Boston, MA 02130
Daily: Sunrise to Sunset
Hunnewell Building’s Visitor Center
Hours: Weekdays: 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m., Saturday 10:00: a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Sunday: Noon – 4:00 p.m.
Admission: Free – donations appreciated
From the Public Garden to the Fells, the Esplanade to the Minuteman Trail, Bostonians have no shortage of great green space and places to explore outside. But if you’re looking for a jewel, visit Boston’s Emerald Necklace, a series of connected parks designed by Frederick Law Olmstead. There you’ll find the oldest arboretum in North America, the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, and whether you’re looking for a great place to get some exercise, hang out with the kids, or learn a new skill, this park should not be missed.
Established in 1872, the Arnold Arboretum is a special blend of public space and a private research center. Spanning 265 acres in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood, the park is jointly maintained by Harvard University and the City of Boston. The Arboretum was instituted thanks to an estate gift from New Bedford merchant James Arnold to Harvard University, and over time, has become one of the world’s leading centers on the study of plants. Here are a few ideas on to spend the day at the arboretum.
The Arboretum scores high marks as a beautiful spot to take a run, walk and snowshoe. Consider joining one of the free tours first to get a sense of the park and its layout, or even better, register for Fall Into Health, monthly 90-minute classes that “explore the less-traveled paths of the Arboretum on brisk walks designed for getting fit.” Biking is allowed, but only on the paved walkways.
Learn something new.
Ever wanted to learn how to spot edible mushrooms or create the perfect garden? The Arboretum’s adult education offerings may just fit the bill with their wide range of subjects, meeting times and fees (including some free). Docent-led themed walking tours are another way to explore the park and learn about birds, the greenhouse growing process and other natural wonders. Check the class and tour schedules for information.
Go on a family outing.
Bored with your local playground? Who isn’t? Head to the Arboretum (there isn’t a jungle gym to be found) and get your kids connected to nature. In addition to the great trails and scooter-able paved paths, the park offers monthly free “Family Drop-Ins”. Activities range from crafting to story-time to hands-on science.
The Arboretum is probably best known for its annual Lilac Sunday. Traditionally coinciding with Mother’s Day, Lilac Sunday is the perfect time to visit with the family and honor mom. The park comes to life with dance and music performances, tours of the blooming lilacs, and picnicking families, particularly special since picnicking is not allowed at any other time.
The Arboretum also makes a terrific setting for family or engagement photos, as well as small special events including wedding ceremonies and memorial services. While the Arboretum doesn’t charge a fee or formally “book” events, notice of such an occasion and a donation is appreciated.
CBS Boston Insider Tip: Group events are limited to 40 people.
Go to the Birds.
According to their website people have recorded 185 different species of birds over the past 100 years around the Arnold Arboretum – and spotting fine feathered friends still abounds there all year-round. During the winter months feeders are put out around the grounds to improve the habitat and during the frigid months you can stay warm while watching them from the window of the Hunnewell Visitor Center. Here’s a quick link to a checklist of birds that have been sited.
Become an insider.
Visiting the park is free of charge, but should you decide to support the Arboretum by becoming a member, you’ll reap the botanical rewards including discounts at some local nurseries, members-only events and free plants at the annual Members’ Plant Giveaway.
CBS Boston Insider Tips: Parking is available around the Arboretum’s perimeter and outside the main entrance, though as with most places in Boston, public transit is recommended. When visiting the Arboretum, be mindful of its mission and refrain from climbing trees, stepping on mulch beds or taking “samples” of foliage. No barbeques or picnics allowed.
Paige Lewin is a Boston lifer who counts down to Lilac Sunday every year. Paige spends her days in academia, while at night retreats to her life as a mother, writing after the lights are out. She contributes to Boston Mamas and is the creator of Mudroom Boston. Paige lives North of Boston with her husband and two sons.