If you’ve ever watched the nationally-televised Boston Pops July 4th concert, you’ve seen the Boston Esplanade. The Esplanade – also called the Charles River Esplanade – is a grassy tree-filled park extending along the Boston side of the Charles from the Museum of Science to the Boston University Bridge.
In addition to being the site of many free summer concerts, free movies, and the world’s largest 2-day regatta, it contains numerous other recreational facilities, the oldest public boat club in the country, and 6 miles of paths.
Although many Bostonians regard the Boston Esplanade as their favorite park because of its many recreational activities and events, many visitors to the city never explore it – in fact, many do not even know that it exists. It may be Boston’s most hidden park – even though, once you know where it is, it’s almost in plain view.
Why? The reason can be explained with two words: “Storrow Drive.”
Storrow Drive is the busy east-west highway that runs parallel to the Charles River, effectively cutting off the Esplanade from Beacon Hill and Back Bay, the communities that border it. Although the park itself began back in 1880 with a small 10-acre parcel of land near the mouth of the river, land creation through the filling of mud flats and tidal marshes during the next 5 decades gave birth to much of what is now the Esplanade.
Helen Storrow, a wealthy widow, donated $ 1 million to the city to extend the park down the length of the Esplanade in 1930, with the understanding that a road would never cut through the area. Ironically, as soon as she died in 1949, a road was built and – adding insult to injury – named after her.
Although several pedestrian walkways over Storrow Drive give access to the Esplanade, they’re not easily visible unless you happen to know where they are. And since many buildings in Beacon Hill and Back Bay back up to Storrow Drive, they block the view of the Esplanade so that it can’t be seen from most spots in the city.
Finding the Boston Esplanade is well worth the effort. In addition to the Boston Pops concerts at the Hatch Shell concert stage on July 3 and 4, the Esplanade provides prime viewing spots for watching the July 4th Fireworks over the river. The Hatch Shell also hosts numerous other free concerts throughout the warm months, as well as family-friendly free movies on most Friday nights during the summer.
You can also find tennis courts, ball fields, and 6 docks. If you want to try sailing, Community Boating provides high-quality sailing, kayaking, and windsurfing instruction and boat access to kids from 10-18 during the summer for a bargain $ 1 membership fee. (Adults pay more, but the cost is still very reasonable.) In October, as many as 300,000 spectators converge on the Esplanade and the Cambridge side of the river to watch 7,500 athletes from all over the world compete in the 2-day Head of the Charles Regatta.
But probably the most popular Boston Esplanade activities center around the pathways. Walkers, runners, rollerbladers, parents pushing baby carriages, dogs on leashes, and bicyclists fill the paths, almost year-round. Even though cars zooming along Storrow Drive can be seen and heard beyond the trees, you feel like you’re in a different world when you’re walking, running, or biking along the Esplanade’s paths next to the river.