Strolling historic parks and swanning around the water are but two of the pastimes that make summer prime time to enjoy our sixth-ranked city.
Credit: Douglas Merriam

Summer in Boston is as sweet as a first kiss, and just as fleeting. Every year, it surprises residents and visitors with its perfection: The air is balmy, the Sox are playing, and it seems that everyone is outdoors. Start your summer fling with Boston in the Public Garden, the city's 24-acre botanical backyard, where families and couples line up for rides on the iconic swan boats, as they've done for generations. Climb aboard, and take in the crazy quilt of old and new that defines Boston-here, a centuries-old church; there, a soaring glass skyscraper, all in a setting where the salty sea air permeates everything from the culture to the freshly caught seafood.

Boston earned the 6th spot on our top 20 list of Cooking Light Cities for its ranking in a variety of food and healthy lifestyle categories, including its amount of Zagat's top-rated and organic restaurants per capita; the number of James Beard nominees for best restaurant and chef; and the percent of the population reporting they consume five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day.

Best bowl of chowder: The debate about who makes Boston's best clam chowder continues, although locals agree that tomatoes have no place in it. (For that, head to Rhode Island or New York.) Legal Sea Foods (617-266-7775) serves a light version that's broth-based instead of creamy, and chock-full of clams and potatoes. How light? About 70 calories per serving (compared to 300 for Legal's traditional chowder) with near zero fat.

Best seafood: If oysters are your choice, meet like-minded souls at B and G Oysters (617-423-0550), where 12 varieties are available, and servers discuss their differences the way vintners chat about fine wines. Try the world-famous Wellfleet oysters from nearby Cape Cod. Or, if you prefer, savor a bit of Boston's culinary history along with your seafood at Union Oyster House (617-227-2750), which opened in 1826 and claims to be America's oldest restaurant. Regulars have included Daniel Webster and President Kennedy.

Best fine dining: At the Zagat's-lauded Aujourd'hui (617-351-2037), in the Four Seasons hotel, stunning views of the Public Garden enhance the unabashed luxury of the modern French-inspired menu. Dishes change with the seasons, but count on swoon-worthy creations like amber pears poached in Essensia (orange Muscat). Also noteworthy: A multicourse vegetarian tasting menu.

Best sightseeing: This time of year, the Charles River is dotted with sailboats, kayaks, and racing sculls. Join the joggers and cyclists as they zip along the recreation path on the riverbank-you'll really feel like part of the city. For views few tourists see, rent a boat or take a guided tour with Charles River Canoe and Kayak (617-462-2513). You'll glide under arched bridges and past Harvard's handsome buildings, where city scenes are complemented by wildlife sightings (turtles, mallard ducks, and black-crowned night herons, to name a few). 

Best historic walk: Boston's compact layout allows you to explore nearly all its historic tourist sites on foot. The 2.5-mile Freedom Trail (617-357-8300) includes 16 historic sites, beginning at the information booth on Boston Common, one of the country's oldest public parks. Red bricks or a red-painted path lead you to early American hotspots like Paul Revere's house and the Old North Church, the site where two signals shone in 1775, indicating to Revere that the British were arriving by sea and thus igniting the American Revolution. Look for bullet holes in the gravestones at Copp's Hill Burying Ground-the British used them for target practice. Across the way at 44 Hull Street, you'll see the narrowest house in Boston: a three-and-a-half story clapboard home that's only 10 feet wide.

Best jogging route: Boston is a city of runners. After all, its namesake marathon (run since 1897) is perhaps the world's most famous. Pack your jogging shoes, and trace a route around Beacon Hill that offers sightseeing along with hill climbs. Start at Charles Street and go up Mount Vernon, where you can gaze at the handsome homes that line your path. If walking is more your pace, stroll by the shops along Charles Street, where windows are filled with antiques, collectibles, and gourmet food items.

Best way to celebrate: Boston is the ultimate place to celebrate the Fourth of July. A weeklong extravaganza, Boston Harborfest (617-227-1528) attracts more than two million revelers to its waterfront. As a part of the city's celebration, watch "Old Ironsides" (the USS Constitution, the oldest ship still afloat) make its annual turnaround cruise, and listen to the Boston Pops perform on the Esplanade. Fireworks punctuate the event-a production so fabulous that it's televised nationally. To avoid the crowds, show up the night before and watch the Boston Pops rehearse. There are no fireworks, but it's a far mellower scene.

Best for baseball fans: You don't have to attend a game to tour famous Fenway Park (617-226-6666), where Boston's beloved Red Sox play. Tours will take you to the Green Monster, the 37-foot left-field wall that's the tallest in professional baseball.

Best wildlife watching: Whales congregate in the waters off Boston at feeding grounds every summer. You can spot humpbacks, minkes, finbacks, and the occasional right whale. For the best way to see them, take a three- to four-hour whale-watching cruise guided by professionals from the New England Aquarium (617-973-5281). In the rare event you don't see any whales, the aquarium will supply tickets for another day free.


Best way to save: Summer is high season in the city, so look for a package that includes tickets to a museum or exhibit, or other extras. The gilded Fairmont Copley Plaza (from $379 per night; 800-441-1414), for example, offers a "Just Ducky" package that includes a family pass to the Boston Public Garden's swan boats, four tickets for the popular Boston Duck Tour, a copy of "Make Way for Ducklings" (the classic children's book set in Boston), and, naturally, a couple of miniature plush ducklings.

Best location: If you'd like to explore the city on foot, Copley Square is an ideal area, since the shopping zones of Newbury and Boylston streets are at your doorstep, along with a T (Boston's subway system) stop. Copley Square's best bet is the historic, family-owned Lenox Hotel (from $239 per night; 617-536-5300). Eco-friendly efforts-heavily insulated windows and low-VOC paints are just two of their environmental initiatives-earn them bonus points.