Salem may be best known for its seaside summers and haunted Halloween happenings. But winter is a fine time to visit this classic New England city, when crowds thin and hotel prices dip with the temperatures. History buffs are well acquainted with Salem’s past as the epicenter of the infamous witch trials, but the Massachusetts destination also enjoys a rich art and literary focus.
Where to go
Visiting Salem without dropping by at least one of the town’s attractions that acknowledge the 17th-century witch trials is like vacationing in Paris and skipping the Eiffel Tower. Authenticity seekers should head to the only remaining structure with bona fide ties to the trials, The Witch House (open Thursday-Sunday in winter, $10.25 adults, $8.25 seniors, $6.25 ages 7-14; 3101⁄2 Essex St., 978-744-8815, witchhouse.info). A guided tour of the home of witch trial judge Jonathan Corwin will give you insight into the depth of the mass hysteria and a fascinating overview of superstition and religious extremism in Colonial America.
The Peabody Essex Museum (closed Mondays, $20 adults, $18 students, $12 ages 16 and under; 161 Essex St., 978-745-9500, pem.org) is home to one of the largest collections of Asian art in the United States. Its prized possession is the Yin Yu Tang, a stately Qing Dynasty house that offers a rare perspective on Chinese domestic customs and traditions.
Bookworms shouldn’t miss The House of the Seven Gables (closed Wednesdays and Thursdays in winter, $14 adults, $13 seniors and students, $11 ages 13-18, $9 ages 5-12; 115 Derby St., 978-744-0991, 7gables.org), where Nathaniel Hawthorne set his famed 1851 novel of the same name. Visitors may tour the gabled house, explore Hawthorne’s birthplace next door, meander the lovingly tended gardens and gaze at the harbor views.
Where to eat
Seafood is stellar in these parts, and Finz (76 Wharf St., 978-744-8485) serves boat-to-table fish with scenic waterfront views. The raw bar is a feast of Atlantic bivalves and crustaceans just plucked from the sea. If you’re a landlubber, the sirloin tips are the essence of hearty comfort food.
Flying Saucer Pizza Company (118 Washington St., 978-594-8189, livelongandpizza.com) makes pies that even finicky New Yorkers will approve. Carnivores won’t be disappointed with the robust Mars Attack, piled with meatballs and fresh burrata, while vegans swoon for Beast Boy, rich with pesto, olives, cherry tomatoes and artichoke hearts. The collection of sci-fi memorabilia will have Star Trek fans in a tizzy.
Ye Olde Pepper Candy Companie (122 Derby St., 978-745-2744, oldepeppercandy.com), one of America’s oldest candy makers, is chockfull of nostalgic treats; the creamy fudge, saltwater taffy, peppermint patties and other confections are made on premise.
Where to stay
The Merchant (148 Washington St., 978-745-8100, themerchantsalem.com) is an intimate boutique hotel with 11 spacious rooms and inviting common areas. Once the home of a wealthy 18th-century sea merchant, the property retains a distinctive look that embraces Salem’s maritime past yet offers an array of modern amenities.
The historic Hawthorne Hotel (18 Washington Square W., 978-744-4080, hawthornehotel.com) is a dignified inn whose recently renovated rooms feature cozy 18th-century-style decor that suits Salem to a tee. Everyone from U.S. presidents to movie stars has rested their heads on the hotel’s fluffy pillows, so you’ll be in excellent company.