The Columbia Daily Tribune in Columbia, MO, ran a fantastic article about visiting Salem in their Sunday paper. You can read Bewitched by Salem, written by Haley Adams on ColumbiaTribune.com.
Here's the article, in case you don't want to click through. (You should click through, though. The pictures are lovely.)
Bewitched by Salem
Massachusetts city is big on Colonial history, New England charm.
If a trip to New England is in your family’s future travel plans, you might want to add Salem, Mass., to your itinerary. You probably learned about its infamous witch trials in American history class, but Salem is more than a middle school field trip.
“There are 41,000 people living here,” said Kate Fox, the executive director of Salem’s tourism office, Destination Salem. “I think that adds to the vibrance of Salem. It’s not just a preserved place; it’s a living and breathing city.”
Like its equally historic big brother, Boston, Salem offers lobster dinners, photo-worthy landmarks and scenic harbors, but it is a quainter sampling of New England.
“We’re a much smaller scale than Boston,” Fox said. “You can get a sense of New England without being intimidated by a big city.”
The first thing you’ll notice is how old Salem looks. Since the first settlers came to the area in 1626, Salem has preserved much of its Colonial feel with narrow streets, brick sidewalks and historic buildings. But with a Dunkin’ Donuts on nearly every corner, the city has adapted to modern life while maintaining its roots.
Salem’s history is the main draw for most of its tourists, particularly its witch history. Although the current Salem was not the exact spot where the Salem witch trials of 1692 occurred — they actually took place in Salem Village, a nearby town now called Danvers — Salem is still known as the witch city of the United States. The city is full of reminders of the heritage, like the gift shops with witch souvenirs or the museums devoted to the trials. Even the Salem Country Club, located in the bordering city of Peabody, uses a witch on a broomstick for its logo.
Because of the haunted theme that floats through Salem, the city is a major Halloween destination. Of the 800,000 tourists that visit Salem every year, Fox said, more than 200,000 of them come in the month of October. Fox also said hotels usually sell out for October weekends by February, so people can make sure they have a place to stay for Haunted Happenings, a whole month of events devoted to Halloween and witches.
But even if Salem is most known for its witch background, the city has more to see.
Another thing that’s hard to miss is the ocean. As part of Massachusetts’ North Shore, Salem is one of many cities north of Boston with picturesque ocean views and small beaches scattered throughout the area. Being on the coast also brings another New England staple: seafood, which Salem has plenty of. If you’re looking for a sit-down seafood meal, try Pickering Wharf, a group of shops and restaurants that overlook Salem Harbor. For a more casual food stop or a snack, try the Salem Willows. Stop by E.W. Hobbs, where you will find its famous — and delicious — popcorn, or try Cappy’s Seafood for fried clams. Fried seafood tends to be more expensive than most other fried treats — a plate of fried clams at Cappy’s is about $13 — but a seafood meal straight from the ocean is worth the extra dollars.
Another draw is the renowned Peabody Essex Museum, famous for its collections of Asian art, maritime art and other pieces from all parts of the globe. The city also is known for its literary history as the birthplace of famed author Nathaniel Hawthorne and as the current home of best-selling writers including “The Lace Reader” author Brunonia Barry.
MUST-SEES IN SALEM
The Witch Attractions To get an overview of the witch trials, visit the Salem Witch Museum. You’ll learn all you need to know about the events. Another popular spot is the Witch House, the only building in Salem with direct ties to the trials. Visitors can take tours throughout the year, but in October, the Witch House offers Eerie Evenings, when guests listen to spooky ghost stories. There is also the Witch Dungeon Museum, where visitors can see re-enactments from the witch trials. For a free witch stop, try the Salem Witch Trials Memorial, a tribute to 14 women and six men accused of and executed for witchcraft in 1692.
House of Seven Gables
The house is Salem’s oldest mansion, and it inspired Hawthorne’s book, the “The House of Seven Gables, ” If your feet are tired after the tour, take a rest in the backyard gardens that overlook the water.
Peabody Essex Museum
The PEM receives recognition not only for its art collection but also its gift shop, where shoppers can buy anything from a porcelain vase to a candy wrapper wristlet. Keeping with its Salem surroundings, the museum area includes a maritime art collection, and it also includes the Yin Yu Tang house, a structure once belonging to a Qing dynasty merchant in China that was rebuilt in the museum.
If you need a break from a day of history, head to the Salem Willows, home of an arcade, fun rides for kids and good food. In addition to the popcorn and clams, you can find salt water taffy, pizza and even Chinese food. Have a picnic in one of the gazebos that overlooks the harbor, but watch overhead for seagulls that are known to dip in and take food without permission.
Salem Maritime National Historic Site
As part of the National Park Service, the Maritime National Historic Site features buildings and wharves from Salem’s time as crucial port to the United States. Once you get there, you’ll see Salem’s tall ship, the Friendship, a replica of the original with the same name from the 1700s.
A few tips to remember
Take the trolley first. Fox recommended first-timers take the Salem Trolley tour to see all that Salem has to offer before committing to certain attractions. From April to October, the trolley runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and each narrated tour lasts one hour. One ticket lasts all day and can be used as a shuttle to many popular landmarks.
Drive carefully. New Englanders have a reputation as awful drivers, but it’s not all their fault. Because some of the roads have been around since the first settlers came, many streets are narrow and appear poorly planned compared with the more organized roads of the Midwest. Watch out for random stop signs you’re not expecting.
Stay in Salem. There are no chain hotels in Salem, so try one of its local hotels, inns or bed-and-breakfasts. Most of them are in close proximity to the city’s attractions. “Salem’s a great place to stay overnight because you can stay downtown and walk to everything,” Fox said.
Want to see Boston on your trip?
Boston is only a ferry ride away. Ditch your rental car and take the ferry from Salem to Beantown. The 45-minute trip provides views of the New England coastline, and a tour guide on the boat will point out notable sights. Be prepared for a lot of wind, but seeing New England from the water is much better than the highway.