Ode to Central Square, Cambridge

Central Square, Cambridge often feels like the heartbeat of Boston to me.
A sign that reads Central Square MBTA stop in Central Square, MA.

I lived within a 5 minute walk to the Central Square MBTA for over a decade, and I have lots of great memories. Here are some of my favorites:


Cambridge City Dance Party

Every summer, Central Square comes alive in front of the City Hall building, whose lawn often feels like an oasis of green space set aside from busy city life. For one night a year, the song “Dancing in the Street” is very true as a portion of Massachusetts Avenue is open to the public and music is pumped in through loud speakers for a fun dance party. Homeless people, students, kids and parents, salsa dancers, old folks, neighbors, strangers, we all contribute to the high energy dance party atmosphere that sustains itself for hours throughout the evening. One year jumps out as particularly poignant to me when Michael Jackson, the MJ, had just died, and the city was mourning. It definitely didn’t matter if you were black or white, the love for Michael Jackson was palpable. During this dance party, they played such favorites as “PYT” and “Billy Jean” and “Man In the Mirror.” We danced our hearts out that night, and I like to think he was smiling down at us.


Embracing Diversity

To me, Central Square is a vulnerable place where people often call you out on the street asking you for money or for your signature for a cause. In fact, my friends who used to visit me remarked that Central Square is the most similar to New York City as any other area in Boston, barring maybe parts of the South End. Although there’s lots of people in Central Square, it can feel hard to “hide” or blend in. Which upon further reflection is a good thing. I like the fact that there are all kinds of eccentricities in this neighborhood, and there’s no real “normal.” So be prepared to take it all in and embrace it! My apartment was right near a famous dive bar called People’s Republik which was located on Mass. Ave. Yes, sometimes people refer to Central Square as the People’s Republik of Cambridge. Inside this bar, in which various movies like the Social Network were filmed, and where darts are thrown at a back wall on the dart board, there is good finger food and drinks on tap. Outside there is a little bench that I used to pass every day. If I was a more skilled photographer, I would have liked to create a picture book of the characters I would see sitting on the bench. They each seemed to be telling a story with each facial expression, hair do, outfit, smile or frown. I loved people watching in this area.


The River

Central Square is a short walk from the Charles River, whose adjacent street closes down from car traffic on most Sundays year-round so that pedestrians and bikers and skateboarders etc. can play on the streets of Memorial Drive. My favorite street in the world, Memorial Drive is gorgeous and lined with graceful large trees. There are benches along the River where you can rest and bridges that you can cross to wander over closer to Harvard Business School or to lean over and wave at the crew teams rowing down the Charles. You may see a sailboat pass or a kayak drift along the river. Often times during the year there are events along the river banks as well including Oktoberfest or Head of the Charles Regatta Race. It was so much fun to ride my bike down to the Charles River and also ride it all the way around the River to the banks of the Esplanade and the Hatch Shell and back. The Trader Joes on Memorial Drive is also very popular, and there’s a gigantic Whole Foods on River Street which has a wonderful selection of local products and makes the city very livable.


Mass. Ave.

One time a friend of mine called frantically from Mass. Ave. as she missed my apartment. What are the numbers? What do you see? I asked her. It turns out she was on Mass. Ave. – the other Mass. Ave. – over in Roxbury and the South End. It truly felt lightyears away. Although Mass. Ave. is a really long street, there are pockets of diverse culture within it. The Central Square side starts at the Mass. Ave. bridge which was measured in smoots and continues onto the Infinite Corridor. From there it moves through MIT buildings to biotech and pharma companies like Novartis. Then it enters the heart of Central Square where it crosses with Magazine Street and Prospect Street. Beyond this area it starts getting residential again with a few buildings and some furniture stores and restaurants. When I moved to Davis Square in Somerville, I found it creepily quiet. I had a hard time sleeping for a long time because it was way too quiet. I had become so accustomed to hearing the ever constant hum of Mass. Ave. noise even throughout the night that I wasn’t used to hearing birds.



Central Square Food & Mural Arts Tour Central Square, Cambridge has always had a great diversity of residents. Over time, it became so diverse that there are currently over 60 languages represented at the Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School. What do we do when a neighborhood is so diverse that its residents have trouble understanding each other’s languages and culture? One way to connect is through artwork and murals. Central Square started creating mural art as a way to visually represent its residents and provide an opportunity for this diversity to be reflected on its walls. I’ve long admired the murals of Central Square and also took comfort in them on long urban walks. I’d relish in the details of the murals, their vibrancy, the colors, their vastness, their stature. I was so excited to hear that the Central Square Business Association had undertaken a very large project to embrace these murals and bring the vibrancy of public art to the city. Our Central Square Food and Mural Arts Tour seeks to connect guests with the unique public art of Central Square, Cambridge and the murals that were commissioned by the city to be painted by local talented Boston artists. On our tour, we also share the history of Central Square and Cambridge and take guests to six of our favorite restaurants along the way.

Our Central Square Food and Mural Arts Tour runs Saturdays at 12:30-3:30pm. We look forward to meeting you this weekend! Book a tour today via offthebeatenpathfoodtours.com

Share this post:

If you like this post, you'll love

browse the blog
Browse by category
Also See...