If you're traveling with kids, you may wish you knew where to find the best outdoor playspots. Usually, you won't find these in a travel guide, so I'm going to give you the inside scoop. My children are 5 and 7 and we have visited them all.
View of Salem Sound from Fort Pickering, Winter Island
Winter Island. Winter Island is a park that has everything you could wish for. Located on a peninsula that juts out into Salem Harbor, it is home to Fort Pickering, built in 1643 and utilized through the War of 1812, and the Spanish-American and Civil Wars. The Pickering Lighthouse is now restored and flashes every 4 seconds- powered by solar panel. Waikiki Beach is a lovely sandy swimming beach that has some great climbing rocks and can be reached by a path from the parking lot or through the "secret passage" (our name for the wooded trail that runs around the island). There is an outdoor shower, bathrooms, indoor showers, campsites, and picnicking areas. There are grassy meadows, and gentle hills- one known as Executioner's Hill after the hanging there of Brian Sheehan in 1772. This hill overlooks a top-rate play structure. Oh, and it also has an old Coast Guard airplane hangar (where I used to skateboard as a kid; now it is boarded up for safety measures), a boat launch, Harbormaster's Station, and a beautiful burnt-out brick structure that was a Coast Guard Administration Building. It was used as a practicing ground for fire-fighters. It now serves as a terrific setting for camp ghost stories. Directions and maps can be found at:
Winter Island from the air
Forest River Park. This, too, is a waterfront park, but it is set deep in the harbor. It has two beaches that aren't ideal for swimming but are great for kids to wade in and look for hermit crabs and for building sand castles. The play structure here is brand-new and there are scores of huge old trees, which makes it a beautiful place to walk or jog in the fall. Forest River is home to Salem's city pool, and visitors can obtain a pass for $5.00 which is good for the whole season but worth it even for an afternoon.
The newly re-opened Pioneer Village, operated by the theater department of Gordon College, is tucked away in Forest River Park. Built in 1930 to mark the tercentennial of Massachusetts, Pioneer Village is America's first living history museum. The village sits on three acres of land and contains various examples of colonial architecture: dugouts, wigwams, thatched roof cottages, and the Governor's Faire House. Culinary and medicinal gardens and a blacksmith shop further interpret early 17th-century colonial life.
Early American life re-enacted at Pioneer Village
The Essex Street Walking Mall and Behind the Phillips Library. This was a great favorite with my kids when they were really young and play structures were too big and the Salem attractions too scary. The Essex Street walking mall is (nearly) car-free, and there are alley-ways here and there and several fountains that make it a fun place to bring toddlers. We used to walk the low walls around the planters and hop across the fountains, play hide and seek in between the arches of the buildings lining the mall, and follow the pathways of different color bricks laid along the walkway. To the right of the Visitors' Center located in the old Salem Armory is a passageway into the back garden of the Phillips Library (part of the Peabody Essex Museum). There is a very large handicap ramp behind the library where my kids loved to run up and down, and the setting is quite lovely with grass, trees, and an antique garden house that has a circular walkway which makes a great racetrack.
There are other great spots in Salem, including an alpaca farm. We are going to revisit this as it's been several years since we've been there- we'll let you know what we find.
Coming up...Is the Salem Inn Haunted?....Spa packages...Alpaca farms....