Measuring only four-square miles, Somerville, Massachusetts is the fifteenth densest city in America, with a population of over 75,000. As a former resident, I can say with complete confidence that the city packs a lot into such a little place besides people. In my four years of living there while I attended Tufts University, I never felt like I ran out of things to do. Now that I've left, I'm always hearing from friends who stayed about the new things to discover that make me regret leaving.
But Somerville is also in the midst of a bit of an identity crisis, with the Boston Globe asking if Somerville is growing too hip in 2013, and the New York Times featuring Somerville, "as a hip alternative to both Boston and Cambridge" last fall.
Well, everything you've read about Somerville is true ... kind of. For all its chic trappings, Somerville’s still got some grit to it. Yes, the city is growing and becoming more popular with new gourmet restaurants and bars, but Somerville is trying to make sure this growth happens responsibly, without displacing the very residents who built it up and made it what it is in the first place. Things like...
1. You’ve got a go-to sandwich order at Dave’s Fresh.
Not only does Dave’s Fresh Pasta have fantastic fresh pasta to-go, they’ve got a legendary sandwich counter. My go-to a Grilled Chicken #2 on ciabatta, toasted. A true local also knows to start the meal off with an appetizer of free cheese samples.
2. You're always within walking distance of a good coffee shop.
Diesel Cafe in Davis Square and Bloc 11 in Union Square are two of the best places to hunker down with a laptop and get some work done, all while sipping on some high-quality coffee. The people watching is pretty high-quality, too.
3. You're willing to wait in line for Union Square Donuts.
It's easy to get a donut fix when you live in Massachusetts, since there's a Dunkin' Donuts on nearly every corner. But the best gourmet donuts in the greater Boston area come from Union Square Donuts. Made from scratch daily, flavors are as fancy as brown butter hazelnut crunch and sea salted bourbon caramel, and there are even vegan options.
4. You forgive Brooklyn Boulders for being from Brooklyn.
Everyone's always saying that Somerville is the Brooklyn of Boston, and really, having Brooklyn Boulders open a climbing gym in the city only furthered the argument that Somerville is actually New York's sixth, long-lost borough. But with 28,000 square feet of climbing space in a gigantic warehouse space, it's hard not to fall for Brooklyn Boulders.
5. You never miss the Halloween double-feature at the Somerville Theatre…
Somerville Theatre is an independently owned and operated movie theater that shows everything from the big blockbusters to smaller, artsier films. My favorite was always the Halloween double-features, shown throughout October; the best pairing I saw was the 1978 classic Halloween, followed by Kubrick’s The Shining.
6. … And you remember to visit the Museum Of Bad Art while you’re there.
Hidden in the basement of the Somerville Theatre is the Museum of Bad Art, and admission is free with a movie ticket. It's art that's "too bad to be ignored," so of course it's taken up residence in Somerville.
7. You're proud of the fact that Shape Up Somerville was used as a model for Let's Move.
Years before Michelle Obama started her Let's Move campaign to fight against childhood obesity, the city of Somerville had partnered with researchers from Tufts University to create its own strategy to prevent obesity among elementary school students. The program was called Shape Up Somerville, and it's still going strong with great success. Michelle Obama even recognized the program for being a model for Let's Move.
8. You always clear the way for activist marching bands at Honk!
One weekend every fall, Davis Square is invaded by dozens of troupes of activist marching bands from every corner of the world crowding the streets and alleys and squares in fabulous, colorful costumes for Honk! It's fun, it's community-oriented, and it's a powerful statement about reclaiming public space.
9. You know that the best place to get groceries is Market Basket.
Yes, there’s a Shaw’s in Porter Square, and a Whole Foods where the old Johnny Foodmaster’s use to be. But a real Somerville resident knows the best place to get groceries is at Market Basket. It's cheap with a great selection, even if you sometimes have to fight through the crowds to get the deal.
10. You believe craft beer is king.
That craft brew revolution everyone’s talking about is happening right in Somerville. Somerville Brewing Company, also known as Slumbrew, and Aeronaut Brewery are two local breweries to try. If you're not into beer, Aeronaut also hosts lots of events and concerts at its brewery, and if you’re gluten-free, you can still check out the craft scene with Bantam Cidery.
11. Candlepin bowling is always a better choice than ten-pin.
I had never seen candlepin bowling before moving to Massachusetts, and it's a distinctly New England tradition. The pins are just wooden sticks instead of that bulbous shape most people are used to, and the actual balls are smaller, without holes or your fingers. Sacco's Bowl-Haven in Davis Square is the place to go to get you candlepin on, and they also serve delicious flatbread pizza, which makes any game way more fun.
12. You know Porchfest is the best way to meet your neighbors.
The concept of Porchfest, sponsored by the Somerville Arts Council, is pretty simple: Bands perform on porches. People come and sit on the porches and front lawns to listen. It’s a great excuse to get outside when the weather’s nice, check out the local music scene, and make friends on your street.
13. You can always find a farmers market, even in winter.
In the spring and summer, there are farmers markets in Davis and Union Squares, but it doesn't have to be warm outside for Somerville residents to get fresh veggies and fruits and eggs and artisanal bread. (Because really, it's only pleasantly warm in Boston for, like, a month every year.) There's also a winter farmers market in the Armory for your fresh food fix when you most need it.
14. You know how to get into Saloon.
Opened in 2010, Saloon is a speakeasy hidden behind an unmarked door on Elm Street in Davis Square with an extensive whiskey menu and bartenders who wear suspenders. You feel instantly transported into the 1920s, with the dark wood paneled walls and leather seats. But if you can't get in because of the line, you know the Foundry, which is right above Saloon and operated by the same owners, is a good back-up.
15. You’ll believe the Green Line extension when you see it…
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is legally obligated to extend the Green Line from Lechmere Station in Cambridge to Somerville, with stops are Union Square and Tufts University. It was supposed to come in 2013, which got pushed back to 2016, which will probably become 2017. Getting the Green Line to Somerville will be great when it finally happens, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.
16. …But until then, the Red Line and Hubway will have to do.
Hubway, Boston’s bike-share program, extends up to Somerville, and the Red Line connects Davis Square to Cambridge and the rest of Boston. It might not be as convenient as the Green Line will someday be, but it makes it possible to live in Somerville without a car and makes getting into downtown super easy (if you ever wanted to leave, I guess).
17. You've taken the Minuteman Bikeway to Lexington and Concord.
There's a bike path that goes through Davis Square and connects with the Minuteman Bikeway, which runs from Cambridge to Lexington and Concord, which is where the American Revolution started way back in 1776. It's a great way to get some exercise and to feel like you're learning about the history of our country.
18. You eat fluffernutters for a week to prepare for What The Fluff? Festival.
One of Somerville's most important claims to fame is as the hometown of Marshmallow Fluff. To celebrate, the city hosts an annual "What The Fluff?" Festival with Fluff cooking contests, Fluff-related performances and dancers, and all the fluffernutters you can eat.
19. You are a fervent supporter of the arts.
Only New York City has more artists per capita than Somerville, and there are tons of ways for non-artist residents of Somerville to support their artistic brethren. You can check out performances at the Armory and walk around Somerville Open Studios in the spring. There's art everywhere in Somerville, so keep you eyes open.
20. You've pretended there were Oompa-Loompas at the Taza Chocolate Factory.
As if Somerville wasn’t magical enough, it’s got its own chocolate factory! Taza's chocolate is stone-ground, organic, and totally delicious. You can also take tours of the factory (although there won't be Oompa-Loompas making the chocolate. Sorry).
21. Most of all, you know that Somerville’s not Slummerville.
Before the Red Line arrived in 1985, connecting the city to the rest of Cambridge and Boston, Somerville was pretty run-down, earning the nickname Slum-erville. Having notorious mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger run his operation out of the city's Winter Hill neighborhood didn't help.
Over the last thirty years, Somerville has gone through a renaissance, becoming a desirable and, dare I say it, hip place to be. We're excited for what's going to happen next, even though it's hard to imagine how it could get much better.
Images: Bloc 11 Cafe/Facebook; davesfreshpasta, unionsquaredonuts, bkbsomerville, sitinng, aeronautbrewing, ig_somerville (3), flatbreadsomerville, lovaniez, freightfarms, saloondavis, somervilleopenstudios, tazachocolate/Instagram; hankzby, qwrrty, dzeazed, conbon33/Flickr; Giphy (2)