Exploring Brookline, Massachusetts
Brookline began its life in 1638 as a hamlet of Boston called Muddy River. In 1705, it was independently incorporated, but it remains surrounded on three sides by the city. And despite being home to nearly 60,000 residents, with a population density similar to that of Cambridge, it still stubbornly calls itself a “town,” not a city. In fact, the people who live here often comment on its small town charms, though they rely as much on its good public schools, urban comforts, and the several “T” lines that can get them to the heart of the city in 15 minutes.
I’ve lived here for the past two years and spend most of my time in my neighborhood “village” of Coolidge Corner.
The neighborhood gets its name from the Coolidge family, who owned a large portion of the land in the area and also ran the Coolidge & Brothers general store from the 1850s to the 1890s. This photo captures the epicenter of the neighborhood: the spot where Beacon Street and Harvard Street meet.
Here is the iconic old S.S. Pierce building on the corner.
Brookline does have other popular neighborhoods—Brookline Village, with its kid-friendly shops and cafes, Washington Square, with its burgeoning restaurant scene, and Cleveland Circle, whose proximity to Boston College make it a hangout for Millennials—but Coolidge Corner has enough gems to fill an afternoon.
Harvard Street and Beacon Street may be the busiest commercial strips in Brookline, but take a turn off either of them and you’ll find charming residential streets that were built as large-scale developments between 1890-1925. The houses are built in a range of styles, but most feature large porches that residents still actively use during the temperate months.
One such house was occupied by the Kennedys from 1914 to 1920—it’s where John F. Kennedy was born.
After Kennedy’s death in 1963, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy purchased the house and restored it to her recollection of how it looked around 1917, right down to the gas lamp in front. The site is now operated by the National Park Service and is open for tours from late spring through early fall.
The neighborhood is also home to many mid-scale apartment buildings constructed during the same period.
Real estate here can be pricey, but the mix of single-family, multi-family, and apartment buildings ensures a more diverse mix of residents. Young renters, retirees, and families all call the town home, and at any park or playground, you’re bound to hear at least two or three different languages being spoken.
The cultural and commercial hubs of Coolidge Corner are located just across Harvard Street from each other. The first is the Coolidge Corner Theater, known as “The Coolidge.” The building was first built as a Universalist church in 1906 but was purchased and transformed into an Art Deco theater in 1933.
It shows mostly art house movies and also hosts concerts, author readings, and midnight screenings of horror shows and camp classics.
Inside, the original finishes are beautifully maintained. I love that the snack options here include the usual popcorn and Sno-Caps, but also gelato, fine chocolates, and a good glass of pinot noir.
Just across the street you’ll find the other neighborhood magnet: Brookline Booksmith.
This shop has everything: a great inventory of new books, a basement full of used books, and some of the premiere author events in the city. They also have a terrific gift department.
Pre- or post-movies, people flock to Portland-based Otto Pizza for a slice or a pie.
…and then it’s on to J.P. Licks for some ice cream.
And that is pretty much your classic Coolidge Corner evening. But there are other great spots to eat.
At the edge of the neighborhood, near Commonwealth Avenue, stands Clear Flour Bakery. In my opinion, they make the best bread in the Boston area, and the pastries are wonderful, too.
You’ll find the best cup of joe at 4A Coffee at the corner of Harvard and Fuller streets. They don’t just brew here; they roast their own beans.
If shopping is more your thing, there are great options.
Brookline’s large Jewish population is also reflected in the number of kosher restaurants and markets in town. Kolbo Fine Judaica has a beautiful selection of ceremonial and decorative items.
That’s just a small sampling of what Coolidge Corner has to offer. For its mix of green space, culture, and proximity to the city, it’s a walker’s paradise, a commuter’s dream. And if you’re looking for even more greenery after a day of walking the sidewalks, head 15 minutes south to beautiful Larz Anderson Park, located in South Brookline. This former estate of Isabel Weld Perkins and Larz Anderson was bequeathed to the city in 1948 and is also the home of the Larz Anderson Auto Museum, the nation’s oldest auto collection.
The park has great views of the Boston city skyline and is a popular destination for sledding in the winter.
Nearby, you’ll also find Allendale Farm, a working farm for 250 years. The farmstand is a great place to find their own fruits and vegetables, as well as produce, cheeses, and groceries from other local producers.