Once in a while traveling with kids and off season can keep you from doing the things a town is famous for. Because, when you think Salem, you think witches. It’s automatic. Kind of like baseball & hot dogs. So when we ventured north of Boston to Salem I fully expected to be taking in some witchy fun.
In fact, it’s difficult to avoid the witches as the Heritage Trail is marked with these lovely ladies. From the Witch Museum to the Witch House, the wax museum to Witch Village, and the multitude of tours it’s difficult to escape the witches. Many of these attractions were either closed for the season (which begins in May and ends just after Halloween) or we were warned against taking our daughters in as they would probably become frightened.
This statue, despite it’s frightful appearance (and the fact it stands directly outside the Witch Museum) is not actually a witch but is Master Roger Conant, who led the first settlers to Salem in 1626.
Upon settling in Salem, then called Naumkeag which means “the fishing place” in the language of the local Native Americans, the settlers made their living from the sea. Maritime industry expanded and flourished for almost 200 years.
In 1628 Naumkeag was renamed Salem which, ironically, means “place of peace”.
We arrived in Salem late in the morning, found a parking spot very near NPS Visitor Center where we grabbed a map and visitor information. The visitor center is filled with information about Salem and the surrounding area and is staffed by the National Park Service. There is a children’s area near the rear- they can add thier artwork to the “Fish & Ships” wall. For older kids ask about the Junior Ranger Activity Booklet to earn a badge by following in the footsteps of Elias Hasket Derby and Nathaniel Hawthorne.
We left the visitor’s center as the girls began complaining about being hungry. Just across Essex was The Old Spot. We chose to sit in the pub (there is also a dining room) to enjoy our lunch.
I highly recommend the fish & chips; the hamburger the girls shared was perfectly done. My mom got the fish sandwich and was disappointed- it was mostly bun. The desserts were fabulous! The brownie sundae was big enough for the girls and I to share and Doug raved about the spotted dick.
Fully fortified we set out to explore the town. Following the Heritage Trail we passed many witch related sites, restaurants and shops, explored the Common and set out for Salem Harbor.
We stopped at the Maritime National Historic Site where the girls tried dressing as sailors.
This was, quite honestly, the highlight of our time in Salem. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable, and we were lead through every nook and cranny of this house; up through a fireplace and into the attic! This tour is a “must do” in my opinion!
Also on this property are the counting house- with play area- and the house where Nathaniel Hawthorne, who wrote The House of the Seven Gables and The Scarlet Letter, was born.
You’ll also see the Peabody Essex Museum, one of the largest museums in the nation. This complex will take a day (at least) to explore, separate from Salem. The 200 year old Yin Yu Tang Chinese House looked amazing from the outside and the art museum is ranked as one of the nation’s top 10 for children. This is definitely on our “must do” for a future visit.
To the west a few blocks is the McIntire Historic District, a walking trail named for Samuel McIntire who designed some of Salem’s most distinctive houses.
Getting to Salem:
Though we didn’t get to take it I’m going to recommend the Salem Ferry as a relaxing and enjoyable day trip from Boston. I wish it had been operating while we were there; we took commuter ferries into Boston and enjoyed the smooth, quick ride.
The MBTA commuter rail connects to Salem via Boston’s North Station, Newburyport, Rockport and Gloucester.
If you are driving directions can be found here: Salem.org.
Where to Stay: