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Salem is a great place to visit any time of the year, and is blessed with many attractions within easy walking distance. The one problem that usually presents itself? Where to ditch the car.
There are metered spots that will do for afternoon jaunts or quick trips into shops, if you intend on moving around the town. These are handy, but not always practical for longer stays or seeing multiple attractions.
Find the town common, and park around the green. It may be a few extra steps, but it is free parking with no chance of a towing surprise. Be sure to arrive early during peak event times, as this area does tend to fill up.
One lesson, learned the hard way: tow trucks are out in full force in Salem! Be careful where you park and look for a parking notice (even a few feet down the road). Finding the tow yard is no easy task, and the extra expense will put a damper on any vacation. Be forewarned, many of the businesses will have your car towed if you visit an adjacent shop- and being considered a trespasser at a place where you have spent your money will not leave you with a pleasant memory of Salem.
So have fun, but park smart! This definitely applies in October, when the city is bursting at the seams with visitors. It is recommended that you even take regional transit into Salem to avoid the parking crunch!
Online: You can find parking online by searching on this map for Salem Parking. Choose the duration of time you will be parking for in the "Compare Rates" box on the left, and current prices for all the parking lots will be shown. You can get more information by clicking on the individual bubbles (rates, hours of operation, payment options, etc.)
From a local's perspective: A couple of comments on this page seem merited. With the exception of the last section stating that "businesses will have your car towed" which, outside the most blatant abuses, almost never happens, the post is fundamentally true. Like many other MA towns, there are many "resident only" parking areas in Salem; but whilst it does irritate locals when these are violated, it is rare that police will ticket a vehicle parked for a few hours and even rarer that one is towed. Most downtown meters are one hour maximum and, yes, enforcement is fairly rigorous- there are several two hour lots around, across from the Post Office and next to the YMCA. Meters need to be fed (a quarter for one hour) Monday through Saturday until 5PM, but after hours and Sunday, not. For day-long activities, the Municipal Garage across from the visitors' center near the walking mall or the South Harbor Garage at Derby and Congress near Pickering Wharf are large, reasonable priced and will prevent any unpleasant surprises when you return to your vehicle. Salem is fairly densely populated, so parking is at a premium, but it's also compact and walking tours are the best way to enjoy this lovely, historic city.