The anchor for the MetroWest region, Framingham is a suburban city about half an hour by road from Boston and on the route of the Boston Marathon.
The city dates back more than 300 years, and while it was once known for its industry, is now a mixture of retail and offices, woven into a landscape of parkland and farms
There are hundreds of stately old residences in Framingham, and the best place to gauge that history is the Framingham Centre Common, the place where the city was born in the 17th century.
Framingham has two state parks minutes away, as well as top-notch culture, courtesy of Framingham State University and the buzzing Amazing Things Arts Center (atac).
1. Framingham Centre Common
At this green space north and south of Route 9, you can take in a picture-perfect New England village green. Framingham Centre is the site of the town’s first meeting house, erected by Thomas Danforth (1623-1699) at the very center of his land.
By the turn of the 19th century, this place was a hub for commerce, fed by the Worcester Turnpike, and a useful stopping place for stagecoaches halfway to Boston.
Along with hotels and taverns, grand houses soon cropped up on the margins of the common, and these are still standing today.
Since 1990 the common has been a U.S. Historic District, with almost 30 contributing buildings, among them the Village Hall (1834) and the Edgell Library (1872), both of which can be visited as part of the Framingham History Center.
2. Garden in the Woods
There’s something unforgettable awaiting you in the north of Framingham, mid-April to mid-October. Couched in mature oak woodland is a 45-acre botanical garden, a mesmerizing showcase for plants native to New England.
Part of the magic of the Garden in the Woods is the dramatic glacial topography, with eskers, steep-sided valleys and ponds, for a tapestry of microhabitats.
There are more than 1,000 species growing in the garden, around a quarter of which are considered rare or endangered.
The garden was founded in 1931 by landscape designer Will C. Curtis (1883-1969) and was bequeathed to the New England Wild Flower Society when he passed away.
3. Cochituate State Park
In the northeast of Framingham, Lake Cochituate is in fact a chain of ponds that were first dammed in the mid-19th century to serve as a water supply for Boston.
With that role consigned to the past, this 625-acre body of water is a recreation haven, especially in the warmer months. Cochituate State Park is a regional destination for swimming, boating, windsurfing and fishing.
Boating and swimming are restricted to the middle lake in Natick, where you can rent a canoe, kayak, SUP, rowboat or pedal boat from Boating in Boston.
There’s a stretch of sandy beach here, edged by grassy space, softwood trees and picnic tables in the shade.
4. Danforth Art Museum
In a Colonial Revival former school building dating back to 1915, the Danforth Art Museum is part of Framingham State University, with a prominent spot on the Common.
As an institution, the museum was founded in 1973, and over the last half century has assembled a wonderful, 3.500-strong collection of American art from the 19th century to the present.
A few important names in the collection are Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller, Charles Sprague Pearce, Barbara Grad, Gilbert Stuart, Albert Bierstadt and several Boston Expressionists and academic painters from the Boston School.
There are up to seven short-term shows at the Danforth each year, with selections from the permanent collection, along with exciting contemporary painting, sculpture, installation art, drawing, photography, illustration, montages and more. The Danforth is also an art school, offering classes to all ages and abilities.
5. Amazing Things Arts Center (atac)
Since the mid-00s, an elegant old firehouse from 1908 has been converted into a multidisciplinary arts center for Framingham and the wider MetroWest area.
With a capacity for 135, the Amazing Things Arts Center is known most of all for live music. You can check out performances from a host of genres, all complemented by regular scheduled jazz jams and open mics.
There’s also a feast of live comedy, traditional theater, dance, circus shows, burlesque and other performing arts.
The center maintains three gallery spaces for visual arts, featuring group and solo exhibitions, markets, artist talks and discussions.
6. Framingham History Center
This local institution dates back to 1888 when it was founded as the Framingham Natural History and Historical Society. The center has pride of place on Framingham Centre Common, with a campus of three fine buildings.
These are: the Edgell Memorial Library, built in 1872 to commemorate the bravery of Civil War soldiers; the Village Hall on the Common (1834), and The Old Academy (1837), used by the Framingham School department up to 1915.
The center maintains a wealth of collections, touching on all aspects of life in Framingham, across our centuries.
Past exhibitions have shown off the top ten artifacts in the collection, documented Framingham in WWI, presented fashion in the town through the centuries, and told the 150-year story of the Dennison Manufacturing Company.
7. Framingham Farmers’ Market
Mid-June through Mid-October there’s a farmers’ market in an apt location on the Framingham Centre Common. Designed to fit with people’s work schedules, the market takes place on Thursdays between 3pm and 7pm.
When we wrote this article, the Mayor’s Office had recently waived vendor fees, to ensure as big a choice as possible. For a snapshot of a typical week there’s local fruit and vegetables, honey, cheeses, breads, pastries, homemade cannoli, lemonade and even Nordic kvass.
There’s normally a selection of food trucks, whether you’re up for tacos or lobster rolls, as well as over a dozen craft vendors, for fragrances, candles, handmade jewelry, organic soaps and a lot more besides.
8. Callahan State Park
Within a few short minutes of downtown Framingham you can discover more than 950 acres of natural space, made up of mixed woodland, open fields and ponds.
Callahan State Park was founded in 1970 and has seven miles of marked trails for hiking, cross-country skiing and horseback riding.
There’s also a system of mountain biking trails in the park, aimed at beginner and intermediate riders.
If you’re here with a four-legged friend, a favorite beauty spot is Eagle Pond, which is an unofficial off-leash dog park, and a great place for dogs to make a splash in the summer.
9. Eastleigh Farm
Right by Callahan State Park, this dairy farm has a history reaching back to the early 19th century.
In 2002 the property was bought by its current owner, with the intention of preserving the farmland at a time when many similar properties are being sold off for development. Eastleigh Farm has a variety of things to attract families.
You can take a hayride, during which you’ll get a good look at the farm’s herd and find out about the history of the property.
For shopping there’s a farm market, open June through October, but also the multi-vendor design shop Avenue C, and the antique dealer B. Barton & Co.
Don’t forget the Eastleigh Farm’s own ice cream, made in small batches with high quality ingredients. Flavors range from chocolate and vanilla to maple walnut and rainbow sherbert.
10. Exhibit ‘A’ Brewing Company
With an inclusive and tolerant philosophy, this craft brewery opened in Framingham in 2016 and has won numerous accolades since that time.
There’s a large beer garden, perfect if you bring your dog with you, and you can visit for a range of beers on tap, or pick up a 16 oz can to go.
A few of the year-round beers on draft when we compiled this list were The Cat’s Meow (IPA), Goody Two Shoes (Kölsch), Briefcase (Porter) and Hair Raiser (DIPA), while there’s a big rotation of occasional and limited-edition brews.
There’s some kind of event most days, especially on weekends, whether it’s a new food truck, live music, movie night or a pop up store by a local vendor.
11. Cushing Memorial Park
On almost 70 acres, Framingham has a well-appointed community park with an interesting story to tell.
This is the site of a WWII military hospital comprising more than 100 buildings. The facility was named for Harvey Cushing (1869-1939), a pioneer in the field of brain surgery.
By the end of the war, close to 14,000 servicemen and women had come through this place, after which it became a center for elder care and research.
You can make out the footprints of the hospital in the park’s meadows and lawns, while the wide promenades are on former hospital roads.
For amenities and monuments there’s a 9/11 memorial, the excellent Children’s Grove playground, gazebos, picnic tables, a keyhole garden, flower gardens and birdhouses.
12. Cochituate Rail Trail
Just under four miles long, this multi-use rail trail connects the Village of Saxonville with the Boston-Worcester MBTA commuter rail station in Natick Center.
The line along this former railroad corridor was the Saxonville Branch of the Boston and Albany Railroad, opened in 1846 to serve the textile mills in Saxonville, and aid the construction of Lake Cochituate.
As well as connecting with transport infrastructure, the Cochituate Rail Trail, has some beautiful scenery, especially by the state park and the Cochituate Brook Reservation.
This is also a useful way to navigate parts of Framingham and Natick without a car, with a spur for Natick Mall and accompanying the commercial corridor along Worcester Rd.
13. Pike Haven Homestead
For a brief detour, there’s a piece of distant local history in the form of a preserved Colonial house at 161 Belknap Rd. Until the 20th century the Pike Haven homestead had been in the same family for eight generations.
Pike Haven Homestead was built around 1697 by one Jeremiah Pike, who was elected to the first Board of Selectmen for Framingham in 1700.
Along with three generations of his descendants, Pike’s trade was making spinning wheels. There’s a historical market along Grove St, erected in 1930 by the Massachusetts Bay Colony-Tercentenary Commission.
14. Boston Marathon
Run on Patriots’ Day in April, the world’s oldest annual marathon, dating back to 1897, passes through Framingham along Waverly St/Route 135. Framingham is at the sixth mile of this linear course, and you can watch the first runners making their way through the town from just after 9am.
There are tons of great places to watch the marathon along Waverly St. If you want a party atmosphere head downtown to the intersection of Route 135 and 126.
Here there’s live music, activities and promotions each year to celebrate the Six Mile Moment. For a quieter viewing experience you could also head to one of the sparser areas like Coburnville in the west.
In June, Framingham’s Bowditch Field is the backdrop for a popular free one-day event hosted by the MetroWest Visitors Bureau.
Running for more than a decade now, MetroFest brings a mix of live music, food, craft beverages, arts, exhibitors, classic cars and family activities.
There’s live entertainment on two stages throughout the day, as well as 15+ tempting food trucks to choose from. This could be South Korean fusion, BBQ, poutine or tacos, to name a few.
There are scores of craft vendors to browse, as well as a tasting tent for local craft breweries and hours of fun for kids, with bounce houses and other inflatables.