A Cambridge Guide with Brooklyn Bicycles
Like trying freshly roasted coffee for the first time or investing in a quality pair of leather shoes, certain things immutably change you. Once you’ve invested in your lived experience, whichever form such an investment takes — good food, good shoes, a good bike — there’s assuredly no turning back, no returning to that blissful ignorance of days before. At least that’s what happened when I purchased my Brooklyn Bicycle Company bike.
I like to think I discovered Boston the second semester of my freshman year at Harvard. In the three months previous, i.e. my first semester, I had effectively exhausted myself of Harvard Square’s offerings and had begun to surreptitiously indulge in Boston’s bustling Instagram community of cafe hoppers and museum goers. From afar, I longed to be a member of that scenic caste of city explorers, but I faced one key roadblock to my full self-association: transportation. You see, I hadn’t yet worked a bonafide job, and my meager college-student finances kept carpooling to a minimum, so, in lieu of actual explorations, I was consigned to stockpiling a list of places I hoped to one day visit: a coffee at Intelligentsia, Turkish takeout from Sofra, brunch at Loyal Nine, the list carries on. This ever-compiling locals-list would remain relegated to its discarnate realm — aspiration — until my junior year when I would fall in love with a little red bicycle. Thanks to my BKB, one will now invariably see me zipping through Cambridge, a flash of vermillion, a black scarf trailing in the wind.
This brings me to today, where, after a brisk and enlivening bike ride on what has now become my inseparable exploration-companion, I sit at a window table inside that once abstractly sought after brunch locale: Loyal Nine. Lively weekend music resonates through the corner speaker, a half-devoured stack of sourdough pancakes sits in front of me, and I feel like a genuine local, sitting here typing a guide to Cambridge for you, the Brooklyn bicycler.
Before I dive into the guide, I’ll anticipate a few questions and concerns: You might be wondering, so what about touring Harvard’s historic campus? And the museums — the MFA, the Isabella Stewart Gardner, Harvard’s very own Fogg Art museum? I have certainly not forgotten these locales, and they’re ones I frequent regularly, but my goal for this guide (and for much of my blog) is to cover those spots that don’t necessarily appear in a standard google search of “What to do in X?” Though I love the MFA, and I relish Autumn on campus, to me, such places aren’t emblematic of Cambridge’s eclectic and bustling living culture (and, tragically, no bikes are permitted on Harvard’s historic Old Yard, though certainly take the time to stroll through by foot).
So in place of a tourist’s guide to Cambridge, I present to you a local’s guide, all of my favorite spots, often perfect for anytime of the day, anytime of the year. As a collective, I like to think the spots I’ve chosen speak to all of that Cambridge edge and charm that keeps this little New England corner somewhere between a bustling Metropolis like New York City and a European, biking hamlet like Amsterdam.
Over the past four years, I have truly come to love Cambridge, and I think once you take your own Brooklyn Bike on this tour, you certainly will, too.
Starting from Harvard Square, you’ll bike an easy ten minutes down Brattle Street to accomplish your first order of business: caffeination at Intelligentsia (the Chicago-based roaster that you may also recognize from its Los Angeles and New York locations). As you whir down Brattle, be sure to admire the brilliant cascade of changing leaves as well as the historic homes lining the road. (And by historic, I mean seriously historic. That unmissable yellow abode on your right? George Washington’s Revolutionary War home.) Closer to Intelligentsia, you might even swoop right onto Larchwood Lane and explore the circa-1915 Larchwood neighborhood, a winding amalgam of Georgian Revival homes situated on the former estate of William Gray, a wealthy Salem merchant.
Once you arrive at Intelligentsia, park your bike outside, and enter the sleek, industrial establishment. Order a coffee and perhaps a pastry (courtesy of a partnership with local bakery, Forge), but stave off from any further noshes — you’ll have plenty to eat later on this tour.
The oat-milk hot chocolate is my go-to.
Just across the street from Intelligentsia is the place I basically want everyone I care for to know about and go to: Sofra Bakery and Cafe, a Turkish, Lebanese, and Greek fusion cafe that serves food from morning till night. I like to say that despite all of the photos I share from here, I’m not always at Sofra, but I sort of wish I was.
Sofra, to quote the cafe’s website, “is a Turkish word that means a picnic, a special table preparation of food, or a small square kilim rug for eating.” And when you walk inside, you’ll agree that this is exactly what Sofra feels like; a warm and bustling weekend cafe, crowded with locals vying for a coveted window nook seat, scents of spices from the shelves and aromas from the open kitchen drifting through the air. Not to miss menu items: the morning Asure (the Turkish version of porridge — hot whole grain cereal, fresh-soaked chickpeas, a crumble of pistachios and almonds, an assortment of dried fruits, all topped with coconut flakes and a date molasses syrup), the spinach falafel (seriously, I could bury myself in these flavors), and any of the Turkish drinks on offer (like the Sahlep or the seasonally flavored drinking chocolates).
Pictured here: the falafel.
Niche Plant Supply
After Sofra, you’ve likely capped off your appetite (and acquired a few snacks for the road), so we’re going to break the food and beverage chain with a stop at Niche Plant Supply. Mill about the shop both for the fresh oxygen and to appreciate how Cambridge manages to support all walks of small, niche businesses. If you live in the area, be sure to bookmark this one — it’s a go-to for house plants, whether you seek succulent crowded shelves or that perfect fiddle leaf fig.
Lamplighter Brewing Company
It seems the best things come in pairs because right beside Niche, you’ll find our next destination, Lamplighter Brewing Company, where you’ll warm your hands and spirits with some, well, spirits. New England is for no shortage of breweries, and the region is particularly known for its bright, hop-forward IPAs. To sample some, look no further than one of the tasting flights from Lamplighter. The citrusy, bitter brews are made from the incorporation of Galaxy or Citra hops, and paired with some good bar snacks, your palette will be thankful for the biking reprieve. Afterwards, you might loiter about the open garage chatting with the brewing staff while considering which case of beer to take for the road.
Back Bay & Beacon Hill
Alright, now that I’ve made you feel certifiably gluttonous from a hefty string of drinks and meals, we’re going to work off some of it with a bike ride into Boston. Though this is technically breaking the rules of a Cambridge only guide, Cambridge and its bustling tea party counterpart are one in the same, especially by bike, so ride down Massachusetts Avenue straight into Boston and take a left onto Marlborough Street. Here you’ll have “happened upon” one of Back Bay’s many streets, crowded on both sides by the city’s iconic Edwardian residential architecture (those sprawling, multi-storied brick abodes). Having lived in the area for four years now, I can assure you Autumn is the quintessential time to go what I term stoop-peaking, as all of the doorsteps are bedecked in charming assortments of gourds and pumpkins. Simply enjoy the ride and stop frequently for photos.
As all roads must end, you’ll soon find yourself at the Boston Commons. You won’t be able to ride your bike through here, but it’s also not the object of our destination, so dismount, stroll through, and make your way to Charles St. and the historic Beacon Hill neighborhood. Like the second part of its name suggests (Beacon Hill) these are some seriously steep hills, so after you covetously explore some of the riverside brick abodes on Chestnut, Brimmer, and Mt. Vernon Streets, you’ll want to walk your way up to Cedar St. (grab a coffee or hot chocolate from Tatte Bakery and Cafe should your hands be wanting of some heating assistance).
Ambling along Cedar, you’ll come across the famed Acorn St. (a must-stop for shameless tourist pictures) as well as another plant shop, Rouvalis, whose striped green and tan awnings give way to the lively, plucked-straight-from-a-picture-book botanist responsible for all that cute stoop decor you’ve been stopping to photograph. After you’ve seen a sufficient number of brick homes such that they start blurring together, make your way back down to the commons and swing a right onto Beacon St. where you’ll glimpse many more an Edwardian and Victorian home. By the time you reach Massachusetts Avenue again, you’ll be ready to head back into Cambridge for dinner.
You’re final stop on this bike tour will be for a well-earned meal at Loyal Nine, a New England centric restaurant with a self-described Puritan-influenced menu (think fresh game, local seafood, in-season produce, all in a perfectly unpretentious atmosphere). There’s a tasting menu, but if you go with a group, I recommend simply ordering a bit of everything. The photos below aren’t from dinner, but I am a brunching fiend, and Loyal Nine offers a truly unparalleled Sunday brunch. On this particular visit, I opted for the scrambled eggs and a buckwheat plum scone, but other favorites include their cashew milk matcha latte, the biscuits, and an order of sourdough pancakes for the table.
And there you have it, how to bike, eat, and bike some more through Cambridge. When you return for your next visit, you’ll be one step closer to being a Cambridge local, and if you’re already one, you’ll realize that if there’s anything you need in this city, it’s a bicycle with which to explore, and though I’m partial, you’re quite fortunate if its a BKB one.