Recently my boyfriend’s parents visited Boston so we decided to introduce them to one of Boston’s four harbor islands that are currently open to the general public. In our case, we selected Spectacle Island for an afternoon of easy hiking.
The island offers panoramic views of the harbor which includes stunning views of Boston’s skyline. I recommend visiting Spectacle Island on a clear day for this reason. So let’s get into the details!
- A Quick History of Spectacle Island
- What is there to do on Spectacle Island?
- Things to Know Before Your Visit to Spectacle Island
- When to Visit Spectacle Island
- How to Buy a Ferry Ticket to Spectacle Island
A Quick History of Spectacle Island
Who knew this little island could have such a unique history? While today the island has been revamped into a public park and recreational area, it was very different years ago. At one time it had been home to a farm, a quarantine hospital, a glue factory, resort hotels, and even a garbage dumping ground.
The name Spectacle Island comes from its original island formation in which there were two hills or drumlins that resembled spectacles. However, the island soon became a dumping ground for dirt and garbage which altered its shape forever. One such example of this was during Boston’s Big Dig. This forever changed the island’s shape into a much larger land mass. Today it is still the highest point in Boston Harbor.
- Read more about the history of Spectacle Island.
What is there to do on Spectacle Island?
The island is about 114 acres and is located 4 miles off Boston’s coastline. It is a nice destination for a day trip from the city. Some highlights of the island are the stunning views, picnic spots (plenty of benches and picnic tables), hiking paths, a swimming area, boating, and photography. Also, it is quite the spot for sea glass hunters.
Warning: The park rules say that you can’t take the sea glass and pottery with you, but you are welcome to take photos. The island is considered a national park so federal laws apply. There are signs posted and the rangers are around if you have any questions.
Things to Know Before Your Visit to Spectacle Island
Taking the Ferry to Spectacle Island
The ferry takes just 30 minutes. However, you need to be at the dock at least 15 minutes prior to your departure time. During that time, the crew will start getting you lined up to board the ferry. if your ferry leaves at 11:30 then you need to be there at 11:15. The ferry won’t wait so schedule your time accordingly.
This is very important in the event you are taking the last ferry back at the end of the day. You don’t want to get stuck on the island. That would be one embarrassing coast guard call.
The boat leaves when it is intended to leave to maintain the schedule. Tip: Take the stairs to the highest point of the ship to enjoy the beautiful views of the Boston skyline as you venture to the island!
The island offers just a handful of shaded areas so plan ahead for your choice of sun protection. Whether that would be a hat, small umbrella, and/or sunblock. There is a Visitor’s Center and a few gazebos around the island to take a break at too. Bring water if you can and know your own limits. If sun exposure isn’t your thing, then perhaps visit on a cooler day.
Food and Drink
Tip: I am a big proponent of taking water with you if you visit on a Monday or Tuesday. For these two days of the week, the island’s concession stands are closed. However, the ferry’s concessions are always open during your water crossing.
You are welcome to bring a picnic or takeout with you. The views are lovely so I would highly recommend this. Make your own at home or grab some takeout from Quincy Market on your way to the ferry.
Finesse Hospitality’s concession carts are operational Wednesdays-Sundays and offer cold drinks, ice cream, wraps, and snacks. Cash and major credit cards are accepted.
Brato Brewhouse + Kitchen is another vendor by the Visitor Center that operates Friday-Sunday. Their menu consists of appetizers, tacos, burritos, and sides, with beverage options including beer, seltzer, and chilled rosé.
How to Handle Garbage
The island is a carry-out island meaning you must take all trash with you when you leave. Please be respectful of the island and leave no trace. There are trash cans on the ferry and also on the dock upon your return. I would recommend bringing a small grocery bag with you to hold you over until the ferry comes.
Public restrooms are available in the Visitor Center or you can use the ones on the ferry. Tip: Personally, I felt the ones on the island were nicer.
Additional Park Information
The park has two main trails that go around the island. There is the Interpretive Trail which is a 2.25-mile gravel trail leading you to the north and south drumlins on the island. Alternatively you could take the ADA compliant Perimeter Trail which is just 1.7 miles long.
Google maps is useful on the island if you require a trail map. There are also quite a few maps posted around the park. Most of the trails lead to one another so it would be quite difficult to become lost. You can always stop by the Visitor’s Center when you get off the ferry to ask the rangers questions on the best trail for you.
When to Visit Spectacle Island
Tips for Choosing When to Visit
This is an ideal island to visit during the summer months when there is an expanded ferry service. Beyond Labor Day the frequency of ferries is typically reduced but you can still visit the island until October 10th.
To get the full experience with all the concession stands open, I would opt to visit on a day between Wednesday-Sunday.
If you have the option, visiting on a Thursday would be quite nice to avoid the potential weekend crowds during the summer.
Summer Schedule: June 17 – September 5
Fall Schedule: September 6 – October 10
How to Buy a Ferry Ticket to Spectacle Island
Now that you have all the information regarding how to prepare. Let’s get into the options to actually purchase your ticket to the island. Ferry service to Spectacle Island is operated by Boston Harbor City Cruises. They offer a number of fun outings from Boston Harbor.
How much does a ticket to Spectacle Island cost?
Since Spectacle Island is an out-and-back island, you only need a one-way ticket.
- Adult – $24.95
- Senior (65+)/Student/Military – $22.95
- Child (3-11) – $17.95
- Child (Under 3) – Free
Option 1: Reserve Online
You can easily purchase tickets from the Boston Harbor Island website. Just choose your day. Set the departure to Boston, destination to Spectacle Island, and select your time.
Tip: Aim for earlier in the day so you have more time to enjoy the island before the last ferry back which is around 5:30 pm in the summer.
Option 2: Buy a Ticket at the Booth
There is a booth to purchase tickets located at 1 Long Wharf, Boston, MA 02210. The BHC (Boston Harbor City Cruise) booth is white with a whale on top of the sign. Make sure it says BHC because the Aquarium is next-door and they too offer some tours such as a Whale Watch.
Option 3: Reserve by Phone Call
You can also reserve by calling 617-227-4321.
Hello everyone! I am a Boston based blogger that loves all things travel and lifestyle. You can usually find me working away at my university job, snapping pictures, thrifting, or trying out some new recipes.