This should probably come as no surprise to anyone who lives in New England, but around Halloween, Salem MA becomes an absolute mess. I recently went up there for the day – mainly to check out an awesome bakery – and ended up questioning my sanity. I thought, “Halloween is weeks away, how bad can it be?” Bad. It was very, very bad. Although, once we parked it got a lot better and ended up being tons of fun. Getting into the town center was an epic endeavor though, and took about 30 minutes from the highway exit. In the end, I wish I had brought a “Tips for Navigating Salem” guide. Alas, I didn’t have that guide. But now you do!
#1 – Don’t go in October. For those of you who are not American, or for any Americans who flunked U.S. history, there was a series of events in Salem during the late 1600’s that are commonly referred to as the Salem Witch Trials. Given the commercialization of Halloween, it stands to reason that any town known for its horrific witch executions might get a little busy during the month of October. Busy is a slight understatement though. Salem seems to have an outdoor market during the entire month of October. Combine that with all the tourists who want an authentic “spooky New England experience” and you have everyone and their mother boppin’ around Salem in October. Everyone.
#2 – If you do decide to go to Salem in October hit up the Salem Witch Museum. Yes, it’s gimmicky and overly dramatic. It’s also AWESOME. You buy a time slot, sit in a dark room, and listen to a historic narration of the Salem Witch Trials. Creepy dioramas are spotlighted as they relate to the narrative. It’s a pretty cool experience and gives an excellent overview of the events that unfolded back in the day. History can be fun!
#3 – Eat at A&J King Bakery. This place is amazing! Sandwiches are super delicious and include homemade condiments and fantastic bread. The roast beef sandwich came on a French Baguette with cheddar cheese, roasted tomatoes and pickled red onions. I added mustard and field greens, because everything is better with mustard and field greens. The onions added an unexpected but pleasant tang to the sandwich. Their acidity definitely helped to brighten the meal.
The bakery has a warm and homey atmosphere with aromas of brewing coffee, freshly baked bread, and pastries filling the air. Although there were a fair amount of customers, we didn’t have any trouble locating a seat. The staff was super friendly and able to answer any ingredient related questions.
Dessert was the seasonal bread pudding in my absolute favorite flavor: Pumpkin. Oh. My. God. I died and went to heaven eating this. It was the perfect ratio of gooey bread to pumpkin puree to spicy deliciousness. Even ignoring my obsession with all things pumpkin, this was an excellent bread pudding. I highly, highly recommend this place.
#4 – Leave time to bum around. Unfortunately, due to the truly epic amount of traffic – and poor planning on my part – we did not have time to explore or wander about as much we should have. Salem is a funky little town with all sorts of interesting nooks, crannies, and shops. Definitely leave a fair amount of time to explore the area and its historic sites. While the town center is pretty small it is packed with stores, cafes, and museums. Yes, some of it is a little tacky and over the top but that just adds to the zany atmosphere that is Salem!