Set Sail on This Urban Safari

Conditions may call for haze and too-hot pavement in Boston's concrete jungle, but that doesn't mean you can't experience nature at its best

It's true. Nature is alive and well and living in Boston. We've got your guide for where to find it:

Island Refuge

Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area affords an incredible, unrefined refuge within minutes of downtown (as in, yeah, you can still see the skyline, so it really is thatclose). Buy a ferry ticket from Boston Harbor Islands Pavilion and head for Peddocks Island, where park rangers lead nature walks Friday through Sunday all summer long. Crisscross rambling, rarely-used trails and check out the beach in your hunt for native species. If you prefer to seek adventure on your own, download the online Watch Wildlife guides describing mammals and marine animals, bugs, reptiles, and more that you can search for on any of the accessible islands—we recommend Grape, Bumpkin and Lovells.
191 Atlantic Ave., Boston, 617.223.8666

Marine Animal Encounters

Over at Central Wharf, the New England Aquarium offers way more than just fish behind glass. There is, of course, the Shark and Ray Touch Tank where visitors can let their fingers linger on the backs of cow nose rays and a variety of immature sharks living in a shallow mangrove environment. But what's even cooler are the personal marine animal encounters: With Myrtle, a near 100-year-old friendly (and humongous) green sea turtle that you get to feed atop the Aquarium's Giant Ocean Tank; or, with harbor and Northern fur seals and sea lions, for which you get to work alongside a trainer feeding animals and signaling for them to do certain tricks, like giving kisses. 
Most encounters feature an additional cost to admission. Central Wharf, Boston, 617.973.5200

Sails for Whales

Massachusetts is one of the world's Top 10 destinations for whale watching (as named by the World Wildlife Fund) thanks to Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, which is, apparently, the culinary nirvana of the North Atlantic. Who knew? Aquarium-trained naturalist guides on Boston Harbor Cruises' whale watch adventures can shed more light on the science of it all while you try to spy minke, finback, pilot, humpback and right whales, white-sided dolphins and, maybe, the tip of Provincetown.
Departs daily. Central Wharf, Boston, 617.227.4321

By Land

Spend the day strolling through Franklin Park Zoo admiring a variety of animals that come from across the globe. See bongo and African lions at the Kalahari Kingdom habitat, giant anteaters, mandrills and western lowland gorillas at the Tropical Forest habitat, and the exotic Bird's World. Then head over to the grassy savanna where Masai giraffe roam amid Grevy's zebra and try the Giraffe Encounter, a special feeding opportunity available three times daily.
1 Franklin Park Road, 617.541.5466

An Artful Approach

If you're plagued by zoophobia, fear not! Harvard Museum of Natural History recently unveiled its new permanent exhibition "Sea Creatures In Glass" featuring the astonishing intricate and hand-crafted glass models of marine invertebrates made by father and son team Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka back in the 19th century. Jellyfish, anemone, squid and sea slugs. This is the first time many of these artful, anatomically precise—and recently cleaned—pieces have been on display for the public. Visitors get to enjoy 60 of the museum's 430 models.
26 Oxford St., Cambridge, 617.495.3045

Leigh Harrington
About the author

Leigh formerly served as the Boston editor for Where and was the br...