8 Wicked Good Things to Do In Salem, Massachusetts

Among the oldest settlements in New England, Salem, Massachusetts was once the home of rich sea captains and Revolutionary privateers, and became a seafaring power after the Puritan era. Notable examples of our country’s earliest styles of architecture are on display here, as are cultural institutions such as the Peabody Essex Museum – with its world-class collection of art and artifacts. Salem is also the birthplace of both the National Guard and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

None of these things, however, are what people think of when they think of Salem.

The mere mention of this city north of Boston conjures witches, sorcery, and the supernatural. When the residents of Salem held the Witch Trials in 1692, they probably didn’t know they were forever sealing Salem’s fate. During the mass hysteria, 19 people (mostly women) were hanged and one was crushed to death for allegedly practicing witchcraft. So it’s somewhat ironic that, in the modern era, Salem has become a sort of mecca for Wiccan, warlock, and sorcerer types.

Wizard shops, psychics, wax museums, and other hokey tourist traps cater to visitors year round, but in October, Salem turns into full-blown Halloween Town, with a grand parade, street fair, ferris wheel, haunted houses, and so much more. All of which is to say that this historically odd place has undeniable charm – and for anyone who loves Halloween and American history, Salem in October is on their bucket list. Skip the frightfully obvious hocus-pocus, and dig in to the best the city has to offer. Ironic as it is, this historically odd place, as they say in the region, is a wicked good time.

The Witch House

Salem is unusual even among historic New England in that every major early American architectural style – Post-medieval, Georgian, Federal, Greek Revival, and Italianate – is well represented here. Post-medieval buildings are the earliest type found in New England; the first English colonists would have built in this fashion. Massive central chimneys, gabled roofs with steep pitches, and diamond-paned leaded windows are all typical of the style. The Witch House – home to Judge Jonathan Corwin, who oversaw the infamous 1692 Witch Trials – is a stellar example. Tour the home to explore the quotidian details of 17th-century life, as well as the extraordinary events that made Salem famous.

“Cry Innocent: the People vs. Bridget Bishop”

“The year is 1692. Bridget Bishop has been accused of witchcraft and you are on the Puritan jury.” So begins this historical reenactment and interactive theater experience that invites the audience to play along in the testimonies, cross-examinations, and eventual judgements of Salem’s accused citizens. This “empathic imagination” experience encourages the audience to engage with history, so that they “might broaden their understanding of the present and gain a fresh sense of purpose within their own era.”

Peabody Essex Museum

The beginnings of this museum date back to 1799, when a group of Salem sea captains founded the East India Marine Society and filled their headquarters with “natural and artificial curiosities,” collected on their global trips. Today, the museum’s diverse collection of 1.8 million works still includes some of those very first objects, as well as paintings, sculptures, photographs, textiles, and more from the 1700s through the current era. A 2003 expansion made PEM one of the biggest museums on the east coast, with tons to offer art lovers of all stripes.

It’s Alive! from the Kirk Hammett Collection at PEM

Kirk Hammett, best known as the guitarist from Metallica, happens to be an avid collector of classic horror and sci-fi movie posters, which he credits as being part of his own creative inspiration. On display through November 26, It’s Alive! Classic Horror and Sci-Fi Art from the Kirk Hammett Collection shows off dozens of posters, electric guitars, monster masks, and sculptures that recall the golden age of Hollywood and provide some interesting insight into the evolution of the genre.

Wynott’s Wands

As one might expect, not just warlocks but also wizards galore roam the streets here. Just steps from the Peabody Essex Museum is Wynott’s Wands, a delightful Harry Potter–inspired shop where any old Muggle can browse the stacks and stacks of boxes containing artfully hand-carved wooden wands.

House of the Seven Gables

Born in Salem on July 4, 1805, Nathaniel Hawthorne would write his world-famous novel The House of the Seven Gables – which explores themes of romance, guilt, atonement, and the supernatural – based on inspiration from his native town, and named for this very house. Built in 1668 on the edge of Salem Harbor for one of the richest families in the Thirteen Colonies, the house is now dedicated to Hawthorne’s life and work, and to local history.

Herb Mackey’s Metal Sculpture Yard

Just beyond the ferry landing, local resident Herb Mackey creates imaginative creatures from found objects. Mackey makes frequent additions to the collection, which lives in his yard, much to the delight of locals and visitors alike.

Historic Cemeteries

Salem is filled with Colonial-era burying grounds that feature beautiful headstones with fascinating engraved folk art and lettering. Howard Street Cemetery is said to be where Giles Corey – a victim of the Witch Trials – was gorily pressed to death under the weight of rocks slowly piled upon him after he refused to stand trial. The Broad Street and Charter Street cemeteries also have ties to the hysteria of 1692, with members of the court buried here. Behind the latter is the Witch Trials Memorial, a quiet space commemorating the innocence of those killed and acknowledging the injustice of the events.


Road Trip in Fall

9 Northeastern Fall Festivals Totally Worth the Trip

Sure, summer along the northeast Atlantic coast is gorgeous, but fall is really the region’s time to shine. Come September and October, leaves turn to breathtaking shades of apricot, gold, and fiery red. The days are still warm and sunny, but with just the right touch of coolness in the air. And – oh! – the food. Harvest season yields the crispest apples, pumpkins aplenty, and loads of other delicious produce, and cooler seas mean shellfish is at its best. Your generic pumpkin spice latte might hint at the flavors of the season, but for an authentic experience, here are 9 fall festivals and country fairs in New England and Canada that deliver the best autumn has to offer.

Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom Annual Fall Foliage Festival, Various Towns, Vermont

Not only is Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom one of the most beautiful spots in New England, it’s one of the prettiest places in the world. Located on the border of Canada, this region is prime leaf-peeping territory, and the Northeast Kingdom Annual Fall Foliage Festival (October 2–8) couldn’t be more quaint. This week-long event travels through seven towns, with driving tours that take you off the beaten path through hillside country roads to meet artisans at their homes, where they’ll feed you soup and sandwiches. Musical acts, family-style barbecues, historic mill visits, pancake breakfasts, and maple syrup sugar houses are all on the agenda. Sign up for as many – or as few – activities as you wish.

New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival, Laconia, New Hampshire

With more than 20,000 jack-o-lanterns, the New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival is a sight to behold. This two-day event (October 13th–14th) brings more than 40,000 people, 50 food and crafts vendors, live bands, carnival rides, and kids’ games together to celebrate all things fall in the town of Laconia. Last year’s event brought glory to the state’s Lakes Region when the festival regained its Guinness Book of World Records title for “Most Lit Jack-o-Lanterns Displayed”; efforts are in place to keep that title for 2017.

Freeport Fall Festival, Freeport, Maine

Best known as the home of L.L. Bean, Freeport, Maine is a bustling town on the southern coast. Its annual Freeport Fall Festival (October 6–8), brings together more than 125 New England artists and makers, live music, and fantastic local food, including a “Chowdah Challenge,” where visitors sample and vote for Freeport’s best chowder. Hosted on the L.L.Bean campus and the Freeport Village Station Plaza, the event is free and includes activities for the whole family. While you’re there, take a stroll through the hundreds of great stores, outlets, and boutiques located within walking distance of the festival, then hit up Maine Beer Company, one of the best local breweries around.

Fall Foliage Festival, Boothbay, Maine

Take a ride through history, while enjoying peak foliage season in Boothbay, Maine, when you visit the 50th Annual Fall Foliage Festival over Columbus Day weekend (October 7–9) at the Boothbay Railway Village. Beautiful crafts are front and center on the quaint Village Green, but a ride on the narrow gauge steam train is the real highlight, as you pass by gorgeous surroundings. Artisan demonstrations, live music, and a pumpkin carving contest add to the fun for all ages.

The Big E, West Springfield, Massachusetts

Officially called The Eastern States Exposition, but known to all as simply “The Big E,” this massive multi-state fair held in West Springfield, Massachusetts is the largest agricultural event on the eastern seaboard. Cooking expos, circus spectaculars, parades, country music, antique tractor shows, and an incredible butter sculpture are all part of the fun. But the fair is a functional expo, too, with farmers and ranchers participating in daily livestock shows and agricultural demonstrations. When you’ve had your fill of fair food, craft vendors, and carnival rides, move along to the competitions, where young steer workers, 4-H clubs, alpaca farmers, sheep dog handlers, cider millers, wreath makers, and far more come together to be judged on their crafts. From September 15 to October 1, nothing says fall in New England like The Big E.

Norman Bird Sanctuary’s 43rd Annual Harvest Fair, Middletown, Rhode Island

Newport, Rhode Island has become a year-round destination for tourists, and autumn is one of the best times to visit. Just four miles from the touristy city center, the Norman Bird Sanctuary in Middletown offers country charm and respite. Warm and sunny days make the end of September the perfect time for this nature preserve’s old-fashioned Harvest Fair (September 30–October 1), with it’s pony rides, mud pit tug-of-war, and greased-pole climbing contest. Food trucks and vendors bring farm-fresh local treats to the scene, alongside a beer garden and craft tents. Potato sack races, kids’ crafts, and Native American song and dance make this a beautiful way to spend a fall day with your family.

Fall Flavours Festival, Prince Edward Island

Prince Edward Island offers all the beauty and coastal charm that any traveler could want along the Atlantic Ocean. From the beginning of September through October 1, the Fall Flavours Festival attracts visitors and locals alike with the culinary delights of the island. Events include mussels and lobster boils, grilled cheese challenges, beachside feasts, and brewmasters dinners. Want to get more hands-on? You can head to Culinary Boot Camp or pick potatoes, catch lobsters, and harvest oysters with the pros. Celebrity chefs, including Lynn Crawford and Corbin Tomaszeski of the Food Network, among many others, head up several events. While there, don’t miss out on the island’s gorgeous fall foliage. Stroll the red clay roads, which are lined with brightly colored leaves, or rent a bike and hit the 270-mile Confederation Trail; built on old railroad tracks, it passes through the woods and along the coastline.

Pumpkin Festival and Regatta, Windsor, Nova Scotia

In western Nova Scotia, size matters – especially when it comes to pumpkins. The town of Windsor describes itself as Big Pumpkin Country, and that’s no joke. At its annual Pumpkin Festival and Regatta (October 9), the pumpkin weigh-in contest frequently yields entrants at over 1,000 pounds, and it’s not unheard of for blue ribbons (well, orange, actually) to go to gourds weighing more than a ton. Brave souls also race across Lake Pezaquid in massive, hollowed-out pumpkins, paddling for prizes in their painted makeshift vessels. Pretty autumn leaves serve as the perfect backdrop for spectators of all ages to cheer them on.

Celtic Colours International Festival, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

Northeast of Windsor, Cape Breton Island comes alive for leaf peepers and music lovers alike when the Celtic Colours International Festival conjures the spirit of the Emerald Isle for nine days. Musicians from around the world share stages with Cape Breton’s best singers, dancers, and storytellers during concerts, activities, and events held in celebration of the community’s rich Irish heritage. The festival will be held October 6–14, when the leaves of Cape Breton have fully blossomed into vibrant in red, yellow, and orange splendor.

Northeastern Fall Festivals by date:

September 1–October 1
Fall Flavours Festival, Prince Edward Island

September 15–October 1
The Big E, West Springfield, Massachusetts

September 30–October 1
Norman Bird Sanctuary’s 43rd Annual Harvest Fair, Middletown, Rhode Island

October 2–8
Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom Annual Fall Foliage Festival, Various Towns, Vermont

October 6–8
Freeport Fall Festival, Freeport, Maine

October 6–14
Celtic Colours International Festival, Cape Breton, Novia Scotia

October 7–9
Fall Foliage Festival, Boothbay, Maine

October 9
Pumpkin Festival and Regatta, Windsor, Nova Scotia

October 13–14
New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival, Laconia, New Hampshire

Kid with Pumpkin

10 Best Harvest Festivals for Fall

Native to North America, the pumpkin is one of the most celebrated harvests in American small towns. This ubiquitous, orange squash may be the focus of many festivals, yet each region of the United States has unique celebrations based on their own food heritage. From cranberries to rice, small towns, villages, and cities celebrate their regional bounty while raise money for local community projects. Here are 10 of the best small town harvest festivals.

Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival

Started in 1971 as part of a beautification project, the Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival is not to be missed! This fall harvest festival is known for incredible pumpkin carvings and the World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off contest. Pumpkins can weigh over a ton! Last year’s winner weighed 1,910-pounds! The 2017 prize for the heaviest pumpkin is $30,000.

The Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival is one of California’s oldest and largest festivals bringing in millions of dollars for civic projects and non-profits. Over 60,000 people pack this small town to celebrate the orange squash. Festival food vendors feature local and organic items.

Festival highlights include heavyweight champion pumpkins, a pumpkin parade, Smashing Pumpkins: Battle of the Bands, and the world’s biggest pumpkin sculpture.

Location: Half Moon Bay, California
When: October 14-15, 2017
Admission: Free

Cranberry Festival

Truly a small village, Warrens is the “Cranberry Capital of Wisconsin.” Warren’s Cranberry Festival draws over 120,000 people making it the largest cranberry event in the world. Like many small town fall harvest festivals, this non-profit organization raises millions to support local schools, the fire department, youth, scholarships, etc. Although admission is free, cranberry marsh tours are $6.00.

Past festival events have included the world’s largest cranberry whoopie pie, as well as many other cranberry treats. This tart fruit is not just for Thanksgiving meals. Deep fried cranberries, chocolate covered cranberry cheesecake, and cranberry cream puffs are just a few of the delicacies you can try at the festival.

Cranberry fest highlights include a pie eating contest, marsh tours, and meeting the Cranberry queen.

Location:  Warrens, Wisconsin
Dates & Time:  September 22-24, 2017, 7:00am-6:00pm
Admission: Free

National Apple Harvest Festival

For over 50 years, apple lovers have been gathering in the heart of Pennsylvania’s apple country near Gettysburg for the National Apple Harvest Festival. Drawing in crowds from nearby cities of Washington D.C., Baltimore, and Harrisburg, about 25,000 people attend each day. It is good to arrive early for parking and avoid crowds. Like most small town harvest festivals, the proceeds go to support community groups and parks.

There’s nothing more American than apple pie, and of course this festival includes three pie eating contests a day! In addition to the pie there are many other apple delicacies and libations to try like apple butter, apple cookies, apple bread, apple cotton candy, apple fritters, apple dumplings, apple turnovers, apple cakes, apple guacamole, apple pie moonshine, apple pizza, apple sausage sandwiches, and apple wood smoked turkey legs.  You can also learn how to make scrapple, a mid-Atlantic tradition of combining apples, pork scraps, and cornmeal. (There’s a scrapple festival in Delaware)

Highlights include over 300 arts & crafts vendors, classic cars, a petting zoo, and orchard tours.

Location:  Biglerville, Pennsylvania
Dates & Time:  October 7-8 & 14-15, 2017
Admission: General – $10, kids under 12 – free.

International Rice Festival

The 81st annual International Rice Festival is not to be missed. The four-day festival features two parades, a rice cooking contest, and a queen’s ball. Other traditions include a fiddle contest and frog derby. Given that it takes place in Louisiana, there is plenty of Cajun and Cajun food and music. The purpose of the festival is to bring “attention to the importance of rice as food and also emphasizes it’s [sic] place in the world’s economic picture.”

The International Rice Festival is Louisiana’s oldest and largest agricultural celebration. After a hiatus during World War II, the festival added “international’ to its name. About 300,000 people attend the festival each year. Organizers boast over 7 million people have visited during the festival’s long history.

Don’t miss the carnival rides, rice “poker” run, or the rice grading contest.

Location: Crowley, Louisiana
Dates & Time:  October 19-22, 2017
Admission: Free

Circleville Pumpkin Show

Dubbed the “Greatest Free Show on Earth”, the Centerville Pumpkin Show is the oldest small town harvest festival on our list. It is Ohio’s oldest and largest festival. You can taste just about anything made from pumpkin at the show including pumpkin ice cream. pumpkin donuts, pumpkin fudge, pumpkin burgers, pumpkin pie, pumpkin cream puffs, pumpkin blossoms, pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin bread, pumpkin pizza, pumpkin chili, and pumpkin butter.

The big attraction at the Centerville Pumpkin show is the world’s largest pumpkin pie, although it is still probably not enough to feed the 400,000 visitors to the festival. This year’s enormous pie will be over six feet in diameter and weigh over 400 pounds! According to the festival fact sheet, the pie takes “100 lbs. of cooked pumpkin, 40 lbs. of sugar, 26 gallons of milk, 15 doz. eggs, 4 lbs. of cornstarch, 1 1/4 lb. pumpkin spice, 1 1/4 lb. of salt, 42 lbs. of pie dough. Bake 6 hours. Cool 6 hours. At the end of the four day event, the giant pie is donated to area hogs that look forward to a real treat!”

This pumpkin show is filled with concerts, pumpkin pie eating contests, a big wheel race, and the world’s largest pumpkin pie.

Location:  Circleville, Ohio
Dates & Time:  October 18-22, 2017
Admission: Free

Kona Coffee Cultural Festival

The Kona Coffee Cultural Festival began in 1970 to celebrate the Big Island’s coffee history. It is the oldest festival on the islands. In 1828, a missionary named Samual Ruggles planted Kona’s first coffee plant. By 1841, coffee plantations existed in Kona. Today, there are 650 small coffee farms in the region producing 3.8 million pounds!

This 10-day festival features coffee farm tours, cultural art exhibits, a lantern parade, and a Makahiki blessing concert. There is a Miss Kona Coffee Scholarship Pageant and Kona coffee cupping (tasting).

You won’t need much of a coffee buzz to check out the living history farm tour, learn how to cup coffee, and take in the lantern parade.

Location:  Kailua-Kona, Hawaii
Dates & Time:  October 3-12, 2017
Admission: $3 festival button

Hood River Valley Harvest Fest

For 35 years, the Hood River Valley Harvest Festival has been celebrating the harvests of the region. This “old-fashioned” fall festival includes local produce and food products, as well as beer and wine. It is held along the riverfront and is the Columbia Gorge’s largest regional autumnal celebration. Boxes of fresh pears, apples, pumpkins, berries and flowers, as well as a diversity of arts and crafts are for sale. Smoked salmon and chocolate covered cherries are just a few of the local delicacies provided by food vendors.

Musical acts range from bluegrass to classic rock. New this year to the festival is an expanded beer, hard cider, and wine selection on tap featuring Gorge Cider Society, Columbia Gorge Winegrowers Association and Full Sail Brewery. Sales of libations go to support the Arc of the Mid-Columbia, a group serving those with developmental disabilities.

From truck rides to bouncy houses, this harvest fest has a lot to offer. There is also lots of local beer, cider, and wine. Don’t miss world record pumpkin carver Scott Cully.

Location:  Hood River, Oregon
Dates & Time:  October 13-15, 2017
Admission: Adults $6, Kids under 12 Free

Frankenmuth Oktoberfest

Break out your lederhosen and celebrate this German fall tradition!  Frankenmuth, Michigan’s Oktoberfest is the only Oktoberfest outside of Munich to be officially sanctioned by the German parliament. The festival began to celebrate the reunification of Germany. It is located in Michigan’s “Little Bavaria”. The event is sponsored by Munich-based brewer Hofbräuhaus.

This authentic Oktoberfest is filled with German beer, music, and food. It even features a weiner dog race based on the original Munich Oktoberfest horse races. 100 dachshunds compete for the title of “Michigan’s fastest wiener” while their fans drink and cheer them on.

In between the weiner dog races, there is plenty of beer drinking to be had. There’s also great German food and dancing, plus more beer drinking. Oh, and bouncy houses, plus more beer.

Location:  Frankenmuth, Michigan
Dates & Time:  September 14-17, 2017
Admission: $10 (Sunday free)

Trailing of the Sheep Festival

While technically not an agricultural harvest festival, the Trailing of the Sheep Festival celebrates local fall traditions that are important to the region. This unique celebration is  “preserving the stories and history of sheep ranchers and herders, celebrating the rich cultures of the past and present, and entertaining and educating children and adults about the production of local food and fiber that have sustained local economies for generations”. This small town festival is very unique!

In its 21st year, the Trailing of the Sheep Festival honors the tradition of trailing (moving) sheep from high summer mountain pastures to winter grazing areas. The festivities are filled with history, storytelling, dancing, music, a wool festival, and champion sheep dog trials. It’s been recognized repeatedly as one of the United States’ best fall festivals. Culinary lamb classes, specials from local restaurants, and a Love of Lamb Foodie Fest will fill your appetite.

Some of the highlights include farm-to-table lamb dinners, sheep shearing, and champion sheep dog trials.

Location:  Ketchum,bHailey, and Sun Valley , Idaho
Dates & Time:  October 4-8, 2017
Admission: Free (Activities range from $3-$100)

Fall Wine Festival and Sunset Tour

Located at President George Washington’s home, this festival celebrates local Virginia wineries. A more upscale festival experience, the Fall Wine Festival and Sunset Tour features live blues music, wine tasting, and a tour of Mount Vernon. 20 different Virginia wineries are featured. Visitors enjoy sitting on the East Lawn sipping local wine.

Our first president said, “I have long been of opinion from the spontaneous growth of the vine, that the climate and soil in many parts of Virginia were well fitted for Vineyards and that Wine, sooner or later would become a valuable article of produce.” Washington himself tried to make wine beginning in 1760. Slaves worked in his vineyard where he continued to experiment with varieties. Upon his wife’s death, Washington’s will instructed the slaves to be freed. This historical festival includes a visit to the basement where Washington stored his wines and information on his successes and failures in viticulture.

The wine-based tour of Mount Vernon is not to be missed, along with some great information on our first president.

Location:  Mount Vernon, Virginia
Dates & Time:  October 6-8, 2017
Admission: Friday $40, Saturday $48, Sunday $36

Fall officially begins with the autumnal equinox on Friday, September 22, 2017, though many small towns begin celebrations earlier. This season of harvest is honored in small towns across America. Each region has unique culinary flavors and traditions based on the harvest. Festivals are the perfect way to learn about history and enjoy local culture.

Harvest Festival 2017 Dates

  1. Frankenmuth Oktoberfest-Frankenmuth, MI; Sept. 14-17
  2. Cranberry Festival-Warrens, WI; Sept. 22-24
  3. Kona Coffee Cultural Festival-Kailua-Kona, HI; Oct. 3-12
  4. Trailing of the Sheep Festival-Ketchum, ID; Oct. 4-8
  5. Fall Wine Festival and Sunset Tour-Mount Vernon, VA; Oct. 6-8
  6. The National Apple Harvest Festival-Biglerville, PA; Oct. 7-8 & 14-15
  7. Hood River Valley Harvest Fest-Hood River, OR; Oct. 13-15
  8. Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival-Half Moon Bay, CA; Oct. 14-15
  9. The Circleville Pumpkin Show-Circleville, OH; Oct. 18-22
  10. International Rice Festival-Crowley, LA; Oct. 19-22