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After checking into my Airbnb in Revere, MA and exploring the area a bit, I finally decided to make a game plan for my next day in Salem, Massachusetts. I really hadn’t had time to consider all of the things I wanted to do up until that point, so I think it worked in my favor. After making a quick checklist on my phone, I passed out (in a real bed!) and slept late, but was super excited to hit the road to Salem – about 25 minutes away.
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One of the first things I noticed when driving into Salem was the abundance of public parking areas downtown. There were signs to lots and to a large garage, so that got an immediate A+ in my book. It’s also not insanely expensive (anywhere from 75 cents to $1 per hour to park) so it’s tolerable for us budget travelers. I also recommend starting right at the Salem Visitor’s Center. There’s a gift shop, FREE maps, and nice bathrooms. It’s a great way to get some guidance and ideas for your day in town.
I apparently picked a day that had a busy street festival happening so it was exciting to see lots of hustle and bustle in the streets. I arrived right in the middle of the Salem Heritage Days and the Essex Street Fair. It was my lucky day because Essex St. is already packed with shops, but thanks to this street fair there were easily another 30 or so vendors on the street. Although I did not purchase any fancy witch hats out on the street, I did enjoy stopping by the Evercrumbly & Witch booth to look at the couture witch hats! I really just loved the name – I was cracking up every time I passed them on the street! Just walking around Essex Street that day was really fun! There were a lot of really cool booths to visit and a bunch of really cool mastheads on all of the light poles! Even though I was freshly injured and limping around, I was not going to miss out on taking in everything Salem to offer.
Some really fun stores along the cobblestone & brick-lined Essex Street that I visited included:
Hex Old World Witchery – I had to check out the candles, potions, stones, and cards.
Wynott’s Wands – I mean, come on! Wands!
OMEN: Psychic Parlor & Witchcraft Emporium – When in Salem, don’t pass these shops up!
Witch City Wicks – A cool custom candle shop with Salem & witch related scents.
The Red Line Cafe – You know I wasn’t going a day without an iced coffee! And, of course, I had to eat something.
Luckily, Essex Street led right to one of my preferred destinations…
The Peabody Essex Museum
Every single website you visit about Salem, Massachusetts mentions the Peabody Essex Museum. If it’s that popular online and the locals recommend it, I knew it was probably worth my time. And we all know that I love a good museum!
The Peabody Essex Museum is the longest operating museum in United States history – it started back in 1799! Obviously it’s grown and changed quite a bit over the years, but nonetheless, that’s still really cool. I definitely appreciated the layout and design of this museum. The atrium part was awesome – there was lots of seating in the middle and the paths to the exhibit spaces were well-lit with lots of natural light. Some overall brilliant design work in the central part of the museum.
The museum had some great featured exhibits during my visit. I was particularly intrigued with the Ocean Liners: Glamour, Speed, and Style exhibit. It was one of the most well laid out museum exhibits that I’ve ever seen in my life. I’m a geek for museum exhibit design – lighting, exhibit displays, the traffic pattern, all of it. This exhibit was FULL of people, but I couldn’t tell because of how people were moving through. An overall win in my book! I really enjoyed learning about the decadent history of ocean liners. There were artifacts from all parts of the ships – design elements, menus, wardrobes, entertainment. So many things went into these ships and making them the top vessels for travel. I was just fascinated, considering we mostly fly places now instead of taking water based travel.
One thing that I really loved about this visit was a complete surprise! There was an installation from an Indianapolis, IN-based artist. I had NO IDEA about that until I read the placard on the wall. See All the Flowers Are for Me below!
It was also the OPENING DAY for another exhibit: It’s Alive: Classic Horror and Sci-Fi Art from the Kirk Hammett Collection! This was an unexpected treat. It was slightly spooky going in, but it was all for fun! This was a cool collection of horror and sci-fi movie memorabilia. There was a vast display of posters, costumes, movie props, and screen test elements.
I just have to add that Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff MUST have been tiny humans! Their costumes on display were tiny and the wax figures of them are tiny too! I find it hysterical considering they were always scary & looming characters on the movie screen.
I was also a big fan of the rest of the museum’s artifact displays. Lots of mastheads and other maritime artifacts were on display, so there was A LOT to take in on my visit.
To Visit: 161 Essex Street, Salem, MA 01970 – Cost: Adults $20 – Website
Walking Around Salem, Massachusetts
There’s so much to see in this town and it’s really easy to keep track of where you’re going. There’s a red stripe painted on a lot of the sidewalks that is called the Salem Heritage Trail. The trail will take you to all of Salem’s main historical sites. Plus, there are a few fun sites you may see on the way, like Elizabeth Montgomery from TV’s Bewitched!
From there, I wandered into the Salem Witch House.
This was an interesting venture. This WAS NOT the home of any accused witches, but instead the home of Judge Jonathan Corwin. It is said to be the only standing structure in Salem with direct ties to the Salem Witch Trials. It’s a cool structure to visit to get an idea of what life in Salem would have been like at the time of the Salem Witch Trials. It’s definitely a stop for people who are very into the history of Salem. Be forewarned, the house isn’t really wheelchair or disability friendly. The staircase is very tiny and windy (very historically appropriate), so be ready for that.
To Visit: 310 1/2 Essex Street, Salem, MA – Cost: Adults $8.25 – Website
My next stop was the historic Ropes Mansion.
I had no idea what this was. I was literally walking down the street and then saw a sign that said “Open” and “Free.” And if it’s free it’s for me. Fun fact: This was Allison’s house in the fall classic, Hocus Pocus. This house was really cool! The home was Salem’s first historic home museum, opened to the public in 1912, and still operates today! Even some of the plants have survived over 100 years.
I headed back towards the center of town to the Salem Witch Trials Memorial.
This is a free memorial that is open to the public. It contains 20 granite benches – one for each man or woman who was tried, convicted, and then executed for witchcraft. One of my favorite plays of all time is Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, therefore I was on the hunt for a couple of specific benches.
Right next to the memorial is The Burying Point
This is the oldest cemetery in Salem, Massachusetts. It’s open to the public and it’s quite a sight to see some of these old headstones and monuments. It’s strange that a cemetery is a bit of an attraction, but most people were respectful of the fact they were visiting a cemetery. It’s worth mentioning that there are some notable people buried here, like Mary Corey, one of the accused witches who was hanged is buried there somewhere, but I couldn’t find the grave.
There’s also some fun lore around Nathaniel Hawthorne (you know, the famous author and such) NOT being buried with some of his ancestors in Salem. His great-grandfather, John Hathorne, was appointed to be a judge during the Salem Witch Trials. He became known as the “Hanging Judge.” The legend says that Judge Hathorne would immediately presume an accused witch was guilty and would demand they confess to witchcraft. Nathaniel Hawthorne added the W to his name as a way to distance himself from that scary part of his family’s history.
Speaking of Nathaniel Hawthorne, my next stop was…
The House of Seven Gables
First things first, I’m really sad that I couldn’t take any photos inside. SAD. However, I got a few beautiful photos on the outside. Another home museum, this particular one is the basis of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The House of Seven Gables. At one time, the home was owned by a cousin of Nathaniel Hawthorne, so he spent a significant amount of time in the home. It’s also the oldest surviving 17th-century wooden mansion in New England. Aside from the “actual” House of Seven Gables, the property is home to a few other structures, including the Nathaniel Hawthorne Birthplace that has been moved to the property. There are also beautiful gardens on the property that you can enjoy and that overlooks the water. It was quite a sight to behold. This is mostly another stop for history buffs and literature lovers. It might not be as exciting if you’re not a fan of the books or history.
To Visit: 115 Derby Street, Salem, MA 01970 – Cost: Adults $14 – Website
After gallivanting around another historic home, I was back on the Salem Heritage Trail. Along the way, I noticed that many homes had these placards on them that told a bit about when the home was built and who the original owners were! It was a very cool historic touch. Click on a photo to see the full-size image.
At this point in the day, I was famished. Some people I chatted with throughout the day insisted I check out the Howling Wolf Taqueria for great Mexican food. I encountered a pretty intoxicated Salem native who wasn’t on his best behavior and was promptly sent right out the door. I can’t recommend this place and their staff enough – I even hit them up with a 5-star review on Yelp. They were basically the BOMB DOT COM.
My legs were mush, but my brain and heart were so full of fun sights and experiences. I’m a lucky and very grateful traveler. I loved visiting this old and illustrious town.
Tell me in the comments: Have you ever been to Salem? What would you like to see?
NEXT UP: A Day in Concord, Massachusetts