Boston Harbor Islands: Spectacle Island
GOOD FOR: All Ages

Source:Outdoors with Kids Boston (AMC Books)
Address:66 Long Wharf Boston (for the ferry)
Hours:Ferry: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., May through mid-October; island: dawn to dusk daily
Fee: Ferry: adults, $14; children ages 4–11, $8; island: free
Bathrooms: At the visitor center
Water/Snacks: Water fountain and snack bar inside the visitor center

Spectacle Island offers swimming, an enormous variety of family-friendly programs, and a fascinating history.

Kids love combing the beaches for sea glass on Spectacle Island.
Photo by: Kim Foley MacKinnon

Spectacle Island, part of the 34-island national park known as the Boston Harbor Islands, has a storied past. It served as fishing and hunting grounds for native peoples; grazing lands for livestock of colonial settlers; a quarantine station in the 1700s; a popular recreation spot in the 1800s; then, less glamorously, a horse-rendering factory site and garbage dump in the early 1900s. Happily, the island was rehabilitated into a recreation area once again when clay and sediment from Boston’s Big Dig construction project was used to seal over the landfill in more recent years.

One of the main activities here is combing the rocky beaches for sea glass, pottery, and other debris. You are not supposed to keep anything you find, but that doesn’t take away from the pleasure of the hunt. All sorts of ranger-run programs teach about the island’s past and make a game of it for kids. The visitor center offers self-guided treasure hunts that vary according to age and difficulty—children can return with their finds to get a sticker or stamp. On one of our visits, a ranger led kids in looking for sea glass and then making a temporary mosaic. A rich variety of programs is offered in summer: jazz bands on the porch of the visitor center, clam bakes, fishing clinics, kite-flying workshops, and much more. Kids will love the hula hoops available for anyone to play with, found next to the visitor center.

The island is one of the few that allows swimming, and lifeguards supervise the beach area. If the kids agree to leave the beach, you can explore about 2.5 miles of trails. Spectacle Island offers the highest viewing point of any of the islands, at 155 feet, with stunning views of Boston. Take the trail to the North Drumlin to see the city from afar.

Remember: If you plan on swimming, water shoes are essential! The beach is rocky and painful for bare feet. Spectacle has a strict pack-in, pack-out policy, so you won’t find any trash cans. The one exception is for anything you buy at the snack bar.

Plan B:

If it proves to be a rainy day or another reason keeps you on shore, the New England Aquarium, one dock over, and the Boston Children’s Museum, a few blocks away, are great alternatives.

Where to Eat Nearby:

A snack bar is on the island. Plenty of shops on the mainland sell picnic supplies.


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