In the words of Winifred Sanderson, “Hello, Salem!” If you’re visiting this beautiful, historic town during the Halloween season or any time of year, there’s plenty to see and do in a weekend trip from Boston. While Essex Street is full of costumed kitschiness (think Times Square) the town - particularly the McIntire Historic District - is a perfect blend of history and hallowed grounds. Be sure to check out these top spots (to stay, tour and eat) below and let me know your favorite Salem spots in the comments section below!
Located in the heart of town and within walking distance to everything you need to see and do, Salem Waterfront Hotel & Suites is the perfect place to start. The Regatta Pub is open for breakfast every morning with a full breakfast menu (the chocolate chip pancakes will sustain you until your lobster roll lunch!). Views of the Pickering Wharf Marina, complimentary parking, lobby mints (this is a joke < but I really did like the mints). Highly recommended!
Salem Witch Museum
The first stop on your Salem journey should start with the history of the town and why it’s become such an iconic, albeit tragic tourist destination. Based on the actual documents of the Salem Witch trials of 1962, the Salem Witch Museum (19 1/2 N Washington Square) takes visitors through the harrowing timeline of events that caused the deaths of 14 women and five men. The two presentations, consisting of a timeline and a tour, take a little over an hour and cost $15 per person. The Salem Witch Museum sells tickets for same day only (purchase them online only!)
Old Town Hall
Anyone who’s a fan of the classic Halloween film Hocus Pocus will recognize the Old Town Hall (32 Derby Square) as the location of the costume party where the Sanderson sisters put a spell on all of Salem’s aloof parents. The town square is picturesque and surrounded by coffee spots, restaurants and gift shops - it’s also the meeting place of the History and Hauntings of Salem Guided Walking Tour (see below).
Red’s Sandwich Shop
Be sure to get a buttery lobster roll for lunch at Red's Sandwich Shop (15 Central St.) located in the historic Old London Coffee House built in 1698, apparently a gathering place of the Patriots before the American Revolution. Their food (cash only, plan accordingly) is exactly what you’d want for a midday break. If you visit Salem in late September before the October crowds roll in, I’d also recommend attending the Salem Food Truck & Craft Beer Festival - another place to get a delicious lobster roll & Old Bay fries! Find Salem’s event calendar here.
The Witch House
Be prepared to step into a home older than you can ever imagine. Really, the bouncy floorboards on the second level might make you uneasy (or maybe that’s just me). The Witch House is the only structure you can visit with direct ties to the Salem witch trials of 1692. The house belonged to Jonathan Corwin, an heir to one of the largest Puritan fortunes in New England and participant in the deadly trials. Tickets ($9) must be purchased in advance and can be found here.
The Ropes Mansion
The Ropes Mansion (318 Essex Street), built in the 1790s, is another location that Hocus Pocus fans will surely recognize. The exterior was used as Allison’s house, while the interior scene - “What do you call em Max? Yabbos?” - was shot on a soundstage in Burbank, California. But even if you’ve never seen the film, walking around the rooms and backyard garden of Ropes Mansion is a must. Ropes Mansion House tours are available Saturdays and Sundays from 12 PM to 4 PM through October 24, 2021. The beautiful garden is open to the public every day throughout the year, from dawn to dusk, at no charge. Worth a quick walk-through.
The Phillips House
By far my favorite part of my Salem trip and it surprisingly had nothing to do with the witch trials. Located at 34 Chestnut Street, The Phillips House offers small, 45-minute guided tours of the Federal-style mansion. You get to know the Phillips family and their staff by learning the history of each room, including the kitchen, pantry, attic, office and bedrooms decorated as if they haven’t been touched since the early 20th Century. Tours run on Saturdays and Sundays from June through October, 11 AM - 4 PM. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased here.
History and Hauntings of Salem Guided Walking Tour
If you haven’t caught on by now, Salem offers many tours (house tours, ghost tours, etc.) After The Phillips tour, it’s worth going back to the witch-centric town square as the sun sets and join the History and Hauntings of Salem Guided Walking Tour (32 Derby Square) led by lantern light. For $25, it’s completely worth the ticket price. There are no gimmicks, no costumes, but rather an actual recounting of the town’s beginnings and the spooky supernatural occurrences throughout the last few hundred years. Anything you may have missed throughout the day is packed in here, so you’ll leave Salem knowing you saw every square inch you could (in a day).
After all the day’s tours, shopping and sightseeing, ending up at the Gulu-Gulu Cafe (247 Essex St.) for small bites, craft beer and live music is the way to go. It’s quirky, unpretentious and reasonably priced. For a heartier meal, head to Village Tavern or the Regatta Pub (on your return to the Salem Waterfront Hotel).
Honorable Mentions (If staying for more than a day): The House of the Seven Gables (115 Derby St.), John Ward House (Featured image) (9 Brown St.), Salem Maritime National Historic Site (160 Derby St.).
What are your favorite Salem spots? The Bewitched Statue? The funky trinket shops? The ghost tours? What restaurants should people visit? Let me know in the comments below.