Allston, MA: Boston-Area Neighborhood Guide
Allston is a vibrant suburb of the bustling East Coast city of Boston. Discover the best restaurants, shops and things to do in Allston, MA, with our comprehensive neighborhood guide.
When traveling to the prime tourist destination of Boston, Massachusetts, make time for a visit to Allston. Although sometimes lumped together with the Brighton neighborhood, the area has a unique culture and vibe that deserves an experience. It’s history dates back to the 19th century, but the current feel of the community is modern and artsy.
About Allston, Massachusetts: A Vibrant Boston Suburb
The area known as Allston is a diverse neighborhood west of central Boston, connected to Brighton on its east side. It was named after Cambridge painter Washington Allston in 1868. In its early days, it acted as a railroad hub for the Boston and Albany Railroad, and in 1964, it became a notable stop along the Massachusetts Turnpike when the toll road expanded.
These days, while there are some young professionals and families living in Allston, most residents are graduate or undergrad students, which gives the neighborhood a young and energetic feel. Boston College, Boston University and Harvard University form a triangle around Allston, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a mere 9-minute car ride away from the center of this trendy area. Because of its proximity to all these schools, it is sometimes referred to as the “student village.” Its location has also led to the establishment of Allston Christmas, an annual event during the last few days of August in which renters leaving the area (often after graduating) put out old furniture, decor and clothing on the streets for new residents (usually college freshmen) to take.
With a collection of hipster bars, quick access to the Fenway neighborhood, and great views from the Charles River, Allston is the place to hang out for young people in the Boston area. It is known for its art and music scene, with a few performance venues and museums within the area, and plenty of artists who call it home. It is a fairly inexpensive place to live compared to other parts of Boston, and offers locals and visitors a diverse variety of ethnic foods, as well as great microbrews and draft beers at laid-back restaurants.
Top-Rated Restaurants in Allston
Before heading to a concert or checking out an art show, stop at one of Allston’s top-rated dining options. The casual atmosphere and bustling scene at these restaurants will have you wanting to go back again the next day. But try to refrain – there are so many delicious options, you are sure to want to try them all.
Whatever type of food you are interested in, there is a place in this neighborhood that will impress. Check out the list below to find some of the top spots to grab a bite in Allston.
- Carlo’s Cucina Italiana: For some of the best authentic Italian cuisine in the Boston area, go to Carlo’s. It’s a family-owned and operated restaurant that has been a staple of the Allston community since the ‘70s. The environment is relaxed and welcoming, and the staff always treats patrons like part of the family. If you go to Carlo’s, try the shrimp in Grand Marnier sauce or the pappardelle alla Chloe.
- The Breakfast Club: You probably won’t find Judd Nelson or Molly Ringwald here, but The Breakfast Club does resemble an ‘80s diner strongly influenced by The Brat Pack culture. The walls are adorned with records from the time and there are several collectibles on display from movies of the era. Every dish is made from scratch and uses only the highest-quality ingredients, and some items are even locally sourced. The homemade strawberry jelly is to die for, as well as the freshly whipped cream.
- Deep Ellum: This popular pub has some of the best cocktails and craft beers in the entire Boston metro. For a light and slightly sweet treat, you have to try The Original Aviation, which is a mix of gin, maraschino liqueur, crème de violette and lemon. The drinks aren’t the only attractions on the menu, as the food at Deep Ellum is also quite delicious. Get the poutine in duck gravy or root beer-braised pork belly to really please your taste buds.
- Lulu’s Allston: If brunch is your favorite meal, LuLu’s is the absolute best place to get it. the White Trash Hash is something you will be talking about for days after dining here. It has tater tots, poached eggs and hollandaise sauce, but the X-factor is the braised short ribs. They are melt-in-your-mouth tender and full of flavor. Prefer more traditional breakfast or lunch fare? LuLu’s has mimosas, Bloody Marys, omelettes and sandwiches – all of which are tasty.
- Sunset Grill & Tap: Beer lovers rejoice! Sunset Grill has 300 types of bottled beer and 113 on draught. The food holds its own as well, with a mix of typical American fare and classic Mexican dishes, plus some exceptional ribs and seafood. This restaurant is open until 1 a.m. every day of the week, so it’s a great go-to when late-night hunger strikes. If you have room for dessert, definitely get the roasted apple and caramelized banana nachos.
- Grasshopper: A hipster town wouldn’t be complete without a vegan dining option. Grasshopper Restaurant offers meat-free Chinese cuisine as dine-in or takeout. Instead of using animal products, the chefs here use tofu, veggies or wheat to make beef, chicken, pork and seafood. The veggie-chicken fingers taste just like the real thing, and you would never know their spicy steak filet is actually tofu.
- Spike’s Junkyard Dogs – Allston: Anyone who says hot dogs aren’t fine eating has never tried one from Spike’s. These puppies are all beef and loaded with fresh and tasty toppings, such as bacon, cheddar cheese, pickles, hot peppers and chili. If you prefer other protein options, you can also get yummy angus burgers, chicken sandwiches, wings or tenders. Spike’s even offers fat-free veggie dogs to satisfy the vegetarians in your group.
Top Attractions Near Allston, Massachusetts
While you could probably spend an entire day trying out all the delicious restaurants in Allston, you are likely visiting Boston to see the sights as well. Some of the city’s greatest attractions are in the middle of or near Allston, and should be put at the top of your to-see list.
- Harvard Avenue: This is the place to hang out when visiting Allston. Harvard Avenue is home to a variety of unique restaurants and shops, but you should focus your attention on the area between Cambridge Street and Commonwealth Avenue, which is known as Allston Village. Union Square is also along this road, as well as the Allston Station building.
- McMullen Museum of Art: Formerly the Boston College Museum of Art, this art gallery has various temporary exhibits, as well as a permanent collection with pieces displaying art from Asia, Europe and the Americas from the 16th to the early 20th centuries.
- New England Aquarium: For a great family activity while visiting the Boston area, check out the aquarium. You can see a wide variety of sea life and touch small sharks and rays, as well as watch educational films in IMAX 3D. It’s open seven days a week and tickets are $27.95 for adults, $25.95 for seniors and $18.95 for children ages three to 11 (younger than three are free).
- Franklin Park Zoo: If land animals are more your thing, visit the zoo to see lions, tigers, warthogs, falcons, camels, butterflies, snakes, pandas, kangaroos and a long list of other species. Aside from the animal exhibits, the Franklin Park Zoo offers shopping, dining and a carousel for the little ones. Tickets are $19.95 for adults, $16.95 for seniors and $13.95 for children two to 12 (younger than two are free).
- Boston Museum of Fine Arts: This art museum not only offers a fantastic collection of fine works, it also has great dining and shopping options. When you view the work in the museum itself, you have the chance to see temporary exhibits showcasing photography, paintings and videos, as well as the permanent collections, which boast pieces from all over the world. These include jewelry, textiles, drawings, photography, contemporary art and musical instruments.
- Mass Audubon’s Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary: Allston visitors who prefer to keep their activities outside will love this wildlife sanctuary. You are welcome to canoe along the Charles River or hike along the many trails to see a vast number of animals in their natural habitats. The land is untouched, and a thing of true vibrant beauty.
- Boston Common: Although it is technically in downtown Boston, visiting this park is a must when touring the area. It is the oldest city park in the country and sits on 50 acres, which include famous burial sites, softball fields, the Freedom Trail and monuments acting as memorials. Throughout the year, plays, operas and rallies are held at Boston Common, as well as holiday celebrations.
- West End Museum: The artifacts at the West End Museum are protected to preserve the history and culture of the area. With 4,000 square feet of space, the facility holds extensive collections and provides designated areas for educational programs and events. Examples of the types of pieces on display at the museum include old photographs and historical relics.
- BeanStalk™ Adventure Ropes Course: Looking for an attraction with a little more action? BeanStalk is an indoor ropes course offering visitors an opportunity to practice their balance on raised crooked beams, rope ladders, crisscross walks, a zip line and spaghetti hand lines. More daring participants can take on the 24-foot course, while beginners can stick to 12 feet. Admission is $14 for those over 48 inches tall.
- Paddle Boston: Travel along the Charles River in a kayak, canoe or paddleboard with Paddle Boston. Water trips start in Allston and run for nine miles in a loop of calm, serene water. While paddling your way through the city, you will enjoy scenic views of the skyline, the major colleges and the Esplanade. Boats can be rented per hour or by the day.
Entertainment and Nightlife in and Around Allston
Visiting Allston without taking in some of its exciting nightlife would be a crime. Due to the artsy vibe of the neighborhood, music has a big influence on the entertainment scene. Bands like Aerosmith started their careers playing in Allston, which has contributed to the area being called “Rock City” these days. Other artists, both local and touring, often play at one of the several venues in the neighborhood, creating a thriving music culture. Sprinkled among the show halls and clubs are a few fun and trendy bars, giving Allston a desirable nightlife.
- Great Scott: This live music club hosts a variety of bands, artists and DJs throughout the week, mostly focusing on the styles of rock, indie and underground. It welcomes local bands to the stage when given the opportunity, and prides itself on being open to and accepting of all types of artists and fans. The club has a large full bar, as well as non-alcoholic beverages for patrons under 21 to enjoy.
- Brighton Music Hall: Although its name implies musical performers, Brighton Music Hall is a live performance venue bringing both bands and stand-up comedians to the Allston area. Many of the entertainers perform alternative rock and metal tunes, but the venue also welcomes artists performing reggae, rap, pop and electronic music. While some acts are local to the Boston area, Brighton Music Hall gets musicians from all over the world.
- Scullers Jazz Club: This club has been named as one of the best international jazz venues on the list from Downbeat Magazine for 2017. Allston visitors looking for an evening of smooth, syncopated rhythms and bluesy tunes will love the laid-back and free vibe of Scullers. The intimate setting makes catching a show here perfect for date night or small groups looking for sensational jazz.
- Paradise Rock Club: This music venue is on the east side of Allston and welcomes smaller acts as well as some bigger names in rock, country, alternative, R&B and pop. A few notable names performing this year include Frankie Ballard, Bayside, Michelle Branch and Khalid. Just outside the club is the Paradise Lounge, where patrons can grab a drink and some food before heading into their show.
- Boston Garden: Playing host to some of the biggest music artists and sporting events in the Boston area, TD Garden arena is the largest entertainment venue in the metro area. It is home to the Boston Celtics and Bruins during basketball and hockey season, but in between, it brings in the biggest names in music and entertainment, such as J. Cole, Katy Perry, The Weeknd, WWE Monday Night Raw, Bruno Mars, Guns N’ Roses and Ed Sheeran.
- The Draft: If you can’t get tickets to the game at the arena, watch it with an energetic crowd at The Draft Bar and Grille. It’s got traditional bar food, a selection of draught beers, and flat-screen TVs around the inside of the restaurant, as well as pool table guests are welcome to use. When the weather is ideal, The Draft also has a large, spacious patio for seating.
- Garage Boston: Built in a former garage and fully renovated with a modern and edgy vibe, Garage Boston is the premier nightclub for those in Allston. It has a luxury, chic feel and invites patrons to reserve high-end experiences with bottle service and VIP treatment. The DJs spin mostly electronic, hip-hop, KPOP, House and TRAP music to keep guests on the dance floor all night.
- Wonder Bar: This hotspot is more than just what its name implies. Wonder Bar is actually a restaurant, nightclub and private event venue all in one. It gets some of the biggest and hottest musicians and DJs, and provides VIP bottle service and plenty of space for private parties. During the week, Wonder Bar hosts multiple live bands and is a great gathering spot for professionals grabbing an appand drinks after work.
Unique Shopping Opportunities in Allston
What would a vacation be without a little bit of shopping? With thrift stores, coffee shops, vintage fashion shops and special outdoor events, strolling through the streets of Allston can be a fun and different experience for tourists. Make time in your day to check out the following shopping and community activities that are representative of the Allston culture.
- Zone3: Built from an initiative started by Harvard University, Zone3 is a group of buildings located at 267 Western Ave. in Allston. It contains a large event space, outdoor movie theater, holiday market, fitness studio, pop-up beer garden and art shops.
- Buried Treasures: According to its website, this is “not just a store, it’s a lifestyle.” Buried Treasures has been a staple in the Allston community for more than 25 years and sells a variety of unique items, including glass products and brands, clothes, hats, black lights, candles, backpacks, posters and smoking paraphernalia.
- Music Guitar Center: With such a large music scene, it’s no surprise Allston has a major instrument hub in the center of it all right on Harvard Avenue. Mr. Music sells new and used guitars, as well as vintage options and the top brand names, such as Fender, Gibson and Rickenbacker. You can also get accessories or other instruments, like amps and keyboards.
- Vivant Vintage: If you are looking for a unique and somewhat eclectic shopping experience, browse Vivant Vintage. This little shop sells clothing, knickknacks, home décor, vinyl, antiques and cameras, as well as other original styles, from the core of Allston.
- Bazaar on Cambridge: Some visitors to the Boston area may want to cook their own meals while in town, and for that, Allston offers Bazaar on Cambridge. It is the chain’s newest location and offers fresh deli products, fish, dairy, produce and baked goods, along with European specialty items.
- Blanchards Liquors: This Allston liquor store has been voted one of the top 100 wine and beverage shops across the country by Wine & Spirits Magazine. It sells the best selection of wine, beer and liquor in the area and offers great prices on all of your favorites. Stop in for a tasting or book a formal wine seminar.
- Sakanaya Boston: Anyone who loves seafood has to make a trip to Sakanaya. This fish market has some of the freshest foods you can buy, usually either sourced from the New England area or the best markets in Japan, but Sakanay brings in the best of the best from all over the world.
From dining to shopping, local attractions and nightlife, Allston is a fantastic tourist destination for anyone who visits the Boston area. With so much to do, start by picking a few of the options listed in this guide and see where your trip takes you. Whatever you see, you can’t go wrong!