If you’re like me, then you’re likely going stir crazy from isolation and are using the time (lots, and lots of time) to plan your next vacation for when the world returns to normal. I have the pleasure of living in a vacation destination. Well, at least in the month of October it’s a vacation destination. I know that most visitors to Salem, MA are coming for the Halloween ambiance and everything Witch Trials. But as someone who lives in Salem, I can tell you there are way more things to do outside of ghosts and learning about the perils of mass hysteria. So the next time you’re in Salem, stop by one of my favorite places.
Think cookie speakeasy. Goodnight Fatty literally started out in a hidden, or at least very hard to find, popup located in the alleyway behind Rockafella’s restaurant. Tourists are not their target market because they have such a huge local following, but I highly recommend giving them a visit. I’m not even going to attempt to explain how they make their cookies, whatever is in them is highly addictive and delicious (and completely legal). But I will say that they make 3 secret cookie flavors each weekend (Fridays and Saturdays) that are never disappointing and keep me going back weekend after weekend. And when I say secret, I mean they don’t reveal what the cookies will be. It’s a complete surprise when you walk in and look in their cookie case from the Caramel Macchiato Fatty to my personal favorite, the Fruity Pebbles Fatty.
Seriously, I would do anything for those cookies, and I think my friends would really like me shut up about the joy Fruity Pebbles cookies bring to my life. They’ve recently relocated and are a bit easier to find at the Carriage House across from the Salem Common. Check them out in person or at their website and Instagram.
The Salem Willows
The Salem Willows are a nostalgic place for a lot of people. It’s a park, an arcade, a beach and pier, a concert and festival grounds, and a great place to grab a quick bite to eat. But for someone visiting Salem on vacation, it might not be on the to-do list because it’s a bit off the beaten path. Unless you’re up for a half hour plus walk from the Salem Common/Essex Street area to the Willows, you’ll likely want to drive the five minutes.
Aside from having breathtaking views, the Willows has one of my favorite places to grab a snack, E.W. Hobbs. Hobbs’ popcorn is pretty legendary in Salem, so much so that it can be bought in trash bags. Seriously, giant bags of popcorn. If you have the time and the transportation, I highly recommend putting the Willows on your agenda when visiting Salem.
The Ropes Mansion Garden
You’re likely aware of the Rope Mansion as Allison’s house in the movie Hocus Pocus, but IRL the Ropes Mansion is a historical home built in the 1700’s. The house is open to visitors for self-guided tours, and while it doesn’t look like the inside of Allison’s house from the movie, and it was updated in the 1800’s so it now has a Victorian interior, rather than colonial, it’s free! To be honest, the house isn’t really my thing, but the garden behind it most certainly is.
The garden is located behind the mansion and is also free and open to the public. Generally, the garden starts coming to life in late spring, because nothing grows in our early cold New England spring, and by mid-summer it’s at the peak. Depending on when you visit, the garden may be sparse, but you’ll still be able to say hi to the goldfish in the pond who are there year-round. In my personal opinion, the garden is beautiful no matter what time of year you visit, and good for a tranquil stroll, a lounge on a bench with a book or a bite to eat, and one of the best places in Salem for a photo shoot. This should be an easy destination to add on to your visit, as it’s located right on Essex Street, just past the Witch House.
Salem Food Truck Festival
Who doesn’t love a food truck? Now imagine an entire park filled with food trucks lined up one after the other to sell you delicious foods. It’s heaven. And every September food trucks descend on the Salem Common for the Salem Food Truck festival. This is one of my favorite events held in Salem because of its laid-back atmosphere that brings out all the locals…and their adorable dogs. Seriously, Salem is a dog city, and everyone brings their dog to this festival. The variety of trucks is also a bonus, there is no shortage of sweet, savory, and everything in between trucks.
The festival is generally held the last weekend in September just before the October/Halloween crowd takes over. If you plan your visit just right and make it here before it becomes full-blown tourist season, you may be able to partake in the Food Truck Festival. You won’t regret it!
Tavern on the Green at the Hawthorne Hotel
My absolute favorite restaurant is kind of a hidden gem, even though most visitors to Salem will pass right by it at some point during their trip. The Tavern on the Green is located in the Hawthorne Hotel, and even in the midst of October, it never seems to be overwhelmed by tourists. It may be because it’s a bit inconspicuous located within the hotel, but I assure you it’s there, open to the public, and very worth a visit.
I’m not sure what I love more, the cozy tavern vibe The Tavern on the Green has going, or the menu’s creative spin on pub food that never disappoints me. Considering that it’s located within the Hawthorne and adjacent to the Salem Common, it’s very reasonably priced. So if you happen by the Hawthorne and need a bite to eat, give it a try!
Jolie Tea Company
People seem to come to Salem for ghosts, witchcraft, and… tea. Really, it seems like everyone knows about the Jolie Tea Company, and I’m only slightly mad about it. I love that their business is booming, because they are wonderful and deserve it! But I would love it if it weren’t so hard to get a reservation. If you enjoy tea, macarons, or if you’ve ever wondered what high tea with the queen would be like, you need to stop by the Jolie Tea Company.
I absolutely love the Jolie Tea Company’s teas, which is essentially an endless selection, and I’m a big fan of their High Tea and would recommend the experience to anyone. If you don’t want to partake in one of their tea experiences, or just can’t get reservations (I feel your pain!), the store is open to purchase tea and an array of sweet treats, so stop in and support a wonderful local business!
Caramel French Patisserie
If you’ve ever been to France, then you know that real French pastries ruin all other pastries for you forever. When I got home from a trip to France, I searched everywhere for a decent croissant with no avail, and then Caramel opened and I lost my mind. I have wasted far too much money and consumed far too many calories on these pasties, but they are 100% worth it. You can find me on most Sunday mornings in Spring at the Ropes Mansion garden, on my favorite bench by the pond, eating a pan au chocolat.
Not only are Caramel’s pastries masterfully crafted, but the space itself is so charming and authentic, it makes me think of all the wonderful boulangeries and patisseries I visited in France. Luckily, Caramel is conveniently located on Essex and you’ll likely pass right by it when in downtown Salem.
Honorable Mention: Back Alley Bacon
Back Alley Bacon is an experience, to say the least. They’re literally located in a back alley, and every Wednesday, when the red lantern is lit, they serve a secret pork-based meal (sometimes given to you by a man in a pig mask). While this is a unique style of dining that everyone should experience, because they are only open one night a week it can be hard to get your hands on, even as a local. But if you’re in Salem on a Wednesday night, stroll down that alley and give them a try!
You never really know how much you miss your favorite places, until you can’t visit them. I’m certainly itching to grab a cookie or tea, and sit on my favorite bench, but for the time being I’ll entertain myself with planning all things I’ll do once we can get back out into the world. I hope you’re doing the same, and that maybe one of those places you’re planning to travel to is Salem. So plan away! And put one of these on your to do list. Be sure to let me know what you think!
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