Peabody Essex Museum Salem, Massachusetts

On a recent trip to Salem, Massachusetts (read my full review here) I was given a press pass to check out many of the local sites from Destination Salem. Check out salem.org for well researched resources for everything to see, eat, do, and where to stay in Salem. At the very top of my list of places to explore was the Peabody Essex Museum.  My parents, who live in Massachusetts, visit at least once a year and always share how much they enjoy the Peabody. It is bright, airy, and has lots of open spaces.

The Peabody Essex Museum is the oldest, continuously running museum in America;  parts of the museum date back to 1825. It’s located in downtown Salem in the hub of all things “witch” and “Halloween.” Park in the South Harbor Parking Garage on Congress Street; it’s a less than five minute walk to the museum and charges 25 cents per hour. On street parking meters are free on Sundays and have a four hour maximum every other day. If you’re planning on visiting several sites in the area, check out the Discover Salem pass, which will save you money on multiple sites. The museum also offers a variety of discounted admission tickets on various dates and for various groups. Click here for more information.

The museum is spread over three floors: most of the permanent collections are located on the first floor, along with the Atrium, and Cafe. Rotating exhibits are displayed on the second and third floors, along with a few permanent collections.

My Family's Must-See Parts of the Museum:

  1. My children LOVED the foldable chairs often used in art museums. My children (under my constant, watchful eye) carried the chairs from gallery to gallery and sat in front of pieces (and a few interactive screens) to admire the art.

  2. The Art and Nature Center for Children: We could have spent an entire morning in this dedicated space for children. There’s a magnetic wall to make various designs, craft space, book nook, mosaic tiles creation station,  invent-an-animal section, and magnetic word tiles to create poems.

        3. The Ocean Liners exhibit, on display until mid October 2017, is spread throughout much of the third floor. See if                   your children can “I Spy”: 

  • Poster advertisements for famous ocean liners
  • The timeline of competition for fastest voyage across the Atlantic Ocean
  • Model replicas of the Queen Elizabeth
  • Interactive screens to explore various rooms of the Queen Mary
  • Full place setting for a first class passenger on an ocean liner (this was my favorite display!)
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         4. All the Flowers are for Me, an art installation by Anila Quayyum Agha, on display until early December 2017. It              encompasses an entire room and it is breathtaking.

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5. The permanent collection on the first floor has a replica of Cleopatra’s Barge, the main salon of America’s first private ocean yacht built in Salem in 1816, that my children loved walking through:

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6. The Atrium is filled with sunshine pouring in from the soaring ceilings. There are lots of tables and a cafe, with plenty of  healthy choices, including many gluten free options. The museum allows parents to bring in food for young children.

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7. I know it sounds odd, but I was impressed by the bathrooms. Traveling with young children, I am always on the hunt for clean bathrooms. The Peabody Essex Museum might win my award for Cleanest Public Restroom I Have Ever Seen (maybe it would tie with the Bryant Park bathroom). It’s spacious, has changing table spaces, and even has fresh flowers. There are several bathrooms on the first and second floors- so helpful when potty training.

Note: Like most museums, the Peabody Essex will ask you to coat check any large backpacks or diaper bags (to protect the artwork) but they will allow you to have strollers in the galleries.  Some exhibits have objects, not enclosed, on the same eye and hand-grabbing level as toddlers. Bring the stroller.

The museum encompasses several properties, including 22 historic properties throughout Salem, five of which are open to the public.  The historic homes are not recommended for young children, but middle school and high schoolers might enjoy the architecture and artifacts.  The Ropes Mansion has a Colonial Revival garden that is quite popular. The most popular home is the YinYuTang, an authentic Chinese house built during the Qing dynasty, dismantled, and brought to Salem.  Guided tours begin in the Atrium of the main building, and there is an additional fee.  For a full list of guided tours of the properties, click here.

Patrick’s Dougherty’s outdoor sculpture, Stitchwork, created out of saplings, was fun to explore. Sadly, the display was taken down this past weekend.

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The Peabody Essex Museum has so much to see, and so many rotating exhibits, it’s worthy of frequent visits. I am planning on returning with my family this winter, when I imagine the sunshine will pour in through the Atrium and the entire museum will be filled with warmth, and beautiful art.