Aside from its name, you'd never guess that popular Arsenal Mall, located next to the Charles River several miles west of Boston, is a former military site named Watertown Arsenal that built and tested some of America's most sophisticated weaponry systems for almost 200 years.
Nor would you guess another reason why this mall is unique among Boston shopping malls: it has its own skate park (along with a street hockey court, tennis courts, soccer fields, and a few other cool sports facilities).
The mall, the park, a nearby arts center, offices, and condos are the results of a massive clean-up of the old Watertown Arsenal, which even housed a small nuclear reactor used for research.
All of the weapons activity at the Arsenal came at a huge environmental cost. By the time the portion of the red brick Arsenal where the mall is now located was shut down in the 1960s, it was one of the most thoroughly contaminated sites in Massachusetts.
Now, the former arsenal has been transformed by remediation and rebuilding efforts into the attractive shopping mall you see today featuring a unique mix of national retailers, discount stores, and even a few outlets - and of course, the adjacent park, managed by the City of Watertown.
The mall welcomed its first customers in 1983. It's an impressive example of how a potential liability can be repurposed and reborn.
Anchor stores include a huge Marshalls, plus Home Depot. Old Navy Outlet, Aeropostale, Victoria's Secret, Game Stop, Yankee Candle, Olympia Sports, and many more stores also draw large crowds.
If you're a fan of outlet shopping, you'll find several good bargain spots, including a Gap Outlet, Stride Rite Outlet, and Aldo Factory Store. I've had particularly good luck with great buys on kids clothes here through the years.
But there's even more discount shopping in the neighborhood.
Directly across the street from Arsenal Mall is Watertown Mall, another large shopping center that boasts a Target, Best Buy, and a number of other smaller stores.
If you enjoy the thrill of hunting and finding great bargains, you'll find plenty to like at both malls.
If you want even bigger bargains on a wider range of designer items, head to Wrentham Village Premium Outlets.
This map shows much of Arsenal Park. The skate board park is the brown rectangle directly under the bigger brown rectangle representing the mall.
When you're at the mall, you'll see the skate board area directly behind Marshalls.
For food, you'll find typical mall food in a small sports-themed food court that features - and actually, this is really cool so bring a camera if you're in Boston for a visit - the original Boston Garden scoreboard from back in the days when TD Garden was the Boston Garden.
Next to the mall is Bourbon Street Cajun Cafe and Grille, featuring casual cajun-style dishes.
However, Watertown's most famous cuisine is Armenian food, and if you're at Arsenal Mall, you're only about half a mile from some wonderful places to eat on Mount Auburn Street (see the map below).
If you're in a rush, pop into Sevan Bakery (599 Mt Auburn Street) for a freshly-made spinach pie, fragrant with olive oil, pine nuts, and a touch of feta cheese - they'll warm it in a microwave for you if you want - or from the other prepared Armenian and Greek specialties, or the trays of dried fruits and roasted nuts.
If you have more time, go for a meal in Red Lentil (600 Mount Auburn Street), one of the top vegetarian/vegan restaurants in the Boston area, or the always-packed Deluxe Town Diner (627 Mount Auburn St).
For gifts (or a treat for yourself), stop by Fastachi (598 Mt Auburn) for some of their hand-made chocolates (check out the gorgeous marzipan), imported dried fruit, or their own roasted nuts - hands down, the best in Boston.
Location: 485 Arsenal Street (less than 1 mile east of Watertown Square), Watertown, MA
More information: 617-923-4700
Parking: Free outdoor parking lot