Just minutes from downtown Boston on the MBTA Haverhill Line, Melrose is a suburban city with a thriving downtown area, a Victorian townscape and easy access to parkland and natural space.
The recreation opportunities around Melrose are off the charts. For one thing, you’ve got the Middlesex Fells Reservation, with its lakes and miles upon miles of trails.
In the south is Pine Banks Park, which has rugged terrain created by volcanic and glacial activity, and in the east is the Mt Hood Municipal Golf Course, where elevated tees have views of the Boston skyline.
1. Middlesex Fells Reservation
Managed by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, there’s a gigantic, water-laced reservation a minute or two west of downtown Melrose.
The Middlesex Fells Reservation comprises several active and inactive reservoirs, two of which continue to feed metropolitan Boston’s waterworks. The largest of these is Spot Pond, a haven for boating and fishing.
If you’re heading into the 2,200 acre for a hike, you could begin with the linear Cross Fells Trail, which starts in Melrose at the end of Goodyear Ave and traverses the southern parts of the reservation, through portions of Malden and Medford.
2. Downtown Melrose
Melrose’s tree-lined central commercial district is a joy, with 19th and early 20th-century blocks, fine civic buildings and abundant small businesses.
At the north end, Main Street, hugs the eastern shore of the scenic Ell Pond, which we’ll talk about below.
Downtown Melrose stands out as a culinary destination, with bakeries, cafes, an international roster of restaurants and the famous Turner’s Seafood Grill & Market (more below).
There’s entertainment at Memorial Hall, seat of the Melrose Symphony Orchestra, and events like the Annual Victorian Fair, filling Main Street with vendors in September.
When it comes to shopping, you can browse family-owned stores for cosmetics, running gear, interior design, toys, clothing, flowers and artsy gifts.
3. Pine Banks Park
In the south of Melrose, crossing into Malden, there’s a heavily wooded 110+ acre park that is joint-owned by both towns.
The first thing you’ll notice about Pine Banks Park is the unusual topography which was caused by ancient volcanic activity.
This has given rise to cliffs that climb 50 feet, forming Mount Ephraim, with views of the entire park and the Boston skyline.
In low-lying areas, Pine Banks Park is a recreational park, with a cute pond, children’s playground, quarter-mile track, soccer field, two baseball fields, a softball field and a rugby pitch that is home to the Mystic River Rugby Club.
4. Memorial Hall
Downtown Melrose has a fantastic performing arts venue, at the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Building.
This solemn granite building was completed in 1912 as a memorial to the service of the soldiers and sailors of the Civil War, and came through several phases of restorations in the 1990s and 2000s.
One of many fine details is the grand organ, installed in 1919 and still in situ at the rear of the stage.
Seating 800 people, Memorial Hall is the home of the Melrose Symphony Orchestra MSO, which was founded in 1918, making it the oldest continuously operating volunteer orchestra in the country.
The MSO presents a season of performances, with something for almost all tastes (Holiday Pops, Opera Night, Family Concert), culminating with the traditional May Pops Finale.
5. Ell Pond
This 23-acre Great Pond is an integral part of Melrose’s center within a few steps of Memorial Hall on the west side of Main Street.
The name comes from the pond’s L-shape, and the stretch of Main Street is especially pretty late in the day when the sun is going down over the water.
On the northern and western shores, Ell Pond is framed by a slew of recreation amenities, including the Lloyd Memorial Swimming Pool (open in summer) and the Melrose Rotary Skate Park, along with tennis courts, multi-use sports fields and the Melrose Dog Park.
The Ell Pond Lake Trail skirts this portion of the shore, from the pool in the west to the dog park in the northeast.
6. Turner’s Seafood Grill & Market
A reputable name in the wholesale business since 1954, Turner’s opened an authentic New England seafood house, fish market and shuck-and-serve oyster bar on Main Street in Melrose in 1994.
Turner’s Seafood Grill & Market was the brainchild of the four Melrose-based sons of company founder, James F. Turner, and is a true destination, attracting people from across the Boston area and North Shore.
Think New England favorites like clam chowder, lobster bisque, lobster rolls, crab cakes, fried clams, finnan haddie, or ever-changing specials on the black board.
7. Spot Pond
The recreation hub for the Middlesex Fells Reservation is barely five minutes west of Melrose Center, offering loads of water-based fun in summer.
On the eastern shore you can rent canoes or kayaks to explore this 298-acre great pond, which is sprinkled with little islands.
Next to the rental station, the John Botume House (1849) is the last survivor of several lakefront houses built on the waterfront in the 19th century, and serves as a visitor center for the reservation.
From here you can head south along the pond’s eastern shore, through a stand of hardwood forest.
8. Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site
This site on the banks of the Saugus River, ten minutes east of Melrose, is considered the birthplace of the American iron and steel industry.
The first integrated ironworks in North America was established here in 1646, and today you can see what this might have been like, touring water-powered reconstructed facilities like a blast furnace, forge, rolling mill, shear, slitter and a quarter-ton trip hammer.
The house on the site is original, dating back to the 1680s and thought to have been the home of the ironmaster.
On a self-guided tour you’ll discover the history of the iron works, learn how iron was made and find out how crucial herbs were to colonists in the 17th-century Herb Garden.
9. Mt Hood Municipal Golf Course
This 18-hole course was built as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project in 1936, and sits in 300 acres of wooded parkland.
The course is adapted to the natural topography, which is dramatic in places. No fewer than eight of the holes have elevated tees, some affording distant views down to Boston, southeast to Revere Beach or north to New Hampshire.
The fairways tend to be broad, but you’ll need to be accurate with your approach play to hit the small greens.
There are two practice greens if you want to find your touch, as well as a fully stocked pro shop.
10. Stone Zoo
One of the area’s top family attractions can be found on the northern shore of Spot Pond in the Middlesex Fells Reservation.
Stone Zoo goes back to 1905, and has made a lot of improvements since being taken over by a non-profit in the early 1990s.
Across ten distinct exhibit areas you’ll encounter snow leopards, Mexican gray wolves, gila monsters, Linne’s two-toed sloths, white-cheeked gibbons, roadrunners, American alligators and many more animals, from close to 60 different species.
One of the most recent exhibits to open is the indoor Animal Discovery Center, home to reptiles, amphibians and spiders, from poison dart frogs to Arizona blond tarantulas. Christmas time is delightful here, when the ZooLights display turns the Yukon Creek area into a twinkling winter wonderland.
11. Melrose Common
Arguably the pick of Melrose’s neighborhood parks is a rectangular space a little way east of the downtown area. Melrose Common is great for parents, with two large playgrounds, with soft, bouncy paving, a sandbox and up-to-date play equipment.
There’s a large convenience store right on the east side, for ice creams and other treats. For sports facilities, the park has a baseball court, two baseball fields and a large, multi-use field with soccer goals. On the perimeter are some magnificent trees, especially on the south and east sides.
12. Town Line Luxury Lanes
This gigantic alley is a bowling hub for several nearby communities, including Melrose. There are 50 lanes here, equipped with bumpers for littler bowlers, and offering Atomic Bowling on weekends, with blacklight, neon and a lively atmosphere.
You’ll find a bunch of other attractions under the same roof, including a newly fitted billiards hall with 15 Pro Imperial pool tables, and a game room offering 50+ games, with several ticket redemption machines.
For a bite, there’s fast food at Temptations Grill and pub grub at the Luxury Boxx Sports Bar, which has big screens on all sides so you can catch the game.
13. Liberty Bell Roast Beef & Seafood
Melrose is the home of a mini fast food chain that was founded here in 1976. Roast beef sandwiches, with thin slices of tender roast beef on a grilled hamburger roll, have been a North Shore specialty for more than 70 years.
At Liberty Bell, these come in Junior, Big or Super sizes, and the typical sides are fresh fries and/or onion rings.
As the name tells you there’s also an extensive menu of New England-style seafood dishes, including clam chowder, fried haddock, fried scallops, fried clams and lobster rolls.
14. Melrose Arts Festival
On the last weekend in April, Memorial Hall is the setting for an annual arts and crafts event that is deep into its second decade now.
Melrose has a dynamic art community, and this comes to the fore with a juried show featuring more than 40 exhibitors from Melrose and the surrounding area.
This is an opportunity to meet and chat with local artists, and purchase anything from watercolors to ceramics to handmade jewelry.
The Melrose Arts Festival is a free event, and also features a fun community art project, live music and local food. When we made this list the attending food truck was Tenoch Mexican.
15. Annual Victorian Fair
Melrose’s profusion of grand 19th-century homes makes it an appropriate place for a Victorian-themed event on Main Street.
Normally falling on the second Sunday in September, the Annual Victorian Fair has been celebrated for well over 40 years now, and brings upwards of 10,000 people downtown.
Attended by numerous local businesses, services and non-profit organizations, the fair includes live performances, children’s entertainment, a 5k run, fundraising events, all kinds of vendors, and the ever-popular Big Ticket Raffle.