Second of a four-part series.
What a trip! This second leg of the Boston Harborwalk ranges from the windy grandeur of Columbia Point through the summer playground of the South Boston beaches, then around the working waterfront and into the steel-and-glass oceanside forest of the Seaport. It’s a transit from the bucolic outer edge of the harbor to city life with all its energetic jangle.
We begin at Fox Point Basin, on the south side of Columbia Point. UMass Boston looms on the high ground to our left as Corita Kent’s rainbow gas tank behind us signals the distant mouth of the Neponset River. Runners huff and puff down the broad pavement, but there’s ample reason to take it slow.
Last year, the Harborwalk Grace Trail was established along a one-mile stretch that begins at the UMass dock. It features five stations for meditative reflection. Farther along the path in Old Harbor Park, granite markers relate harbor and Dorchester history. Commemorative benches and elegant pavilions dot the way, providing ample stops for rumination or just for resting your feet.
Here on the outer harbor the world feels very big and very flat. A vast sky stretches overhead to a wide horizon punctuated only by island dots. Yet the shore behind and the shore ahead shrink the scale back to human proportions. From our starting point, we ambulate just a half hour around Columbia Point to the pinwheel geometry of the long steps behind the John F. Kennedy Library & Museum. I.M. Pei’s black and white masses planted on gray slate jut into the wind over the harbor like a clipper ship’s sails.
From the Kennedy Library, it’s another hour’s stroll to Carson Beach. A Grecian-style pavilion — its concrete floor inscribed ‶Mother’s Rest Metropolitan District Commission″ — signals the transition from Dorchester into South Boston. The formal structure also proudly trumpets the start of the South Boston beachfront. Carson is the broadest beach of the sandy crescent along Day Boulevard. It’s a stretch of shore that many towns on the French Riviera would be proud to claim. That’s certainly how Mayor James Michael Curley looked at it when he had the L Street Bathhouse built in 1931 as a recreational jewel for Southie. The Curley Community Center, as the facility is now known, is being renovated this summer.
Three yacht clubs that fence the public off from the water interrupt the Harborwalk here, but it picks up quickly as we follow the sidewalk to the intersection of Day Boulevard and Farragut Road. One of the most storied parklands in Southie, the causeway around Pleasure Bay, begins on the right. Legend has it that Whitey Bulger and his crew would meet on the causeway as whistling winds frustrated the FBI agents trying to eavesdrop with parabolic microphones.
Frederick Law Olmsted designed Pleasure Bay and its perfect toddler beach as part of Marine Park, the final (never connected) jewel of the Emerald Necklace. At the end of the causeway, we swing right to circle Castle Island. Because it controls access to Boston’s inner harbor, the spot has been fortified since 1643. Fort Independence, as it is now called, was finished in 1851 and last saw active duty during the Civil War. As we continue around the perimeter, we cross the stretch of fill that transformed the island into a headland in 1928.
We’re more than ready to join the line of Southie families at Sullivan’s (2080 William J. Day Blvd., 617-268-5685, sullivanscastleisland.com), the iconic snack stand that dates from 1951. We linger over lunch to enjoy the brisk breeze, knowing that we’ll be heading away from the beaches through the more rough-and-tumble working port. We can already glimpse the towering cargo cranes of the Paul W. Conley Container Terminal that holds down the south side of the old Reserved Channel. According to Massport, 2.3 million metric tons of cargo pass through Conley each year.
When Massport remade the terminal to re-route truck traffic away from residential streets, it created delightful little Thomas J. Butler Memorial Park along East 1st Street. The green strip on the back of the shipping complex is no substitute for harbor access, but it is a nice grace note in an otherwise gray stretch.
Boston is famous for creating new land, and a map in Butler Park indicates that the remainder of our walk will cross land that was underwater before 1852. From East 1st Street, we make a right onto Summer Street to cross the Reserved Channel on the bridge named for former mayor Raymond L. Flynn. From there, we’re looking across to the Flynn Cruiseport Boston. In 2019, 138 ships from 20 different cruise lines bearing 402,346 passengers docked here.
We head down Drydock Avenue toward the cruiseport, and turn left down Harbor Street to reach Harpoon Brewery (harpoonbrewery.com) and its outdoor beer garden. (Check website for hours if you need a cold one.) Next door stands the elaborate concert tent now known as Leader Bank Pavilion. (We’ll keep calling it Harbor Lights.)
This is really where the vaunted Seaport neighborhood begins. Thanks to the right of public harbor access established in the Colonial era, we can walk down the piers and even follow a seafront boardwalk around Legal Harborside, Temazcal Tequila Cantina, and Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse. Diners seated at outdoor tables have superb views of the harbor and Boston Fish Pier; built 1912-14, it’s the oldest continuously working fish pier in the nation.
Around the same time, the city also built adjacent Commonwealth Pier, so vast it could handle the largest cargo vessels of the era. The massive Beaux-Arts building on the pier last served as the World Trade Center. The entire zone is off-limits to pedestrians as the pier is redeveloped. Slated for completion in 2024, it will feature a massive public plaza and promises to be a new model for public amenities on the water.
A right turn onto Pier 4 Boulevard reconnects us to one of the most successful stretches of the Seaport, where the Harborwalk is almost uninterrupted all the way to Congress Street. The pedestrian path extends the boulevard to the tip of Pier 4 and splendid harbor overlooks. We may not be able to afford any of the housing in these parts, but we do feel welcome to soak up the view. The path continues beneath the overhang of the Institute of Contemporary Art, where the long steps create amphitheater seating at the water’s edge. Completed in 2006, the ICA has become a signature design of the Seaport.
It’s a seamless passage to Fan Pier, half of which is covered by the John Joseph Moakley Federal Courthouse. The landscaped waterfront offers abundant sitting areas, and placards along the edges detail Fan Pier’s long history. The Courthouse dock is usually the summertime home of the World Ocean School aboard the schooner Roseway, scheduled to berth in Boston in mid to late May.
We follow the Harborwalk signs across the terminus of Northern Avenue and to Barking Crab, still going strong despite the influx of fancier restaurants. Never underestimate the desire for seafood and suds in the outdoor tent. The pathway continues under Seaport Boulevard along Fort Point Channel to Martin’s Park, named for the youngest victim of the Marathon bombings. Fittingly, the park-cum-playground links up with the Boston Children’s Museum, located in an 1889 former wool warehouse. Ninety such wool warehouses were built in the neighborhood in the last half of the 19th century, a testament to the scope of the New England textile industry. After passing the giant Hood Milk Bottle, we walk over the Congress Street bridge past the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum, evocative of one of Boston Harbor’s most famous moments in history. South Station is a short walk away along Atlantic Avenue.
Patricia Harris and David Lyon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
BOSTON HARBORWALK PART 2
Start: Fox Point Basin from JFK/UMass T (Red Line)
End: South Station (Red Line)
Distance: About 10 miles, 6 hours with lunch stop
Interactive Harborwalk map: bostonharborwalk.org
Next: Fort Point Channel to Charlestown Navy Yard