Salem is a town of dichotomies. The site of the infamous 1692 witch trials is now one of the quaintest New England destinations.
The preserved colonial architecture and cobblestone streets are a glaring contrast to Salem’s frenetic, action-packed theme park vibe—especially this time of year. And while October is the busiest month to visit, Salem is truly a place where Halloween never ends, where a man dressed like Michael Myers inside the CVS is the norm and where paranormal TV shows regularly arrive to investigate the town’s dark legacy.
Although people were only accused of being witches here, Salem is now filled with all sorts of practicing witches, sorcerers, psychics and seers. It’s a town reckoning with its past every day of the year, not just on Halloween.
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EAT & DRINK
Sea Level Oyster Bar & Kitchen
The focus is freshness and seafood at this rustic, waterfront restaurant. The raw bar is especially tempting, with everything from oysters to littlenecks to peel and eat shrimp steamed in local beer. Just don’t forget the hot lobster roll or the chowder fries, featuring the universal starch of choice topped with clam chowder and smothered in cheddar cheese. 94 Wharf St., sealeveloysterbar.com
Alexander Graham Bell unveiled his plans for the telephone at this eatery, housed in Salem’s historic Lyceum Hall. It’s also allegedly haunted. Bridget Bishop, the first person executed in the witch trials, is rumored to have owned the land here and people have reported seeing a female apparition. Come for classic dishes like surf ’n turf, fried scrod or the fish and chips, then ask the manager nicely if you can explore upstairs — that’s where the ghostliest activity is reported. 43 Church St.
Another haunted hotspot located in the Old Salem Jail, BitBar is a beer garden and arcade, featuring classic games like Ms. Pac-Man, Tetris, Mortal Kombat, Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker and more. Burgers and tacos round out the food menu, but the drinks — with names like Princess Peach, Dankey Kang, and Ecto Chaser — are spookily good. 50 St. Peter St., bit.bar
Notch Brewery & Tap Room
Situated on the South River basin, Notch’s outdoor beer garden is open year-round with heated stand-up tables in the winter. The indoor tap room is also choice, with 8 to 13 beers on tap, and pretzels and tinned fish for snack offerings. Free brewery tours happen on Saturdays at 5 p.m. 283 Rear Derby St., notchbrewing.com
This hip, minimalist boutique is where your Stevie Nicks dreams come true. Grab a spell kit, a “Hex the Patriarchy” wall print, a few pastel ritual candles, a journal, a floral Tarot deck, then throw on “Rhiannon,” a lacey shawl, and get witchy. 144 Washington St., hauswitchstore.com
This is the place to go for crystals, gemstones, fossils and geodes. If you’re not a geology geek or a spiritual healer, the sterling silver jewelry selection here is also quite extensive. Prices are reasonable and the staff is super-knowledgeable. 186 Essex St., villagesilversmith.net/salem
Hex: Old World Witchery
Voodoo dolls, check. Wolf hair, check. Dowsing rod? Check. Hex has everything you need to cast that love spell on your coworker—potions and candles, pendulums, herbs, roots and more. If you’re seeking answers, Hex also hosts a staff of psychics and tarot readers. 246 Essex St., hexwitch.com
Rumored to be the most haunted house in Salem, this historic site—once the Joshua Ward House—became a hotel in 2015. Built on top of the land once belonging to George “The Strangler” Corwin, the infamous and sadistic sheriff who led the witch trial executions against 19 men and women, the hotel is purportedly haunted by three spirits, including that of Giles Corey, who was pressed to death by Corwin after refusing to confess to being a warlock. If all this sounds like your cup of tea, The Merchant is now a bright and cheery blend of modern and traditional. 148 Washington St., $179-629, themerchantsalem.com
Lori Bruno at Magika
This former NASA staffer and strega — Italian for witch — is one of Salem’s most famous psychics, and for good reason. Known for her uncanny ability to state accurate names and dates, Bruno has consulted with law agencies and boasts a cult following of returning local and out-of-state visitors alike. 107 Federal St, $40
Owner and tour guide Mike Vitka came to Salem for school and stayed for the ghouls — the former skeptic became a believer when his coworker reported a physical encounter with a spirit in the workplace. Vitka’s lively walking tour winds through the heart of Salem, stopping at sites like a haunted cemetery to where Giles Corey was pressed to death. At each of the sites, Vitka encourages flash photography, which captures “orbs,” or residual spiritual energy. 213 Essex St.,$16, spellboundtours.com
The Witch House
The once home of Jonathan Corwin, the judge during the witch trials, is an eerie time capsule. Considered a mansion during the 17th century, Corwin’s home is a museum to the time period’s artifacts, furniture, and way of life. Cast iron cauldrons hang over fireplaces and, upstairs, weaving machines and straw beds sit creepily stagnant and unbothered by time. The hairs on the back of your neck standing up? The upstairs bedroom is also rumored to be haunted. 310 ½ Essex St., $8.25
This haunted house is actually inside a strip mall and staffed by actors, but it’s probably the most frightening experience you’ll have during your stay in Salem. If you want to scream while monsters lunge at you in the darkness, and then a man emerges with what looks and sounds like a functioning chainsaw, this is the place for you. Open year-round. 186 Essex St., $9, witchmansion.com