SALEM, Massachusetts – Salem could use a new storytelling angle. The coastal city just north of Boston has picturesque architecture, a lively downtown with lots of independent local businesses, access to a great culture and arts, maritime charm, and over-the-top fall foliage. Even though the witch trials centuries ago led to passing the first laws making it impossible to bring a witch case to court ever again (a century before most European continental countries did the same), the city has been ingrained in the American psyche as a gathering place for the metaphysically curious. It's one of the most popular Halloween destinations in the country, with hundreds of thousands of visitors coming through each season to conjure spirits, book tarot readings, and buy witchcraft supplies. Even the local tourism board has leaned into this regrettable past, as noted by the witch hat in the logo and cringe-y tagline "Still making history."
Digging into history anywhere in the United States will make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. Before colonists stole the land that is now called Salem, it was home for centuries to the Naumkeag band of the Massachusett tribe, a group of nomads known to be peaceful and generous — even as their seasonal homes were continually appropriated by Europeans and they were either forcibly removed from their ancestral lands or extinguished by European diseases. If we're haunted by anything, it should be the consequences of mercantile colonialism and capitalism.
Salem is a place with a complex history, one where visitors can appreciate how far we've come and how much farther we have to go.
The Salem Witch Museum's mission is to be a voice of the innocent victims of the witch trials and to shed light on how and why witch hunts have proliferated in one form or another into the present. In 2019, Salem’s newest green space was named Charlotte Forten Park in recognition of the work of Salem State’s first African American graduate (1856), an abolitionist, writer, translator, and activist for women’s rights. The Peabody Essex is currently exhibiting the largest collection of 17th-century materials related to the trials within the context of reckoning and reclamation.
Lark Hotels has been carving out boutique hotels in iconic coastal destinations across New England with a sweet spot between nostalgia and creature comforts. For The Hotel Salem, Lark only went so far back as to take the bones of a downtown department store and breath new life into them. A nod to the area's retail history, midcentury details serve as a jumping off point for the decor — '50s and '60s furnishings punctuated with bright pops of color and funky patterns. A lively rooftop bar offers cityscape views and the luncheonette downstairs offers American classics for breakfast and lunch. It's a nod to the old-school, updated.
Hotel Salem at a Glance
The Vibe: Mod and refreshingly modern.
Standout Detail: The building conversion from department store to cozy hotel.
This Place Is Perfect For: Groups of friends, micro wedding parties, families passing through, couples looking for an easy weekender from Boston.
Rooms: Forty-four micro rooms, doubles, and spacious suites accommodate a range of budgets and travel styles. Midcentury-inspired furniture, textile patterns, and color choices — pops of blues, greens, and oranges — warm up cute and compact spaces and add personality to "hospitality centers" on each floor where guests can find coffee and water. Tivoli radios, Lather toiletries, waffle kimono robes, strong WiFi make it feel like a homey place away from home.
On Site: An underground private event space called Cellar that's great for rehearsal dinners, small wedding receptions, and family parties.
Food + Drink: A luncheonette called Counter serves American fare for breakfast and lunch. A seasonal rooftop bar (the first in the city) offers Mexican small plates and panoramic views of the harbor.
What to Do Nearby
The coastal town is 30 minutes from Boston and easily connected via a commuter train line as well as a seasonal ferry. The excellent Peabody Essex Museum collects, preserves, and showcases international artwork with contemporary curation. The Dotty Brown Art & Nature Center offers family-friendly exhibitions and art-making spaces. Pioneer Village is a living history museum consisting of various examples of 17th-century colonial architecture (wigwams, dugouts, thatched-roof cottages, and the ;Governor's Faire House) on three acres of land with culinary and medicinal gardens and a blacksmith shop. Support the old-school: Red's Kitchen + Tavern is a greasy spoon landmark circa 1945. The Record Exchange has been luring vinyl diggers since 1974. Wicked Good Books offer new and used books, toys, and gifts. Check out this story for more dining and shopping recommendations.