If commercial developers gave free rein for kids to build a downtown district, it might look something like Salem Willows Park in Salem, Mass.
What appears to be a typical downtown with about 100 yards of contiguous shops is actually a delightful hodgepodge of arcades, kiddie rides, as well as places to eat that feature pizza, fried seafood, Chinese food, fried dough, salt water taffy, hot buttered popcorn and soft serve ice cream. Across the street, you’ll find the harbor front Salem Willows Park with it beautiful old white willow trees, paved walkways, gazebos, a small sandy beach and the chance to fish by the public pier.
The whole scene is lively, unpretentious and family-friendly. Salem Willows Park’s popularity, however, is not a current fad — there’s quite a history here. For starters, the park dates back to 1858, and the first ice cream cone in America was served here in 1906. Additionally, Salem Willows Park features a flying horse carousel that was created by a Bavarian woodcarver in 1866 and, starting in 1945, the horses were used by Macy’s in New York City, N.Y., for its famous Christmas displays. Also, while Salem Willow currently features summer concerts, there’s also a fascinating lineage: Duke Ellington played here in 1923, as did Louis Armstrong later on at a former ballroom that today is the Willows Casino (arcades, not gambling).
What’s more, Salem Willows Park remains a true bargain with free admission and parking, and its innately affordable activities like the arcades, public park, fishing and beach scene, and comfort foods — the latter with potential indigestion being the only high price to pay!
Salem Willows Park — about a mile from downtown Salem’s myriad attractions — makes a great primary or complementary partner to the city’s famous witch culture and other historical attractions like the Salem Witch Museum, Witch Dungeon Museum, House of the Seven Gables and the Peabody Essex Museum.
All in all, Salem is a beautfiul little city with an amazing downtown. Pedestrian shopping areas in a historical, quaint setting, outdoor cafes serving fabulous local seafood, lots of interesting little stores, boutiques and art galleries, the scenic waterfront dining and retail scene at Pickering Wharf and all those just-mentioned museums help rank Salem with the best of small New England cities like Portsmouth, N.H., Burlington, Vt., Newport, R.I., and Newburyport, Mass.
But I digress. Willows Park might not have the high profile name as the major amusement and theme parks in New England, but it seems like everyone is having just as much fun. That includes parents who want to see their kids have a great
time while saving money on fun travel attractions in the process. It’s really a terrific family travel attraction within a city full of so many things to see and do.
Salem Willows Park is located at 167 Fort Ave., off Derby St. Visit the Salem Willows Web Site for more information.
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Essex Street Pedestrian Mall, Salem