More Than Swan Boats: Things to Do in the Public Garden With Kids

5/16/16 - By Scott Wallask

You've walked into Boston's Public Garden and taken the kids for a ride on the Swan Boats. You can check that off your list of things to do with kids in Boston before they grow up,  but now what? Well, there's good news: Families can actually enjoy a lot more in the Public Garden. The 24-acre park – which lies between Arlington and Charles Streets, and across from Boston Common – is a stroller's delight, with winding paths among tremendous horticultural sights. 


While it is inaccurate to label the Swan Boats that travel slowly in the central lagoon as a tourist trap, the boats are an institution in the Public Garden that can draw a crowd. A quieter outpost is the northern shore of the lagoon (nearest to Beacon Street), where many toddlers find a friendly area to watch the ducks come out of the water. It's also a easy spot for parents to keep an eye on their kids, as the foot traffic isn't as crazy as it is on the bridge going over the pond.

Speaking of ducks, at the corner of Beacon and Charles Streets, families can find the Make Way for Ducklings statues, an homage to Robert McCloskey's famed children's book of the same name. Kids of all ages (and some adults) climb on Mrs. Mallard and her eight smaller ducklings for one of the great photo ops in the city. 

Continuing along Charles Street heading south, parents arrive at the Goody Memorial, which is a simple seating area surrounding an ornate flag pole. For kids, however, the area provides a great place to play tag or hide and seek, climbing on the rock benches and even the flag pole's base.

Nearby along the paths are two small fountains that kids can easily climb into. When operating, the fountains are gentle and the water is barely knee-deep for a toddler. And in colder months when the fountains are dry, kids have a great time running in circles along the bed of the structures.

Two similarly small fountains are at the opposite end of the park, to either side of the prominent George Washington statue near Arlington Street. The statue, with the first president on his horse, is impressive, but kids tend to ignore it after a few seconds' glance. The taller Ether Fountain is further north along Arlington Street, but it's not as fun as the smaller water plumes elsewhere, and many parents will be left scratching their heads about erecting a monument to ether.

The Public Garden also attracts some memorable street performers, so much so that even Bruce Springsteen stopped by in 2011 to strum one of the performer's Spanish guitars. A must for kids, however, is to catch the guy who has an entire band of strange instruments strapped to his back, which he operates in an entertaining rhythm of stomps, plucks, and jerks. Children can even join in the fun by playing some loose instruments.

As for bathrooms, ironically there are not any public stalls in the Public Garden. The closest “official” powder room is about a six- or seven-minute hike to the Visitor's Center in Boston Common. However, an unofficial, closer choice is the downstairs bathroom at the Taj Boston hotel right across Arlington Street from the Public Garden.

The Public Garden doesn't have any food vendors within its gates, but there are some family-friendly restaurants nearby. For a slice of pizza, try the Upper Crust at 20 Charles St. just past Beacon Street. If everyone's in the mood to sit down, there's P.F. Chang's and its huge menu at 8 Park Plaza (follow Charles Street south past the Public Garden). In that same Park Plaza building is a food court, which you can enter at Stuart Street. There are also plenty of other eateries along Boylston and Newbury streets heading west towards Copley Square. If ice cream will hit the spot, there's an ever-present ice cream truck just outside the fence of the Public Garden, parked near the corner of Arlington and Boylston Streets.

Photos by Tara D. Jackson

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