The South End is a unique neighborhood. Like many in Boston, it is built on reclaimed marshland. But the modern-day South End is a bustling, vibrant, diverse district filled with hipsters and doctors and old school Bostonians, trendy eateries and dive bars and pricey mansions and housing projects.
The South End is alive with public parks and green spaces, restaurants and vintage clothing shops, mansions and South End apartments. Even before its swaths of gentrification, it was a haven for the LGBTQ community.
But its most distinguishing feature is its Victorian-style row houses. In fact, South End, Boston's 300-acre district of original Victorian homes which is the largest collection in the nation.
Where is the South End in Boston?
Despite its name, the South End is not the south end of Boston. South End is not even directly south of downtown, that's reserved for Southie. Sure, there was a time when the South End was the southern limits of the city, but that was back in the days when most of Boston was tidal marshes.
Photo Source: Rent.com
The South End sits southwest of downtown, with Chinatown forming its northern border. Back Bay and Fenway-Kenmore are along its western side. Roxbury (and more specifically Lower Roxbury) is to its south. And, yes, South Boston is to the east. The Mass Pike and the I-93 Central Artery join at the northeast corner. Melnea Cass Boulevard and the Massachusetts Avenue Connector are along South End's south end. The Boston & Providence Railroad and the Southwest Corridor Park form its northwest border.
Tremont and Washington Streets and Columbus Avenue are the primary east/west thoroughfares. The South End, Boston ZIP Code 02118 covers most of the neighborhood.
South End overview
The South End in part is as homey and traditional Boston as the old neighborhoods of Southie. It's also in part as buzzy and hip as Fenway–Kenmore. And parts are as upscale as the best of Back Bay.
It's the South End's diversity that keeps it fresh and unique. Every block of South End is distinct from every other, and a plethora of different people, cultures and economic backgrounds exist.
- Studio average rent: $2,586
- One-bedroom average rent: $3,304
- Two-bedroom average rent: $4,590
- Walk score: 95.17
- Bike score: 84.82
- Transit score: 93.29
Living in the South End
So what is it like living in South End, Boston? It's a diverse and distinct neighborhood. There are many whites as non-whites, and represents backgrounds and cultures from across the globe. It's hip and traditional, upscale and down to earth. It's family-friendly and LGBTQ-friendly, with gritty old-time New Englanders and young couples.
The South End is convenient and lively, full of things to do and places to go. And wherever you are, it's easy to get to.
The South End has always been diverse. It has Irish, Lebanese, Greek, Puerto Rican, Jewish and Black communities, many dating back to the 1880s. Today it is home to many immigrant and ethnic communities, young professionals, long-time residents and a significant LGBTQ presence since World War II.
The neighborhood has both wealthy and low-income sections, with an average income nearing $60,000.
Despite gentrification, the neighborhood remains nearly 50/50 white versus non-white, including nearly equal populations of Black, Latino and Asian-American residents.
The median age is 36, just below half live alone and just over half are college grads.
The South End is home to the McKinley Schools, a collection of institutions for kindergarten through graduation, including the McKinley South End Academy. Blackstone Elementary School matriculates students through fifth grade. Josiah Quincy Upper School operates from sixth through twelfth grade. These are all public institutions within the Boston Public Schools system.
The Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology is a private college for engineering and industrial technology. It was founded in 1908 with funds from Franklin's will and a gift from Andrew Carnegie.
Previously, the neighborhood was one of the most dangerous in the city. Today, with its economic diversity, the South End is broader, with both safe family-friendly blocks and risky streets near subsidized housing.
Sidewalks are readily available and the streets are mostly well lit.
Recreation and entertainment
The South End is known for its lush and accessible green spaces. The neighborhood features 11 residential parks, many of which are English-style squares featuring fountains and cast iron fencing. There are a number of pocket parks and community gardens as well.
Some of the best trendy restaurants and cafés dot the South End, including the original J.J. Foley's Café which dates back to 1909. The neighborhood is ranked the second-best for restaurants in all of Boston. It also has a lively bar scene, especially of the dive variety. Jazz it up over at Wally's Café, one of the nation's oldest jazz clubs.
Galleries abound, particularly in the SoWa (South of Washington) Art + Design District. And nearby, don't miss the SoWa Open Market for everything from luncheonettes to art galleries with food trucks and pop-up beer gardens.
The South End also a shopper's haven, including high-end florists, vintage clothing, twee furniture and even fresh meat at the iconic The Butcher Shop.
The MBTA Orange Line runs along the northwestern border of the South End. Ruggles, Massachusetts Avenue and Back Bay stations all serve the neighborhood. As well, the T stations on the Green Line at Copley, Symphony and Prudential in Back Bay are just a block or two away. MBTA commuter rail trains stop at both Ruggles and Back Bay stations along the Franklin, Needham, Providence/Stoughton and Framingham/Worcester lines. And the Silver Line bus rapid transit to downtown runs along Washington Street.
The South End is reached easily by car. The neighborhood is accessible off the Massachusetts Turnpike Exit 22 Dartmouth Street at Copley Place and Exit 24 at South Station.
The South End is Boston's premier medical district. The original Boston City Hospital opened in 1864 and merged with Boston University Medical Center Hospital in the 1990s to create Boston Medical Center.
Today, BMC is the largest Level I trauma center in New England. The Boston University School of Medicine, which uses BMC as its teaching hospital, is next door. Nearby is the South End Community Health Center offering affordable comprehensive healthcare and community services.
Because of the number of hospitals and medical facilities nearby, the South End is a popular neighborhood for doctors and medical professionals to call home.
10 things to do in the South End
There is so much to do in South End, Boston, you could find a different activity, eatery or event for every weekend day of the year, no matter your tastes.
- Go shopping for the best vintage men's clothing and accessories in Boston at SAULT New England.
- Swing to hot jazz and cool standards at Wally's Café, the former Wally's Paradise, one of the oldest jazz clubs in America.
- Take a selfie in front of the former St. James Hotel, now Franklin Square House Apartments. The familiar exterior was used for the fictional St. Eligius Hospital on the Emmy award-winning television series “St. Elsewhere."
- Brunch with your BFFs and catch up on the week at South End Buttery bakery and coffee shop.
- Join a pickup game of ultimate Frisbee or hit a few tennis balls around at Carter Playground.
- Take in a show and the history at the Boston Center for the Arts' Cyclorama which dates back to 1884 and is the headquarters of the Boston Ballet.
- Christmas shop at the SoWa Winter Festival, in South End's South of Washington district, a holiday village and market featuring handmade gifts, winter cocktails, popup galleries and ice sculptures.
- Enjoy some of Boston's best vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free meals at Five Horses Tavern South End.
- View all the Victorian-style homes along the 300-acre Victorian rowhouse district, the largest intact collection in the nation.
- Bring your pooch for a stroll, or just pup watch, at the 13,000 square feet off-leash Peters Park Dog Park.
Finding an apartment in the South End
The South End isn't the cheapest place to live in Boston. But there are certainly places in the neighborhood more affordable than much of Back Bay, Fenway-Kenmore and the gentrified areas of South Boston.
The district is as diverse in its housing as it is in its people. You can find full-house rentals, rowhomes to lease and a slew of South End, Boston apartments.
Just be prepared to have a lot of visitors because everyone is going to want to spend time with you exploring one of Boston's best neighborhoods.