Near the heart of the MetroWest region, 10 miles west of Boston, Natick was settled in the mid-17th century by the Puritan missionary, John Eliot (1604-1690).
Natick was one of a network of “praying towns” inhabited by converted indigenous Americans, and for decades the church here was led by a Native American pastor, Daniel Takawambait (1652-1716).
In 1874 almost all of Natick Center was lost to a fire, and the swift reconstruction has left Main Street and side streets with rows of brick-built blocks in similar styles.
The rebuilt fire station here is an important stage for performing arts, hosting a big roster of famous musicians over the last 20+ years.
Large ponds comprise a lot of Natick’s total area, and right next to Natick Center is Lake Cochituate, a former reservoir turned into a state recreation area.
1. Downtown Natick
In 1874, 18 business blocks in Natick Center were destroyed by a fire, along with numerous residences, two shoe factories and the Congregational Church.
The good news is that nobody was killed, and another upside is that modern downtown Natick has real uniformity, with splendid commercial blocks built immediately after fire in Gothic and Romanesque Revival styles.
There’s a diversity of local businesses downtown, especially in terms of food, with Korean, Italian, contemporary American, diner food, bagels, subs, pizza and ice cream all on the menu.
At the foot of the rebuilt First Congregational Church sits the sweet town common, hosting a farmers’ market on Saturday mornings in spring and summer, as well as outdoor concerts at the bandstand from late June to mid-August.
Natick is near the halfway point of the Boston Marathon, which passes by the common along Central Street on the third Monday in April.
2. Center for Arts in Natick
Another building claimed by the fire in 1874 was the fire engine house, and this was rebuilt the following year as the Natick Central Fire Station on the very block where the fire was first discovered.
Since 2003, that historic spot has been home to the Center for Arts in Natick, a community organization serving the MetroWest region and bringing first-class performances to Natick Center.
The 290-seat auditorium hosts concerts by world-renowned recording artists, as well as theater performances and live comedy.
Upstairs is the 120-seat cinema room, which opened in 2016 and has state-of-the-art projection and sound systems, for new releases, independent film, family favorites, classic movies and more.
3. Cochituate State Park
This day-use state park spreads across a big patch of Natick, encompassing Lake Cochituate, which is a chain of three linked ponds that once served as reservoirs for Boston.
The park covers more than 870 acres, and offers paddlesports, non-motorized boating, swimming, fishing, picnics, BBQs, hiking and cross-country skiing in winter.
There are canoe and kayak rentals in the warmer months, and from the eastern shore you can set off on a hike or bike ride along the picture-perfect Snake Brook trail.
The four-mile Cochituate Rail Trail is along a former branch line laid down in the 1840s when the reservoir’s dam was being built, and will take you to the edge of downtown Natick.
The beach and most of the park’s facilities are on the middle lake, but if you’re paddling you can access the neighboring lakes via channels.
4. Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary
Along the Charles River and its tributary Indian Brook there’s an enchanting wildlife sanctuary managed by Mass Audubon. Broadmoor is an environment in a constant state of flux, with more than 175 bird species nesting or stopping here.
The sanctuary has nine miles of trails, through mature woodlands, over open fields, across marshlands via boardwalks and past ponds and streams.
One of these paths is the universally accessible All Persons Trail, including 430 feet of boardwalk with plenty of opportunities to spot painted turtles from late spring to the middle of fall.
There’s an outlook platform on a spur from this path, and you can download an audio tour for the All Persons Trail for more detail on the ecosystem here.
5. Natick Community Organic Farm
This certified organic, non-profit farm opened in 1975 and provides education, outdoor space and superb farm products. The award-winning Natick Community Organic Farm is open all year, and has educational activities for all ages.
You can come for a stroll and can check out the enclosures keeping cows, sheep, goats, pigs, turkeys, rabbits and chickens.
There’s a downloadable audio tour informing you about the domestic animals, and handling topics like energy efficiency, maple sugaring and soil health.
Opposite the farmhouse is a market stand, running on the honor system and seasonal produce, and freshly laid eggs.
Naturally there are tons of programs all year, teaching youngsters about agriculture, the natural world, food provenance, animal husbandry and much more.
6. Natick History Museum
Founded in 1870, the Natick Historical Society maintains a superb local history museum in one of Natick’s most interesting buildings.
This is the Bacon Free Library (1881), an anchor for the John Eliot Historic District, preserving Natick’s early village center at what is now South Natick.
The museum has been set on the lower level of this building since it opened, presenting exhibitions on diverse aspects of Natick’s history.
When we compiled this list there was a display of rare books shining a light on Natick’s Puritan and Indigenous roots, including a bible from 1685, translated into an Algonquian language. You could also view a series of rare stereopticon images of Natick captured in the 19th century.
7. South Natick Dam Park
There’s an extremely picturesque scene at this park on the Charles River by the South Natick Dam.
Opened in 1933, the South Natick Dam Park is on the site of a grist mill that had operated since colonial times, the old millstones for which are displayed along the path.
The dam here, installed in 1935, is the most recent in a long line going back to the mid-18th century.
You can linger on one of the benches to make the most of this quaint setting, with its spillway, waterfowl, stone walls, river island, profuse vegetation and beautiful old houses.
8. Henry Wilson Shoe Shop
The 18th (despite the incorrect sign) vice president of the United States, Henry Wilson (1812-1875) had humble beginnings.
As a teenager he walked over a hundred miles from New Hampshire to Natick to find work, and settled into the shoemaking trade, when it was still a backyard industry before the days of the mills.
After learning the trade he established his business in this ten-foot by ten-foot building, raised around 1825, working here from the early 1830s until his political career took flight.
At the Henry Wilson Shoe Shop you can take a peek through the windows to see 200-year-old shoemaking tools, while in the small surrounding park there’s a liberty bell to signify Wilson’s dedication to Abolitionism. Wilson’s Natick home and burial place is less than a mile from this site.
9. Casey’s Diner
There’s a century-old piece of culinary heritage downtown at 36 South Ave. This is Casey’s Diner, built in 1922 by the Worcester Lunch Car Company, and passed down through four generations of the same family.
The company made more than 670 prefab diners up to 1957, and Casey’s Diner is one of a few still operating in the region.
There are ten stools at the counter, and the kitchen is an extension to the rear. The long-term specialty is the “all around” steam hot dog, known for its “snap” and including raw onion, yellow mustard and relish all under the hot dog in a steamed bun.
There are large menus for breakfast and lunch/dinner, with fish on Fridays and a choice of pies by the slice.
10. Memorial Beach
Next to Natick High School, Dug Pond is at the south end of that long chain of lakes beginning with Dudley Pond in Cochituate.
This is a place for outdoor recreation, especially in the summer when you can visit Memorial Beach on the eastern shore. With lifeguards on duty during the season, the beach has a floating dock, diving platform, snack bar, a changing area and showers.
Dug Pond’s water is remarkably clear, and there’s a daily fee at the beach for residents and non-residents, with season passes available.
Dug pond has a renovated boat launch, a short way from Memorial Beach on Windsor Ave, and if you’re here for fishing, largemouth bass, chain pickerel, rainbow trout, brown trout, brook trout, bluegill and perch are often caught here.
11. Pegan Hill
At 410 feet, this glacial drumlin in the southeast of Natick is the highest point in the town. For over a century from the 1650s, Pegan Hill was the site of one of the towns of “Praying Indians”, established by the Puritan missionary John Eliot.
They established the farmland that was worked long after the town was disbanded in the 1760s, with interesting fragments remaining in the stone walls on the ridge.
Pegan Hill is managed by the Trustees of Reservations and today has dense stands of woods and hilltop clearings with panoramic views reaching as far as Mount Monadnock, some 60 miles to the northwest.
12. Natick Mall
In keeping with the area’s affluence there’s an upscale mall on Route 9, just by the line with Framingham. The Natick Mall has a sophisticated air, and became the first enclosed mall in the Boston area when it opened in 1966.
The present building is from 1994, and was expanded in the 2000s. A few of the stores at the higher end of the market are Apple, Anthropologie, L’Occitane, Louis Vuitton, Michael Kors and Tiffany & Co, while there are also locations for the likes of Uniqlo, Gap, H&M, Crocs, Lush, Banana Republic.
The anchors when we wrote this list were Macy’s, JCPenney, Nordstrom, Dave & Buster’s and Wegmans.
When it comes to dining, the food court on the upper level has ever-presents like Sbarro, Sarku Japan, Taco Bell and Charleys Philly Steaks, with locations for sit-down spots like Cheesecake Factory. California Pizza Kitchen and P.F. Chang’s China Bistro elsewhere in the mall.
13. Golf on the Village Green
This unusual attraction in Natick blends a miniature golf course with an outdoor museum for Colonial and Revolutionary history.
The 18-hole course is framed by cute scale replicas of 17th and 18th-century buildings, with a governor’s house, church, fort, water tower and more.
As you play you’ll pass smaller scale models of historically significant sites and symbols, like the Liberty Bell, Massachusetts State House and Boston’s Old North Church.
These are accompanied by brief informative panels, for a light educational tour through the early history of the United States as you try and keep your score down.
14. Tilly & Salvy’s Bacon Street Farm
This family-owned grocery store has been in business for more than 85 years, and partners with local producers for its meats, cheeses, fresh produce, craft beer and more.
Tilly & Salvy’s Bacon Street Farm has a large deli counter, an extensive choice of prepared meals, a wide range of specialty foods, everyday essentials and an enticing selection of breads and pastries, all made by nearby bakeries.
There’s also a garden center on site, for herbs, annuals, perennials in the growing season, and then pumpkins in fall, and decorations and Christmas trees in the holiday season.
15. Dowse Orchards
Off Route 27, just south of Natick in Sherborn, this family-owned farm has been growing apples since 1778.
Dowse Orchards opened a roadside farm stand in the 1950s, and this continues to sell homegrown, homemade and locally sourced items including fresh produce, maple syrup, jams, preserves, freshly pressed apple cider, flowers, Christmas trees and much more.
From late summer you can enter the 50-acre orchards to pick your own apples. There are as many as 20 varieties available during the harvest season, and the orchard’s crew will help with any questions,