The story behind the coolest street in Boston’s Back Bay

“What’s the coolest street in your city?” It’s a question the arts, entertainment, food, and culture guide Time Out asks tens of thousands of its readers worldwide every year. For Boston, the survey’s answer rarely changes: Newbury Street.

Here’s a brief history of how one of the earliest roads in Boston, built as part of a mid-18th century project to fill in the Back Bay, became one of the most scenic, vibrant, and unique streets in Boston, known for its upscale boutiques, art galleries and restaurants that sit in and among the district’s beautiful historic brownstones.

In the early 18th century, the area that is now Newbury Street was a tidal estuary. A massive 19th-century land reclamation project filled in the muddy Back Bay and created new land for development. Newbury Street soon became a fashionable residential district for Boston's elite, and many of the elegant Victorian townhouses and Beaux-Arts buildings that still line the street today were built during this time.

The street’s first businesses began opening around 1905. With the founding of Boston's Junior League in 1907, formal dances and other society events became very fashionable, and by the 1920s, fine apparel shops opened their doors on Newbury Street and prospered. As more retailers moved in, many lower-floor shops were built with wide glass windows to showcase luxury goods. 

Newbury Street’s transition from a residential to a commercial district accelerated in the mid-20th century as a growing number of shops, galleries, and restaurants began moving in. By the 1960s and 70s, though, it had become a hub of counterculture and bohemianism, with head shops, record stores, and clothiers catering to the hip and avant-garde.

Many architectural historians credit Frank Gehry’s 1989 Parker-Award winning renovation of 360 Newbury Street (an 1890s building once housing E.U. Wurlitzer Music and Sound) as the impetus for the street’s major transformation into one of the most iconic and exciting eight blocks in Boston. High-end retailers and luxury brands again began to open shops on the street, but without altering its distinct architectural style or sophisticated vibe. The eclectic mix includes world-renowned brands, local Boston boutiques, innovative new retailers, and cafés and restaurants that span a globe full of cuisines. 

And Newbury Street continues to evolve, featuring a dynamic mix of pop-up temporary storefronts from celebrities and the latest brands, remaining both a fresh and enduring part of Back Bay’s cultural landscape – one that attracts locals and tourists alike. 

The latest and most exciting Newbury Street development? The return of car-free Sundays. The City of Boston is relaunching Open Newbury and increasing the number of weekends the street is closed to vehicle traffic from five to 16. Book your Back Bay visit and a stay at Newbury Guest House from July 2 - October 15 during Open Newbury. Our boutique hotel is right in the heart of this pedestrian paradise, and the ideal start point for exploring the coolest street in Boston.