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Beacon Hill is best known as the capital seat of Massachusetts, as the most prominent building in the neighborhood is the Massachusetts State House, which with its golden dome is a landmark on Beacon Street. The neighborhood traces its name to another landmark - a centry light that was built on the peak of the hill to warn residents of the Massachusetts Bay Colony of impending danger from Native Americans or foreign invaders.

The beacon remained on the hill until about 1790, when the State House was built and other residential districts along Louisburg Square and Mount Vernon Street were developed. Like the Back Bay, Beacon Hill encompasses an area that was once part of the Charles River; the section known as "the flat" was filled in the late 19th century.

Today, the area is framed by Massachusetts General Hospital, Charles River Park, the State House, and the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade. Charles Street and Cambridge Street are the neighborhood's commercial boulevards, featuring many fine restaurants and interesting shops. More popular among tourists, however, are the hill's narrow residential streets, where visitors can observe a mix of architectural styles, a legacy that is strictly guarded by the local architectural commission.

Parking in Beacon Hill is difficult to come by, but the neighborhood is easily accessible to the MBTA's Red and Green Lines.