One Day in Salem MA
Salem, Massachusetts is a favorite fall destination in New England that’s especially popular during October. It makes a great Boston to Salem day trip. With historic and present-day ties to witchcraft, Salem rings in the Halloween spirit with loads of seasonal activities from pumpkin carving to a Witches Ball. But did you know Salem is a waterfront hub brimming with fine dining, cultural attractions, and a vibrant arts community worth visiting year-round?
We spent a magical day discovering a cool summer slice of this historic colonial town. It was a quick day trip from Boston but we could have lingered or spread these activities (and more) over a long weekend. Instead, we powered through one day in Salem we won’t soon forget. Check out these things to do in Salem most any time of year.
NOTE: If you’re specifically looking for Halloween or “spooky” activities in Salem MA, our friends at Oddities & Curiosities have created this great list of things to do in Salem in October.
How Far is Salem from Boston?
Salem is on the waterfront about twenty (20) miles north of Boston, Massachusetts. There are a few ways to get there, whether you’re taking a day trip from Boston or staying longer:
- Drive a car and park for free all day at the Blaney Street Pier
- Take the bus from Haymarket Square (#450 or #455) to downtown Salem
- Ride the Salem Commuter Rail from North Station; take the Rockport/Ipswich Line to Salem Depot
- Ride the Salem Ferry from Boston’s Long Wharf, disembarking at the Blaney Street Pier.
> Pro Travel Tip: Boston’s Logan International Airport is the closest airport to Salem. (Sorry, the only direct flights to Salem MA are by broom!)
Getting Around Salem
Once you arrive, getting around Salem is easy. Salem is a very walkable town. We covered all the more ground in one day thanks to Salem Trolley tours. They picked us up at the Blaney Street Pier, and our entertaining guide, Ron, narrated important Salem landmarks as we drove along. We hopped on and off throughout the tour to explore further on foot. Once you buy a ticket, it’s free all day! We loved the vintage interior and air conditioning, too.
> Pro Travel Tip: Taking the Boson to Salem Ferry? You can save time and money by getting a Combo Ticket that covers both the Ferry and Trolley.
1-Day Salem Itinerary: Boston to Salem Day Trip
You can pack your visit with activities like we did for a Boston to Salem day trip, or easily spread these attractions over several days for more in-depth exploration. We enjoyed so many fabulous things on this day trip to Salem MA!
1. The Peabody Essex Museum
Did you know you can find the only Chinese House in America at The Peabody Essex Museum? The museum rescued Yin Yu Tang (“Hall of Plentiful Shelter”) from the mountains of Anhui China and reconstructed it piece-by-piece for this incredible permanent exhibit.
Touring this late 18th Century multi-generational home is an experience like no other. The building features ornate decorative details throughout, a ceiling open to the sky, koi fish swimming in the reception hall, and family sleeping spaces in each corner of the two levels.
It holds sixteen shared bedrooms. You’ll notice how different life in this two-storied home might have been from western-style homes, our nondescript single-family boxes so insulated from the natural environment.
I felt almost transported through space and time, imagining a day of journaling the day’s work behind an ornate wooden screen with views to the sky above.
Our guide pointed out speakers above, through which Mao Tse-tung and the Communist Party piped political propaganda into this mountain village home.
Hallways wrap the perimeter of the second floor with a shuttered balcony overlooking the floor below. You’ll find a small window that gives view to the tiled roof and Chinese architecture commissioned by a Chinese merchant for his family.
Yin Yu Tang is a permanent exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum and well-worth making the visit. In fact, we could have spent several hours among the exhibits, but we had lunch reservations and a full day ahead.
If you have the time, plan to spend at least two (2) hours, ideally the better part of a day for a more thorough tour of the Peabody Essex Museum. With its latest expansion in 2019, PEM ranks in the Top 10 North American art museums, covering maritime, American, Asian, Oceanic, African art.
2. Finz Seafood and Grill
If you’re looking to dine on the waterfront and enjoy the freshest seafood, look no further than Finz of Salem. We give this upscale-casual restaurant high marks after having enjoyed an exceptionally well-crafted lunch here.
Pescatarians will be happy to know the Finz menu is a creative and extensive selection of freshly prepared seafood. In addition, built-in raw and sushi bars team with fresh fish on ice and made-to-order Sushi, Nigiri, and Sashimi.
> Pro Travel Tip: Not in the mood for fish? You’ll also find choices on the Finz Menu for meat lovers, including Black Angus Burger, BBLT (double bacon), and Filet Mignon prepared with a demi-glace, crispy onions, and blue cheese drizzle.
We began our lunch with the House Green Salad, a simple blend of field greens, tomato, avocado, and carrots dressed with just the right amount of a zippy balsamic vinaigrette.
Next, we sampled one of the best clam chowders I’ve tasted in a long time. Finz Clam Chowder is rich and creamy with sweet undertones. I could have easily made a meal of the chowder paired with the warm rolls and whipped butter.
The Baja Fish Tacos featured three corn tacos filled with ample fried haddock, topped with lettuce, tomato, and Cotija cheese, then drizzled with cilantro creme fraiche. They arrived with a festive side of tomato avocado salsa. The tacos were excellent—almost too much food for lunch (said my dining partner).
My North Atlantic Haddock was delectable, too. Stuffed with lump crabmeat and served alongside a dollop of whipped potatoes and just-tender cauliflower and broccoli spears, the haddock rested upon an indulgent pink seafood sherry cream sauce. I lapped up every luscious drop.
The upscale-casual dining room itself is spacious, featuring walls of windows overlooking Salem Harbor and Finz’ outdoor seating. The Harbor Room is also well-suited for cocktail style or seated private events overlooking Salem Harbor.
It was an honor to receive a personal visit from Finz Owner and host, George Carey, who ensured our table was satisfied with our meals and overall dining experience. We couldn’t have been happier.
As if all this weren’t enough, it’s worth noting that Finz prepares dishes that honor seasonality, sustainability, and the fishing community. No wonder Finz is award-winning!
3. Schooner Fame
Our next stop on our day trip to Salem, MA was sailing on the Fame of Salem. According to TripAdvisor, it’s the top-rated outdoor activity and top-rated boat ride in Salem. It gets high marks on our Boston to Salem day trip, too!
Depending on the season, these sailing tours aboard an 1812 privateer replica embark from Pickering Wharf Marina up to five times daily for a 90-minute tour. You can buy tickets online or right at the wharf, subject to availability. They also offer special group rates and sunset sails.
For this adventure, you want to wear sensible shoes, sun protection, and a sweatshirt or light jacket for cooler air and sea winds. You can buy beer, wine, drinks, and snacks aboard the Schooner Fame. You can even bring a sandwich on board if you’d like. (Leave BYOB drinks and coolers behind.)
With Capt. Mike’s guidance and the help of crew-members, Charlie and Parker, we raised the three beautiful sails. They filled with sea winds strong enough to move us along at a good clip!
The prevalent weather and seas determine the sailing route. We cruised out of and around Salem Harbor and back, while Capt. Mike shared entertaining seafaring stories about the history of the vessel and the War of 1812.
Steer the Fame with the Tiller
The Fame uses a long wooden tiller as opposed to a wheel to steer the ship’s course. Several of us took turns navigating between the buoys at sea and in Salem Harbor.
Capt. Mike even fired the miniature cannon that the Schooner Fame would have used to seize vessels in the waters of Maine, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick.
> Pro Travel Tip: Cover your ears; the cannon is small but loud!
On our return, we cruised past Derby Wharf Light. Built in 1871, this white square tower is on the National Register of Historic Places. Its original light was a fixed red oil lamp with a Fresnel lens but is now solar powered. Ships can see the signature red flash as far as four (4) nautical miles from shore.
> Pro Travel Tip: You can also walk out to Derby Wharf Light on foot.
We enjoyed a perfect sailing day aboard the Schooner Fame. Fortunately, the only “Dark and Stormy” I encountered was my tasty drink, made with local rum. My favorite part of the tour was relaxing and taking in the peaceful vibe of smooth sailing aboard The Fame of Salem.
4. Salem Food Tours – One Day in Salem for Foodies!
We took a customized and very entertaining food tour courtesy of Salem Food Tours. The tour was a combination of on-foot and trolley ride, led and narrated by a 1950’s housewife character played by Karen Scalia. She was dressed in full ‘50s attire including a stylish 50’s skirt. In character, Karen shared 1950’s supermarket ads, amusing trivia, and naivete to modern ways. She ushered us through stops for wine, cheese, and chocolate.
We thoroughly enjoyed our custom tour with Salem Food Tours. I’d love to check out their other food tours, coffee walks, and spirit tours, too! What better way to explore the culinary renaissance underway in Salem?
> Pro Travel Tip: Wear comfortable walking shoes and bring an umbrella if the weather calls for it. Consider bringing a shopping bag along for any temptong purchases along the way, too!
On our food tour, we stopped at Pamplemousse, a European inspired gourmet market, to sample some delicious local wines. Pamplemousse hosts a weekly wine tasting on Saturdays from 2-4.
I especially liked Mead, or honey wine, one of the oldest alcoholic drinks made from fermented honey and water. It was sweet and earthy, and it can be consumed cold or hot. We had it chilled, but I imagine it would be oh-so soothing on a cool fall day.
At Pamplemousse, you’ll also find sandwiches, gift baskets, a wine club, gourmet grocery, kitchen gadgets, and homeware, and much more.
6. The Cheese Shop of Salem
Next, we stopped at The Cheese Shop of Salem to sample delicious (and beautiful!) hors-d’oeuvres prepared for us. The Cheesemonger described each of the cheeses he presented in combination with savory or sweet ingredients, as well as fitting wine pairings. All the samples were tasty, but everyone really loved the raspberry-topped soft cheese and crackers.
Then, we sampled some of the cheese from the counter. My favorites were a delicious hard Manchego from Spain and a creamy blend of goat and sheep milk cheese called “Aussie Magic.” This soft cheese from an Austalian dairy was soaking in garlic-infused oil, herbs, and peppercorns and believe me, it tastes out of this world!
7. Kakawa Chocolate House
At Kakawa Chocolate House, we got a behind-the-scenes look at chocolate making, along with a tasting of a variety of delectable chocolate samples including white, semi-sweet, milk, and dark. We also drank some luxurious Chocolate Chili Elixer amped up with a slow chili burn.
It turns out that chocolate and chili make a wonderful combination! You’ll even find roasted Arbol Chilis dipped in caramel and chocolate at Kakawa for the spice-lover in your life. Perhaps it’s a sweet-spicy nod to Kakawa Chocolate House’s flagship locations in Santa Fe New Mexico.
This laid back chocolate shop has a relaxed vibe and a fully stocked chocolate counter that invite guests to stay awhile to enjoy a delicious cup of sipping chocolate, truffles, and other sweet confections.
8. Modern Millie
If you’re curious about the 1950’s outfit Karen is wearing, she got her whole vintage-inspired look at Salem’s Modern Millie Shop, a popular and unique shopping destination with local notoriety. (Perhaps you remember the 1967 movie, Thoroughly Modern Millie.)
9. Artists’ Row
Love art? Then check out Salem’s Artists’ Row, a seasonal incubator where local artists and artisans have an opportunity to build their audience and engage with visitors.
In addition to admiring fine art, we had some good laughs modeling hats made from recycled plastic bags and shopping curative hand-made soaps by Hervor Soaps at Grace & Diggs. There’s even an “Oh Snap!” selfie studio to capture those instagrammable moments in Salem.
You’ll find Artists’ Row in downtown Salem across from the Old Town Hall and Derby Square. It is a City of Salem Arts Space Initiative and is open from April to early November.
> Pro Travel Tip: Watch for Artists’ Row Artist Application Forms 2020 early in the new year.
Witchy Things, Fortune-Telling & Healing
No trip to Salem would be complete without delving a bit into the otherworldly. Salem is imbued with all things witchy, including fortune-telling, healing arts, and new-age magic. We made two fun stops on our day trip to Salem.
We visited HausWitch | Home + Healing, a welcoming den of intention candles, house spells, essential oils, healing crystals. and more. This modern metaphysical shop aligns herbal and other magic with interior home design. You can also find energy healing, creative services, moon sister retreats, and immersive group trips at HauseWitch. In a word, it’s enchanting.
11. OMEN Psychic Parlor and Witches Emporium
If it’s divination and witchcraft you’re seeking, look no further than OMEN. It’s chock-full of crystals, gems, and jewelry, occult books and tarot cards, spell kits, amulets, candles, incense, herbs and potions–even broomsticks!
You can consult Spirit Mediums and Tarot Readers at Omen, as well as participate in Salem Seances and other psychic events. You can even submit a note of intention to the Healing Alter over which the Witches of OMEN will meditate.
I indulged in a 15-minute in-person tarot card reading and I loved what my psychic reader had to say about my future.
12. House of the Seven Gables
I vaguely remember visiting The House of the Seven Gables on a childhood field trip after reading Nathaniel Hawthorne’s book of the same name. I happily returned here with full appreciation for its history and lore.
The Turner-Ingersoll Mansion in Salem was built in 1668 and served as the setting of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s famous 1851 novel. It has undergone multiple architectural modifications over its 350 years, most recently restoring the seven roof points or “gables” and adding fictitiously-inspired elements such as the Hepzibah’s Cent Shop and the hidden staircase to align with the novel’s setting and plot.
Our knowledgeable tour guide, Michael, pointed out many fascinating historical and architectural details.
Beyond its preservation, this early home is spectacular in many ways, including waterfront views and colorful seaside gardens. We enjoyed a cocktail on the grounds overlooking Salem Harbor, which makes a lovely backdrop for weddings and private parties.
We celebrated a perfect day with Happy Hour at Salem’s Opus!
Opus has an extensive appetizer menu and creative signature drinks, making it a popular stop for patrons near and far. The sushi is outstanding and the appetizers are exceptional, flavorful and made with care.
Confession: The Hibiscus Bloom cocktails were so smooth, it was like drinking fruit punch. (Good thing we took the trolley!)
This diverse mix of amazing flavors and good fun ended our Boston to Salem day trip on a positive note. Did I mention the bar glows?!
Salem is one of the best day trips from Boston, rich in history and culture, as well as hosting a burgeoning culinary and art scene. While it’s best known as one of the Best Halloween Destinations, this coastal community is gaining popularly year round–with plenty of great things to do in Salem well before and beyond Halloween.
After this adventure, Salem just may be my favorite north of Boston day trip from Boston.
> Pro Travel Tip: You’ll find Salem to be much less crowded during October weekdays and months other than October.
I’d love to know in the comments below, where is your favorite day trip from Boston?
Boston to Salem Day Trip: Resource List
This article is part of a sponsored collaboration. Special thanks to Regan Communications and Destination Salem for their support on this Boston to Salem Day Trip. As always, all opinion expressed are my own. For more information, please see the following Disclosure.
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