Emotionally, Boston is not a touchy-feely kind of place. We're much too reserved for that. But in a tactile sense, Boston can be a touchable city. Whether it's dipping your toes into the cold waters of Wollaston Beach, or sinking your teeth into crunchy cannoli from Mike's Pastry, the area offers pleasures for this most underrated of senses.
Let's start around Fenway Park. Hold a soft bun containing a Fenway Frank in your hands, or wrap your fingers around a cold Sam Adams beer. If you're wicked lucky, you might catch an errant ball hit by Nomar or Manny.
If Fenway Park is the heart of Boston, the Freedom Trail is its soul. Though snobs may scorn it as a tourist attraction, it's a fun introduction to the rich history of the area. Walk the Trail, feeling centuries of history come alive under your feet. The 2-mile red brick line includes 16 historic sites where you can imagine the struggle of the rebels who took on an empire. Recently, audio guides became available ($12-$15 rental at the Visitor Information Center on the Boston Common), explaining each site. Along the way, you can "touch" various parts of history, including statues, plaques, and gravestones honoring the patriots.
While in the Public Garden, stop by and pet the charming bronze reproductions from "Make Way for Ducklings" by sculptor Nancy Schon and the newly restored statue of George Washington atop his steed.
Purists might argue that lobsters are all about tasting, but half the battle is wrestling the succulent beast out of its shell. Holding a lobster is a true New England experience, one that you can have in any seafood restaurant. Wielding the weapon - lobster crackers - is an acquired art. Tip: If it's your first time, do it with someone who will love you even if bits of your lobster end up in his or her eye.
Boston is also Dunkin' Donuts territory, with corporate headquarters in Randolph, Dunkin' Donuts University in Braintree, and a store on nearly every corner. Pick up an original and dunk it into a cup of coffee for a real Boston moment. You can get a similar taste/touch sensation plucking hot fried clams from their cartons at Woodman's in Essex or hoisting a two-fisted roast beef sandwich from Kelly's on Revere Beach Parkway.
The Boston area beaches are hardly Sanibel or Captiva islands off Florida, known for their stellar shells, but when you get tired of sitting on your beach blanket, get up and let your feet feel sand beneath them. Who knows what you might find? (Let's hope it's not a dirty diaper.)
The "hands-on" offerings at the New England Aquarium, the Children's Museum, and the Museum of Science are for children of all ages. Picking up starfish and holding baby chicks is fun at any age. The reptiles, we'll leave to the experts.
But the real, honest-to-God end of summer "touch" experience is lifting furniture and the like, as Boston braces itself for its annual college move day. Never mind the trunks. How the heck are you going to fit that mega-keg through the door?