Monday, May 11, 2009

Doing Salem with Kids

I get asked all the time - "What can I do with my kids?" - and there are many, many options!

Here are my recommendations for families coming to Salem with kids who are 11 or younger.

1) Before you do anything, get on a trolley. Take the trolley tour around Salem to get the lay of the land. I recommend a trolley tour to everyone and anyone visiting Salem or any destination for the first time. Learn what's out there - see the landscape - hear the history. And then you are prepared for your day of exploration. Salem has two trolleys - CityView Trolleys of Salem and Salem Trolley. Both provide excellent service and tours, and both offer tickets that are good for the whole day so you can use them for on-and-off shuttle service.

2) Hit the Peabody Essex Museum and plan to spend some time. Upon arrival, purchase tickets to tour Yin Yu Tang, a Chinese House, because the kids will love it, and their perspective will probably be completely different from yours. The galleries at the museum are wonderful. My kids love the Maritime Art, especially the huge model of the Friendship. Check out the PEM's calendar online because they often have special programming for families. Programming or not, visit the Art & Nature exhibit, where the whole family can engage in games and activities that relate to current exhibits.

2) Head down to the Salem Maritime National Historic Site where you can walk out to the lighthouse and tour the tall ship Friendship. Make sure to visit the Scale House and Bonded Warehouse exhibits, both are free and located behind the Custom House. If you visit the Salem Regional Visitor Center (2 New Liberty Street), the kids can color a sheet for the "Fish & Ships" wall. The maritime site also has a Junior Ranger program.

3) Sail the Seven Seas - or at least Salem Harbor - aboard the Schooner Fame (Pickering Wharf). This sail aboard a wooden schooner will give you a taste of the exciting life of the Privateer in 1812. (I might not take kids under 3 on the Schooner - check when you make your reservations.)

4) Eat breakfast at Reds! Reds Sandwich Shop is great for families - kids love the Mickey Mouse pancakes (they are enormous) and parents like the reasonable prices. If you can get a spot at the counter, the kids can watch the cooks work the grill.

5) Stop at Boston Hot Dog, 60 Washington Street, for lunch. The dogs are awesome - and the expansive hot dog menu has something for everyone (my kids like "just ketchup" - I am a huge fan of the California Dog).

6) If you're feeling brave, stop at Ye Olde Pepper Candy Companie for a sweet treat. You've heard the phrase, "Kid in a candy shop," right? Then you understand why you have to be brave. The candy is wall-to-wall and as delicious as it is plentiful. Try the malt balls, and don't go home without your own package of Gibralters, which were the first commercially made candy in America.

7) For a bit of ice cream, Ben & Jerry's is next door to Boston Hot Dog, and Maria's Sweet Somethings is at 26 Front Street. Ben & Jerry's is self-explanatory. Maria's carries Richardson's Ice Cream, which is locally made at their dairy in Middleton, MA. The Mint Patty frozen yogurt is particularly refreshing.

8) Finally, hop off the trolley at Salem Willows for an hour, if you have time. At the Willows you will find ice cream, popcorn, taffy, pizza, Chinese food, kiddie land, mini-golf, and an arcade. It's a bit like stepping into the past. The Chop Suey sandwiches are the stuff of legend in Salem. I generally find myself at Hobbes' for popcorn. There are two beaches, lots of grass to run around on, and a fishing pier where you can usually find somebody fishing or crabbing.

Mahi Mahi Cruises runs out of the Willows, too, and they start their season next week.