One of my favorite things to do in Boston in the summer and fall is to browse the SoWa Open Market, New England's largest outdoor weekly bazaar. May through October, this three-block section along Harrison Avenue (South of Washington Street = SoWa) turns into an open-air crafts and art market featuring amazingly talented local small business owners and their wares. What better way to expose your children to the arts and the outdoors...for free? I get it: Tightly packed toddler-height tables displaying potential breakables may not seem like the kid-friendly activity you were going for, but it can be done, and it can be fun! Here is a top 20 list of helpful tips to browse these sought-after "mini" shops with your mini people:
20. Drive a Car. Hey, not everyone gets to call the South End home. Park for $7 under the 93 S Expressway Lot - it's a very short walk to the parking lot that hosts the markets.
19. Bring A Stroller. There are walkways with plenty of room for a stroller, and you won't even get "the look," I promise. Just be mindful of toes...and paws.
18. Watch Those Hands! Tables are mostly the same height as your toddler. If your little one is on foot, be careful to keep wandering hands off tables.
17. Grab That Sucker! Many of the vendors will offer kids free lollipops. I seized the opportunity and found it kept my 3 year old "busy" enough in her stroller to keep her there.
16. Hydrate. And may I suggest doing so with a stop at local favorite Del's Lemonade right on premise. (Happiness in a cup since 1948!)
15. Think ... Christmas? Yes. You can get your creative shopping done here in one fell swoop (or wish you had, come December.) Stop by the "Through Brass Goggles" booth with an image of your little one. She can do custom Victorian silhouettes off of a picture! (Read: No battles with squirming children who are forced to sit in portrait chairs.)
14. Go on a Shape Hunt. Have your children call out shapes when they see them. Plenty of rectangles, circles, and squares in plain view!
13. Teach Geography. A lot of booths feature Massachusetts state (and neighborhood) artwork. Don't miss out on a chance to build your child's knowledge of local geography. Point things out, then loop around again to see if they remember.
12. Go Vintage! Inside the building that separates the farmer's market from the product market sits a rather large hallway featuring vintage finds. Both of my kids loved eyeing things they don't normally see in everyday life. Strollers are welcome, but it’s packed and hard to maneuver. We left ours outside without an issue. Beware, there is no air conditioning in there and it can get hot. (Still worth it.)
11. Don't Stress the Bathroom Situation. If using a Port-o-Potty is not your family's thing, there are restrooms located at 450 Harrison on floors 2, 3 and 4.
10. Beware The Stair. There are two sections to the market (three counting the indoor, vintage market). There is a rather precarious set of stairs separating the two markets. Walk around the main building off Harrison to access each section (don't even try to lift the stroller up).
9. Pick 5. In the Farmer's Market, have your child pick 5 fresh foods. Use each selection in your dinner that night and talk about farm (or market) to table!
8. Clear the Way. Make sure to empty your stroller basket before you go. It will come in handy for your purchases (I seriously dare you not to buy anything.)
7. Nab the Free Stuff. On the Farmer's Market side, vendors give away a ton of free samples!
6. Just Ask. The produce tables will wash fruit for you if you'd like to enjoy it on the spot.
5. Eat Your Heart Out. One of the best parts of both sections of the SoWa markets are the 30-35 food trucks on hand. Everything from gourmet grilled cheeses to organic specialty foods. Plan to eat lunch (or at least dessert) there.
4. Need A Break? Mohr + McPherson Cafe is your best bet to sit down inside. It is located directly in between both sides of the market. There is also The Bostonian Deli on Harrison and Pita on Albany Street.
3. Over 21? As an extra bonus for parents, the Westport Rivers Winery doles out wine tastings in their booth.
2. Meet Someone. Chat up a local farmer. Ask a Mom & Pop how they got started. There are endless opportunities to teach your children about hard work at these markets.
1. Bring Your Wallet. (But don't worry about having cash on hand.) Most vendors are set up to take your credit cards!
The SoWa Market
is open every Sunday, May 4th thru October 26th, 10-4pm at 460 Harrison Avenue in the South End neighborhood.