Maybe you’ve been in Boston for years, but you’re now having kids and looking to relocate. Maybe you’re planning a move to the Boston area from another city in the US or abroad, and you’re trying to make sense of your options. Whatever the case, Boston Moms Blog is here to help with a handy guide to some popular towns in the area! We’ll tell you about the vibe, income levels, schools, and fun insider info to help you figure out the best place for you.
(To read our guide to East Arlington, click here!)
How we got here
First things first: No, I’m not a witch.
I moved to Salem somewhat reluctantly seven years ago. I had spent my first six years in Massachusetts living in Allston, Brighton, and Brookline — places where I had a quick T ride or could even walk to work. But as rental prices increased, I had to get out to a spot where I could get more for my money. At the time, Salem was the answer.
Salem is a lovely compromise. It’s a young city, but it’s also suburban. Rentals abound, but so do single-family houses. You can drive where you need, but there are multiple public transportation options. It gives me the urban feel I prefer, with suburban conveniences.
Plus, who doesn’t want to live in a city that is the Disney World of Halloween? My mother is one of those who decorates for Halloween on September 1, giving me the patience for witches, ghosts, and pumpkins one needs to live in the Witch City.
Vibe :: Hip city
With a booming restaurant and bar scene, Salem has become a very hip place for young 20- and 30-somethings to live. There are cideries, breweries, and almost too many coffee shops (if there is such a concept). Cool gift shops, independent cinemas, and speciality food stores are neighbors to touristy T-shirt shops and witch- and ghost-themed businesses.
There is a great mix of residents, from those single and newly coupled young adults to families to retirees living out their golden years in downtown condos (a growing and fun population!). It’s a historic city, but a forward-thinking one. There is a solid amount of political and community involvement. If you want to sit on a committee or volunteer, you are welcome and encouraged.
And then there’s Halloween. In October, Salem becomes a tourist-filled haven for all things frightful. Residents fall into two camps — relish in it (me), or hide until November 1.
Live :: Your choice
Buying and renting in Salem may give you less anxiety than other places.
A three-bedroom home in Salem is averaging $335,000 as of September 2017, according to Trulia’s market trend report. That’s down from a high of $400,000 last year. There is a huge variety of types of homes for sale. My neighborhood in South Salem has a lot of single-family homes less than 50 years old that often go for between $370,000-450,000. But nearer to downtown, you will find historic homes that can run a wide range of prices because of their historic nature and desirable neighborhood. Condos and townhomes are available all over the city and can be a good way to initially get into the Salem real estate market.
For the last seven years I’ve rented in Salem, which is a very affordable way to go. There are tons of options, from apartment home communities (I’m in one), to units in multi-families. According to Trulia, the average monthly rent in Salem is currently $1,700. I’m always keeping an eye on listings to give me key info come lease-renewal time, and I often find two bedrooms available in the $1,800-2,200 range.
Learn :: Hopeful for the future
Things are looking up! The public schools have struggled over the past few years. However, the district hired a new superintendent last fall who has already made great gains. In my eyes, Salem High School is the gem of the district, with one of the best music programs in the state, involved teachers, and tons of co-curricular and extracurricular programs. Salem may not look as great testing-statistic-wise as some other districts in Massachusetts, but I must remind you, testing statistics are not the only arbiter of school strength. Salem is a diverse district with a lot of parent and community involvement, and there is a lot of great going on that those stats don’t display.
There are some charter and private school possibilities in Salem as well. On the charter school front, Salem Academy Charter School and Bentley Academy have become popular choices. Private schools include the Greenhouse School, a small alternative school for elementary and middle school, and the Phoenix School, a rigorous and community-service-minded elementary school.
Is your child not yet school-age? Learn from my mistake. There are a lot of good daycare options in Salem. However, unless you call them when you’re 12 weeks pregnant, you may not get into any of them. (Luckily for my son, there are also good options in the surrounding towns. Whew.)
Play :: It’s not just ghost tours!
Even outside of Halloween, there is a ton to do around Salem. You can find a farmer’s market, craft show, or festival seemingly every weekend (even in the winter!) The Peabody Essex Museum is right downtown, and its collection and exhibitions rival that of any major city’s art museums. It is free for Salem residents. (They even have a handy guide for visits with young children!)
I also like to wheel my son down to the Salem Waterfront and Derby Street. There’s a lot of cute shopping to be done, coffee shops galore, and the Salem Maritime National Historic Site. The site includes the Friendship of Salem, which dates back to 1797. (It’s currently being repaired in Gloucester but will return shortly.)
The Salem Willows also deserve a shoutout. It has two arcades with games for all ages, kiddie rides, ice cream, and Salem Lowe, a Chinese food stand with origins dating back to 1912. (It is some of the best Chinese food I’ve ever eaten.) It’s an ideal place for a family afternoon. You’ll find me at the skeeball — I take it very seriously.
Another play perk: Every September, the Norman H. Read Charitable Trust provides all Salem residents with free admission to a museum of the trust’s choice. This year, it’s the New England Aquarium. Some years, it’s the Museum of Science. It’s an amazing perk that I’ve taken advantage of before and after becoming a mom.
Go :: Car and public-transport friendly
By car, Salem is accessible via Routes 128/95, 107, and 1A. But commuters often turn to the public transportation options in the area. Multiple MBTA bus routes serve the area, and Salem station is one of the largest stations in the entire commuter rail system. In the summer, there’s also ferry service out of the Waterfront.
I hope you’ve found this guide helpful!
Stay tuned for more town guides to clue you in about Greater Boston’s many terrific family-oriented places to live.
And see our previous guide to East Arlington here.