First settled in 1635, the city of Arlington later witnessed some of the most intense fighting in the Battles of Lexington and Concord at the dawn of the American Revolutionary War.
The Jason Russell House, now a museum, was caught up in one of these skirmishes, resulting in the deaths of ten people, and the interior is still riddled with bullet holes.
For more Revolutionary history, the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway follows much of the route traveled by Paul Revere’s on his momentous Midnight Ride.
This rail trail is also a useful route for pedestrians and cyclists, bending conveniently past the colorful commercial districts at Arlington Center and East Arlington, and connecting with paths along Alewife Brook and the Mystic River.
1. Arlington Center
There’s much to admire about downtown Arlington, with its museums, entertainment amenities, historic buildings, acres of green space and easy access for pedestrians and cyclists via the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway.
One prominent building is the Robbins Library (1892), in an Italian Renaissance style, and containing the country’s oldest continuously operated free children’s library.
Close by, Central Street turns off Massachusetts Ave and has charming residences from the turn of the 19th century, which are holdovers from the mills that used to line Mill Brook here.
Continue east past the intersection with Mystic St and there’s a multicultural dining district, for sushi, Korean fusion, bubble tea, Vietnamese, pizza, tacos, pan-Asian and Indian cuisine.
Further along Massachusetts Ave, East Arlington also has an assortment of eateries, together with the historic Capitol Theatre for movies.
2. Spy Pond Park
This green lung for Arlington is just a few steps from downtown and is linked by the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway.
Formed by a retreating glacier at the end of the last Ice Age, Sky Pond covers more than 100 acres, and the public park here wraps around the northern and eastern shore.
There’s a waterfront trail parallel to the bikeway, connecting a children’s playground and a boat launch, while Scannell Field baseball diamond is at the south end of the park.
One of the best things to do at Spy Pond Park is simply sit and soak up the view, especially if you come when the sun is setting over the water.
Some 120 bird species are thought to stop at this place at various times of the year, and surely the rowdiest of all these are the Canada geese.
3. Minuteman Commuter Bikeway
Between the Bedford Depot in the northwest and Alewife Station in the southeast, this 10-mile rail trail is both a useful commuter artery and a compelling trip back to the first hours of the Revolutionary War in April 1775.
Running through Arlington, the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway tallies closely with the famous Midnight Ride made by Paul Revere to alert the American colonial militia about the approach of British troops.
The route became a railroad in the mid-19th century, and in Arlington you can still see a section of the old tracks by the Cyrus Dallin Art Museum.
You can rent Bluebikes at several locations around Arlington, while in winter there’s often enough snow on the path for cross-country skiing.
4. Cyrus Dallin Art Museum
The sculptor Cyrus Edwin Dallin (1861-1944) was a fascinating figure who moved to Arlington in 1900 and spent the rest of his life in the city.
He is best known for Boston’s equestrian statue of Paul Revere (1885), and for Appeal to the Great Spirit (1908) in front of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.
The latter was typical of Dallin’s oeuvre, as he depicted Native Americans throughout his career and is fondly remembered as an early activist for indigenous rights.
The Greek Revival Jefferson Cutter House (1830) is the only museum in the country dedicated exclusively to Dallin, displaying more than 90 works produced across his 60-year career.
You can browse plaster and bronze sculptures, medals, reliefs and paintings, and learn about the artist’s life, including his bronze in archery at the 1904 St. Louis Olympics.
5. Jason Russell House
On April 19, 1775, this house and its surrounding yard witnessed the bloodiest skirmish in the first battle in the Revolutionary War. Arlington (then Menotomy), was in the path of the British march to Boston, and they cleared every dwelling to eliminate snipers.
The fighting continued to the Jason Russell house, where a company of minute-men engaged the British, resulting in the deaths of 12 Americans, including the owner of the house, Jason Russell (1716–1775).
He had built this dwelling in the 1740s using material salvaged from his grandfather’s house (mid-1680s), and bullet holes from the battle still riddle the interior woodwork.
The house belonged to Russell’s descendants until 1896, and the interior has original family furnishings from the 18th and 19th century.
6. The Regent Theatre
This historic entertainment institution in downtown Arlington was built as a vaudeville stage using innovative fire-proof construction methods in 1916.
The Regent Theatre’s 500-seat auditorium was revamped a decade later to screen movies and remained a local cinema until the mid-1990s.
Since then this venue has become a vibrant performing arts center, for live music, comedy, dance, family entertainment and drama, while also putting on regular movie screenings.
The Regent is the main venue for the Arlington International Film Festival, which we’ll talk about later in this article.
7. Old Schwamb Mill
In Arlington you’ll have a unique opportunity to visit what is thought to be the oldest continuously-operating mill in the United States. By Mill Brook, the site of the Old Schwamb Mill was developed in the early 1680s, and the present building went up in 1861.
Now, just as it did then, the Old Schwamb Mill produces hand-turned oval and circular frames for paintings, portrait photographs and mirrors.
Well into the second half of the 20th century, Schwamb Family frames were sold to galleries, artists, framers and photographers across the United States and Canada, and the mill continues to produce custom-made frames on a smaller scale.
On a visit you can view preserved power systems, historic equipment used since the 19th century, examples of finished frames and interesting little messages carved into the mill’s walls down the years, from safety reminders to cartoons.
8. Robbins Farm Park
On former farmland donated to the city by the wealthy Robbins family, this park sits on quite a slope, with sports amenities at the top and a playground towards the bottom.
Standing on the rise you’ll get a complete panorama of the Boston skyline, about seven miles to the southeast.
This is one of the best hills in the area for sledding in winter, while in the summer Robbins Farm Park becomes the setting for community events including concerts, movies in the park and the city’s July 4th celebrations.
For active recreation there’s a soccer field and baseball diamond while the grassy space is ideal for flying kites on breezy days.
9. Capitol Theatre
To watch the latest Hollywood releases, Arlington’s main destination is this six-screen theater in an historic movie palace from 1925.
Found in East Arlington, the Capitol Theatre was turned into a multiplex in the mid-1980s, and each auditorium has a style matching the original interiors.
Outside, the marquee is also unchanged since the theater’s heyday. Try to catch a showing at Auditorium 1, which has a massive screen set within the original proscenium arch.
For the ideal accompaniment to your movie, the Capitol Creamery, has a delectable menu of sweet treats. A signature is the cookie sandwich, made with soft cookies direct from the Quebrada Bakery next door.
10. Arlington Reservoir
Straddling the line with Lexington is the 65-acre reservoir constructed in the early 1870s to serve as Arlignton’s water supply.
In little more than two decades, Arlington had joined the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA), making the reservoir redundant. So since the 1890s this place has been a recreation area, for walking, swimming, boating and fishing.
The trail around the shore is 1.2 miles long, with a lot of natural shade in summer from the trees, and on the east side there’s a sandy beach area, open to residents and non-residents mid-June through late August.
From the north shore you can access Lexington Community Farm, growing a variety of fresh produce, and running a great farm stand with local products.
11. Menotomy Rocks Park
Also on hilly ground, Menotomy Rocks Park is a heavily wooded park encompassing a charming little pond.
The main trail here loops around the pond and has a spur leading south to a children’s playground.
There are occasional grassy clearings in the woods, and plenty of places just to sit or enjoy a picnic.
Come by in summer and the pond is full of life, home to ducks and turtles, while for much of the winter this is a popular place for ice skating.
12. Arlington Friends of the Drama (AFD)
Established in 1923, Arlington Friends of the Drama is one of the ten oldest operating community theater companies in the country.
The venue is also significant, in the old St. John’s Episcopal Church, which the company purchased when the church relocated in 1933. Since it was founded, the AFD has staged more than 500 productions.
These days, a typical season has four productions, among them dramas, comedies and musicals, with around nine performances each.
A few shows from recent years include The Graduate, Sunset Boulevard, Boeing Boeing, Angel Street (Gaslight), 9 to 5: The Musical, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Love’s Labour’s Lost.
13. Alewife Greenway Bike Path
In the very south of Arlington, the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway intersects with the Alewife Greenway Bike Path.
This 3.5-mile trail hugs the Alewife Brook, forming Arlington’s eastern boundary as it flows towards its mouth on the Mystic River.
So you can head off on another gentle ride, walk or jog through a verdant ribbon of deciduous trees and grasses.
The Alewife Greenway Bike Path is completely enclosed by city streets, but will often feel remote, especially in the last stretch before the Mystic River.
The trail then merges with the Mystic River Path, which eventually leads you to the Upper and Lower Mystic Lakes, and the much-loved summer swimming area at Shannon Beach.
14. Arlington Farmers’ Market
At the Russell Commons Municipal lot downtown, Arlington has a flourishing farmers’ market, held on Wednesday afternoons from June to October.
There are about 20 vendors on a normal week, with a wide-ranging assortment of goods grown or produced locally.
As well as seasonal fruit and vegetables you might find smoked fish, fresh fish & seafood, jams, jellies, relishes, mead, cheeses, honey and an enticing array of baked goods. You can also get hold of a range of prepared foods, from fresh pasta to curry and Nepali cuisine.
15. Arlington International Film Festival (AIFF)
A cherished annual cultural event in Arlington is this juried film festival, launched in 2010 with the goal of exploring and promoting cultural diversity via independent film.
Held across four days in early November, the festival screens around 50 movies from around the world, and welcomes thousands of moviegoers.
Many of the selected films, like Elena by Petra Costa and BOTSO: The Teacher from Tbilisi directed by Tom Walters, have been nominated for Academy Awards.
The AIFF has hopped around several venues since 2010, including the Capitol Theatre, but was based at the Regent Theatre when we compiled this list.
The organization is also involved in a calendar of events throughout the year, with film screenings and performances by award-winning musicians.