I don’t typically visit Salem, Massachusetts, during the Halloween season — the crowds are enough to discourage even the most adventurous families. But during the other 11 months of the year I make a point to head to Salem’s unique museums, restaurants, and shops. I also take any chance I get to learn more about this city’s fascinating history.
After the ghosts and goblins of October have cleared we find a city with an abundance of cultural exhibits, shopping, restaurants, a rich and weathered history, and, of course, access to all things magical. Yes, maybe the best time to visit Salem is when it’s a “ghost town” after all!
If driving isn’t your thing, a quick ride on the commuter rail will leave you moments from downtown Salem. Or, try the Salem Ferry from Long Wharf. If you head in by car, there are parking garages and metered or kiosk street spots.
Once you’ve parked or exited the train or ferry, head to the city center, which is defined not as much by its city hall as it is by a bronze statue of Samantha from “Bewitched.” Here you are steps from most of Salem’s best shops, restaurants, and museums!
Shops to visit
Hex Old World Witchery was the very first shop I walked into on my very first trip to Salem. I was immediately drawn to the statue of Yemaya, the goddess of fertility, water, and the ocean, originating from West African cultures. A month later, I found out I was pregnant. Happenstance and coincidence, maybe — or was it thanks to that visit to Hex? This shop offers a welcoming atmosphere to everyone who enters, and the Witches’ Altar of the Dead provides a space to connect with those who have passed.
Down the street you’ll find Witch City Consignment & Thrift, which has enough variety to pique anyone’s curiosity! At this shop you can find antiques and oddities, specialty furniture, electronics, books, paintings and prints, and antique and retro clothing.
Part museum and part shop, Black Cat Curiosity Shoppe is so fun for its artifacts and curiosities from history, TV, and film from Salem’s past. You’ll also find an intriguing variety of locally made items, unique and mysterious trinkets, and classic Salem souvenirs.
Be sure to pop into Witch City Wicks, even if only to smell the amazing scents brewing at this gothic/witchy candle company. The candles here are hand poured in-house with 100% natural soy wax, high-end fragrance oils, and lead-free cotton wicks for a clean burning product.
Pyramid Books is one of Salem’s oldest book and gift stores — a one-stop shop for all your spiritual needs. Stop in here to peruse crystals, candles, jewelry, locally dipped incense, self-help metaphysical books, and friendly, talented, and caring psychic readers.
Places to eat
Ledger, a Massachusetts standout, is located in the former Salem Savings Bank (circa. 1818!). It offers a progressive New England concept — 19th-century dishes, cocktails, and techniques are elevated with 21st-century resources.
Red’s Sandwich Shop is another favorite — it’s been serving Salem locals and tourists since 1945. The breakfast and lunch menus here rotate every month and feature things like omelets, grilled sandwiches, pastas, and chicken pot pie.
Turner’s Seafood is a family-friendly fave with an excellent kids menu — one of those rare places where you can get a great adult meal and keep the kids happy!
For delicious baked goods and scrumptious espresso drinks in fancy mugs, try Odd Meter Coffee Co.
For both food and classic gaming, pop into Bit Bar. From their “loaded Tetris tots” to the pulled pork sandwich or the buffalo chicken flatbread pizza, everyone will find something fun on this menu. Kids meals even come with $3 in game tokens so they can try their hand at dozens of games, like pinball, air hockey, Guitar Hero, Donkey Kong, and Skee-Ball.
Holy Cow Ice Cream Cafe is a must-visit during the warmer months — they’ve won the North American Ice Cream Association’s flavor of the year for the last two years! The Salem location is only open seasonally, but you can find the famous Ritzy AF flavor — a salted butter cracker/toffee/chocolate creation — at their year-round shops nearby in Gloucester and Peabody.
Dessert at specialty chocolate company Kawaka is another must, no matter the season — it’s always trick-or-treat time here (emphasis on the treats!). The drinking chocolate elixirs (aka hot chocolate) are rich and creamy. The homemade ice cream comes in unexpected flavors that never disappoint. Best of all, the “veil is always thin here,” since you can watch behind the scenes to see how the chocolate is made.
Museums and historical sites to see
One of Salem’s many historical landmarks — and photo ops — is the Witch House, also known as the Corwin house, which was the home of Judge Jonathan Corwin (1640–1718). It’s one of the few structures you can visit in Salem with direct ties to the Salem witch trials of 1692.
The Peabody Essex Museum makes it easy for families to connect with art and culture — and kids get free admission! There are hands-on activities, games, computer stations, and complimentary discovery kits with “treasure hunts” for animals or ships in the museum’s collection.
The Salem Witch Museum takes a close look at the Salem witch trials — one of the most enduring and emotional events in Massachusetts and American history. This local landmark is a major contributor to Salem’s cultural and historic landscape and gives a thorough picture to some of the events Salem is known for.
One of America’s most beloved historic homes, The House of Seven Gables, is also found in Salem. It’s best known as the setting of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1851 novel, but it also carries four centuries of history beginning in 1668, when the Turner family built the home on Salem Harbor.
Cinema Salem is an independent movie theater perfect for families with an old-school theater feel. And bonus: Parking in the garage there is affordable.