick ferry ride from Long Wharf takes you to Georges or Spectacle island. Georges is home to a Civil War-era fort and often hosts concerts and other events. From there, you can hop a smaller boat to Grape, Bumpkin, Lovell, or Peddocks. On Spectacle are hiking trails, a lifeguard-supervised beach, and sunset clambakes every night the Tall Ships are in town, between June 28 and July 6 (then Thursday and Friday evenings through September 7). 617-223-8666, bostonharborislands.org

Long Wharf is also the launching point for Boston Harbor Cruises, a family-owned business since 1926 offering whale watches, history tours, and all sorts of other themed rides. 617-227-4321, bostonharborcruises.com

For an extended exploration, Urban AdvenTours offers daily bicycle rentals for adults and kids as young as 5. They also lead Bikes@Night, a sunset tour of the waterfront, and a Sunday “Bike and Brew” tour that ends at the Harpoon Brewery. 103 Atlantic Avenue, 800-979-3370, urbanadventours.com

The USS Constitution.

Russ Mezikofsky

The USS Constitution.

History buffs might begin with a visit to the USS Constitution (Charlestown Navy Yard, www.history.navy.mil/ussconstitution), the hero of the War of 1812. The bicentennial events of that conflict — where the ship earned the moniker “Old Ironsides” — begin June 16 at noon, with a massive flag display, music led by Pops conductor Keith Lockhart, and the unveiling of a new exhibit at the USS Constitution Museum called “Old Ironsides 1812 Discovery Center” (Charlestown Navy Yard, Building 22, 617-426-1812, ussconstitutionmuseum.org).

Emack & Bolio’s.

Russ Mezikofsky

Emack & Bolio’s.

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Nothing washes down a little history better than a little ice cream. The Charlestown outpost of Emack & Bolio’s, which got its start in Brookline in 1975, has some of the city’s best. 100 City Square, 617-337-3571, emackandbolios.com

Just steps from the Constitution, there’s a winner of an intimate restaurant. The Navy Yard Bistro and Wine Bar serves a simple, creative menu of new American fare. Its patio is perfect for enjoying a glass of wine, house-made sangria, or a craft beer. Charlestown Navy Yard, 1 First Avenue, 617-242-0036, navyyardbistro.com

Visit the Fairmont Battery Wharf for a yoga or core fusion class or a spa treatment at Exhale (617-603-3100, exhalespa.com). Then treat yourself to a meal at Aragosta Bar + Bistro (617-994-9001, aragostabistro.com), where chef David Daniels does contemporary Italian in a chic space including a deck overlooking the water.

The North End’s food has always been good, but it’s more recently become a retail hot spot. Acquire (61 Salem Street, 857-362-7380, acquireboutique.com) stocks a mix of vintage and modern home decor. In-jean-ius (441 Hanover Street, 617-523-5326, injeanius.com) will help you find the perfect designer denim. And Eclectic Home Goods (189 North Street, 617-816-9303, eclectichomegoods.com) is a good place for unique, earth-friendly gifts such as a wine bag made from recycled sails.

There are two types of Bostonians: Mike’s people and Modern people. For the record, the cannolis are better at Mike’s Pastry (300 Hanover Street, 617-742-3050, mikespastry.com), where they come in more than a dozen varieties. But go to Modern Pastry (257 Hanover Street, 617-523-3783, modernpastry.com) for a sfogliatella, a ricotta-custard filled delight. Can’t pronounce it? Just ask for a lobster tail.

New Balance Hubway.

To cover ground quickly for a specific errand — say, gathering provisions for a picnic — borrow a bike from New Balance Hubway, with waterfront-adjacent locations that include Lewis Wharf, the New England Aquarium, Rowes Wharf, and Fan Pier. “Casual 24-hour” memberships cost $5; you can take an unlimited number of free 30-minute rides with it; extra fees begin to kick in if you continue to ride longer. 855-448-2929, thehubway.com

Christopher Columbus Park was Boston’s first waterfront park when it opened in 1976. It remains a great place to picnic under the wisteria-covered trellis, let kids splash in a spray fountain and scramble at the playground, or catch a Sunday night movie from July 15 to August 19 at 8 o’clock. foccp.org

The New England Aquarium.

Russ Mezikofsky

The New England Aquarium.

The New England Aquarium has been around since 1969, and it deserves its reputation as one of the best in the country. Fridays from 10 a.m. to noon are Aqua Kids Family Days, with special arts and crafts projects and live animal presentations. Even if you don’t go in, you can check out the harbor seal exhibit just outside the front doors. Central Wharf, 617-973-5200, neaq.org

If you want to pick a cool late-night destination, find out where the staffers from foodie hot spots go when they get off work. In the Fort Point area, that’s Lucky’s Lounge, a subterranean oasis of retro hip that has live music on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday nights and Sinatra tributes on Saturday and Sunday nights. Bonus: It’s open till 2 a.m. 355 Congress Street, 617-357-5825, luckyslounge.com

Anyone with an interest in fashion must visit Louis (60 Northern Avenue, 617-262-6100, louisboston.com). It’s big, bold, and arguably the style-savviest spot in town. It’s also home to Sam’s (617-295-0191, samsatlouis.com), which serves up top-notch water views, elevated comfort food, and live music every Friday night.

Flour Bakery + Cafe.

Russ Mezikofsky

Flour Bakery + Cafe.

If you missed the desserts in the North End, you can still satisfy your sweet tooth at this location of Flour Bakery + Cafe, where chef Joanne Chang serves her famous sticky buns and banana bread, as well as a selection of cookies (try the tcho chocolate chip). 12 Farnsworth Street, 617-338-4333, flourbakery.com

The public green behind the John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse (One Courthouse Way) is one of the most picturesque and relaxing addresses in all of Boston — unless, of course, you happen to be on trial. Come the morning of June 30, it will also be a prime spot to watch the Tall Ships arriving for OpSail 2012, running through July 5. Vessels from South America and Indonesia are scheduled to berth at Fish Pier and will periodically offer free tours. opsail.org/popup-boston

The Boston Children’s Museum

Russ Mezikofsky

The Boston Children’s Museum

The Boston Children’s Museum is one of the best places anywhere for hands-on fun. A three-story climbing structure greets kids in the lobby; “Big & Little: An Exhibit About Size, Proportion, and Scale” features a pair of really, really big shoes from Shaquille O’Neil; “Native Arts” opens June 7 and showcases artwork from native communities around New England. 308 Congress Street, 617-426-6500, bostonchildrensmuseum.org

At the high end of the dining spectrum, Barbara Lynch’s Menton (354 Congress Street, 617-737-0099, mentonboston.com) recently became Boston’s first Relais & Chateaux property — and just introduced a new chef’s tasting menu for $155. At the lower end, Lynch’s ode to the lunch counter, Sportello (348 Congress Street, 617-737-1234, sportelloboston.com), has a nice weekday to-go deal: A lunchbox with a sandwich, house-made potato chips, cookie, and a drink for $10. They’re available starting at 11:30 a.m.

It almost goes without saying that there is a wealth of seafood around here. Among the favorites are the “naked” lobster roll and “barking” crab cake sandwich at The Barking Crab (Fort Point Landing, 88 Sleeper Street, 617-426-2722, barkingcrab.com). If you want to pick up fresh seafood or a prepared lobster dinner to go, there’s James Hook & Co. (15-17 Northern Avenue, 617-423-5501, jameshooklobster.com).

Legal Harborside.

Russ Mezikofsky

Legal Harborside.

Legal Harborside (270 Northern Avenue, 617-477-2900, legalseafoods.com) is a 20,000-square-foot seafood emporium with a casual fish shack on the first floor, fine dining on the second, and a popular roof deck for drinks and small bites on the third.

The Institute of Contemporary Art showcases a rotating permanent collection of works by some of the world’s foremost artists; this summer, an exhibition of Charline von Heyl’s paintings is on view through July 15, and an exhibition of Josiah McElheny’s work in glass opens June 22. Things will really come alive outside during the ICA’s summer programming, with a full slate of dance and music. The Friday night “Talking Taste” series, July 13 through August 3, will feature local chefs such as Ken Oringer. 100 Northern Avenue, 617-478-3100, icaboston.org

Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum.

Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum.

The fire that destroyed the museum to the most iconic protest in Colonial American history was a disaster. But with the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum scheduled to open to the public on June 26, it’s back and better than ever. There will be interactive exhibits, a Tavern and Tea Room, and (best of all) three traditional ships modeled after those that were overrun during the Boston Tea Party. 306 Congress Street, 855-832-1773, bostonteapartyship.com

Trade's co-owner and Chef Jody Adams.

Essdras M Suarez/ Globe staff

Trade's co-owner and Chef Jody Adams.

One of Boston’s most beloved (and talented) chefs, Jody Adams, recently opened Trade at Atlantic Wharf. The food is informed by the local bounty and Adams’s travels to the Mediterranean, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. 540 Atlantic Avenue, 617-451-1234, trade-boston.com

  

WHAT IS “SUMMER ON THE WATERFRONT”?

For the first time ever, eight of the waterfront’s key nonprofits — including the Constitution, the ICA, and the Aquarium — have banded together to put on a summer’s worth of concerts, tours, and other events. The collective’s website, summeronthewaterfront.org isn’t scheduled to go live until June 1. But folks can visit it now to sign up for weekly e-mails that will highlight everything there is to do as the party unfolds.

Christie Matheson is a frequent Globe Magazine contributor. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.

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