7 Classic U.S. Amusement Parks With Retro Attractions
Experience family-friendly rides and nostalgia at these iconic fun zones.
Is there a more fun family outing than a visit to an amusement park? It's one of America's greatest pastimes! But what some people don’t realize is that several of the most historic amusement parks in the U.S. are still in operation, featuring brand-new, state-of-the-art rides as well as nostalgic favorites like merry-go-rounds and Ferris wheels.
Here are seven of the longest-running operations, and all of them are ideal for family getaways with plenty of attractions and rides geared toward young children.
Once known as the Mission Beach Amusement Center, this popular San Diego attraction first opened in 1925 and became famous for its 2,600-foot-long roller coaster, the Giant Dipper, and The Plunge, an enormous saltwater pool (which is currently undergoing a major renovation). The Giant Dipper, refurbished in 1990, continues to thrill visitors along with Belmont Park favorites like the Tilt-a-Whirl and the Liberty Carousel. But there are also more contemporary rides such as the Vertical Drop or the spin-crazy Octotron. Additional options include Tiki Town Adventure Golf, a zip line and the Lazer Maze, or you can just take a break from the attractions and enjoy some sand and surf time on the nearby beach.
Founded by Roger Tofte in Turner, Ore., in 1971, Enchanted Forest began as a fairytale-themed park for kids that grew in size as new attractions were added over the years including a haunted house, the Ice Mountain Bobsled roller coaster and the entertainment-comedy theater for live music and theatrical productions. Small children will love the Kiddy Bumper Boats, the Tiny Tune Train and the Frog Hopper, while more interactive family experiences include the Challenge of Mondor (a target-shooting adventure), exploring the Tofteville Western Town and relaxing beside Fantasy Fountains, a spectacular light show with music and 359 water jets.
An open-air dance pavilion, roller skating rink, bowling alley, target-shooting range and a mule-drawn merry-go-round marked the simple beginnings of this popular getaway on the Great Salt Lake in 1886. Changing its name from Lake Park to Lagoon in 1899, it relocated to the shores of a nine-acre pond near Farmington, Utah and began to add additional attractions over the years. Lagoon remains one of the top family vacation destinations in the state, and their numerous rides offer something for everyone. Thrill-seekers can experience multiple roller coasters of various intensities such as Colossus: The Fire Dragon or Cannibal, a mega-coaster that includes a 140-foot-tall inverted loop and travels at speeds up to 70 mph. But small kids will love the Red Rock Rally, the Wild Kingdom Train, the Ladybug Bop and other fun but non-frightening rides.
A historic landmark in San Antonio, Texas, Kiddie Park, established in 1925, is recognized as of the longest running children’s amusement parks in the U.S. Families have been enjoying the park’s iconic rides for more than 90 years and that's part of its charm. You can experience the famous hand-carved Herschell-Spillman carousel (above), ride the old-fashioned Ferris wheel or take a spin on the Flying Saucers. There are also arcade and carnival games, pony rides, face painting and other activities to appeal to small fry and your inner child.
What started as a fish hatchery along Cedar Creek outside Allentown, Penn., in 1860 was eventually transformed into a family vacation park by owner Solomon Dorney in 1870; he added a zoo, arcade games, mechanical rides, a hotel and other amenities over the years. Now known as Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom, this sprawling fun zone has one of the largest collections of water attractions in the country, but amusement park fanatics will love the wide range of rides which mix contemporary sensations like the Revolution (above) and Hydra the Revenge (a floorless roller coaster) with nostalgic favorites like Bumper Cars, Kaleidoscope and Thunderhawk, a completely refurnished wooden roller coaster that originally made its debut in 1923.
Is there any U.S. amusement park more famous than Coney Island in Brooklyn, N.Y.? Sea Lion Park became the first Coney Island attraction in 1903 and was soon followed that same year by Steeplechase Park and Luna Park with its brilliant illumination of 250,000 lights. Over the years, other additions were added such as Dreamland and Astroland but by 2008, all of them were gone. Thanks to several organizations, Coney Island’s new Luna Park opened in 2010 with modern arcade games, concessions and state-of-the-art rides for adrenaline junkies such as the Thunderbolt (a 2,233-foot roller coaster) and the sky-high joyride known as Zenobio. Fraidy cats can opt for the more moderate thrills of the Hang Glider or Lynn’s Trapeze, while young kids can enjoy the Mermaid Parade (a fantasy water ride), the Brooklyn Barge (a gently rocking tug boat) or navigate oversized spinning cups in the Tea Party.
Located in the Laurel Highlands near Ligonier, Penn., (about 50 miles east of Pittsburgh), Idlewild was initially developed as a recreational public park circa 1878. It was later converted during the early 1930s into a more commercially viable destination featuring rides, pavilions, food vendors, bandstands and other attractions. Renamed Idlewild & SoakZone Amusement Park, the operation is now primarily geared toward children and their families and offers interactive adventures, along with classic midway rides like the Wild Mouse (above) and tiny tot favorites such as the Rainbow Wheel, the Pollywog Regatta and the Doodlebug (a small green trolley ride).
Ring in the season at these theme park holiday events.
Meet our panel of experts who helped choose the top 10 best amusement parks and water parks to visit this year.