SALEM — You won’t need long to discover why people on the North Shore relish this city year-round (not just in October). In one weekend my family and I ate well, shopped, enjoyed frighteningly good coffee, and browsed great art. Our 5-year-old’s obsession with trains meant we could have turned back for home after our short trip up on the commuter rail, but even he enjoyed much of what Old Salem has to offer. Whether you go by train or car, be sure to get a room downtown. A number of self-guided walking tours are available for downloading at www.nps.gov/sama.
2 p.m. STROLLING FOR SNACKS
You will need healthy provisions, and Milk and Honey Green Grocer (32 Church St., 978-744-6639) is a local favorite. Call ahead about their next food tasting and the special for the week. Make the stroll leisurely, checking out the impressive architecture of the McIntire District (Chestnut, Federal, Essex, and Broad streets), named after 16th-century architect Samuel McIntire, who designed and built homes for some of the city’s wealthiest merchants.
3 p.m. SECONDHAND SALEM
Stop in at Witch City Consignment and Thrift (301 Essex St., 978-744-4433) — known to many locals as either Jerry’s Army-Navy Store or Jerry’s Department Store — and wander through Salem’s most eclectic year-round, indoor yard sale. If you are in the market for a wigged female mannequin, an antique Hess truck, a couple of unopened packs of 1980s baseball cards, or any number of unusual table lamps, this is your place. Next, head to Derby Square Bookstore (215 Essex St., 978-745-8804), which features thousands of precariously stacked books, many of them organized by subject and author. (There’s a nice children’s and young adult section toward the back). But hurry in — owner Ted Monroe has for years threatened to close up and move to a warmer climate, saying he can’t compete with the chains.
4 p.m. KIDS’ CORNER
The year-round success of Mud Puddle Toys (221 Essex St., 978-740-5400) is indicative of a more family-oriented Salem. You need not be a child to enjoy this independent shop, which carries off-beat, educational, and creativity-inducing playthings. Younger kids will be drawn to the trains that stay out for their enjoyment while others can try any number of unusual board games.
5 p.m. TREAT YOURSELF
Stop in for a coffee or a pint of craft beer at The Gulu Gulu Cafe (247 Essex St., 978-740-8882, hot chocolate $2.50, coffee $1.50, draft beer $4-$6), easily Salem’s best spot for both. Since its opening in 2006, the Czech-inspired cafe has become a local favorite for its unique drink offerings, above-average food, and laid-back vibe. Here, you are just as likely to see a family engrossed in a game of Monopoly as you are work pals sampling from Gulu Gulu’s extensive craft beer list or a student on her laptop in the corner.
6 p.m. DINNER
With dark wood and plush chairs, the warm and cozy Tavern on the Green (18 Washington Square, entrees $13-$23, children’s meal $7) occupies one corner of the historic Hawthorne Hotel, built in 1925. A bit more casual than Nathaniel’s across the lobby, the Tavern still features a nice wine list that complements its menu of American favorites, from roasted chicken and mashed potatoes to seafood. The best item on the menu, however, has to be the bowl-lickingly delicious Tiger Brownie-Nut Sundae, a sinfully sweet bar of Dutch chocolate, golden chocolate chip brownie, and chewy coconut, topped with walnuts, vanilla ice cream, warm chocolate sauce, and whipped cream.
8 p.m. STAY THE NIGHT
At the family-owned
Salem Inn, (7 Summer St., 978-741-0680, www.sa
leminnma.com, rates April 15-Sept. 30 $159-$279 with breakfast), let the kids play at your feet as you collapse in front of the fire with a complimentary glass of sherry and plot the next day’s itinerary. The inn, originally built in 1834, is actually three separate historic homes, one of which was built by Revolutionary War hero Nathaniel West. Consider staying in the spacious, sunlit penthouse family suite.
9 a.m. REVOLUTIONARY BRUNCH
On the outside, it’s a late-18th-century coffeehouse where patriots met to plan the Revolution. Inside, it’s Red’s Sandwich Shop (15 Central St., 978-745-3527, www.redssandwichshop
.com, $3.95-$8.50), a fairly regular-looking diner that is one of Salem’s top attractions. You are likely to see locals and tourists alike enjoying breakfast. The off-season is a great time to visit Red’s and see what all the fuss is about, as the summer line stretches out the door and up the street.
11 a.m. CULTURAL STOP
Salem’s cultural and artistic jewel, the Peabody Essex Museum (East India Square, 978-745-9500, www.pem
.org, adults $15, under 16 free), is usually a positive experience for everyone. The eclectic collection ranges from maritime art to its celebrated Yin Yu Tang Chinese House. Its hands-on nature gallery, guided family tours, and abundant restrooms make it most family-friendly.
Noon SECOND BRUNCH?
Hit up Scratch Kitchen (245 Derby St., 978-741-2442, brunch entrees $8-$12) before 2:30 p.m. for eggs Benedict, beans and toast, or a Frisbee-sized pancake. Or, if you prefer, go with a seasonal sandwich (vegetable and goat cheese panino, anyone?) and a side of chowder. Either way, pair it with a bottle of North Shore beer. The atmosphere is casual and fun, and you can peek in on Chef Bill Fogarty as he works wonders at the griddle.
2 p.m. HISTORICAL ENDING
Before you head home, see a few of the historic sites. Just a short walk eastward down Derby Street showcases the Custom House, the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, House of the Seven Gables (which includes Nathaniel Hawthorne’s home), and many of the city’s first homes.