THE BLOG
09/26/2014 03:22 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

North Coast: Quirky & Historical Surprises You'll Find in Salem

For those of you who have never heard of Salem, it is based in Essex County along the North Shore of Massachusetts and about an hour's drive from Boston. While not everyone may have heard of it, Americans know Salem for its infamous Witch Trials from the 1600's, which made the town famous not just in the states, but worldwide. It's a small city, with a population of under 45,000 but there's a remarkable number of things to do, from boating, segway and walking tours to museums and a variety of activities which center around witchcraft.

Here are ten of our favorite things to do based on an extensive visit this past August.

The Fame Schooner


The Fame Schooner ride on the Atlantic in the afternoon was one of our favorite things we did in Salem.  The authentic boat captures history and brings you back to a different time, all while enjoying the best views of the coast. The original Fame was a 'Chebacco boat' that was commissioned as a privateer when war broke out in the summer of 1812. She was the first American privateer to bring home a prize, and made 20 more captures before being wrecked in 1814.

The new Fame (above) is a full-scale replica of this famous schooner. Framed and planked of white oak and trunnel-fastened in the traditional manner, the schooner is based at Salem's Pickering Wharf Marina. Like so many activities and events in Salem, you learn about history in the process...in this case, the stories of the fishermen, privateers, merchants and men of war who shaped the Massachusetts North Shore.

Passengers on our sail were even encouraged to help put up the sail when we were finally out of the harbor.

Below are a few shots taken while we made our way out of the harbor.

I found the story behind the building of Fame fascinating. The boat was built by National Heritage fellow Harold Burnham, who is part of a boat building family who have been involved in building boats in Essex for over 350 years.  Preparations for the construction of Fame began in February 2002. 

Burnham started carving half-hull models, working up drawings, and hunting for wood and by the spring, the spruce trees had been cut down, trimmed, dragged out of the woods, rolled down to the river, and towed upstream to the Burnham Boatyard in Essex, across a small inlet from the Essex Shipbuilding Museum. Over the summer of 2002, Burnham completed the lofting, haped and finished the spars. The lead casting for the keel arrived in late August and a keel-laying ceremony was held on Labor Day of that year.  

The result is the current modern Fame Schooner tours throughout the summer and Fall. We would recommend this to anyone passing through and would go so far as saying that it's worth a day trip from Boston even if  Salem isn't on your radar, just to take a Schooner tour. Check out our two videos we shot during our tour which will give you a taste of what you'll experience. Here's Part I and Part II of our video footage.

Information is at Wharf Street in Salem, phone: 978.729.7600.

In the National Historic Landmark District, the historical and renowned House of Seven Gables is located on the Harbor, where you can discover 359 years of Salem's history while you experience this museum and collection of historic buildings.

The structure is a rusty wooden house, with seven acutely peaked gables facing towards various points of the compass, and a huge clustered chimney. This famous site became so from the novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne who wrote in depth about Salem's most famous house in his 1851 novel The House of Seven Gables. The novel is famous for taking you back into early New England Puritan life and it's charm, its oddities and its culture. 

The house stands today and does tours. They also have fabulous programs for kids where they learn through an experience with a "living textbook" by which economics, geography, history, literature, mathematics, and science come to life. Programs for Schools offer several connections to the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks, and a range of topics covered during school visits are noted in each program description on this website.

Get a Hot Dog at Boston Hot Dog Company


At Salem's Boston Hot Dog Company, you can get natural casing or kosher beef hot dogs made a variety of ways. It may very well be the largest variety of hot dog preparations I've seen on my travels. You can have nearly anything you want on your "dog" from diced onions, peppers, poppy seeds, pickles, cheese and bacon bits to mayo, baked beans, pastrami (yes, really), peanut sauce and sauerkraut.

While I don't eat hot dogs or burgers in my daily life, every now and then I crave one and it tends to be when I find myself in New England because of my childhood memories of having them loaded with meat sauce in Gloversville's New York Lunch.

One afternoon when we were walking around Salem, I suddenly found myself craving one and when we started asking around, we fell upon not just a hot dog stand (which was what I was expecting) but a place that gave me so many choices, my head began to spin.

They also have traditional draft root beer and an incredibly friendly (and witty) staff. We had a blast stopping here and would recommend it if you're not a vegetarian and want to be a l'il adventurous with your "dog."

Information is at 60 Washington Street, Salem. Phone: 978.744-4168

The Salem Segway Tour

I didn't always dig segways despite testing one out when it was still a prototype many years ago, but I've grown to love them as they have become a more popular way to experience a destination. The great thing about segways is that you can get to places you can't normally get to in a car and is faster and more efficient than walking or even on a bike since you can look at things more closely than you can if you're on a bike. And, truth be told, they're FUN!

The tour is highly worth doing and after the Schooner, it was my second favorite thing in Salem. Salem by Segway offers 1 and 2 hour tours -- they call their guides Adventure Captains. Along the way in typical Salem style, you learn a lot about the area's history -- from witchcraft to literature to art to architecture. Adventure Captains narrate the tour via an audio device which allows you to listen in hands free and enjoy the sights at the same time. They also offer tours in Newport, Philadelphia and Boston. Two Thumbs Up!!

It was a blast hearing historical factoids about Salem's witch trials and past while we were zipping through the city.

Information is at 283 Derby Street in Salem. Phone:  866.611.9838.

The Salem Witch Museum 


Everyone knows Salem for its history of witches, when in 1692, twenty innocent people were put to death during the Witch Hysteria. History of course made them famous -- the Salem Witch Museum brings their stories to life in a lovely storytelling way as you sit and listen to a narrator bring you back in time in complete darkness while relevant articles light up at the appropriate time.

To understand the events of the Salem witch trials, it is necessary to examine the times in which accusations of witchcraft occurred. There were the ordinary stresses of 17th-century life in Massachusetts Bay Colony.

A strong belief in the devil, factions among Salem Village fanatics and rivalry with nearby Salem Town, a recent small pox epidemic and the threat of attack by warring tribes created a fertile ground for fear and suspicion. Soon prisons were filled with more than 150 men and women from towns surrounding Salem. Their names had been "cried out" by tormented young girls as the cause of their pain. All would await trial for a crime punishable by death in 17th-century New England, the practice of witchcraft.

As years passed, apologies were offered, and restitution was made to the victims' families. Historians and sociologists have examined this most complex episode in our history so that we may understand the issues of that time and apply our understanding to our own society.  The Witch Museum does one of the most accurate jobs of explaining this story.

Information is at 19 1/2 N Washington Square, in Salem, Phone:  978.744.1692

The Witch Walk & Psychic Reading by Lorelei


Done in a more informal and "fun" way, the Witch Walk  starts at Crow Haven on Essex Street, where you join a real Salem witch who starts the tour with a ritualistic circle.

In the circle, you go through various rituals and in the process, learn about witchcraft, what it means, its misperceptions and truths from a Salem witch's point of view. We loved this!!! The tour took you through some of the historical sites in town however what's really great about the tour is that the guides are great storytellers and actively practice witchcraft, so you'll learn about how they got started, why they're doing it and even the meaning behind some of the rituals along the way.

You are given a crystal at the end of the tour in recognition of your participation in the tour. Check out our video which gives you a glimpse of what to expect from the ritual, which kicks off your walking tour -- it's fascinating!

Information is at 125 Salem Street: 978.666.0884.

The Crow Haven store on site is also worth meandering through as it's a wealth of information on witchcraft and has tons of things you can purchase, from candles and crystals to books and more.

 Take a Mahi Mahi Cruise


While we took one of their morning cruises during the late summer, they also offer jazz brunch cruises, sunset cruises and in the fall, they have historic (and heated!) cruises with food and drinks from their bar & grill, including belly-warming favorites like New England Clam Chowder and their famous Grandma's Spiked Cider.   They have different boat options, including the Finback, which is a 50-foot sightseeing boat that provides a fun and intimate setting for up to 50 people. The Finback apparently has great lighting for evening cruises.

The more spacious boat is their Hannah Glover, which can accommodate up to 150 guests on two decks. The Hannah Glover features a fully-heated main deck and an open-air top deck to enjoy the weather during summer and fall months.

On the top deck, you can relax in style in one of their colorful Adirondack chairs.  It is a great way to spend a relaxing morning or afternoon seeing the area by boat. Kids will love it too. A major refit recently outfitted Hannah Glover with two Mahi Tiki Bars, and a beer and wine stations.

Information is at 24 Congress Street in Salem.

The Salem Night Tour


For people who love the mystic of ghosts, witches and history, the night tour brings you into the world of Paranormal Investigation. It's an award winning walking tour through The Witch Cities most famous Haunts -- haunted historical, witch trial sites, cemeteries, murder sites and more as you listen to a narration of various stories from the time.

The tour also starts on Essex Street and of course, tours run at night, so a great option for those who like the spooky and mysterious in life. Below, Howard Street Cemetery by night, which is a historic cemetery dating back to 1801 with more than 300 gravestones.  The land on which the cemetery is located is connected to the witch trials which you learn about on your night tour.  There are a quite a few seafaring men buried in the Howard Street Cemetery, including ship captains.

Information is at 127 Essex Street, Salem. Phone: 978.741-1170.

Explore the Unknown with Psychic Lori Bruno


We accidentally learned about Lori Bruno, which is surprising given that her photo can be found in so many of the brochures floating around town about the city. A longstanding psychic who used to work in Boston's North End, she is a delight to spend time with and something you should do when you visit Salem. Lori is a Hereditary High Priestess and Elder of the Sicilian Strega line of the Craft of the Wise, founder and Head Mother of Our Lord and Lady of the Trinacrian Rose Church, Inc.

She has an exciting and interesting history, as you'll learn if you ask questions about her life. She does her psychic readings at the Magika on the Wharf, where she has a private room for her visitors.

I couldn't help wondering during my time with her how much the jewelry weighed that she wore around her neck and on her fingers and arms every day -- jewelry which apparently she cleans every night. And, in addition to being informative and incredibly interesting, you'll have fun in the process.

Information is at Magika, 63R Wharf Street Pickering, Wharf Salem: Phone: 978.741.9297 or 740.9297.

The Peabody Essex (PEM) Museum


While Salem may be a small and not necessarily on everyone's global travel radar, the quality of the Peabody Essex (PEM) Museum and what passes through its doors is top notch. PEM may be considered one of the oldest continuously operating museums in the United States, combining the collections of the former Peabody Museum of Salem and the Essex Institute.

The roots of the Peabody Essex Museum date to the 1799 founding of the East India Marine Society, an organization of Salem captains and supercargoes who had sailed beyond either the Cape of Good Hope or Cape Horn. The society's charter included a provision for the establishment of a "cabinet of natural and artificial curiosities," which is what we today would call a museum. Society members brought to Salem a diverse collection of objects from the northwest coast of America, Asia, Africa, Oceania, India and elsewhere.

It's a great museum to also bring children as they have special exhibitions, weekend festivals and family art-making programs. This summer, they had an outstanding Turner & the Sea exhibition through September 1 that showed the first full-scale examination of Joseph Mallord William Turner's lifelong preoccupation with the sea.

It featured iconic works spanning the artist's career from his transformative Academy paintings of the late 1790's and early 1800's, to the unfinished, experimental seascapes produced towards the end of his life. A  Turner & the Sea was produced by the National Maritime Museum, part of Royal Museums Greenwich, London. Supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. They have a Calder and Extraction exhibit on through January 5, 2015.

Information is at 161 Essex Street in Salem. Phone: 978.745-9500.

Lastly, you will be surprised by a number of top notch restaurants in town. Be sure to also check out our Massachusetts Food/Wine section where you'll find some restaurant write-ups on Salem as well as our Top Massachusetts Hotels section where you'll find a couple of recommendations on where to stay.

While we were there over the summer, Fall is in fact the best time to visit Salem -- September and October is not only pretty as the leaves begin to change, but they have additional activities going on leading up to Halloween, the city's busiest time.
Photo credits: Hot Dog menu from the restaurant's website, the PEM photo from the PEM website, the schooner being built from the Fame Schooner website, all other photos courtesy of Renee Blodgett.