Known for its diverse populace and generous expanses of hilly parkland, this northern suburb of Boston has come through massive development in the last few decades.
Malden’s recent transformation has much to do with its proximity to Boston, with North Station just ten minutes away on the MBTA’s Haverhill Line.
The city has an international makeup, with a large Asian population, and this is evident downtown where there’s a tempting array of spots for bubble tea, ramen and pho.
Since the 2010s the Northern Strand Community Trail has replaced an abandoned railroad corridor, making it possible to cycle between Malden and Boston, and the coast at Lynn.
A recurring figure in Malden’s story is shoemaking industrialist Elisha S. Converse (1820-1904). This philanthropic mayor donated land for city parks and funded amenities like Malden’s first public library.
1. Middlesex Fells Reservation
Malden is flanked to the west by a sizable public recreation area, spread across more than 2,000 acres of rugged granite-strewn woods punctuated by reservoirs.
The largest of these is the now inactive Spot Pond, which is surrounded by woods dotted with remnants of old mills, still visible at the Spot Pond Archeological District.
In summer Spot Pond is a prime boating location, and you can come to the boathouse to rent canoes or kayaks.
The reservation has a warren of trails, taking you to viewpoints to see the Boston skyline. At a southern vantage point stands Wright’s Tower, raised in 1937 as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project.
By the north shore of Spot Pond is the ever popular Stone Zoo, with snow leopards, Mexican gray wolves, jaguars, American alligators and two-toed sloths among its residents.
2. Downtown Malden
Malden’s diverse makeup contributes to a thrilling culinary scene. In the space of a few blocks along Main St and Pleasant St there are spots for Vietnamese, pan-Asian, Chinese, ramen and bubble tea, along with an Indian grocery store, Middle Eastern market and Halal market.
In between, this lively commercial district has bars, an Irish pub and a slew of local businesses for anything from comic books to fine wines to mini golf.
Malden’s eclectic food options can be experienced at the Phantom Gourmet Food Festival in June, part of the Malden Summer Festivals, organizing a whole series of outdoor events downtown.
For the last decade, downtown Malden has been served by The Northern Strand Community trail, running between Everett and Nahant.
3. Fellsmere Park
One of Malden’s array of places and buildings connected to the city’s first mayor, Elisha S. Converse is this splendid urban park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903).
Fellsmere Park is on a former swamp that was purchased by Converse in 1875 with the intention of building a reservoir for his rubber shoe factory.
He was persuaded to establish a park here instead, and this refined wooded space was completed in 1899. Much of Fellsmere Park is taken up by the namesake pond, a haven for ducks and geese, with a russet backdrop in fall.
There’s a hill on the side, which has a lookout over the pond, and is also a favorite spot for sledding in the winter months.
4. Pine Banks Park
On more than 100 acres, this large public park is co-owned by Malden and neighboring Melrose. Elisha S. Converse also donated this parcel land, on the condition that it remain “forever a public park”.
There are two sides to Pine Banks Park. One is surprisingly rugged woods where you can leave the city behind on a hike.
The other is a recreation facility catering to soccer, baseball, softball, lacrosse, rugby, field hockey and more. Also here is a playground, a number of spacious picnic areas and a charming waterfowl-rich pond embedded in the woods.
5. Boda Borg
In 2015 downtown Malden became the first location in the United States for a chain of family entertainment attractions that was founded in Sweden in the mid-1990s.
Similar to an escape room, Boda Borg is a real-world gaming experience centered on “quests”. There are up to 25 quests, each with a set of challenges for teams of up to five people.
You might have to avoid hidden dangers in an abandoned mine, journey into outer space or steal a precious diamond from a museum.
The quests are color coded, with green tests challenging the mind, black quests requiring more physicality and red quests comprising a mix of both.
6. Northern Strand Community Trail (Bike to the Sea Trail)
Downtown Malden is on the route of a mixed-use rail trail linking several North Shore communities along the old Boston & Maine Railroad’s Saugus Branch.
Along with neighboring Everett, Malden was the first place to be connected to the trail in 2012. The path has gradually extended northeast since then, through Revere, Lynn and was making its way to Nahant when we compiled this list.
In Malden the two main access points are the westbound side of Route 60, across the street from Malden High, and the eastbound side of Route 60 behind the Dockside Restaurant.
This section of the trail features the ArtLine, a sequence of sculptures and murals commissioned by Malden Arts.
7. Revere Beach
Malden is a matter of minutes from the first public beach in the United States. Revere Beach had long been an attraction before achieving this status in 1896, and as early as 1875 was connected to Boston and Lynn via a narrow gauge railway.
On a gentle curve facing Broad Sound, there’s more than three miles of sand at Revere Beach, with views over Boston Harbor and the Nahant peninsula.
The big annual event here is the New England Sand Castle Sculpting Festival every July/August, with extraordinary creations by talented sculptors from all over the world.
The beach is also a habitat for the piping plover, with sections fenced off for this endangered shorebird.
8. Waitt’s Mountain
If you have 15 minutes or so, you can easily walk from downtown Malden to the highest point in the city. At 217 feet, Waitt’s Mountain may not sound huge, but what makes this granite mass special is its prominence over the cityscape.
You’ll get perfect views of the Boston skyline, and the panorama at sunset is breathtaking. There’s history here too: Observers watched the Battle of Bunker Hill unfold from this vantage point in 1775, and in World War II there were gun batteries posted here.
The current layout is a holdover from the 1930s when the Works Progress Administration turned an uninviting piece of wilderness into a picturesque terraced park with benches, bridges and the roadway that leads to the top of the hill.
9. Town Line Luxury Lanes
This newly renovated bowling alley is packed with amenities for family outings, date nights, games with friends or league competition for all skill levels.
There are 48 pristine lanes here, and things take on a new dimension on Friday and Saturday evenings with Atomic Bowling, bringing blacklight, neon lanes and music.
To go with this there’s a game room with 50+ brand new arcade and redemption machines, and a new billiards hall with 15 tables.
Food and drinks are available from Temptations Grill and the Luxury Boxx Sports Bar, while MIXX360 Nightlife is a nightclub with bars, VIP areas and facilities for live music.
10. Project: PUTT!
Close to Boda Borg downtown is a recently opened indoor minigolf attraction, putting a surreal slant on this family activity. Project: PUTT! has 12 holes of bizarre, multisensory putting challenges, featuring blacklight, lasers, fog machines, projections, vortexes, animatronics and more.
There’s even a storyline, centered on a secretive organization called the R.E.A.L.M.S Institute, like something out of a sci-fi/mystery show.
The challenges have been set up to “level the playing field” so all ages and abilities can be competitive and have a good time.
11. Bell Rock Memorial Park
The feted landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. (1870-1957) laid out this public park at an historically important site in 1910.
Enveloping a rocky outcrop that has long served as a natural landmark, Bell Rock Memorial Park is the location of Malden’s first two Congregational meeting houses (1649-1658 and 1660-1730).
The park was established to provide a home for the city monument to its Civil War soldiers and sailors. Dubbed The Flag Defenders, this is the work of sculptor Bela Pratt (1867-1917).
This monument is accompanied by several plaques recalling Malden’s early history, and figures like the Puritan minister Michael Wigglesworth (1631-1705), who wrote The Day of Doom, a bestselling poem in 17th-century New England.
12. Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site
A little further away, but still within a few minutes by car, is the site of North America’s first integrated ironworks. This was established around 1646 by John Winthrop the Younger (1606-1676), an early Governor of the Connecticut Colony.
The site was abandoned in the 1670s, but the ironmaster’s house has survived to the 21st century.
Archeological studies of the site took place after World War II, and what you’ll see is a living reproduction of water-powered 17th-century industry, with a blast furnace, forge, trip hammer, shear, rolling mill and more, driven by seven giant waterwheels.
The site is best visited when all the buildings are open and rangers are on hand in the summer, but even when it’s all closed you can walk an interpretive trail around the works.
13. Converse Memorial Library
Known for his philanthropy, Elisha S. Converse funded numerous projects around Malden, including Malden Hospital, the Malden Auditorium, the YMCA, and the public library.
The latter has a poignant story, as it’s named for Converse’s eldest son, Frank who was an assistant cashier at Malden bank and was murdered in a robbery there in 1863.
The original library building, in use until 1996, was completed in 1885 and is one of Malden’s most important landmarks.
The architect is H. H. Richardson (1838-1886), and is one of the last and best-regarded works in his signature Romanesque Revival style. Built from brown Longmeadow sandstone, the building is noted for its corner tower and long arcaded porch.
14. Malden Summer Festivals
From mid-May to mid-August there’s a whole series of open-air events in Malden, some ticketed, but most free to attend.
At the core is a street festival, held once a month at Malden Center in May, June, July and August. On the agenda for this event is live music, comedy, artist stations, street performers, craft vendors, children’s activities and a farmers’ market.
Also in the series is a multicultural day at Malden High School, the May-plewood Festival on Maplewood Square, the Phantom Gourmet Food Festival (more later) and other happenings including a themed pub crawl.
15. Phantom Gourmet Food Festival
Complementing Malden Summer Festivals is a ticketed event that has recently been relocated here from Boston.
The Phantom Gourmet Food Festival has two dates—one in Malden in June, and another in Waltham in fall. Taking place on Exchange and Pleasant streets downtown, the festival features more than 50 food vendors, all serving up tantalizing samples.
The vendors represent restaurants and food trucks from around Massachusetts, and many hail from Malden, so this is a great way to get in touch with the local food scene.