Moving to Boston: Neighborhood Guide - Back Bay: Boston, MA

Neighborhood Guide - Back Bay: Boston, MA
Thinking about Moving to Boston? Get to know the Back Bay – From talking about the different areas that make up the Back Bay and what they have to offer from restaurants to schools to parks.


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The story of the Back Bay Continued...

The Back Bay is considered one of the crown jewels neighborhoods of Boston. It’s got it all from a premier location to one of the most beautiful city settings one could ask for…

When people think of Boston, they don’t know it, but they generally think of either Beacon Hill or the Back Bay. But the two neighborhoods are very different. The Back Bay used to be just that… a Bay. They started filling in the Bay in 1857 and was filled in 1882. This is important because the Bay it was built on is creating some problems for houses today… Big problems which we will talk about a little later…

What was once planned as only a Residential neighborhood would later be adjusted to allow Commercial property and now today holds some of Boston’s most iconic buildings. These include the Prudential Center, the John Hancock Tower and all of the world-renowned retail on Newbury Street.

Today a little more than 21,000 people call the Back Bay home. These lucky folks are drawn to this neighborhood because of its convenience as a centrally located neighborhood as well as its overall beauty… It’s like living in a Postcard each day with its picturesque tree lined streets and parks.

The Back Bay is different than a lot of other neighborhoods as it doesn’t have neighborhoods within the neighborhoods if you will. You have two sections of the Back Bay… Okay, it’s really three sections. You have the area that is closest to the Public Garden then the area down by Mass Avenue and then the third area is across from Mass Pike. And the affordability of the neighborhood goes in that order as well with the area by Public Gardens being the most premier areas and therefore the costliest.  And by the way… I use the term “affordability” very loosely…

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For out of towners, the Back Bay Neighborhood probably makes more sense than other neighborhoods around Boston as it was built as a grid. The streets that go North to South are named alphabetically with Arlington Street being by the Public Gardens. The Back Bay is also serviced by three stations on the Green Line as well as the Commuter Rail. The Back Bay is considered a “Walkers Paradise” as it is ranked as the 7th most walkable neighborhood in Boston with a Walkscore of 97 and a transit score of 98. I personally found it kind of crazy that 6 other neighborhoods are considered more walkable than the Back Bay!

Schools, museums, restaurants, Areas of interest and types of property that the Back Bay has to offer is coming up… But first, let’s talk about all the Green Space that the Back Bay has to offer.

When it comes to Parks in the Back Bay… The first park we will talk about was actually the first Botanical Garden in the United States. The Boston Garden is a 24-acre park and is home to winding paved walkways around the Lagoon, picturesque flower beds and weeping Willow Trees. If you have ever seen or heard of Swan Boats in Boston… Then this is where you will find them!

Copley Square is a public square that is better known for what is around it, then the actual park. The Copley Square is surrounded by the Trinity Church, what used to be called but is still known as the John Hancock Tower and the Boston Public Library. It is also the finish line for the Boston Marathon. The Square also hosts First Night and Boston’s largest farmer’s market. The Square is about to get a remodel which will feature a large raised platform, a modern fountain, a new lawn and a wide plaza.

The Commonwealth Avenue Mall is a pretty cool park. This park is 32 acres and is what really forms the central axis of the Back Bay. It connects the Boston Public Garden to the Fens. Winston Churchill praised it as “the grandest boulevard in North America”. This park was part of the Back Bay’s original plans. It is a grassy Mall designed to create a straight-line vista beneath a canopy of trees. It is an enjoyable 1.5 mile walk to say the least.

This leads us to the Charles River Esplanade which is a 3-mile urban oasis that stretches along the shoreline of the Charles River. The Esplanade is home to the Hatch Shell, Community Boating Sailing Center, Union Boat Club and is perfect for running, cycling, kayaking or just an enjoyable stroll to get a little R&R.  The park was created in the 1930s and would then be expanded in the 1950s with the construction of Storrow Drive. There hasn’t been much that has changed with the Esplanade since the 50s which I personally think is a great thing. It’s a great escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.

To me what makes the Back Bay so special is the Green Space, the Beautiful Architecture and the location. The Back Bay was all planned out which I think we can all appreciate the cohesiveness of that plan and the neighborhood today. The plan put zoning and building restrictions, including mandatory building setbacks, limits on building height and the confining of building materials to masonry and brick. It is safe to say that the vision was a success as today the Back Bay is considered one of the finest zones of Victorian houses in America. Granted opinions are like belly buttons… But I personally love the stunning Brick Brownstones and brick streets that the Back Bay offers.

While those Brownstones were mostly originally Single-Family homes, today they have mostly been converted to condos. You will also find the occasional larger building mixed in, but for the most part the Back Bay consists of the transformation of the large Single-Family homes of the 1800s to condos. I always pause for a moment when I walk into the grand entrances of each of these properties and just imagine the time and what it was like in its original glory. You can still find the occasional Single-Family Brownstone in the Back Bay, but be prepared to bring your checkbook… They aren’t cheap!

Back Bay isn’t known for their public schools… Because they really don’t have any! The Back Bay is part of the Boston School District with kids for the most part going to schools out of the neighborhood. There are some private schools available in the Back Bay. These include the Newman School, the Kingsley Montessori School, the Commonwealth School and the Learning Project. But as I said, the Back Bay is part of BPS which serves over 50,000 students throughout the city.

For cultural additions to the city, the Back Bay has two very notable additions to the city. The Back Bay sports the Gibson House Museum and the famed Boston Public Library.

The Gibson House is “a time capsule of domestic life from the mid-nineteenth to early-twentieth centuries”. The home served as residence to three generations of Gibson Family members and their household staff from 1859 to 1954. The Museum’s four floors of period rooms including the original Kitchen.

The Boston Public Library was the first large free municipal library in the U.S. This is actually the third building that has housed the Public Library. The Library originally opened in 1854 and moved into its current building in 1895. Inside this majestic building you will find a beautiful inner courtyard as well as famed sculptures and pictures.

There are a lot of good restaurants in the Back Bay. I figure I will just rattle off a few that are worth checking out. If you are looking for Steak, then the Capital Grill, Abe & Louie’s and Grill 23 need to be mentioned. Atlantic Fish is really good while Stephanie’s on Newbury has a strong following. The Back Bay is not short of amazing places to eat and enjoyable places to grab a drink.

The majority of housing stock that is available to Back Bay home buyers are condos. You will find the occasional single-family home which are very expensive. These condos are found in Back Bay Brownstones as well as larger buildings which even include high rise amenity rich buildings like the Clarendon at 400 Stuart Street or the Mandarin Oriental which is considered one of the most premier buildings in Boston. I included average sales prices for the different types of buildings and bedroom condos for the Back Bay in the description below. I figured it best to do it this way so I can update them.

If it is affordability that is important to you… Then the Back Bay may not be the right place for you. If you are looking for quintessential Boston or prestige and cache’ or maybe just an extremely convenient location within Boston… Then the Back Bay may just be the spot for you. If you are looking to learn more about Boston and the other neighborhoods that Boston has to offer, then be sure to check out our other neighborhood profiles.

All of the Boston Neighborhoods
East Boston Neighborhood Guide
South Boston Neighborhood Guide

If you are thinking about buying or selling a Back Bay Condo and looking for a Back Bay Realtor, then we would love the opportunity to chat! You can reach Jeff at 617-480-2600 or by email at [email protected].

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