A Dream Day in Needham
by Steve Jermanok
Every July 3rd, never July 4th, the crowds descend on the grounds of Needham High School to find a patch of green to throw down their blankets and watch one of the finest fireworks displays in the state of Massachusetts. The next morning, folks line the parade route to cheer on the high school cheerleaders, firemen, police, local and state representatives in a scene straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting.
Due west of Newton and less than half the population of its neighbor, Needham still retains its small-town flavor thanks to organizations like the Exchange Club of Needham that’s been hosting the parade since 1947.
It’s a welcoming community where close to 15 percent of its population is from outside America. Just stroll down a stretch of Great Plain Avenue, one of the main thoroughfares in town, and you’ll find excellent Indian food at Masala Art, Turkish cuisine at the Gyro & Kebab House, and Venezuelan and Peruvian fare at Latina Kitchen & Bar.
In operation primarily as a garden center and green grocer since 1917, they have since expanded with a farmstand, deli, ice cream stand, and bakery offering some of the finest produce, cheeses, meats, and local craft brews from around New England. A small sampling of favorites includes the homemade cinnamon doughnuts, Crescent Ridge ice cream, Jasper Hill Willoughby Cheese from Vermont, any local apples and pears, and a 4-pack of Exhibit “A” Cat’s Meow IPA brewed in nearby Framingham.
Bring your goodies to the Needham side of Echo Bridge (see the Newton write-up), or head to a popular place to dogwalk in town, Cutler Park. Walk the loop around the resident swans in the pond or hear the call of the red-wing blackbird on the cattails in the marsh before snaking deep into a forest of tall pines.
Eventually, you’ll reach a side-trail that leads to paddlers canoeing down the Charles. If you’d like to join them, cross over to neighboring Nahanton Park in Newton (455 Nahanton Street) to find Charles River Canoe and Kayak. Off-road cyclists can bike at Cutler Park and beyond to Millennium Park. Needham also has its own 1.7-mile bike trail, the Bay Colony Rail Trail, perfect for families, just off High Rock Street near the Town Forest.
At night, head to Sweet Basil for hefty portions of authentic Italian fare. The restaurant is so beloved that it doubled its size and now has a second outpost in Waltham. Close by, The Farmhouse has a back patio that’s ideal for summer dining. Start with the burrata appetizer, kale salad, or calamari, and then dig into tasty shrimp risotto or fish tacos. For burgers, lobster rolls, and fish and chips, head to The James Pub & Provisions, housed in a former train station. Afterwards, walk over to Abbott’s Frozen Custard for their rich and creamy selections. So rich, in fact, that you might need a second walk at Cutler Park to work it off.
Prior to opening his boutique travel agency, ActiveTravels, with his wife, Lisa, Newton-based Steve Jermanok wrote over 2,000 travel articles for Outside, Travel & Leisure, The Boston Globe, and many other publications. He can usually be found walking his mini goldendoodle, Theo, at Echo Bridge, Cutler Park, and Elm Bank.