Lucky 13—top things to do during the city’s most bewitched and celebrated month.
Photo by Ashley Lunetta
Joining the throngs who descend upon Salem in October can be daunting. Many who live on the North Shore think October is the perfect time to avoid the Witch City. How about help from a local Salemite? Here’s a “top 13” list of creative things to do and ways to rediscover the charm of Salem this fall.
1. Think Octoberfest and visit Notch Brewing Company, which opened to lines of thirsty beer drinkers in July on the South River canal. These low alcohol session beers are best enjoyed at the picnic tables outside in the biergarten after a game of Skee-ball (found inside near the communal tables) and with a soft pretzel. The crowd is local to the area or up from Boston to check out the ever-expanding coolness of Salem. 283 Derby St., notchbrewing.com
2. It’s apple picking season. For those in Salem this means cider drinking on the edge of town. Take a self-guided walking tour through the McIntire District, where the largest concentration of designs by celebrated architect Samuel McIntire can be found, and follow the twisty path of architectural gems on Chestnut Street to the tap room at Far From The Tree Cider (FFTT). There, you’ll find a crowd of men with long beards and ladies with arm sleeve tattoos playing a game of corn hole or ordering pizza delivery while sampling the many new ciders created by Al Snape and his crew. FFTT produces cider the old English way. Not sugary. Always interesting. Add in the cool vibe of the place, a breath of fresh air in a neighborhood of car mechanics and moving vans for rent, and you’ll swear that you’re an urban pioneer. 108 Jackson St., farfromthetreecider.com
3. The important collection and world-class traveling exhibitions at the Peabody Essex Museum don’t exactly evoke Halloween. But this October, one exhibition will take you to another world. Contemporary artists use the Earth’s closest celestial body, the moon, as both a source of inspiration and investigation in Lunar Attraction. Explore the human fascination and connection with the moon, ranging from the persistent myths about the psychological effects of a full moon to the gravitational pull that controls Earth’s tides to the 21st-century international race to build a base on the moon. October at PEM also means the museum’s award-winning month-long festival The Big Draw. This year’s theme brings together science, technology, engineering, art, and math. The chair you are sitting on, the computer you use, and the building you’re in, all began life as a drawing. PEM is part of an international community celebration inviting us all to take pencil in hand. pem.org
4. Always wanted to take a walking tour of Salem, but afraid of those giant roving groups of tourists following a torch-bearing ghoul? Step into the light with Karen Scalia for a morning tour that includes coffee, bakeries, pastries, and local conversation. Salem Food Tours is offering daily AM Coffee Walks in October with a terrific overview of the North Shore’s delicious little city. The tour includes information on the spice trade history, historic landmarks, and shops. Oh, and don’t forget the restaurants you’ll surely want to revisit when darkness descends. Salemfoodtours.com
5. Salem’s maritime past is celebrated nowhere more than with Captain Michael Rutstein on the Schooner Fame. Running weekends through October, this fun sail, complete with Dark ’n’ Stormy in hand, is also chock-full of history. Rutstein’s years of research and passion for Salem’s maritime past pours forth from the deck in a tale about an early American privateer ship trying to outdo the Brits. After the War of 1812 broke out, the mariners of Salem could sit at home and “swallow the anchor” or brave the sea and use their skills to take some gold. The men of the Fame scored the first prizes taken by any American privateer during the war. This and more come alive when Captain Rutstein fires the cannon. But the Fame is also a relaxing way to while away an afternoon. The ticket booth (and boat) can be found outside the Victoria Station restaurant on Wharf Street. schoonerfame.com
6. Since Arthur Miller first introduced The Crucible more than 50 years ago, Salem has been making sense of its dark past on stage. In the last decade, Salem Theatre Company has evolved many times over and is now located in an industrial space in Shetland Park. Offering edgy, surprisingly ambitious productions, the theater draws audiences and cast members from far-flung places. This October, join them for what is sure to be an interesting take on the Witch City during their October offering, as well as for their Dark Series, a chance for audience members to experience a more intimate setting on Monday nights to hear a reading of a play and discuss the piece with the director, actors, and each other following the reading. 35 Congress St., 3rd Floor, Suite 301, salemtheatre.com
7. What is October without kits that help you cast a spell to win your lost love? HausWitch was an online hit before coming to Washington Street to become the hip boutique of all things witch. Look for events almost nightly in October, like Divine Tarot 101 For the Soul and Dye It Black, natural fabric dyeing. Also, a new moon meditation falls on October 30. This year, the owner is self-publishing a zine/keepsake book called Witchtopia, culled from artist submissions on the topics of the witch trials, street fashion, maps, points of interests, witchy recipes, and photography. 144 Washington St., hauswitchstore.com
8. Don’t be embarrassed to get a psychic reading. Everybody does it in Salem now and then, sometimes even shedding their therapist for the ones who truly know tomorrow. Located in both Salem and New Orleans, HEX: Old World Witchery is for those who believe in spirits and those who summon them in graveyards at midnight. Cast a spell and connect with departed loved ones at the shop’s Witches’ Altar of the Dead, or meet with an experienced psychic who can guide you through Tarot cards, palmistry, clairvoyance, and mediumship. 246 Essex St., hexwitch.com
9. If you’d prefer to imagine the future with the aid of an herb rather than a person, look no further than The Witch Doctor on Lafayette Street. Reveling in Salem’s early embrace of the dispensary, each weekend of October this herb temple will celebrate the work of a different American glass artist, hailing from Colorado, North Carolina, Philadelphia, or Maine. Celebrating consists of live glass blowing and an “in shop drop” of the featured artist’s latest and greatest body of work. A recent renovation has tripled the shop’s size to nearly 4,000 square feet. A live glass blowing studio with three torches is located in the center of it all. 109 Lafayette St., witchdr.com
10. You’ll need a place to escape the madness. Do so at Gulu Gulu Café, where the patio has long been a cozy haven, known by the locals, for watching the masses parade up Essex Street. With live music most nights of the week—including weird electronica and gypsy rock—arguably one of the best beer selections on the North Shore and a cheese plate or goulash to fortify you. Come back on Halloween night (tickets required) to hear Dan Blakeslee, Folk Artist of the Year in 2014 at the Boston Music Awards, as he transforms into Doctor Gasp. In a joint some literally think of as their living room, some costumes get confused with mere comfort. 247 Essex St., gulugulucafe.com
11. You just might want to book a room to stay close to the bewitching action. At The Merchant hotel, you’ll find a chambre decorated just for you, Apple TV, and a small exclusive bar down the hall, complete with provocative conversation. Truly the best way to experience a place is to immerse yourself in its culture. The Instagram Scavenger Hunt will take you to Winter Island, Red’s, The Ropes Mansion, and back. There are treats in exchange for your tricks. 148 Washington St., themerchantsalem.com
12. The Hawthorne Hotel, a Salem landmark since 1925, hosts the go-to Halloween Ball, as well as a month long party. Some of the hotel’s die-hard fans have not missed the celebration in over 15 years, while others bring in several suitcases just to decorate their rooms for the few days they stay in Salem. The hotel welcomes 900 guests from all 50 states, and, in recent years, has started drawing an international attendance. This year’s ball is on Saturday, October 29, with a theme that gives you plenty to work with: “Seven Deadly Sins.” An insider tip: If you want the Halloween experience without the busy crowds, visit Salem on a Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday to find plenty of parking and no lines. 18 Washington Sq., W, hawthornehotel.com
13. In a city where the broom is undoubtedly the best form of transportation, (and walking isn’t bad either), bicycles are free at the Hawthorne Hotel and at the Salem Ferry as part of the Salem Spins Bike Share program. These cool hybrid bikes can whisk you from point A to point B. So can the fast ferry into Boston and back, which runs through, of all days, Halloween. salem.com, bostonharborcruises.com