We hear this question a lot at Destination Salem: "We've never been to Salem. Where do we start?"
Here, for you today, is the answer I have given dozens of times over the phone.
First: Park in the garage. Set your GPS for 2 New Liberty Street, Salem, MA 01970 and head to the Museum Place Mall. It costs $1.50/hour, cash (and on peak weekends in October it's $20 cash upon entry), and once you're there, you don't have to worry about your car for the rest of the day.
Visit Salem's Parking Department on Salem.com for complete parking information.
After you park and lock your vehicle, head out of the garage and across Liberty Street to the National Park Service Regional Visitor Center. Here is where you can get oriented to Salem and the region and all of the sites, museums, and history you are about to encounter.
The Visitor Center serves as a primary interpretive point for both Salem and the Essex National Heritage Area. You will find exhibits that interpret the Early Settlement, Maritime, and Industrial heritage of the region, as well as information and brochures to help you find sites and museums that are dedicated to telling each specific story.
The Visitor Center also offers a free, 27-minute film, Where Past is Present, that offers a terrific and beautifully filmed overview of the founding of Essex County and the early days of the nation, through the fishing and maritime history and into the industrial heritage of the nineteenth century. The film will help you make connections between the sites in the region, and, perhaps, the places from where you come. Translations of the film are available in French, Spanish, German and Russian. Click here for more information on the film, including its schedule.
The visitor center itself is housed in the drill shed of the Salem Armory, which was the headquarters of the Second Corps of Cadets. The Armory Park adjacent to the visitor center is a great place to relax, watch the people go by, have a picnic, or wait for a trolley or walking tour - as many of them originate here at the visitor center.
The Visitor Center provides maps and brochures galore, as well as trained Rangers and volunteers who can help point you in the right direction. Equally as important, the restrooms are clean, which may be your first priority after driving into Salem! Begin your trip at the Salem Regional Visitor Center and you will be oriented for a great day exploring Salem, or days exploring the region.