Boston is among the most historic cities in the US, offering opportunities to learn about the origins of the country — not the whitewashed version of history so many of us learned growing up, but the true stories of the colonization of Native Americans, the backstory of the Boston Massacre and Tea Party, and the city’s role in abolition among them. Versions of these narratives can be accessed by people of any age, and being on the site of so many important historical moments is thrilling.
And while Boston is a kid-friendly city — small, walkable, safe — with infinite possibilities for fun activities, finding the right hotel base can be challenging. If you’re after family-friendly luxury, look no further than the Four Seasons Hotel Boston, ideally located just across from the Boston Public Garden (the first public botanical garden in the country). Not only is this gorgeous hotel an oasis of calm for adults, it’s also a pleasure palace for kids, with an indoor swimming pool, themed candy “vaults” on three floors that magically open with a room key, and special check-in amenities that include locally made products wheeled out in a swan cart. It’s a win-win for everyone in your family.
The genius behind the kids’ programming at Four Seasons Hotel Boston is Creative Director Jim Peters — the brand’s only person to hold this title — who tends to be behind the scenes but whose profound creative work that sets this property apart deserves more of the limelight. He is responsible for the themed candy vaults, evocative of A Series of Unfortunate Events in their sensory drama, that your kids (and you) can access 24/7. (Late-night munchies, anyone? Breakfast dessert? Watch this space for a feature on Peters in the coming months.)
Settle into a suite overlooking the park with a king-size bed in one room and a very comfortable pullout couch in another, easily big enough for two kids. Take a long soak in the deep tub or a rejuvenating shower under the waterfall shower head. The walls are thick, lending to quiet, and the blackout curtains further ensure a good night’s sleep.
Start every morning at Sottovento, the hotel’s lovely coffee shop that’s open only to guests and offers batch-brewed coffee, espresso drinks and pastries, free of charge, along with items for purchase. It’s one of many touches that elevates the experience of staying here. The baristas are enthusiastic and chatty about the coffee, the neighborhood, and Boston in general.
Once fortified and ready to face the day, there are countless ways to spend your time. A good first-day plan to get acclimated to the city, and perhaps a new time zone, is to stretch your legs in the Public Garden, a glorious immersion in greenery and fresh air. Remember the beloved kids’ book Make Way For Ducklings? You might recall that the protagonists of Robert McCloskey’s story find their home in the Boston Public Garden, so make a beeline for the Nancy Schön sculpture in their honor there. (Google maps will take you straight to it.)
Take a ride on the swan boats just around the corner for a new view of the park. Then, hit the Frog Pond Carousel on the Boston Common, a separate but adjacent park to the Public Garden, where your little ones can delight in the most nostalgic of pleasures.
We scheduled a 2.5-hour historical tour for our first full day because we knew it would orient us, and we really needed to walk off the previous day’s long flight. Our generous host, Daniel Berger-Jones, is the founder/owner of Cambridge Historical Tours, and as both a stage actor and a historian, he is well-equipped to tailor your exploration in any way you like — on private tours, he can customize both the route and the level of discourse, depending on your interests and the ages of people in your group. I focused our stroll along the Freedom Trail, giving us a crash course in early American history.
Whether your kids eat oysters, or not, you need to indulge in this local staple at least once. (For me, it’s once a day, at least.) Our favorite spots are Neptune, Row 34, and Saltie Girl, but there are many we haven’t tried that are on the list for next time. Another new favorite dinner spot is Contessa, the latest from Major Food Group and designed by Ken Fulk in lavish style. On the rooftop of The Newbury Building, which was once the Ritz-Carlton, Contessa has a classic northern Italian menu with solid pizzas.
Back at the ranch, take a swim in the spectacularly peaceful indoor pool on the eighth floor. It’s warm in all seasons, it’s mellow, it’s right next to the gym, and it’s got a hot tub for further decompression.
Like Sottovento, the hotel’s main restaurant, Aujord’hui, is a private dining space for hotel guests only, and it feels like an upscale private club — in an art gallery. While Peters added elements to the spacious room to bring the feeling of the park inside — there are statues playfully representing the four seasons, pun intended — he also partnered with DTR Modern Gallery to bring an eclectic rotating art collection to the foreground. And Chef Patrice Martineau’s cooking reflects both his French roots and local cooking traditions. (His kitchen shucks a mean oyster, too.)
Do not miss the Bang & Olufsen digital record player at the bottom of the grand staircase. Just choose your vinyl record, place it on the reader, and luxuriate in the sound bath that follows. This little corner of the hotel might be the best metaphor to represent the whole shebang: It’s a paradoxically classic and 21-century gesture, with feet firmly planted in both arenas, just as the hotel is, through and through.
As for your next day(s) out about town, steer towards the following choices, depending upon your family’s interests and ages:
The New England Aquarium is an impressive undertaking, devoted to ocean exploration and marine conservation, with thousands of animals in residence, from African penguins to California sea lions.
You could easily spend a whole day at the Boston Museum of Science, but you can also dip in for just an hour. There are interactive exhibits for all ages, as well as multiple daily planetarium shows.
Younger kids will love the Boston Children’t Museum at Fort Point Channel where they can get their yayas out while picking up a thing or two about gravity or geometry.
Older kids and grownups might gravitate to the Harvard Museum of Natural History, which currently houses a fascinating modern interpretation of Henry David Thoreau’s preserved plants.
If you have time for a day trip, consider hitching a ferry to Spectacle Island, famous for its sea glass and its clambakes, not to mention its spot-on sunsets.
Whatever direction your city tour takes, the Four Seasons Hotel Boston is an ideal luxury launchpad for family travel at any pace. Staff make way for ducklings of the human kind every day, and with gracious aplomb.