Here and in the listings, I've singled out establishments that I especially like and neighborhoods that suit shoppers interested in particular types of merchandise. Addresses are in Boston unless otherwise indicated.
Antiques & Collectibles
No antiques hound worthy of the name will leave Boston without an expedition along both sides of Charles Street, with a detour to River Street (parallel to Charles St., 1 block closer to the river).
Art galleries dot the city and suburbs, with the greatest concentrations in Boston's Back Bay and South End. Time (yours) and space (mine) preclude listing galleries in outlying neighborhoods and suburbs, but if your travels take you off the beaten path, by all means look around -- soaring rents have driven savvy proprietors to some unexpected locations. For tips on navigating Newbury Street, see "An Artsy Stroll Along Newbury Street," below.
The SoWa district -- short for "south of Washington Street" -- centers on 450 Harrison Ave. The SoWa Artists Guild (www.sowaartistsguild.com) website makes a good introduction to this thriving community. The best time to visit is the first Friday of the month, when guild members in the building throw open their doors to visitors from 5 to 9pm for First Friday Open Studios.
An excellent way to see artists at work is to visit during neighborhood open studio days. Artists' communities throughout the Boston area stage the weekend events once or twice a year. You might be asked for a contribution to a charity in exchange for a map of the studios. Check listings in the Globe, Herald, and Improper Bostonian or visit www.cityofboston.gov/arts for information.
An Artsy Stroll Along Newbury Street -- The Boston area's best-known destination for art lovers is Newbury Street. New England's equivalent of New York's Madison Avenue, it's home to galleries of all descriptions. As you explore, don't forget to look up -- some great businesses thrive at street level, but their upstairs neighbors who pay lower rents can often afford to be more adventuresome. Most galleries are open Tuesday through Saturday or Sunday from 10 or 11am to 5:30 or 6pm. Exhibitions typically change once a month. For specifics, visit individual websites or pick up a copy of the free monthly Gallery Guide, available at many businesses along Newbury Street.
If gallery-hopping isn't a habit for you, here's an observation: Galleries can look intimidating, but remember that each one is a business -- and a proprietor who keeps a gallery operating in tough economic times is by definition a good businessperson. Gallery owners aren't selling art because they couldn't break into widget sales; they're in the art business because they love it. They welcome browsers and questions that show you've given the art some thought.
For a good overview, plot a course that starts with Barbara Krakow Gallery at 10 Newbury St. or at 38 Newbury St., where Robert Klein Gallery shares a floor with three other worthy establishments (Acme Fine Art and Design, Martha Richardson Fine Art, and Miller Block Gallery). Your ultimate destination is 238 Newbury St., home of Vose Galleries of Boston, which is closer to its 300th anniversary than to its 200th. Stop along the way to check out at least a couple of the other galleries I've listed. Now that's an "only in Boston" experience.
The Boston area is a book-lover's paradise. It's an important stop on most author tours; check the local papers or stop by any store that sells new books for details on readings and book signings.
The big names are Harvard and BU (you'll see Boston College merchandise on pushcarts downtown, too), but you have literally dozens of other options -- the Boston area is home to that many schools. Look like an insider with a T-shirt from Barnes & Noble at Emerson College, 114 Boylston St. (tel. 617/824-8696; http://emerson.bncollege.com; T: Green Line to Boylston); the MIT Coop, 3 Cambridge Center (tel. 617/499-3200; www.thecoop.com; T: Red Line to Kendall/MIT) and 84 Massachusetts Ave. (tel. 617/499-3240; T: Red Line to Kendall/MIT); the Northeastern University Bookstore, 360 Huntington Ave. (tel. 617/373-2286; http://northeastern.bncollege.com; T: Green Line E to Northeastern); or the Suffolk University Bookstore, 148 Cambridge St., Beacon Hill (tel. 617/227-4085; http://suffolk.bkstr.com; T: Blue Line to Bowdoin [closed weekends] or Green Line to Government Center).
Fashion - Adults
The Back Bay is New England's top destination for swanky boutiques and if-you-have-to-ask-you-can't-afford-it designer shops. Long considered Boston's answer to Fifth Avenue or Rodeo Drive, Newbury Street is in some ways a victim of its own success: Rents are so high that many -- though not all -- of the quirky independent retailers that give a shopping destination much of its zing have been priced out. Still, you'll want to leave time for some exploring along Newbury, before or after checking out the second level of Copley Place.
Bring your platinum card to Chanel, 15 Arlington St., in the Taj Boston (tel. 617/859-0055); Diane von Furstenberg, 73 Newbury St. (tel. 617/247-7300); Ermenegildo Zegna, 39 Newbury St. (tel. 617/424-6657); kate spade, 117 Newbury St. (tel. 617/262-2632); Marc by Marc Jacobs, 81 Newbury St. (tel. 617/425-0707); and Nanette Lepore, 119 Newbury St. (tel. 617/421-9200). In the Heritage on the Garden complex at Boylston and Arlington streets, in addition to Anne Fontaine are Hermès of Paris, 22 Arlington St. (tel. 617/482-8707), and La Perla, 250 Boylston St. (tel. 617/423-5709).
An Outlet Excursion -- If you can't get through a vacation without some outlet shopping, the fact that you left the car at home doesn't have to stop you. Boston Common Coach (tel. 877/723-3833 or 617/773-2784; www.bostoncommoncoach.com) and Brush Hill Tours (tel. 800/343-1328 or 617/720-6342; www.brushhilltours.com) offer service from Boston to Wrentham Village Premium Outlets (tel. 508/384-0600; www.premiumoutlets.com), a huge complex about 45 minutes south of town. Its dozens of outlet stores include -- and this is merely scratching the surface -- Anne Klein, Banana Republic, Barneys New York, Juicy Couture, J. Crew, Kenneth Cole, Nike, Polo Ralph Lauren, Reebok, Tommy Hilfiger, and Versace. Shoppers leave Boston between 9 and 10am. The round-trip fare is $42 for adults (Brush Hill charges $23 for children 3 to 11); both companies require reservations.
Gifts & Souvenirs
Boston has dozens of shops and pushcarts that sell T-shirts, hats, and other souvenirs. At the stores I've listed, you'll find gifts that say Boston without actually saying "Boston" all over them. Remember to check out museum shops for unique items, including crafts and games. Particularly good outlets include those at the Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Science, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the Institute of Contemporary Art, the Concord Museum, and the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem. The online-only merchandise of the Boston Public Library (www.bpl.org) incorporates images from the library's vast holdings, including historic maps, photos, and even sports memorabilia -- and you don't have to take up space in your carry-on to get your souvenirs home.
Fired Up -- A good souvenir is something you'd never find anywhere else, and a Boston Fire Department T-shirt is a great one. They cost about $15 at most neighborhood firehouses. The handiest for out-of-towners are Engine 8, Ladder 1, 392 Hanover St. (at Charter St.), in the North End near the Freedom Trail; Engine 4, Ladder 24, 200 Cambridge St. (at Joy St.), on the north side of Beacon Hill; and Engine 33, Ladder 15, 941 Boylston St. (at Hereford St.), in the Back Bay near the Hynes Convention Center.
Flying Lobsters -- Why go to the trouble of sending a postcard? Send a lobster instead. James Hook & Co., 15 Northern Ave. at Atlantic Avenue (tel. 617/423-5500; www.jameshooklobster.com; T: Red Line to South Station), and Legal Sea Foods, Logan Airport Terminal B and C (tel. 800/343-5804, 617/568-2811, or 617/568-2800; www.sendlegal.com; T: Blue Line to Airport), do overnight shipping.
Massachusetts farmers and growers under the auspices of the state Department of Agricultural Resources (tel. 617/626-1700; www.mass.gov/massgrown) dispatch trucks filled with whatever's in season to the heart of the city from late spring through October or November. Depending on the time of year, you'll have your pick of berries, herbs, tomatoes, squash, pumpkins, apples, corn, and more, all fresh and reasonably priced. Visit the website for a complete list of state-sponsored markets. In Boston, you can stop by City Hall Plaza (Cambridge St. near School St.) on Monday or Wednesday (T: Green or Blue Line to Government Center); Copley Square (St. James Ave. at Dartmouth St.) on Tuesday or Friday (T: Green Line to Copley or Orange Line to Back Bay); or the Shops at Prudential Center (Boylston St. near Gloucester St.) on Thursday (T: Green Line B, C, or D to Hynes Convention Center). In Cambridge, several locations around Harvard Square (T: Red Line to Harvard) play host to relatively small markets throughout the week; to see the full range of local produce, head to Parking Lot 5, Norfolk Street and Bishop Allen Drive (1 block from Mass. Ave.), in Central Square on non-holiday Mondays (T: Red Line to Central). For more info, visit www.massfarmersmarkets.org.
The Boston Public Market (tel. 617/263-3355; www.bostonpublicmarket.org) is the first major step in a drive for a permanent public market a la Philadelphia's or Seattle's. Open from late May through late November, it offers a tasty mix of farm products and specialty foods. It takes place Tuesday and Thursday at Dewey Square, on the Rose Kennedy Greenway across Atlantic Avenue from South Station (T: Red Line to South Station).
The funky, fashionable SoWa Open Market (tel. 617/481-2257; www.sowaopenmarket.com) operates most Sundays 10am to 5pm from mid-May through October at 460 Harrison Ave. in the South End (T: Orange Line to Back Bay, then a 10-min. walk, or Silver Line SL4/SL5 bus to E. Berkeley St., then 5-min. walk). It features numerous craftspeople as well as food merchants in a neighborhood you may not have a chance to explore otherwise.
The Independent Designer's Market (www.idmboston.com) specializes in women's and men's fashion, accessories, photography, and jewelry by young designers -- sort of a three-dimensional Etsy. It's open Saturday from 11am to 5pm. As of this writing, it had just relocated from Boston to 30 Brattle St. (at Mount Auburn St.), Cambridge (T: Red Line to Harvard); double-check schedule and location details before heading out.
Toys & Games
A number of businesses listed earlier in this section are good places to look for toys. They include most of the shops listed under "Gifts & Souvenirs," the children's specialists in the "Fashion" section, and Curious George & Friends. Also be sure to check out the gift shops at the Boston Children's Museum, Museum of Science, and New England Aquarium.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.