Fun in the Sun: Top Theme Parks for Summer Travels

As far as the classic American summer goes, the formula isn’t complete without a trip to the amusement park. According to the National Amusement Park Historical Association, the theme park we know and love today traces its roots back to European pleasure gardens, which were first brought to America with the opening of Vauxhall Gardens in New York City in 1767, which eventually housed one of the first carousels in the country. In 1893, the famous George Ferris Giant Wheel debuted at Chicago’s Columbian Exhibition, and in 1895, Coney Island opened Sea Lion Park.
ferris wheel
These milestones, coupled with the advent of electricity and modern transportation, mark the very beginning of the amusement park era of the 1900s. By 1910, there were some 2,000 amusement parks operating in the U.S. and the craze reached its height in the middle of the 20th century with the opening of Disneyland, Six Flags and various inner city amusement parks. The end of that century brought a steep decline in theme parks, with many once-bustling examples locking their gates for good. Despite this, there are still a few excellent American theme parks that you can visit this summer. Here are a few of the best.
  1. Cedar Point; Sandusky, Ohio — Located along the southern shore of Lake Erie in Northern Ohio, Cedar Point is the second-oldest operating amusement park in the U.S. and serves as home to some of history’s biggest and most thrilling roller coasters. If you visit, you must ride the Magnum (the world’s tallest and fastest coaster when it opened) and Millennium Force, which has held records as the tallest, fastest and steepest roller coaster in the world. Top Thrill Dragster still holds the spot as the second-tallest roller coaster, at 400 feet tall.
  2. Six Flags Great America; Gurnee, Ill. — Opened by the Marriot Corporation in 1976, Six Flags Great America entices visitors with the promise of memorable thrill rides and attractions featuring an American history theme. The Gurnee park houses several of the park’s original roller coasters, including Willard’s Whizzer (named after Marriot executive J. Willard Marriot) and Demon. One of the park’s main attractions is the double-decker carousel, Columbia Carousel, which is one of the biggest carousels in the world.
Six Flags Great Adventure
  1. Six Flags Great Adventure; Jackson Township, NJ — New Jersey’s Six Flags Great Adventure opened with much fanfare in 1974 thanks to its convenient location midway between New York City and Philadelphia. It’s home to several heart-pumping thrill rides, including the popular wooden coaster El Toro and the world’s tallest roller coaster, the 456-foot tall Kingda Ka.
  2. Hersheypark; Hershey, Pa. — If you’re more interested in theme park eats and sweets than stomach-dropping thrills, Hersheypark is where it’s at. The eastern Pennsylvania landmark was founded in 1906 as a leisure park for the employees of the Hershey Chocolate Company, headquartered nearby. Hersheypark is home to several thrill rides and high-speed attractions, but it’s perhaps best known for its distinctive smell — visitors say the air smells like chocolate. Obviously, the chocolate-themed park offers tons of cocoa creations for those with a sweet tooth!
  3. Knott’s Berry Farm; Buena Park, Calif. — Southern California’s Knott’s Berry Farm is one of the most-visited theme parks in North America. The park opened in the summer of 1920 on the site of a former berry farm established by farmer Walter Knott. Originally, the attractions — including a mock ghost town and the famous Chicken Dinner Restaurant — at the park were meant to entice visitors to buy the Knott family’s berries, and admission was free until 1968. These days, it’s home to 35 rides, including the zero to 82 mile-per-hour Xcelerator.
 knotts berry farm
  1. Busch Gardens; Tampa, Fla. — Though there are still two Busch Gardens parks in operation — Tampa and Williamsburg, Va. — the Tampa location is the oldest and most storied. Not only does it house a range of thrill rides, but it’s also home to one of America’s largest zoos, with nearly 3,000 animals. Some of the most popular attractions at Busch Gardens Tampa include the 335-foot free fall ride Falcon’s Fury, the safari-themed Cheetah Hut and the high-speed loop ride Montu.
Interested in the history of amusement parks and theme parks? Make sure to explore all of the titles in this category for some fascinating tales and insights into the country’s oldest and most noteworthy amusement parks. They make great road trip books while you’re on your family-friendly summer adventures!