When school begins and classes are in full swing, it can be hard to step, walk, run, bike or bus outside of the Harvard bubble.  Most students live within walking distance of campus and find themselves too pressed for time to consider exploring the plethora of other neighborhoods that make up Boston.  If they make it beyond Harvard, they most likely constrain themselves to the Cambridge-Somerville hot spots of Davis, Central, Union and Inman Squares.  While these areas are wonderful and definitely host some great restaurants, bars, and things to do, one of my favorite neighborhoods in Boston lies across the river on the south side of the city.

Jamaica Plain (JP) is known for its diverse population, history of activism, abundance of artists and beautiful green spaces.  Just south of the South end, adjacent to Roxbury and Brookline, JP is easily accessible via bike or T.  The neighborhood stretches from Jackson Square in the north to Forest Hills in the south and curves around Jamaica Pond, a serene pond circulated by a running and biking path.  Centre St. is the heart of JP and is home to an abundance of good, cheap food, artist studios, coffee shops and thrift stores. Many HDS students choose to live in the area, and if you don’t mind the commute, it’s a wonderful place to live and engage in the Boston community. If you are visiting and have time to explore outside of Harvard and Cambridge, you should consider visiting JP and seeing more of what Boston has to offer.

When I have the time, especially in early fall or late spring, I love to hop on my bike and head over the river, through Brookline, along the Longwood bike path to spend a day exploring in Jamaica Plain.  Some of my favorite places and things to do are:

Bike around Jamaica Pond:

If you’re like me and have your own bike or access to one, Jamaica Pond is an easy ride from Harvard Square.  It’s 4.7 miles with an extra 1.5 miles all the way around the pond.  If you don’t have a bike or are coming to the area by the Orange Line, you can walk or jog around the pond.

Bring a book to the arboretum:

As a child of Wisconsin and Minnesota, I often find myself craving a respite from the city.  The Arnold Arboretum is a perfect place to find solitude and spend time in nature.  The 281 acre long arboretum boasts an astonishing variety of trees and other plants.  It is particularly beautiful when the leaves are turning in the fall and in early spring.  I love to bring a book and stroll around the arboretum in the fall. The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University is located less than a mile from Jamaica Pond and Centre St., and if you’re taking the T, it is adjacent to the Forest Hills Stop.

Peters Hill in Harvard University's Arnold Arboretum

View of Boston from Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum in JP. Photo by Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer.

Grab Coffee at City Feed (2 locations):

City Feed and Supply is a neighborhood grocery, café, and deli that offers a wide range of delicious sandwiches, Fair Trade and Organic Coffee from Equal Exchange, and groceries.  I highly recommend grabbing coffee, perusing the array of local beer and wine on display, and maybe partaking in a baked good for fuel while you explore Centre St.

Eat at:

J.P. Licks: JP is home of the original JP Licks.  Whether it’s a hot or cold day, you shouldn’t pass up on stopping by this iconic and scrumptious ice cream parlor. Once you’ve tried the original, don’t forget to stop by the J.P. Licks in Harvard Square across from Harvard Yard!


J.P. Licks’ famous ice cream. Photo by Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

El Oriental De Cuba: JP is one of the best places to find Cuban food in the city with a large population of Cuban immigrants.  El Oriental De Cuba is a must-visit with a cozy, diner feel and wide range of dishes to choose from.

Cafe Beirut: Cafe Beirut is well-known for delicious and cheap Lebanese food.  It is one of the few Lebanese restaurants in the city and serves the best shawarma and kibbeh I’ve had in the U.S.   Check out their pumpkin kibbeh or battata harra (spicy potatoes)!

Shop at:

Boomerangs: Boomerangs is a popular thrift store with great finds.  From furniture to ugly sweaters, it’s the perfect shop to outfit your apartment and wardrobe.  If you can’t make it to the one in JP, they have another location in Central Square here in Cambridge.

Papercuts: Papercuts is an independently owned bookstore just off of Centre St.  Don’t let the size of the store fool you! They have a great selection of books and the owner is fantastic!

Drink at:

Sam Adams Brewery: For those of you who love beer (or don’t but like free things), Sam Adams Brewery is a lovely way to cap off your tour of JP.  The brewery offers free tours everyday that come with a sampling of Sam Adams’ classic and seasonal beers.  It is located near the Orange Line Stony Brook T Station.