updated 10/14/2010 1:56:18 PM ET 2010-10-14T17:56:18

Fort Point Channel was once nothing but swampland and tidal marsh. In the 19th century, it became an industrial center, warehousing wool from around New England.

Today the 55-acre landmark district abutting South Boston has reinvented itself as an artists' colony, complete with lofts, studios, galleries and museums. Many of them are located in the distinctive red-and-yellow brick-and-granite buildings that once housed factories.

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The revitalization of Fort Point Channel, located near South Station, has brought trendy restaurants, bars and of course tourists, making the neighborhood a new destination with a long history that even includes a connection to the Tea Party — the original one, that is, from 1773.

Sue and Bob Schmidt, exploring the neighborhood on a visit from Chicago, sat in a waterfront plaza in the area sipping coffee as a couple of pigeons pecked on crumbs under their table and seagulls perched on a nearby railing.

"It's very tranquil, very tranquil. As you can see, the birds are going to come up and sit with you," Sue Schmidt said. "People are very friendly and everything is quaint and easily accessible."

Fort Point Channel's transition from industrial to up-and-coming has taken place over the past three decades. About 300 artists live in the area now, one of the highest concentrations in New England, said Gabrielle Schaffner of Fort Point Arts Community, a nonprofit group run by members of the neighborhood creative community. The artists hold simultaneous open houses during the Fort Point Open Studios weekend, drawing thousands of visitors twice a year, with the fall event held Oct. 15-17.

In addition to being an attractive destination for art enthusiasts, the area lures families, shoppers, diners, history buffs and others seeking alternatives to the cobbled alleys of Beacon Hill, the Freedom Trail, Faneuil Hall and Boston's other more-frequented locations.

One of its prime attractions, the Boston Children's Museum, offers interactive, hands-on and creative exhibits, including a three-story climbing structure made up of curved platforms rising up a glass lobby with a panoramic view of downtown Boston.

"It's pretty vibrant and I like the way it's integrated into the port. You can see out," said Madeline LaPlante, 24, visiting from Indianapolis.

Nearby is the Boston Fire Museum, which features antique firefighting equipment, along with fire alarm displays, photos and other artifacts, from one of the oldest fire departments in the nation.

Slideshow: Bustling 'Beantown' (on this page)
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One of Fort Point Channel's newest galleries is located in the headquarters of Grand Circle Corp., a travel tour company. The gallery offers vintage travel posters commemorating the so-called "Golden Age of Travel," the era before World War II when travel was a romantic experience and travelers dressed up for trips on ocean liners and trains. Other exhibits at the gallery include stunning aerial photography by Bradford Washburn, a mountaineer and cartographer whose pictures include some of the world's most demanding mountains.

If you go ...

A five-minute walk from Fort Point Channel, visitors will find the Institute of Contemporary Art, a waterfront museum conceived as a laboratory for promoting innovative approaches to art, including visual arts, film, video, performance and literature.

In the works for 2012 is a $25 million museum and three replica ships commemorating the Boston Tea Party, when colonists disguised as Indians stormed a British ship and dumped crates of tea into the water to protest taxes. Historians believe the episode took place in Fort Point Channel. A previous museum devoted to the Tea Party was destroyed in 2007 by a fire sparked by lightning.

Fort Point Channel's culinary scene is booming too. Notable spots include three restaurants from chef Barbara Lynch: upscale Menton, where the standard prix fixe dinner menu is $95; Sportello (the Italian word for "counter"), specializing in simple Italian dishes; and Drink, a laid-back bar known for creative cocktails.

Priscilla O'Reilly, who's worked for Grand Circle Corp. for 16 years, says it's a remarkable transformation from the days when the only places to grab a bite or a drink in the neighborhood included a wild Russian restaurant and bar on a ship docked in the harbor and a bar with peeling linoleum floors and a bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling.

That old bar is now Lucky's Lounge, a popular garden-level hangout with no sign out front, frequented by tourists, artists, stylish singles and others lured by live bands, DJ music, the ambiance, food and drinks.

One final attraction is HarborWalk, a broad public walkway with seating, cafes, artwork and access to water taxis and ferries.

Juliane Buettner, 28, visiting with a companion from Berlin, crossed a bridge to Fort Point Channel to enjoy HarborWalk and take some pictures before their cruise ship departed from Boston. "We are just walking around," Buettner said. "It's a nice atmosphere."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Bustling 'Beantown'

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  1. Boston skyline

    A view of the Boston skyline. Founded on Sept. 17, 1630 by Puritan colonists from England on a peninsula called Shawmut by its original Native American inhabitants, it is one of the oldest and most culturally significant cities in the United States. (Bob Krist / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Faneuil Hall

    Located near the waterfront and today's Government Center in Boston, Faneuil Hall, has been a marketplace and meeting hall since 1742. It was the site of several speeches by Samuel Adams, James Otis and others encouraging independence from Great Britain, and is now part of Boston National Historical Park and a well-known stop on the Freedom Trail. It is sometimes known as "The Cradle of Liberty." (Charles Krupa / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Get your clam chowder!

    Clam chowder and other seafood dishes fill the bars and tables of popular eateries like the Union Oyster House, established in 1826. (Karen Kasmauski / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Paul Revere statue and Old North Church

    This Paul Revere Statue in North End, Boston was made by Cyrus Dallin and unveiled on Sept. 22, 1940. In the background the Old North Church, officially called Christ Church, is the location of the famed "one if by land, and two if by sea" phrase related to Paul Revere's midnight ride on April 18, 1775 that preceded the Battles of Lexington and Concord. (Julia Malakie / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Old Granary Burying Ground

    A marker, part of which reads "Paul Revere buried in this ground," is seen on the fence at the Old Granary Burying Ground in Boston. Founded in 1660, the Granary Burying Ground on Tremont Street is the city's third oldest cemetery, and serves as the final resting place for many notable Revolutionary War-era patriots, including three signers of the Declaration of Independence and many victims of the Boston Massacre. (Chitose Suzuki / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Paul Revere House

    The Paul Revere House (1680), was the colonial home of American patriot Paul Revere during the time of the American Revolution. It is now operated as a nonprofit museum by the Paul Revere Memorial Association. (Chitose Suzuki / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Old Ironsides

    USS Constitution, known as "Old Ironsides," is a wooden-hulled, three-masted frigate of the United States Navy. Named after the United States Constitution, she is the oldest commissioned ship afloat in the world and is still in service in the U.S. Navy. The USS Constitution is one of the sites along the Freedom Trail and is part of Boston National Historical Park, better known as the Charlestown Navy Yard. (Lisa Poole / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Bunker Hill Monument

    The Bunker Hill Monument, commemorating the Battle of Bunker Hill, is the first public obelisk erected in the United States. The 221 foot granite obelisk was erected between 1827 and 1842 in Charlestown, Mass. with granite quarried in Quincy, Mass. and conveyed to the site by the first railway in the United States, built specially for that purpose. There are 294 steps to the top. (Chitose Suzuki / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Boston Duck Tours

    A red Boston Duck Tours boat cruises the Charles River with the city skyline in the background. (Kevin Fleming / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Fenway Park

    Steven Tyler of Aerosmith sings the National Anthem before game one of the World Series between the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals on Oct. 23, 2004 at Fenway Park. (Ezra Shaw / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. New England Aquarium

    Located by the Boston Harbor, the New England Aquarium's colorful & educational exhibits feature more than 8,000 aquatic creatures, a four-story glass ocean tank housing a coral reef display with an outstanding variety of fishes, sharks & sea turtles. The Aquarium's mission: "To present, promote and protect the world of water." The New England Aquarium is also home to the Simons IMAX Theatre. (New England Aquarium ) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. The Museum of Science

    The Museum of Science is a Boston landmark, with over 500 interactive exhibits; the Museum features a number of live presentations throughout the building everyday, along with shows at the Charles Hayden Planetarium and the Mugar Omni IMAX Theater, the only domed IMAX screen in New England. (Darren McCollester / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. John F. Kennedy Library and Museum

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  14. Franklin Park Zoo

    Patrons view giraffes at the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston. The 72-acre site nestled in Boston's historic Franklin Park, is the largest zoo in New England. (Winslow Townson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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