Salem, MA is a 30 minute drive or train ride from Boston. A five-minute walk from the train station will put you right in the middle of town. Although “Witch City” has a rich history, it is possible to have an amazing experience without any witch-related activities. That said, you should still totally do some of the witch-related activities. Between its beautiful historical architecture and the Salem State University students keeping the place young, Salem mixes old and new in a perfectly lovely way. You can tour a 17th century graveyard and then walk straight across the street to the Peabody Essex Museum for an exhibition on Modern African Art. Hipster cafes are housed in centuries old buildings and a stroll down the tree-lined streets with your ipod makes for a great afternoon. So whether you want to go the tourist route, hop on a trolley and see some ghost tours or you’d rather see the city like a local I hope this guide will help you get around my favorite little New England gem.
Check out the Google Map of all of the below listings!
Essex Street is the Main drag of Salem. It runs straight through the historical district, down the center of town, all the way to Salem Common and the Hawthorne Hotel. If you only have an afternoon in Salem you would never have to stray far from Essex to tour a lot of the city. The center of town is a quaint, pedestrian-only cobblestone walkway with a generous sampling of what Witch City has to offer.
Gulu Gulu is my favorite place to eat in Salem. Possibly New England all together. Get a wrap! Get a crepe! Get some grape leaves and tabouli! With a super cool vibe, good music and a gallery for local artists, Gulu Gulu is the place to be. Did I mention that they consistently win “Best Beer Menu” in Boston Magazine’s “Best of the North Shore?” Because they do.
This place is amazing. It’s 10,000 square feet of indoor yard sale, vintage furniture, figurines, records; you name it.
The Barking Cat is an indie pet boutique of the cutest variety. They have a great selection of natural, healthy pet foods, treats and toys. My cats are totally nuts about the Dr. Pussums cat nip toys.
An “Organic Café” serving crazy-healthy vegetarian salads, wraps and soups. Try the Dandi-Blend Coffee Substitute for a detoxifying treat made from dandelion, beet and chicory roots. (That really tastes like coffee!
There are a lot of Occult Stores in Salem, but Hex is everything you think of when you think of an Occult store. (Which I’m sure you do on he regular.) The shop’s discreet sense of humor makes it perfect for gift and souvenir shopping. Grab an “It Sucks to Be You” spell candle, or maybe a voodoo doll dog toy and let Fido do your dirty work.
Lovely consignment shop filled with colorful on-trend and vintage ladies’ clothing. Dresses, purses and a plethora of tutus in every color of the rainbow.
Re-find has two locations (one for men, one for women) right around the corner from one another. Both shops carry new and like-new clothing and offer a sell/trade option.
Basically this place has every comic book, graphic novel or collectable toy from the past, present and probably future too.
The Hawthorne Hotel is located right next to Salem Common in the city center. They have a great Sunday Jazz Brunch, and you can rent bikes (for free!) for a great way to tour the town. The rooms are traditionally furnished, there’s a restaurant and a tavern, and its pet-friendly. Oh yeah, I hear it’s haunted. (Everything in Salem is haunted btw.)
The museum’s multi-cultural collection features over 800,000 works of Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Korean, Native American, Oceanic and American art. The 200 year-old Yin Yu Tang house was brought to the PEM and reconstructed in its entirety. In a gorgeous museum filled with interesting objects, the Yin Yu Tang house is definitely a highlight.
After spending the day touring Salem pop in here for a pint or two. I’m not normally a pub person per se, but this English-style pub has a great beer selection and above average food.
This tiny space is literally CRAMMED FULL of books. With tiny pathways carved out of the floor-to-ceiling piles, the place may seem claustrophobic to some, but the super low prices are worth it. Prepare to be impressed when the shopkeeper knows exactly where that book you asked for is amongst the chaos.
Mud Puddle is a specialty toy store featuring a carefully chosen selection of eco-conscious and educational toys.
Located in the Old London Coffee House (a meeting place during the Revolutionary War) Red’s is favorite among locals and tourists. The prices will amaze you and so will the Monte Cristo. Leave your diet at the door.
Lovely little kitchen boutique that also stocks a great selection of wine, beer and mead.
If you’re as obsessed with scents as I am schedule an appointment here to create your own custom fragrance out of all natural essential oils
Lovely little antique store featuring nautical items wood furniture.
Cozy little Italian restaurant, perfect for date night.
Another great Italian restaurant with a cozy, romantic atmosphere. Ask the hostess for a table by the picture window that looks out onto downtown and you can people watch if candlelight and romance isn’t your thing.
One of my favorite buildings is Old Town Hall which was built in 1817. I like just walking by it, but going in is great too! The first floor houses the Salem Museum and the top floor, historically used as a meeting hall now also hosts “Cry Innocent” a live action re-enactment of a witch trial.
Around since 1685 Salem Common was used as a training ground for the militias of the Revolution. Luckily for us, these days the Common is a lovely park, perfect for a picnic or a game of catch.
Milk & Honey is an amazing little shop tucked away just off the main drag; you’ll know it by the letters in the window spelling out “Good Food”. With its lovely selection of locally sourced groceries, deli sandwiches, herbs, and teas, Milk & Honey has everything you need to make your next organic dinner while leaving you totally nostalgic for the days of small town grocers.
Conveniently located right next to Milk & Honey, grab a bottle of wine to top off your meal!
Running parallel to Essex street is Front Street. This quiet little pocket of the city is a quiet just off the main drag and has plenty of awesome stuff and cobblestone charm all its own.
A great indie coffee shop/local art gallery that also serves smoothies, juices and sandwiches. Enjoy the free wifi and a Milky Way Latte if you need a sugar buzz.
One of the oldest cemeteries in the country, the Burying Ground is the final resting place of many of Salem’s wealthiest and most notable residents. The carvings on the gravestones (some of which date back to 1683) are super interesting and worth the trip down morbid lane.
Gallery and retail spaces for Salem’s local artists and artisans. Definitely check out the Salem Arts Association and Salem Collective of Artists and Musicians(S.C.A.M.) stalls if you want skip the souvenirs and take home a great piece of local art.
A sweet lover’s paradise. A mecca of all things candy and desert. Chocolates, truffles, 32 flavors of ice cream and packaged candy surrounded by gumball machines and other toys.
Roost is an expertly curated shop filled with the zietgiest-iest greeting cards, books and home and garden décor. It has that “just thrown together” (by a merchandising genius!) look that makes you want to buy everything right down to the fixtures. (Which, by the way, are gorgeous pieces of vintage furniture.) You’re welcome.
The BoutiqueAnother great ladies clothing boutique featuring unique seasonal finds and nice jewelry.
Everyone loves Salem in October. It’s the official Halloween Headquarters of the world. But my favorite time of year is summer when the McIntyre Historical District is just about the most charming place in the world. Centuries-old homes, gorgeously tended gardens, and cobblestone sidewalks make this a perfect place to experience the history of Salem. The houses even have little plaques describing who built them and when. Take a relaxing, and free(!) stroll around the McIntyre district and keep your eyes peeled for tiny parks and secret gardens!
In the height of summer this garden looks like something out of a movie. Sandwiched between a nearly 200 year old church and a Colonial style mansion and barely visible from the street the garden is an oasis of beauty and calm. There’s even a koi pond. Also, its haunted.
Chestnut Street is the archetypal, beautiful New England street. Make sure your McIntyre District stroll includes a walk down this beauty.
Deb’s is a good ol’ fashioned diner that even serious diner aficionados (like me) adore. Sit at the counter and watch the cook make your Peanut Butter and Fluff French toast right before your very eyes. Then take that walk down Chestnut Street to burn off some of the calories!
Derby Street/Pickering Wharf
Derby Street marks the boundary between Downtown and the Wharf Area. More retail shops and restaurants lead you to the waterfront area of town. Pickering Wharf is another shopping area that doubles as a working marina where yachts and sailboats can dock. The Friendship, a reconstructed version of a 1797 merchant ship used by the East India Company, will remind you that what really put Salem on the map was its important place in maritime history. If you venture just past the Friendship you’ll end up at the House of Seven Gables made famous by Nathaniel HawthorneA&J King Artisan Bakers
A&J King is also my favorite place to eat in Salem. I have two, I can’t help it! The sandwiches served on their freshly baked baguettes are out of this world. Add an organic soda and have a picnic in Salem Common. Or stay and eat in the simple yet chic café and grab a “Flying Dutchman” on the way out. Seriously.
You don’t see a lot of independent cosmetics stores do you? Well that’s why I like Rouge. The shelves here are lined with great brands like Nars, Stila, Bumble and bumble, and Tocca and you get to skip the headache-inducing experience that is the department store makeup counter.
Pyramid is a New Age shop that’s much different than the other witch-kitsch stores in town. Here’s where you can get a great book on meditation and some sage to smudge your new apartment. If you’re feeling game get your Tarot cards read here. Ask for Doug.
Waterfront steak and seafood joint that overlooks the wharf and smells like heaven from a block away.
Jaho is a perfect pitstop on your tour of the waterfront. If you need a pick-me-up you can have a violet latte (they have so many awesome flavored syrups) or some life-saving-on-a-hot-day gelato.
Started in 1806 by a shipwrecked woman and her son, Ye Olde Pepper Companie is recognized as the first candy store in America. If you’re a History buff or a sweet tooth (or both, like me!) this place is right up your alley. The Salem Gibralters and the Black Jacks are handmade using the original recipes from the 1800’s.
Darling bed and breakfast with a third floor roof deck and patio garden. Each room is named after an accused “witch” from the Salem trials and furnished with thoughtful details (like real down comforters). Plus, you guessed it, it’s also haunted.
More ice cream! This shop has great flavors like White Russian and Witch’s Brew, but be warned they’re cash only!
Pickering Wharf AntiquesPretty much your standard antique shop filled with treasures from Salem’s past. Don’t expect to find many slick mid-century pieces, instead get lost amongst the collections of old (like, really old) books of local lore and legend.
Located right on the water in Pickering Wharf this hotel has an indoor heated pool, and is consistently named on Boston Magazine’s “Best of the Northshore” list.
If you’ve ever wondered what the inside of a 1797 East India merchant ship looked like, you’re in luck! You can tour the Friendship!
The Willows is a great place for families and kids because of the arcade, salt water taffy and general run-around-ability. It’s also a gorgeous park for spending a lazy afternoon amongst beautiful old trees right on the water’s edge. The Willows is like combo platter of some of Salem’s prettiest scenery.
Daniel Finamore, curator at Peabody Essex Museum and his wife Michele Tolini Finamore, curator of fashion arts at the MFA. Michelle also just wrote a book called Hollywood Before Glamour