Two Newport Mansion Tours To Take With Kids: Rough Point Mansion and The Breakers

Two Newport Mansion Tours To Take With Kids: Rough Point Mansion and The Breakers

To paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, the super rich are different from you and me — they keep camels in the conservatory and have playhouses for their children that are bigger than the average American home.

There really were live camels kept at the Doris Duke house, Rough Point in Newport Rhode Island.  Born as the only child of a tobacco tycoon in 1912, Doris Duke was designated as ‘the richest little girl in the world’ by the press. .Likewise, the Vanderbilt family were the richest family in the USA in the late 19th century. Visiting their Newport mansion on a guided Breakers tour really just highlights what a rarefied world the Vanderbilt lived in.

Being a millionaire in an era when the world was not full of billionaires meant Doris Duke and the Vanderbilts had the freedom to do exactly as they pleased. And, they certainly did.

Newport attractions | Newport R.I. with kids

The main summer cottage of the Vanderbilts, The Breakers

The Mansions of Newport

Taking Gilded Age Newport mansion tours is an obligatory experience when visiting this Rhode Island town.  The American elite at the turn of the 20th Century flocked to Newport for their summer holidays. The mansions are just so surreal in their obvious display of wealth, magnificence and occasional lapse of good taste.

There are several Newport mansion tours each with their own take on this historic slice of American social history.  With children in tow though, we had to limit our choices down to two Newport mansion. So we visited one Vanderbilt house (the Breakers tour) and Doris Duke’s mansion in Newport.

Rough Point Newport Rhode Island

Rought Point in Newport Rhode Island  was built by a member of the Vanderbilt family (Frederick).  If you think a lot of Newport mansions were Vanderbilt cast-offs, it is probably because they were a large family.  For example, Frederick was one of 8 siblings and his older brother built The Breakers.  When Frederick tired of Rough Point, he sold it to a tin mine mogul who sold it eventually to the Dukes.

The Doris Duke Legacy at Rough Point Mansion in Newport Rhode Island USA

Doris Duke was an eccentric heiress who left her treasures to be exhibited at Rough Point, her Newport mansion

The Breakers Tour

Among the most popular of the Newport Mansion tours, we also visited The Breakers. The grandest of these summer cottages, the Breakers Vanderbilt house seems to be one of the obligatory mansions that everyone visits.   One of America’s great industrialist families, the Vanderbilt were not only huge in numbers but also rulers of American high society.

Fun Fact!  450,000 people visit the Breakers every year!

This Cornelius Vanderbilt house was constructed in 1893 at a cost of more than $300 million in today’s money.  Built in the Italian Renaissance style, the house is a cold marble mausoleum which is the furthest thing I can think of from today’s idea of a summer home.

The Breakers even comes with its own (relatively) apint-sized replica which served as a playhouse for the Vanderbilt kids.

Fun Fact!  The playhouse is actually about 2400 s.f. which is about the size of the average American home! Needless to say, my kids were super-impressed.

 

The Breakers, Vanderbilt Rhode Island mansion

The Vanderbilt children’s playhouse was itself 2000 s.f. in size! That’s the size of many family homes!

Poor Little Rich Girl

On the Breakers Tour, my daughter was fascinated with the room in which Consuelo Vanderbilt was locked until she agreed to marry the future Duke of Marlborough in 1895.  Consuelo’s mother, Alva Vanderbilt, took no prisoners in securing the family’s social position.

Newport Rhode Island Mansions

The imposing Breakers = gilded cage for the Gilded Age?

Consuela Vanderbilt was locked in her bedroom by her mother until she agreed to marry the future 9th Duke of Marlborough. It’s a safe bet that Mama Vanderbilt was as cold as the marble that encased the Breakers Vanderbilt home. Consuelo wrote her sad story down in her 1950’s autobiography, The Glitter and The Gold.

Consuela’s sister-in-law was another American heiress, Jennie Jerome, who became the mother of Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Britain during World War II.  Until Consuelo produced an heir and a spare, Jennie’s sons would have been heir to the dukedom and you can bet Alva was not best pleased.

Fun Fact!  Descendants of the original Vanderbilts still summer at the house on the 3rd floor which remains private.
For a fictionalised account of an American Gilded Age Princess who marries an impoverished British Duke, check out The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin.
The Breakers, Vanderbilt Rhode Island mansion

The Vanderbilt children’s playhouse was itself 2000 s.f. in size! That’s the size of many family homes!

Doris Duke Newport RI

Conventional wisdom say money doesn’t make you happy and the politically correct response is to agree with this sentiment.  On the other hand, money gives you plenty of leeway to be as eccentric as you want.

Another Poor Little Rich Girl

Doris was 12 when she inherited Rough Point (and $80 million) upon the death of her father in 1925.  The family money had come from tobacco plantations which her grandfather had scooped up during the chaos that ended the American Civil War. The Dukes lived large but were also generous with charitable donations. The family gave a sizeable donation to a little college in North Carolina which renamed itself Duke University, still one of the foremost universities in the United States today.

Scandal-Ridden Life

The public though were fascinated with the scandals that Doris created.  She was married three times but also had a child out of wedlock who unfortunately died.  She travelled the world, met with mystics and witch doctors, and fell under the thrall of her butler.

Doris notoriously ran her car over her interior designer of Rough Point and killed him. Perhaps he disagreed with her flamboyant choice of mother-of-pearl, purple and yellow for the master bedroom suite? Although the police deemed it an accident, she reached a financial settlement with his family in court.  The rumour millsreported that she had been drunk.

The Suspicious Butler

Doris died in 1993 from complications from a facelift she had.  She was choking on breakfast and the butler refused to call an ambulance.  Doris left the butler control over her entire fortune (approximately $1.2 billion) which lead to a court case.  The butler lost the rights to her fortune but the court couldn’t find evidence Doris was murdered.

You Can’t Take It With You

Rough Point was opened to the public in 2000 as a museum upon Doris’ death.

Much of the rest of Doris Duke’s money went to her relative, a heroin addict, who had twin children he treated like slaves and locked in a basement. Thank goodness there is plenty of money still left for good therapy for those children.

Rough Point Mansion

Rough Point was built in the style of an English country house in the late 19th century and named after a promontory on the cliffs it overlooked.  When the Dukes purchased the house, they enlarged the outside and modified the interior.  Rough Point has 115 rooms so there are plenty of spare bedrooms.

The Doris Duke Legacy at Rough Point Mansion in Newport Rhode Island

Rough Point, built to resemble an English Manor house, has 115 rooms.

Doris Duke Mansion Tour

The Doris Duke mansion tour itself was a great experience because they are lead by tour guides. Our guide was great with our children (keeping them engaged with look and find questions).  There’s plenty of details for the kids to search for.  She was also a knowledgeable source of information for the adults.

Doris was a shrewd businesswoman and managed to increase massively the inheritance her father left her. She used some of that money acquiring fabulous art and antiques for the home, much of which is still available to view now at the Doris Duke house in Newport  Among the many treasures are paintings by Renoir, van Dyck and Gainsborough, Belgian tapestries and Chinese porcelain.

It seems that Americans have long been fascinated with importing crumbling European architecture  to the USA.

The grand staircase was imported in whole from an English manor house and installed at Rough Point. The stained glass depicts the coats of arms of the signers of the Magna Carta.  Likewise, the wood panelled rooms had the panelling imported from an English manor house which was being stripped. One such room is the Great Hall which is effectively used as an art gallery.

The conservatory was supposed to have been Doris’ favourite room. The conservatory has fabulous views over Doris Duke estate  to the Atlantic Ocean.

The gardens were laid out by Frederick Law Olmstead, the renowned landscape architect famous for designing Central Park in New York City.

The Doris Duke Legacy at Rough Point Mansion in Newport Rhode Island

The gardens at Rough Point were laid out by Olmstead the same architect who designed Central Park in New York City.

Doris Duke and her Camels

So, why were there camels at the Doris Duke house in Newport?

Doris purchased planes from Adnan Kashoggi (Saudi Arabian business man and international arms dealer) and insisted 2 camels be thrown in as well.  She got the planes but not the camels.

What’s an eccentric heiress to do?  She went and bought her own 2 camels and billed Kashoggi for their cost.

The camels travelled in a horse trailer up from her New Jersey mansion to summer in Doris Duke’s Newport mansion.

Doris Duke kept her camels, named Baby and Princess,  sheltered in the conservatory of Rough Point during a hurricane in 1991.  The rest of the time they had their own sheltered tent just outside the conservatory.   A little window in the room (a “camel port”) let people feed them treats.

Fun Fact!  The camels were infamous for chasing the security guards around the grounds for the occasional bite.

 

The Doris Duke Legacy at Rough Point Mansion in Newport Rhode Island

Camel topiaries in honour of Doris Duke’s beloved pet camels.

The camel topiaries no doubt keep the spirit of Princess and Baby at the house (and the security guards on their toes).

Visiting Rough Point Mansion and The Breakers

Rough Point on the famous Bellevue Avenue is definitely worth seeing. It provides a counterpoint to The Breakers Vanderbilt extravaganza. The Vanderbilts may not have liked it, but there were other rich people in the USA!

Newport Mansion Tours

The Doris Duke Mansion tours are limited to 12 people at a time and are available from May to November. Mercifully, there is no gift shop you have to drag the children out of because Doris though gift shops were tacky (yay!).

The Breakers is open daily from May to March annually except Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.  For the summer of 2018, a Welcome Center was opened at The Breakers. In addition to the main house tour, you can sign up for a Beneath the Breakers Tour which explores the life of the servants who kept this grand mansion humming.

Visiting from Boston?  Take a day trip to visit Newport and take two Newport mansion tours

Newport Mansion Tours Through Viator 


Where To Stay in Newport RI

The hotel where we stayed, the Grace Vanderbilt , was also another Vanderbilt mansion the family discarded. After all, no visit to Newport would be complete without some tangential Vanderbilt connection.

Check out the excellent reviews for the Grace Vanderbilt on TripAdvisor!

For the latest rates for the Grace Vanderbilt, here are a selection of travel booking sites: 

Booking.com Expedia Hotels.com

Tips for A Family Taking Newport Mansion Tours

Newport Rhode Island is known for its Gilded Age summer cottages. There are several ways though to make a Newport mansion tour fun for kids.

Limit Your Newport Mansion Tours

There are so many Newport mansion tours and you should choose just a couple of mansions.  The mansions themselves are massive with lots of art and objects d’art and so not the easiest of topics to engage children.

We stuck with just two Newport mansion Tours:

      • First, The Breakers because it seemed an obligatory Newport mansion tour and it had the ginormous children’s playhouse.
      • We also went to the Doris-Duke house because it was a non-Vanderbilt mansion and we thought the kids would like the camels connection.

Take the Newport Trolley

Take the Newport Trolley to Bellevue Avenue because that is very cute and the kids will like it. It’s easy to walk between the Breakers and the Doris Duke house.

Explore the Cliff Walk and the Landscaped Lawns

We took part of the Cliff Walk in between our mansion visits.  Clambering around on rocks was fun and also expended some extra energy.  You can get on the Cliff Walk by Bellevue Avenue and it is basically between the mansions and the ocean.  For extra fun, there is a little bridge over the water where the Cliff Walk meets the Doris Duke estate.

Bonus:  Lots of lawn space in front of the Newport mansions for the kids to have a run.

Tips for a family visit to the Newport Mansions

Tips for making a visit to the Newport Mansions fun for the whole family.

 

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Potluck Pizza Night Invokes the Hippie Spirit of Martha’s Vineyard

Potluck Pizza Night Invokes the Hippie Spirit of Martha’s Vineyard

In recent years, Martha’s Vineyard has become associated with presidential vacations, multi-million dollar homes and a short-lived reality television show featuring beautiful rich blonde kids.  Co-existing with all these things, the Vineyard I know and love is a less-flashy and more laid-back place. Even if the people you meet are trustafarians, you wouldn’t know it from their lived-in shorts and dust-covered cars.  For a quick blast to the hippie past, the Orange Peel Bakery’s potluck pizza night invokes the hippie spirit of Martha’s Vineyard.

potluck pizza and the hippie spirit of Martha’s Vineyard

The Orange Peel Bakery still uses the honour system for payment.

Martha’s Vineyard and the Hippie Years

In the 1960’s, the hippies washed ashore onto Martha’s Vineyard much to the early distrust of the local islanders.  At least the Vineyarders were more welcoming than the people of Nantucket though who had a strict policy of sending hippies back to the mainland.

In 1969, Martha’s Vineyard came on to the national consciousness briefly when a young (and married) Senator Ted Kennedy had his car accident on Chappaquidick which killed both his female friend and his chances at the US presidency. Luckily, the scandal referred to Chappaquidick by name.  Many people do not associate Chappaquidick with Chappy, the local’s name for the occasional-island that is across the harbour from Edgartown in Martha’s Vineyard.

The hippies of Martha’s Vineyard bobbed along in the 1960’s and 70’s stream happy in their own drug-filled haze and music.  Some of the young people had grown up summering on the Vineyard, while others were on-island more by luck than judgment.  For example, one name you hear often is that of Peter Simon, a photographer who still lives on the island.  Peter is the little brother of Carly Simon and son of the man who founded Simon & Schuster publishing house.  He grew up spending his summers in the Vineyard.  In any event, they all got into feeling groovy on Martha’s Vineyard.  Like all youth movements though, the hippies grew up.  They eventually got jobs, got married and had kids.

Laid-back Living

The liberal free-spirit of the hippies is still alive and well in Martha’s Vineyard even in these days when hipsters have replaced hippies.  A part of Moshup Beach near Aquinnah is still unofficially clothes-optional.  Many people don’t lock their homes and cars. You see lots of farm stands, flower stands, etc by the side of the road which are run on an honour box payment system.

What do I love about the Vineyard?  It’s not a ‘scene’ like the Hamptons. There is next-to-no nightlife in the Vineyard. Even the island’s most happening nightlife at Oak Bluffs is pretty lame compared to other places off-island.  The real action happens at dinner parties in people’s homes.

Sure, there are the famous and wealthy people sprinkled around the island.  They get to blend in because there are so many of them around.  Bill Clinton was famous for playing the saxophone at the bar at Lola’s in Oak Bluffs.  We stood in line behind the Obama kids at an ice-cream store. When their secret service agents asked if they could jump the queue with their charges, they were politely refused.  They were forced to stand in front of me and the 6 over-excited-about-ice-cream-and-oblivious-to-anything-else children I had with me.  I can tell you the noise levels were pretty high. Bwahaha.

The handyman who comes to help repair our screened porch regularly (because the kids kick the screen every single time they open the door) is an ex-hippie who still wears tie-dye and cut-off shorts (unironically).  He’s happy to regale us with (occasionally cringe-worthy) tales of the island’s free-wheeling past.  Nice guy, but I’m pretty sure a chunk of his brain was baked years ago.

Pizza Nights at the Orange Peel Bakery

I was reminded of this spirit of communal living when we went to have dinner at the Orange Peel Bakery in Aquinnah.  The owner, Julie Vanderhoop, is a member of the Native American tribe that were established in Martha’s Vineyard long before European settlers came to the island.

potluck pizza and the hippie spirit of Martha’s Vineyard

My friend’s little boy was desperate to go into the Native American teepee in the back yard but that was off-limits.

Although the main bakery is in Aquinnah by the cliffs, we went to the very popular, bring your own topping pizza nights run by the Orange Peel Bakery on State Road.

potluck pizza and the hippie spirit of Martha’s Vineyard

A mailbox is the first sign that you have found the place.

When you pull up to the address on State Road, you think you are entering someone’s house party.  In front of an ordinary Vineyard house, people in deck chairs are sprawled across the lawn, children are running about and music tinkles over the scene.  The actual pizza making process is organised on the side of the house next to the giant stone oven. The oven is lined on the inside with French clay and the outside with local Aquinnah stones.

potluck pizza and the hippie spirit of Martha’s Vineyard

People are sprawled over the lawn eating, drinking and conversing while the music plays.

Pick yourself up a pizza crust with sauce and cheese and then head on over to the toppings table.  Put on your own toppings or help yourself to someone else’s toppings.  Then you hand the pizza over to the person operating the very hot stone oven.  Soon you will be rewarded with piping hot pizza of your own creation.  The person slicing the pizza will give you half the pizza, and the the other half of the pizza will be donated to anyone else who wants it.   You can repeat the process as often as you want (or until the dough runs out!).

The rules are simple.  You bring whatever pizza toppings you want.  Everyone’s pizza toppings are shared.  Bring chairs if you want or a picnic blanket.  It’s a good idea to bring drinks as well.  Hang out, eat pizza and talk to your neighbours.   Lots of people come straight from the beach.

Our children loved making their own pizza. They also tried pizza combinations they would not have otherwise tried because the toppings were there.  One unexpected delightful combination was a s’mores pizza – pizza base (no cheese or tomato sauce!) with marshmallows, Hershey’s chocolate and brown sugar.

potluck pizza and the hippie spirit of Martha’s Vineyard

My daughter was very pleased with her pizza creation.

Pizza nights are run on Wednesday and Friday nights this summer at 22 State Road and cost $15 per adult and $10 for children. The money is put into an honour jar.  Check online with the Orange Peel Bakery because the days may change.  We are being less Type A, remember?

potluck pizza and the hippie spirit of Martha’s Vineyard

My daughter tucking into a dessert pizza – S’mores pizza is made of a pizza base with marshmallows and hershey chocolate.

A Photo Gallery of Potluck Pizza Night

potluck pizza and the hippie spirit of Martha’s Vineyard

A sign indicates pizza night is happening! People park on the side of the road.

potluck pizza and the hippie spirit of Martha’s Vineyard

The seashell-strewn drive looks like many other homes on the island.

potluck pizza and the hippie spirit of Martha’s Vineyard

A band plays folk music

potluck pizza and the hippie spirit of Martha’s Vineyard

The bakery is known for it’s freshly baked goods.

potluck pizza and the hippie spirit of Martha’s Vineyard

A pizza base ready to be bedazzled with toppings.

potluck pizza and the hippie spirit of Martha’s Vineyard

Pizza toppings range from the gourmet (arugula, prosciutto etc) to the child-friendly (marshmallows, hershey bars etc)

potluck pizza and the hippie spirit of Martha’s Vineyard

After pizza, our kids played in the back yard of the house.

Sunsets on Martha’s Vineyard

After pizza, you should try and catch the sunset in either Aquinnah or in Menemsha.  Aquinnah cliffs are a bit further up the road, and Lobsterville Beach is the next turning after the Potluck Pizza at 22 State Road.  If you go back down-island a bit, you will come to Menemsha beach.

potluck pizza and the hippie spirit of Martha’s Vineyard

Today’s sunset is brought to you by the colour pink.

It’s the perfect ending to a perfect day on Martha’s Vineyard.  Bonus:  If the kids aren’t tired before, a bit of running around on the beach before dark will definitely get them there.

 

Love, Loss and the Edgartown Lighthouse

Love, Loss and the Edgartown Lighthouse

The picturesque Edgartown Lighthouse stands in the harbour to the pretty whaling town of Edgartown in Martha’s Vineyard, an island located off the coast of Massachusetts.  Across from the lighthouse, you can see the sometimes-island of Chappaquiddick (known locally as Chappy).  On occasion when the Atlantic Ocean feels benevolent, a sandbar connects Chappy to Edgartown embracing Katama Bay in a gentle hug of expensive waterfront homes.  Like a lot of historic lighthouses, the Edgartown Lighthouse fell into disrepair over the years. Today it stands proudly again and around its base, a children’s memorial pays tribute to children whose lives have been cut tragically short.

The Edgartown Lighthouse, Martha’s Vineyard

The Edgartown Lighthouse in the harbour of Katama Bay. Photo credit: Eli in Martha’s Vineyard for Flytographer

The Edgartown Lighthouse

The Edgartown Lighthouse peninsula is located on a small sandy beach which is an easy walk from Edgartown itself.  Scrub, beach plum bushes and seashells speckle the beach as the sand winds down to the shore.

Although Martha’s Vineyard has prettier beaches, we often walk to Edgartown Lighthouse on non-beach weather days.  Between watching the boats come in and out of the harbour and skimming stones in the water, this beach is perfect to while away a few hours with restless children.

The Edgartown Lighthouse on Martha’s Vineyard

The path leading down to The Edgartown Lighthouse and Lighthouse Beach
Photo Credit: Eli in Martha’s Vineyard for Flytographer

The Edgartown Lighthouse, Martha’s Vineyard

Clambering over the rocks is always fun.
Photo credit: Eli in Martha’s Vineyard for Flytographer

The Children’s Memorial

Maintained by the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, the base of the Edgartown Lighthouse serves as a children’s memorial for children of residents (both seasonal and permanent) who have passed away.

Each child’s name is carved into a granite stone placed parallel to the shoreline. A lighthouse serves as a beacon to safe harbour.  The hope is that our lost children have found safe harbour wherever they are.

A plaque contains lines of a poem written at a memorial service for the first child whose name is engraved at the Lighthouse – Ricky Harrington who died in a car crash at just 16 years old in 1996.  His grief-stricken father spearheaded the effort to create a children’s memorial at the Edgartown Lighthouse.

Of the several hundred memorial stones at the base of the Edgartown Lighthouse, the one stone we seek out every summer contains the name of our youngest son.  Having died at the age of 5 weeks, he did not live long enough to experience the glorious freedom of a Vineyard summer.

The Edgartown Lighthouse in Martha’s Vineyard

My daughter placing wildflowers on our son’s memorial stone.
Photo credit: Eli in Martha’s Vineyard for Flytographer

I know, however, he would have loved his summers in the Vineyard as much as his older brother and sister do.

If I close my eyes, I can see him skipping along Lighthouse beach.  It’s pretty easy to do since he looked exactly like my older son – my dark hair and eyes, his father’s stubborn chin and a milky Earl Grey tea skin colour that is a blend of both of us.

I don’t picture it very often – that way lies madness.

Martha’s Vineyard Beach

My twins when they were 2 years old could spend hours on the beach at Martha’s Vineyard.

My children have been spending the summer in Martha’s Vineyard since they were two years old.  The Edgartown Lighthouse has become an indelible part of their childhood memories.

We have lived and travelled in so many places around the world.  Martha’s Vineyard, however, anchors our family and the Edgartown Lighthouse is our beacon guiding us home.  After all, home is where the heart is.

The Edgartown Lighthouse in Martha’s Vineyard

A game of catch on Lighthouse Beach.
Photo credit: Eli in Martha’s Vineyard for Flytographer

The Photo Shoot

When I learned that I had won a Flytographer photo shoot after donating to Passports with a Purpose earlier this year, I knew I wanted to do the family photo shoot in Martha’s Vineyard.  We chose the Edgartown Lighthouse in order to honour the memory of our missing family member.

The Edgartown Lighthouse, Martha’s Vineyard

A walk along the path to the Edgartown Lighthouse
Photo credit: Eli in Martha’s Vineyard for Flytographer

Passports with a Purpose is an organisation that runs an annual fundraiser where travel bloggers and organisations unite to donate prizes.  The public donates money which earns them a chance to win one of the prizes.  The prizes tend to be very cool – they range from stays at assorted hotels to travel gear, for example.

[NB: Passports with a Purpose is no longer running].

With the money donated, PwP funds a different project every year, for example, in 2015, they raised $20,000 to buy e-readers for libraries in Kenya and in 2013, they raised over $80,000 to build 2 schools in Mali.  I’ve donated for several years now but this year was the first time I won anything.

Flytographer coordinates getting people a professional photoshoot in locations around the world.  With over 180 locations, chances are that they work with a professional photographer somewhere you are going to vacation. I know people who have had photoshoots with them in London and Paris.

Usually I am the person taking photos which means I’m not in them.  I confess that I am the photography geek in our family so I wouldn’t be happy with anyone else taking them anyway.  It was nice having a professional take the photos and know we were in good hands. And, our Christmas card photos are done for this year in July! Hurrah! I am feeling so super-organised.

The Edgartown Lighthouse in Martha’s vineyard

The photoshoot at the Lighthouse with Eli Dagostino for Flytographer.

Our photographer on the island was Eli Dagostino who has an office in the nearby town of Vineyard Haven.  He was great with the kids and we had a fun, relaxing shoot.

I’ve never done a family photo shoot (mostly because I’m not very organised) but I am now considering having an annual family photo.  As we all know, kids grow up too fast and time passes too son.

Edgartown Lighthouse in Martha’s Vineyard

The Edgartown Lighthouse in Katama Harbour.

Useful Information

The Edgartown Lighthouse is open on the weekends from May through October and daily during the peak tourist months of July and August.

A Quirky Take on Asian Fusion at Shojo Boston

A Quirky Take on Asian Fusion at Shojo Boston

Nestled among the usual suspects in the handful of streets that make up Boston’s Chinatown, the unassuming stark contemporary exterior of Shojo leads into a dimly-lit interior. I knew this restaurant would be different because it wasn’t advertising dim sum on the outside or painted in red and/or gold.  Inside, the street art inspired graphics on the interior walls also conveyed the impression that this was not your usual Chinese take-out.

Asian Fusion at Shojo Boston

Shojo is an Asian fusion restaurant in the heart of Boston’s Chinatown.  The tables are small and close together dimly lit by cage lights.  There’s a hip bar area that sells craft beers, sake and creative cocktails.  The executive chef, Mark O’Leary, has an established reputation for great food in other Boston restaurants.  I discovered this gem thanks to my blogging friends, The Two Riveras, twins who are food bloggers with impeccable taste.

Asian Fusion at Shojo Boston

A contemporary exterior

Asian Fusion at Shojo Boston

Exposed brick walls, street art and cage lights. All very achingly hip.

I LOVED their kimchi fried rice.  The kimchi is house made and had just the right amount of kick.  Other fusion options are Shojiko Chicken Tacos, Duck-Fat Fries (in a spicy Sriracha aioli).  You can get the fries ‘shadowless’ as well – a variation that is a meal in itself and the winner of Boston Magazine’s 2015 Starch Madness winner.  Here’s a general recipe for Shadowless Fries if you feel like trying it yourself.

Asian Fusion at Shojo Boston

Kimchi Fried Rice – Amazing!

The plates are small and served tapas-style which is also very different from the heaping piles of food served in traditional Chinese restaurants.  On the other hand, the Chinese sensibility of sharing plates is still maintained.  Truth be told, I didn’t really want to share my kimchi fried rice but had to play nice with the Two Riveras.  I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to share the Shojonator burger either (a burger topped with kimchi Velveeta) which is on my list for when I visit Shojo next.

Asian Fusion at Shojo Boston

A small but select menu

Asian Fusion at Shojo Boston

Ramen with tiki cups – why not?

Shojo Boston is open 6 days a week (closed Sundays).  The menu is available online although they do point out the right to change their menu if they feel like it.  They’ve also been voted among Boston’s Best food and drink places by the Improper Bostonian.  I loved Shojo so much I went back twice in the one week I was in Boston earlier this year.

Asian Fusion at Shojo Boston

Street art inspired walls

It’s a fun new take on Chinese food for a younger crowd. I’m not surprised that they don’t even bother to open on a Sunday when traditionally you go out with the family for dim sum.  The family dim sum scene is so not their style.  Yet, the flavours are traditional and not out of keeping with the neighbourhood. Although try hard, I have to say I loved it.

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This post is linked up with City Tripping and Wednesday Wanderlust.

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Cool Facts You Didn’t Know About Boston’s Chinatown

Cool Facts You Didn’t Know About Boston’s Chinatown

I’ve been on this mission to check out the Chinatown in whichever city I find myself.  Earlier this year, I had a chance to check out Boston’s small but historic Chinatown.

Cool facts about Boston's Chinatowns

Cool Facts About Boston’s Chinatown

  • The Chinatown in Boston is the third largest in the United States. Only the Chinatowns in New York and San Francisco are bigger.  Presumably the size is determined by population density because the actual area is only a few square blocks between the financial and theatre districts.
Boston's Chinatown

In the shadow of the high rise buildings

  • Although this area is the only Chinatown left in New England, the neighbourhood increasingly is subject to gentrification.  The swanky new high-rises being built in the neighbourhood attract non-Asians.
  • Boston’s Chinatown was built on top of reclaimed land.  Like many other immigrant neighbourhoods in the United States, the area was first settled by English settlers before they moved out to other areas.  The neighbourhood has also welcomed other Asian immigrants especially the Vietnamese.
Boston's Chinatown

The times they are a-changing.

  • Ping on Alley was where the first Chinese settlers set up a tent city.  They had come east after helping to build the Transcontinental Railroad.  As I mentioned in a previous post on Hell on Wheels Towns, the Central Pacific railroad had preferred hiring the quieter Chinese workers instead of the hard-drinking Irish hired by the Union Pacific railroad.
  • The first restaurant in the area was called Hong Far Low.  I just love that name (I know very childish of me).  Also, how can you not love a Chinese restaurant called Double Chin?
Boston China Town

Lots of body parts on this corner.

  • The best reason to visit Chinatown is authentic Chinese food (as opposed to the Americanised chains like Panda Express or PF Changs).  This June 2015 list from the Boston Globe gives their rundown of the best places to eat and what to order in the area.  My favourite restaurant is Shojo (on the list) for a contemporary take on old favourites.

Boston's Chinatown

  • There are still over 30 family associations in Chinatown.  These associations were used by Chinese immigrants in the past to help them settle into their new homeland.
  • The traditional Chinatown gate (paifang) is located at Beach Street and Surface Road. It was a gift from the government of Taiwan to mark the area’s centennial anniversary. It’s got a foo lion on each side of the gate as a protective symbol.
Boston's Chinatown

Cute but protective

  • Right near the Chinatown gate is the new Rose Kennedy Greenway.  One of the Greenway parks is the Chinatown Park. The park has lots of Asian-inspired planting (think bamboo), a water feature and a liberal use of the colour red.  It’s a charming place to sit and eat the takeaway food you got in Chinatown itself.

A Photo Gallery of Boston’s Chinatown

Boston's Chinatown

A detail from the gate

Boston's Chinatown

A mural in a parking lot

Boston's Chinatown

McDonald’s with a pagoda roof – just trying to fit into the neighbourhood.

Boston's Chinatown

Colorful street art

American Ninja Training at Cape Cod Inflatable Park

American Ninja Training at Cape Cod Inflatable Park

My kids love the Cape Cod Inflatable Park in Yarmouth with an intensity that defies logic.  Or maybe I’m just an old grump. Every year, they beg to go to the Cape Cod Inflatable Park during our summer vacation in Martha’s Vineyard.  According to them, with its new upgraded inflatables, the park is even more fun than ever.

The Cape Cod Inflatable Park delivers exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a whole lot of inflatable bouncy things like you’d find at a kiddie party but bigger, better and just generally… more insane. With so many inflatables, I find that the park does not get that full.  There isn’t a long line for rides – if you have to wait to get on a particular inflatable, you just find another inflatable which provides similar hijinks.

Post-revamp of the park, my kids could barely contain their excitement because their old favourite inflatables were still there plus lots of new exciting ones. For example, there was the  inflatable where you put yourself in a Velcro suit and try to throw yourself so that you stick onto a giant dart board.


We had the mechanical bull operator throw my Spanish au pair for a really wild ride. It seemed only fair since the Spanish are still into bull fighting. We felt justice ought to be served in some small cosmic way. 

Then you had the crazy jousting on top of the inflatable which reminded me of those crazy Japanese television contest shows.  It was really entertaining to watch – similar to Total Wipeout featuring your own family.


We had a football game which descended into chaos and occasional flagrant handballs.


Although we’be been to the park midweek before, this year we went on a Saturday in July.  To my surprise, the park was very busy with both kids and adults.

There is a separate toddlers area as well as a water park inflatable area which is included in the general price of admission.  In addition there is a challenge area of trapezes, tightropes, zip lines etc. which is meant for teenagers and adults. It’s probably really good if you are preparing for a show like American Ninja. The challenge area is an additional fee, and mercifully, my children were too short/young for it.


The Cape Cod Inflatable Park isn’t cheap.  A summer day admission runs $29 (less for little ones). The Stay and Play Rate with the attached Cape Cod Family Resort is not bad value in this context.  For each room you get 4 park passes, breakfast and a double-bedded room. The rooms are recently revamped too with comfortable beds, air conditioning and WiFi.  We had no problem getting connecting rooms.  The breakfast is nothing special (cereal and plastic-wrapped muffins).  The cost of this motel bounty? In the summer, it’s $169 per room for the weekdays and $219 per room on the weekends.

Family Fun at the Cape Cod Inflatable Park

If you are in Cape Cod for the summer, your children will love the Cape Cod Inflatable Park.  Cape Cod has a limited selection of  amusement park-like options. They include Water Wizz (a water park), Ryan Family Amusements (arcade games) and Skull Island Sports World (go-karts, batting cages and other sports-oriented activities).  My children just wanted to bounce around like maniacs and pretend they were on American Ninja Warrior – Cape Cod Inflatable Park was just the ticket!