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When you think what is the perfect place for a spooky fall trip, you might think Sleepy Hollow or Amityville, but we think: Salem Massachusetts. Home of the infamous Salem Witch Trials that plagued the tiny town in the late 1600s, today this former “witch city” is quite possibly the most bizarre blend of quintessential New England charm and over-the-top occult that you could ever hope to find.
My brother and sister-in-law live in the city of Salem, which is considered a suburb of Boston, and their apartment is a beautifully renovated loft in what used to be the Salem Jailhouse, if you can believe it. Always in the mood for some good spooky stories, when they first moved in, I asked if it was haunted. My brother, ever the cynic, rolled his eyes and told me I was crazy.
We made our first visit to Salem on Halloween last year, and we found the energy of the bustling little town very bizarre, creepy, and charming.
Looking for a fun, family-friendly fall trip to take this year? Salem is a town filled with tourist attractions and these are the best things that should definitely make your list!
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If you’ve spent any amount of time in a high school English class then chances are pretty good that at some point or another you had to read The Crucible by Arthur Miller, a popular play about the witch trials that Salem is so famous for. Yes, this part of Massachusetts is actually the home of the Salem Witch Trials!
It’s one thing to read about the trials, but it’s another to see the historic sites where they actually happened with the stone walls of the Salem Witch Trials Memorial bearing the names of the 26 people who stood trial for witchcraft and were ultimately convicted and sentenced to death.
Perhaps not for little kids, but it’s a must-see for families with older kids, if for no other reason than to show them the city’s history and those crazy things they read about in English Lit did actually happen.
The Burying Point
I know it’s a bit weird and morose, but I confess to being a sucker for ancient cemeteries, especially those that have a lot rich history. The Burying Point Cemetery (also called Charter Street Cemetery) is located just on the other side of the Salem Witch Trials Memorial and is one of the oldest cemeteries in the United States. It contains the final resting place of many of the judges and magistrates who oversaw the trials, along with other notable figures from the time.
We totally get it if staring at headstones or haunted places is not your idea of fun things to do but if you happen to appreciate the history like I do, the old Burying Point Cemetery is a great place worth a walk-by. And in the fall, especially the month of October, with the surrounding oak trees changing color, the cemetery itself is hauntingly beautiful.
Derby Wharf Light Station
For those looking for a respite from all the mysticism and madness, then the Derby Wharf Light Station is much fun. Located down by the water, a safe distance from all the ghouls and goblins, the small lighthouse is one of Salem’s popular attractions situated at the end of a long spit of rocks and totally walkable. It’s a great way to spend a morning or afternoon stroll, and if you walk all the way out to the end and turn and look back, the autumnal view of Salem is nothing short of postcard perfect.
Bewitched After Dark Salem Walking Tours
If you’re looking for an entertaining and educational way to experience Salem, then we say skip the museums and instead do a walking tour of Salem with Bewitched After Dark. Their programs are kind of like a ghost tour but their interactive walks are a perfect way to learn about the city’s history and also walk off any lingering energy the kids might have after that hot chocolate from Jaho. Consistently ranked in the top walking tours of Salem, the guided tour is hosted by locals who have an expansive knowledge not just of the witch trials, but also of Salem’s colonial and maritime history as well (yes, that includes pirates). Add to that a little bit of folklore, ghost stories, and legendary hauntings, and you’ve got yourself the makings of a great tour and a wicked good time.
For those that are maybe a little fearful of walking the streets of Salem after dark or have little ones in tow who likely won’t make it past eight (go ahead, blame it on your kids), they have late afternoon walks as well.
Okay, so dead leaves might not sound like something you would go out of your way to visit a town for, but trust me when I say that there is no autumn quite like a New England autumn. There’s something about this time of year with the smell of the crisp ocean breeze coupled with the rich red, orange, and yellow hues that is pure magic. With the festive atmosphere and Halloween decor all over the town, Salem is one of the best places to find the most picture-perfect version of fall that we’ve ever seen.
With the festive atmosphere and Halloween decor all over the town, it’s quite possibly the most picture-perfect version of fall that we’ve ever seen.
We never actually got to go to Goodnight Fatty’s because the line was so long it wrapped around the block – that’s how good it is. But my brother and sister-in-law and their friends all rave about the weekend pop up joint that sells the most amazing cookies and soft-serve ice cream. And judging by the smell alone, their cookies must be nothing short of heaven.
Part of their charm is that they’re only open on the weekends, and only in the evening (after 5 on Friday and Saturday, after 2 on Sunday), selling rotating concoctions you can’t get anywhere else, like frosted animal cracker cookies, peanut butter and Reese’s Pieces cookies, and your traditional cookie staples.
Wicked Good Books
We’re book people in my family. And by that, I mean that I’m a book person and the rest of my family begrudgingly allows me to drag them into every cozy little bookstore we happen to cross in our travels.
So when we passed Wicked Good Books, as we were walking around town, I was instantly hooked and had to duck inside, to the audible groans of my kids and husband. But it was one of the more adorable bookstores I’ve ever been in, and I consider myself a connoisseur.
As the name suggests, the bookstore sells all sorts of dark thrillers and spooky spell books befitting its locale and also boasts a large section dedicated specifically to books about Salem and New England.
Even if you’re not a reader or in the habit of buying physical books (I get it, I’ve got a Kindle too), it’s definitely worth a stop, if for no other reason than to experience the fun and cozy atmosphere.
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Walk Around Salem Proper
Part of the charm and mystique of Salem are the many winding alleys and side streets that, around Halloween season, can only lead to double, double, toil and trouble. For the Harry Potter obsessed among us, it reminded my kids of Diagon Alley, though maybe a little bit brighter and more welcoming. Around Halloween, the quaint cobbled streets are teeming with Salem haunted happenings including ghoulish and masked figures, fortune tellers offering to read your palms, and magicians tricking crowds with sleight of hand. The colonial brick storefronts are bedecked with fake cobwebs, witches’ brooms, and black cats. And the local cafes and coffee shops sell all the festive fall treats – apple cider, candy corn, and pumpkin-spiced everything.
I’m not a big Halloween fan (I’m more of a Christmas and Thanksgiving kind of gal) but even I found myself getting in the Halloween spirit in this little town. The energy is truly infectious and nothing short of magical.
When You Go
Getting from L.A. to Boston is really a piece of cake. It’s pretty easy to find a direct flight on one of the major carriers. From there, you can rent a car or take public transportation, including the MBTA commuter rail train out to Salem, or catch the Salem ferry into town. The ferry takes just under an hour and is the best way to see views of downtown Boston.
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Where To Stay In Salem
We stayed at the Hawthorne Hotel, a historic hotel named after Nathaniel Hawthorne right in the heart of Salem, and had the best time. It was walkable to everything, and though the hotel was older, it was very well maintained and cozy. There’s also a brand new Hampton Inn nearby, and if you’re looking for a place to stay with all the bells and whistles, we recommend The Merchant, a stylish boutique hotel in the heart of the town. There are also several charming B&Bs and family-owned inns around town as well if that’s more your style.
If you’re needing a good fall trip that the whole family will enjoy, Salem can’t be beat. Just go prepared for some chills and thrills mixed in with your quaint New England charm.
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