Eight miles from downtown Boston, Belmont is a mostly residential suburb in the heart of the Greater Boston Metropolitan Area.
One thing to love about Belmont is how many of the best bits you can see on foot.
There’s a compact downtown area along Leonard Street, and then a block to the west is Pleasant Street, flanked by imposing old mansions including the Homer House, where artist Winslow Homer stayed for time.
On the walking theme, Belmont and neighboring Waltham have a tapestry of conservation areas and reservations, all tied together by the Waltham Western Greenway, which runs for more than seven miles through this green corridor in both towns.
1. Belmont Center
Along a short but sweet stretch of Leonard Street, Belmont has an adorable town center. The way is lined with historic buildings and tasteful reproductions, with brick and clapboard facades.
In front are wide sidewalks, with dainty street lamps, newly planted trees and lots of benches if you want to linger for a while.
Side-by-side there’s a whole directory of locally-owned businesses, with more than a dozen eateries at the last count, and shops for home design, clothing, books, jewelry and more.
Leonard Street is the stage for anticipated community events, like Belmont Town Day in May and the Holiday Tree Lighting in early December.
Just to the east, the Town Center Parking Lot hosts the Belmont Farmers’ Market on Thursday afternoons, June through October.
2. Pleasant Street Historic District
Parallel to Leonard Street, Pleasant Street was on the main route between West Cambridge and Watertown in the 17th century, and was lined with large plots of land belonging to early Belmont families.
The farmhouses were updated according to the fashion, and rebuilt over time, leaving a wonderful succession of grand houses in a spectrum of styles.
To name a handful you’ve got the Georgian-style 1763 Captain Stephen Frost House (467), the 1815 Federal-style Isaac Locke, Sr. House (593), as well as the 1808 Charles Wellington House (631) and the 1841 Edwin Locke House (575), both of which are in the Greek Revival style.
Later, this part of town became a popular place for wealthy Boston businessmen to build lavish summer homes, and a prime example is the Homer House (661), which we’ll talk about later.
3. Mass Audubon’s Habitat Education Center and Wildlife Sanctuary
Perhaps the star of the many natural spaces in and around Belmont is this 90-acre Mass Audubon property, composed of meadows, ponds, vernal pools and big stands of deciduous and evergreen forest.
The Habitat Education Center here is a delight, with nature-oriented exhibits for kids to browse, and a wealth of programs for all ages throughout the year.
Next door is an elegant Georgian Revival house from 1914, surrounded by formal gardens designed by the famous Olmsten Brothers firm, and rented out for events.
Outside there are three miles of trails, including the Weeks Pond and Turtle Pond trails, leading to charming little ponds, providing a habitat for turtles, ducks and bullfrogs in summer.
4. Homer House
Posted on a rise at the corner of Pleasant Street and Concord Avenue is a stately Italianate mansion, built in 1853 by William Flagg Homer, uncle of the famous painter, Winslow Homer (1836-1910).
Homer, the artist, lived nearby and spent plenty of time at his uncle’s house before moving to New York in 1859.
Recognized by its splendid cupola and mansard roof, the Homer House was saved from demolition by the Belmont Woman’s Club, which restored the building in the 2010s and offers guided tours of the interior, which has changed little in 170+ years.
On a visit you’ll get a sense of the lesser-known, idealistic young Winslow Homer, and learn how Belmont influenced his early work.
5. Beaver Brook Reservation
A big swath of western Belmont is taken up by this public recreation area, managed by the DCR.
The Beaver Brook Reservation comprises a north section, for passive recreation, and a more developed south section where there’s a much-loved spray deck that we’ll talk about later.
Totalling more than 300 acres, the park dates back to 1893, and abounds with water in the steeper, wooded north section.
One of the sights to track down here is a six-foot waterfall and set of cascades created by an historic dam on Beaver Brook.
Close by, the park headquarters are in the house of the influential landscape designer, Robert Morris Copeland (1830-1874), who wrote his seminal book, Country Life (1859) while living here.
6. Waltham Western Greenway
One of the great things about Belmont’s ample natural space is that much of it is connected by a path, linking some 20 individual parcels both here and in neighboring Waltham.
This green corridor adds up to more than 1,200 acres of open land, with a wonderful variety of landscapes, diverse flora, and abundant wildlife, from birds of prey to painted turtles.
Winding from the Storer Conservation Area in Waltham, to Pleasant St, at the Beaver Brook Reservation, the Western Greenway is just over seven miles in length, but has a multitude of side trails to explore.
7. Beaver Brook Spray Deck
An icon of the Beaver Brook Reservation is the spray deck and playground, first installed in the 1980s. This quickly became a beloved feature among families, and has been given a complete makeover in the last few years.
The spray deck is part of a sizable self-contained area, made up of a dry playground and an historic covered picnic area.
On hot summer days, younger children are sure to have a fun time playing around the fountains and sprinklers, and clambering over the many low boulders in between.
8. Mount Auburn Cemetery
A seminal piece of landscape design, the Mount Auburn Cemetery rewrote the rulebook for what a burying ground could be when it opened in neighboring Watertown in 1831.
Until then places of burial were simple and austere whether attached to churches or on town plots.
Mount Auburn Cemetery on the other hand is a rolling arboretum that is a joy to visit on foot, setting the blueprint for numerous other suburban cemeteries in the decades that followed.
One of several noteworthy buildings on the grounds is the 62-foot Washington Tower (1854), which was built from Quincy granite and offers a complete panorama of the Boston Skyline.
9. Fresh Pond Reservation
One of many large bodies of water close by, Fresh Pond is a 155-acre kettle hole lake just past Belmont’s eastern boundary.
The lake, serving as a reservoir for Cambridge, is enclosed by a large green buffer, adding up to another 165 acres.
This contains a perimeter trail, nine-hole golf course (more later), sports facilities, a section of rail trail, playgrounds, a dog beach, and more besides.
A wonderful way to soak up this scenery is on that perimeter path, loved by walkers, joggers and cyclists, and winding around the shore for 2.25 miles.
10. Lone Tree Hill
Adjoining the Beaver Brook Reservation is a smaller parcel of land managed by the Town of Belmont and the Land Management Committee.
Lone Tree Hill is a blissful 88 acres of meadows and woods, previously belonging to the McLean Hospital, which relocated to Belmont from Somerville in 1895.
A memorable feature here is the grand Pine Allée, running along the northern section, parallel to Concord Ave. South of Pine Allée the Western Greenway takes you to the namesake hilltop, which has unbroken views when the trees are bare in winter.
11. Alewife Brook Reservation
Managed by the DCR, this large band of protected open space can be reached from Belmont via the Fitchburg Cutoff Bike Path, which begins at Brighton St on the eastern edge of town.
The Alewife Brook Reservation encompasses forest and wetlands on the banks of this watercourse.
There’s a section of boardwalk over the wetlands for a rare opportunity to explore this ecosystem in an urban environment.
The wetlands brim with life in summer, and it’s common to see plenty of swans, geese, mallards, teals and wood ducks, along with lots of frogs and turtles.
12. Menotomy Rocks Park
Another place to go for some peace and fresh air, Menotomy Rocks Park is 35+ acres of woodland, just next door in Arlington.
A trail, with access points at Spring St in the west and Jason St in the east, cuts deep into the hardwood forest here, and loops around the picturesque Hills Pond.
In the summer you can find painted turtles sunning themselves on the pond’s banks. A spur running south from the pond leads to a children’s play area, next to a council ring that was built in 2012.
13. Fresh Pond Golf Course
On the western shore of Fresh Pond there’s a 9-hole municipal course, available to all, and with fine views of the pond and surrounding landscapes.
Fresh Pond Golf Course is 3,000 yards from the tips, with a mix of par 3s, 4s and 5s. There are several water hazards to contend with, as well as fairways lined with dense woodland, and some sudden slopes to consider.
Given the location the green fees are as reasonable as they come, at $27 for non-residents on weekdays at the time of writing.
14. Minuteman Commuter Bikeway
Starting at Brighton St in Belmont you can get onto the Fitchburg Cutoff Bike Path, which runs through the Alewife Brook Reservation for just under a mile.
At Alewife Station this spur brings you to the start of the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway, a ten-mile rail trail that roughly follows the route of Paul Revere’s famous Midnight Ride at the very start of the American Revolution in April 1775.
That original path became the Lexington and West Cambridge Railroad, which closed in the early 1980s, and the trail took its place in the 1990s and 2000s.
The trail runs through Lexington and past the green where the first shots of the Revolutionary War were fired.
15. Payson Park Music Festival
For more than 30 years there has been a schedule of concerts all summer long in Belmont’s Payson Park.
Running from mid-June to the end of August, these performances offer something for all tastes, with shows starting at 6:45 pm in June/July and 6:00 pm in August.
As opposed to many summer concert series, almost all of the performers in the festival are real artists with original music, in genres ranging from soul to blues, country and rock. On Friday mornings in July there’s also a series of weekly concerts just for kids.