Travel Guide: Salem, MA
When I was younger I looked forward to watching Hocus Pocus every year around Halloween. The entire aesthetic of the town in the film seemed so charming to me… and spooky. The old colonial homes, the cobblestone streets, and even the old quirky shops made Salem, Massachusetts, seem like a fantasy land. I know it will not come as a shock to those of you who know me, but I have loved Halloween, gothic literature, autumn, horror movies, spooky folklore, and everything else in that realm since I was a small child. One of my all-time dreams was to visit Salem during October.
…and this year I did just that! We spent the first weekend of October in the Halloween capital and absolutely loved our time there. Yes, it was spooky. Yes, it was chock-full of colonial history. Yes, it was perfectly cheesy and everyone there was obsessed with the Witch Trials of 1692. And, yes, we will be going back one day. I am absolutely thrilled to be sharing this travel guide with you all and urge anyone reading to visit Salem one day if you have the chance.
This is a longer travel guide, so pour yourself some apple cider and settle in!
Where to Stay…
This is where we stayed! There were a few things I really liked about the hotel, and a few things I should warn everyone about. First, The Hotel Salem’s staff was very kind. They helped me heat our son’s bottles before bed, brought extra blankets to us, and even gave our son coloring books and all kids of goodies for our stay. Secondly, The Hotel Salem is located right on Essex Street in the heart of all the shops. It is a few doors down from the Peabody Essex Museum, right next to tons of ghost tours and coffee shops, etc. It is perfectly located. Lastly, the rooftop bar is really excellent. The cocktails were delicious, the food was great, and the overall atmosphere was fun.
The only thing that I want to warn everyone about is that there is no parking lot at the hotel. Because it is located in a walking district and in the heart of the most popular spot in Salem, we were forced to park around the corner. Carrying our bags to and from the hotel was difficult, especially with a toddler.
This hotel is considered the most haunted hotel in Salem. While all of Salem’s tourist destinations are mostly within walking distance, The Hawthorne Hotel is a little further from the heart of Essex Street. However, it is supposed to be absolutely beautiful and luxurious, and apparently the hotel’s restaurants are amazing!
Apparently this is also a haunted hotel! On a tour that we took we actually stopped here and learned a bit about the history of The Salem Inn. I happen to love inns and bed and breakfasts, but we opted to stay in a hotel for the amenities with our toddler. The outside is a gorgeous red brick and not far from all the action downtown. You will definitely get the New-England-feel staying here.
*A note about the hotels:
Something to say about all of the hotels is the price during October. October is Salem’s busy month and the hotels and inns can be quite pricey. I would definitely look around before booking. Further, if you really like visiting Salem, according to some locals that I spoke to, it is best to visit during the off season. Yes, everyone wants to go during October and I am so happy that I experienced Salem during the Halloween season! However, the next time we visit I actually think we will go during the off-season to enjoy the dining more and the actual history of the town. The spooky-October-aesthetic is amazing, but Salem has so much more to offer than witch folklore!
Where to Eat…
Before we get into this section, I need to make something known: the cuisine in Salem is amazing. In fact, I would visit Salem just for the food! I had no idea that the town was such a foodie’s dream! With that being said (and I will talk about this later on in the post), take a tour with Salem Food Tours. It was amazing.
This place was amazing! Not only is the coffee and apple cider excellent, but the food is wonderful, also. The thing I really loved about Jodie Bee Bakes is that they are very cautious and understanding with food allergies. As some of you may know, our son has some allergies. He is allergic, primarily, to eggs and peanuts. Not only did they have a wide selection of baked goods that did not have egg in them, but upon ordering they asked me if anyone in our party had a food allergy. That just warms a mama’s heart. The salt chocolate chip cookies were so good that we stopped at this bakery on our way out of Salem, and the (egg-free!) egg salad was amazing and savory, also.
This was another awesome spot for coffee and breakfast! (They also have drinks, lunch, and dinner, if you’re interested.) Their breakfast sandwiches were super yummy and I loved the croissants!
For those of you who do not know, I love oysters. I heard about how great this place was online and made it my mission to have a meal here while in Salem. Because of the busy season they do not take reservations on the weekend which is both a blessing and a curse. During the week on Friday we were unable to get a reservation so on Saturday we stopped in for lunch and OMG.
First off, the raw bar was excellent! I even enjoyed the raw clams and I am not a huge fan of them typically. Secondly, the main courses we ordered were amazing, too! I had mussels in a lemon/wine sauce accompanied by their herb bread and my husband had a fried seafood platter. 10/10 would recommend. The bar also has a wide selections of wines and cocktails. Lastly, the service was great. Our waiter was kind, helpful, made recommendations, etc.
Turner’s Seafood is a place you don’t want to miss for a few reasons. First, the food is great. Their lobster bisque is one of the best ones I have ever had and the stuffed shrimp was great. Secondly, Turner’s Seafood is haunted! Yes! Come for the food, stay for the spirits! Legend has it that the restaurant is built on the location of Bridget Bishop’s apple orchard. She was accused of witchcraft in 1692 and the first person executed during the trials. Apparently her spirit still haunts the land to this day and locals even have stories about her appearances in the restaurant. Further, this building was the first place Alexander Graham Bell successfully called a line in Boston.
This is another restaurant that is packed on any given night… but for good reason! The food here is wonderful, as are the drinks. We started of with popovers and cocktails, and I ordered the braised pork shank and my husband had the skirt steak. Both were great dishes, but the braised pork shank looked and tasted like something from a food magazine. I would 100% recommend this restaurant to anyone visiting Salem!
This restaurant was right in our hotel which was amazing! It is the only rooftop bar in Salem and very lively. The drinks were soooo good, and so was the food! The Roof serves modern Mexican food and I would suggest getting the nachos. In regard to drinks, they do have a full bar and also feature seasonal cocktails that are awesome. The Cramble was my favorite!
This is America’s oldest candy company! (And apparently the place Oprah orders her chocolates from!) If you’re visiting the House of the Seven Gables, the Ye Olde Pepper Candy Companie is right across the street and definitely worth checking out. The chocolates are great, but make sure you take home some Blackjacks and Gibralters. I loved the peppermint Gibralter’s, and they also have lemon!
I am so glad that our tour guide took us by here because the products are heavenly. They have so many products! I have to be honest, I never realized how different salt can taste. I would up taking a bottle of balsamic vinegar and specialty cinnamon home and have been using it on cappuccinos since! They also have a lot of local goodies to check out, too.
What to Do…
There are so many things to do in Salem! We tried to do as much as possible in the time that we were there and I do not regret any of it.
Okay, I have to be honest: this is a cheesy museum. However, if you go to Salem and do not visit the famous Witch Museum, did you really go? It is kind of a necessity. I will say, I did enjoy learning the chronological history of the Salem Witch Trials and the museum presentation does a great job at explaining what happened. I also really enjoyed learning about the history of the perception of witches in America and Europe.
This was awesome. Anyone can go and take pictures outside of the house, but if you are able to get a tour inside I highly recommend doing so. The house is filled with period furniture and artifacts, the staff if friendly and willing to explain anything to audiences, and (naturally) the gift shop is cute. This was not an actual home where a witch lived. Rather, it was the home of Judge Jonathan Corwin — a judge during the famous Witch Trials.
This was one of our favorite spots we visited while in Salem! Not only am I a huge Nathaniel Hawthorne fan, but the grounds were beautiful and super picturesque. Further, the House of the Seven Gables is not the only thing to see. The grounds also include two more period homes, and well as the childhood home of Hawthorne, himself. I recommend the guided listening tour, and definitely shop by the gift shop.
I was so sad that we could not visit this museum! We did have tickets, but unfortunately the day before our appointment New Jersey was placed on the travel ban list and we were not allowed to enter the museum. The museum currently has a Witch Trials exhibit (which looked amazing!), an Asian Export Art exhibit, a Fashion and Design exhibit, etc. There seems to be something for everyone and I will certainly stop by this museum on my next trip to Salem.
While we were in Salem we took two tours. The first was a ghost tour (duh!) with Salem Ghosts. I really enjoyed this tour for a few reasons. First, they were baby and kid-friendly. A few other tours of the city were not. Secondly, this tour took us all around Salem and we saw so much! We went to the Witch House, the Ropes Mansion, haunted restaurants and buildings, haunted shops, etc. It was like an all-inclusive tour and I was very pleased. Also, the tour guide was super sweet!
The second tour we took was with Salem Food Tours and was the best tour I have ever taken anywhere. First, our tour guide Karen was knowledgeable about all things Salem and food, was sweet and kind, kid-friendly, and all around fun! I loved this tour because while it was first and foremost about food, we also learned a lot of history about Salem. The specific tour that we took was an AM coffee and breakfast walk. We started out at Jodie Bee Bakes and made our way to Pamplemousse, and ended at the Salem Spice store. I would absolutely recommend everyone taking one of these tours!
Of course this is on the list! Who is not a fan of the 1993 cult classic? We visited the homes of Max Dennison and Allison, the town hall where the Sanderson Sisters sang “I Put a Spell on You,” the high school Max and Allison went to, and even the park where they converse at the beginning of the film. The only filming spots we did not visit were Old Burial Hill and the Pioneer Village. The Village was closed and I was worried about the stroller at the cemetery. It was absolutely amazing to visit the filming locations of one of my favorite cult films. If you are a fan of Hocus Pocus you will not be disappointed!
Salem was wonderful! I genuinely cannot wait to visit the town again, both for the history and the food! I highly recommend visiting for anyone who enjoys Halloween, spooky folklore, Hocus Pocus, good food, American History, or even just New England in general. For any additional questions or recommendations (from or for me!) please do not hesitate to shoot me a message, comment, etc.
Stay spooky, my friends!