With a collection originally culled from the private stores of merchant captains, the Peabody Essex Museum (East India Sq., 978/745-9500 or 866/745-1876, www.pem.org , 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Tue.–Sun., $15 adults, $13 seniors, $11 students, free youth 16 and under) should be on the short list of anyone visiting Salem . Exhibits include priceless antiques from Asia and Polynesia, as well as antique American furniture. The highlight is a 19th-century house imported post-and-beam from China. A new glass-enclosed wing provides even more space for top-notch temporary exhibitions.
Exploring Salem’s other claim to fame, the Salem Maritime National Historical Park (160 Derby St., 978/740-1650, www.nps.gov , 9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, prices for tours vary), includes several authentic old sea-captain’s homes, the Custom House featured in Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, and a replica of sloop from the Golden Age of Sail.
Speaking of Haethorne, feel free to count them—all the roofs are there at the House of the Seven Gables (115 Derby St., 978/744-0991, www.7gables.org , 10 a.m.–5 p.m. daily Nov.–June, 10 a.m.–7 p.m. daily July–Nov. 1, $12 adults, $11 seniors, $7.25 children 5–12, free children under 5)—they are all there. The 17th-century mansion is legendary for its role in the Nathaniel Hawthorne novel that probably tortured you in high school. Inside, costumed interpreters take guests through three centuries of Salem  history, including the early years of its favorite native son.