While it’s great to visit the popular tourist attractions when traveling, it’s also a great idea to check out some of the local’s favorites as well. Boston is know for such things as the Freedom Trail, Faneuil Hall, Boston Common and Public Garden but there are also many great things to see in Boston that aren’t your typical tourist attractions.
One of the places I think more tourist should visit in Boston is Castle Island. This Massachusetts state park is a popular place for the locals to visit all year long, but especially in the summer. There is nothing better than spending a warm summer day by the water and Castle Island has a lot to offer when it comes to summer activities.
Before I get into all that you can enjoy there today, let’s talk a little bit about the history of Castle Island.
Castle Island is located in the South Boston neighborhood just a couple of miles from downtown. While it hasn’t been an island since 1928 when it was connected to the mainland of Boston, the fact it was an island hundreds of years before this is where it’s history began.
Fort Independence: In 1634, Boston was looking to build a fortress to be able to defend the city from out in the Boston Harbor. The fort was named Castle William by the English as they were fighting the French for control of North America.
During the start of the American Revolution, Castle William served as the main military base for the British. On March 17, 1776, after the first major American victory in the war, the British left Castle William and the city of Boston. Three days later, Castle William was destroyed.
Due to it’s strategic location, a new fort was built to help protect Boston during the War of 1812. The name of the new fort was Fort Independence and this name has not changed to this day even though the present fort located on the island was built between 1833 and 1851.
Fort Independence is on the National Register of Historic Places and is run by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Reservation. During the summer months, they offer free tours of the fort on Saturdays and Sundays.
Sullivans Castle Island: Although Fort Independence is the major landmark located at Castle Island, the incredibly popular snack shack, Sullivans is what really drives the locals to Castle Island. Open since 1951, Bostonians flock to Sullivans each year for a meal at the beach.
Open from late February until just before Thanksgiving each year, Sullivans opening day has always been a sign that the cruel hard winters of Boston will soon be over. Even during years like 2015 when it opened with an unprecedented 7 feet of snow on the ground, it still gave us that one little sign of hope that winter would soon come to an end.
Although the food is nothing fancy, you can get local seafood like lobster rolls and clam chowder, cool treats for a hot summer day like soft serve ice cream and raspberry lime rickeys and what I consider the best french fries anywhere! The lines outside Sullivan’s are a true sign that the food is definitely worth it!
Pleasure Bay Beach: There is so much more to do at Castle Island than Fort Independence and Sullivans. Pleasure Bay beach is a great beach for families with young children, it’s located on the enclosed lagoon in Pleasure Bay making the waters calm and safe for the younger swimmers.
Kiteboarding: Due to the calm waters of the enclosed lagoon of Pleasure Bay and the ideal wind coming off the harbor, Pleasure Bay is a popular kiteboarding spot that attracts kiteboarders from all over the world. You can catch the kiteboarders in Pleasure Bay year round and it’s definitely a fun sight to see especially with the views of downtown in the distance.
Walking and Running: The trail around the lagoon brings walkers and runners to Castle Island year round. This 2.2 mile loop around the lagoon and Fort Independence is a great way to get some exercise, work off your meal from Sullivans, enjoy the weather and take in the beautiful views.
Relaxing: If you are interested in a more relaxing time at Castle Island, there are places to sit all around the island to relax, have a picnic, take in the views, watch the boats in the harbor and watch the planes flying into Logan Airport.
Sunrise and Sunset: Castle Island is also a perfect spot to view the sunrise and sunset and some of the local fireworks shows can also been seen from here.
USS Constitution Turn Around: While the USS Constitution is docked about 5 miles away at Charlestown Navy Yard, a couple of times a year it does a turnaround cruise so that the over 200 year old ship’s wooden hull will be weathered evenly. The turnaround cruise takes the ship into the harbor to Castle Island for a gun salute to Fort Independence. This normally takes place on the 4th of July and it’s a great way to start the day off.
Tall Ships: In 2017 the Tall Ships came to Boston and Castle Island was the place to see them as they sailed thru the harbor to the Seaport of Boston where they docked for a six day event. It was definitely a beautiful sight to see.
Views of Downtown: Castle Island is also a great place to take in views of the skyline of downtown Boston.
Castle Island is a couple of miles from Downtown Boston. There are buses that will take you close by or you could take an uber/lyft or drive if you have a car.
My grandparents lived a few blocks from Castle Island when I was younger, so I have been going here for my entire life. It seems to get more and more popular as the years go on but it is still a very special place. If you are visiting Boston, I highly recommend visiting Castle Island if you are looking to visit a part of Boston that isn’t the typical tourist area.