For several years, I drove north every day to work in Salem. The city is best known for being the home of the witch trials in the late 17th century and that history haunts it today. But if you look past the kitschy witch paraphernalia that dots the town, there are beautiful old homes, innovative new restaurants and an artsy culture lurking around every corner.
Salem is home to lots of terrific restaurants, with new ones popping up all the time. I have a few favorites, but there are many to try, so don’t be afraid to go off the beaten path if something calls to you.
Life Alive: The newest location of this vegetarian eatery recently opened in Salem with the same delicious menu you’ll find in Lowell and Cambridge. Expect flavorful bowls full of rice, tofu and veggies, big, hearty salads often topped with hummus, great juices and much more. One of my absolute favorite places to get lunch (or dinner) in the greater Boston area. (My full review can be found here.)
Gulu-Gulu Cafe: Located right down the street from the Salem Life Alive is Gulu-Gulu Cafe, which has an extensive menu and is open from 8 a.m.-midnight or 1 a.m. every day of the week (the kitchen is open until 11 p.m.). Serving breakfast (egg sandwiches, baked goods and crepes), lunch (wraps, paninis and salads) plus light bites, Gulu-Gulu Cafe is a comfortable, cozy space perfect for a leisurely lunch or afternoon coffee or tea break.
Cafe Polonia: If you’re in the mood for a heartier lunch (or dinner), stop by Cafe Polonia, which features Polish classics like kielbasa, pierogis and beet soup. The diverse menu features flavorful Polish dishes, all of which are served in a cheerful, bright atmosphere.
Finz: Salem is right on the water, so it’s only natural that you might want to sample some seafood while you’re in town. Finz, which has a lovely outdoor patio, is the perfect spot to enjoy scallops, haddock, tuna, crab cakes, lobster, shrimp and more. The restaurant also has some options for landlubbers, makes a mean cocktail and serves dinner.
Scratch Kitchen: Focusing on local, fresh ingredients, Scratch Kitchen serves hearty sandwiches, soups, salads and more that will please both vegetarians and omnivores alike. You’ll even find products that originated in Somerville, like Tower Root Beer and Pretty Things.
Salem is a very historic New England city and one of the best things to do there is just walk around and take it all in. There are many beautiful old homes to gaze at and tiny winding streets to get lost down, so take a stroll and see where it leads you.
Peabody Essex Museum: No trip to Salem is complete without a visit to the Peabody Essex Museum. There’s a great permanent collection with art from all over the world and rotating exhibitions ensure that there’s always something interesting on display. Right now you can catch an Ansel Adams exhibit focusing on his water photography (until October 8). Pro Tip: The Somerville Public Library has passes that you can reserve that admit adults for only $5 each.
House of the Seven Gables: Made famous by Nathaniel Hawthorne in his novel of the same name, this historic property houses the oldest surviving 17th century wooden mansion in New England, two beautiful gardens and the Nathaniel Hawthorne House, where the author was born. Step into history and literature on a tour of this lovely site.
Old Burying Point and Witch Trials Memorial: I’d skip most (if not all) of the witch hootenanny Salem has to offer, as it’s generally poor quality, corny and expensive. However, the Old Burying Point is free and as the oldest cemetery in Salem, it’s home to the graves of a Mayflower pilgrim and witchcraft trial judge John Hathorne as well as other notable figures associated with the witch trials. And a visit to the Witch Trials Memorial, which is quiet, peaceful and tasteful, is essential on your tour around town.
Derby Wharf and the Friendship: Take a stroll down Derby Wharf out to the historic lighthouse to see Salem from out in the harbor and learn about the importance of wharves in colonial times. While you’re there, check out the Friendship, a reconstruction of a 171-foot three-masted Salem East Indiaman built in 1797.
Halloween: One of my favorite movies growing up (that, if I’m being honest, I still love) is Hocus Pocus, which takes place in Salem on Halloween. I know it’s Hollywood’s version of the city and the holiday, but watching it always makes me so nostalgic for pumpkins, crunchy leaves and crisp air. Salem does Halloween really well and if you’re planning a visit, it doesn’t hurt to go during the month of October (yes, the holiday lasts a whole month there). The crowds can be daunting at times, but it’s worth it to see the city at such a beautiful and festive time of year.
**Bonus** Though it’s not technically in Salem, one of my favorite stops on the North Shore is Richardson’s for ice cream, the driving range and mini-golf course. Try one of the dozens of delicious flavors (including terrifically creamy frozen yogurt) and wander the farm to wave hello to the cows who provided the milk for your ice cream!
What are you favorite places to eat or things to do in Salem? Leave your answer in the comments!