Weekend Guide: Salem, MA
Everyone who knows me well knows that I’ve been borderline obsessed with witchcraft, the occult, and anything else creepy and/or spooky since a young age.
All of this is to say that Salem, MA has been on my travel bucket list since I first heard the phrase “witch trials” in 4th grade. Yes I’m a weirdo. We’ve been over this.
Luckily for me, everyone in the town of Salem is WEIRD AS HELL. They are very much my people, and they don’t shy away from their gory past. They pay tribute to the real life sacrifices made in a respectful and reverential way while embracing the larger-than-life mythology that surrounds their town.
I’ve been to Salem twice now, once the weekend before Halloween, which was simultaneously incredible and completely overwhelming, and once more just last month, which was much more laid back.
Here are some of my favorite places to shop, explore and see in Salem, MA.
Hauswitch is like, my favorite store. Both times I’ve been there, I spent entirely too much time and money. First of all, it’s massively aesthetic. I mean look at it, it’s gorgeous. Secondly, they just have tons of super cute stuff for the modern witch on the go (or someone who’s just looking for cute handcrafted souvenirs, like myself).
Emporium 32 is a super cool little boutique that has tons of quirky locally-sourced and vintage goodies. This past time I was there, I picked up a very cool vintage replica Salem postcard and a vintage gemstone wall hanging.
“Cozy used bookstore in New England that may or may not be haunted” is like my entire aesthetic and this place didn’t disappoint. It had tons of popular books, plus the obligatory display of historical books about the witch trials and general Salem folklore.
This place is like the real-deal witch shop that you should definitely stop into when you’re in Salem, even if you’re not ~into~ that (in which case, why are you in Salem in the first place?). There are tons of these little witch shops all over the historic downtown, but this is the one I happened to pop into my last time around, so it’s what I’m recommending.
It’s got tons of gemstones, herbs, incense, tarot cards, you know, the whole nine yards.
See and Do
Here is where several seminal figures in the Salem Witch Trials are buried, along with hundreds of early residents of Salem. There are graves here older than our country, which is a humbling experience.
Right outside the cemetery is the Witch Trial Memorial, which has carved stone benches for all 20 of the victims of the witchcraft hysteria of 1692. There are often flowers and other small tokens and offerings left on the benches to honor the victims, and it was dedicated in 1992 by Elie Wiesel. It’s a very sobering thing to take in and there’s a peaceful, mournful air around it, even amidst the absolute chaos that was the Halloween weekend festival.
This house belonged to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s cousin, and was the inspiration for his famous novel of the same name. Now it’s a preserved museum, and during October hosts performances inspired by the legends of the house.
This is one of the last standing buildings in Salem with direct ties to the witch trials. It was the home of witch trial judge Jonathan Corwin and is now a museum offering a glimpse into life in 17th century Salem, as well as an in-depth account of the hysteria of the witch trials in 1692.
When we went in October, I pointed at every single house I saw and said “I think that’s the house from Hocus Pocus.” “No wait THAT’S the house from Hocus Pocus.” I’m just now realizing that I never actually found either of the houses from Hocus Pocus but I probably passed both of them. Don’t make my mistakes. You can find Max and Dani’s house at 4 Ocean Avenue and Allison’s house at 318 Essex Street. Plus about half a dozen other places that were featured in the iconic movie.
There’s probably a dozen witchcraft museums, reenactments and walking tours happening in Salem at any given time, so basically take your pick. You’re bound to be delighted and educated by any of them. But one of the most iconic ones is the Salem Witch Museum. We didn’t actually get to go because the wait was about 4 hours when I went in October (pro-tip: unless you’re there to do some serious Halloween partying, go earlier in the month for a better experience).
Another place I still haven’t visited, but have been assured is super awesome is the Peabody Essex museum. Essentially an art museum, it’s world-class and always has fascinating exhibits on display.
Salem’s main touristy area is a fairly small section, which is completely walkable. I would highly suggest just taking some time to wander around the historic downtown and adjacent neighborhoods. The architecture and history are absolutely incredible, and the aesthetic is perfect on a gloomy fall day. Plus that’s where you’ll find 99% of the places I mentioned.