As soon as you step foot into Chinatown, the culture of China surrounds you. There are traditional Chinese architecture, stores, and restaurants all around you. Between hearing people speaking their native language vibrantly and seeing some of the strange and unique things you can purchase in stores, this small (yet densely populated) neighborhood brings you right into the heart of the Chinese culture.
While there are many old and traditional Chinese buildings, statues and other landmarks (such as the famous Chinatown Gate that greets visitors), there are also modern buildings going up all the time such as high-rises and condo complexes. The neighborhood is extremely energetic and always crawling with something to do or see. Chinatown is a very cool place to visit as you can see first-hand how Chinese immigrants have made a life for themselves and work hard to keep their American dream alive and well.
Despite being a much smaller neighborhood, the Leather District still as its own slightly unique identity. Despite often being lumped with the Chinatown neighborhood, this neighborhood can be classified by its large and old buildings that used to house leather manufacturers. Leather District was even listed on the National Register of Historic Places back in 1983.
The Chinatown-Leather District in Boston is built on a landfill and the first Chinese people to inhabit Chinatown were brought in from San Francisco in 1874. This began a trend as in the 1800s and 1900s, many different Chinese immigrants came to Boston to look for new and greater opportunities. In the 1950s, their population began to explode after the abolishment of the “Chinese Exclusion Act.” It continued to be dominated by an Asian-American population throughout the 1990s, but in recent years, things have begun to change.
Less and less Asians are living here than ever before. Less than half of the neighborhood’s near 13,000 residents are Asian. The Leather District has retained a bit more. One of the main reasons cited for this decrease in the neighborhood is the cost of living and possible gentrification. While the cost of living in terms of groceries and other necessities isn’t too excessive, the main culprit is the rent. Due to the neighborhoods proximity to the downtown area and the increased demand for rent, the median rent of the neighborhood is high. So if you decide to rent in this area, make sure it is financially viable to you before you do it.
Being that this neighborhood is in a central location and is right near downtown Boston, it is very common to see people walking and it is very well served by public transit. You will see dozens and dozens of people walking throughout the day but if that is not your style, public transit is a breeze in this neighborhood. The Green, Orange and Red Line subway systems all make various stops throughout the neighborhood, as does the Silver Line bus system. You will never be more than a few minutes away from access to the subway. However, but if you have a car and prefer to drive, that is also quite easy in Chinatown as opposed to other neighborhoods in Boston. While the streets are narrow and most of the street parking requires a permit, there are a few parking garages in or near the neighborhood.
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Harvard University
- Emerson College
- Northeastern University
- Near the end of the Greenway sits Chinatown Park. The paved walkway is surrounded by lush greenery, bamboo, and sculptures. In a neighborhood full of stores and residential buildings it is nice that there is at least a little bit of outdoor green space.
- The Wilbur Theatre is one of the most historic theatres in Boston and is somewhere you should definitely visit for some live comedy and music. It originally opened 1914 and is still active to this day.
- Check out the other theatres that line Tremont and Stuart streets as well, there are some true diamonds in the rough here.
- While walking around aimlessly is still cool to do, there is also the Chinatown Walking Tour which you can do. This tour will guide you throughout the neighborhood and show you some great stuff things in the area, and also teach you more about the culture.
- The entire neighborhood of the Leather District is on the National Register of Historic Places. A walk around the neighborhood won’t take long at all and you’ll see some simply gorgeous and old architecture.
- Check out one of their yearly festivals that are held in the neighborhood. The first is the Lantern Festival which takes place on the first day of the Chinese year all the way to the 15th day. During this festival there are numerous performances and numerous food vendors on the street. The next festival is the August Moon festival which takes place during the 15th day of the 8th month on the Chinese calendar. This is the biggest festival and features music, arts, crafts, performances, food, and much more.