Amusement Park in Coney Island - NY
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28 Historic Beachside Amusement Parks Across America

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Amusement Park in Coney Island - NY
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Seaside Thrills

People love an amusement park ride near the water, be it by the sea or simply a large lake. Destinations with a bit of history have an enduring appeal, even more so this summer as we continue to emerge from the pandemic and seek old-fashioned family fun. Read on for a sampling of coast-to-coast classics now welcoming visitors once more. (Be sure to check the destinations’ websites for the updates on the latest hours and safety protocols).


Related: 25 Amusement Parks: Then and Now​​

Santa Monica Beach and Pier
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Pacific Park

Santa Monica Pier, California

Even if you’ve never been to California, you may be very familiar with the Santa Monica Pleasure Pier, which traces its history to 1909. This Los Angeles landmark has been featured in countless television shows and films, its wooden boards and Pacific Park’s iconic illuminated Ferris wheel and historic carousel entertaining local families and visitors for generations.   


Related: 40 Iconic and Beautiful Boardwalks in the Country

Amusement Park in Coney Island - NY
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Coney Island

Brooklyn, New York

For those who only think “city” when the destination New York is mentioned, Coney Island proves there’s more to the Big Apple than just asphalt and skyscrapers. The iconic Wonder Wheel and Luna Park (today’s site is a reincarnation of the 1903 original) and its Cyclone roller coaster (this seaside attraction was the site of the world’s first roller coaster back in 1884) have been providing New Yorkers a summertime respite — complete with its famed sideshow, annual Mermaid Parade and Fourth of July hot-dog eating contest — for more than a century.    


Related: Free or Cheap Things to Do in New York City

Family Kingdom
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Family Kingdom

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Billed as “Myrtle Beach’s ONLY Seaside Amusement Park,” Family Kingdom has both a traditional amusement park plus a water park, Splashes. For more than 40 years and counting, it has continued to attract those in search of seaside thrills with its nearly 40 rides, including the Swamp Fox, a figure-eight wooden roller coaster and local historic landmark.     


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Morey’s Piers & Beachfront Water Parks
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Morey’s Piers & Beachfront Water Parks

Wildwood, New Jersey

The Morey family has been a noted player in this Jersey Shore destination since the 1960s, today operating not only “partner resorts” but also three amusement piers and two water parks dotted along the length of this Southern N.J. hotspot’s famed boardwalk. With the proverbial “something for everyone,” those visiting Morey’s piers delight in the classic Morey’s thrill rides including roller coasters the Great Nor’easter, the Sea Serpent and the Great White. A more family friendly pick might be the Runaway Tram, a playful spin on the boardwalk’s notable mode of transportation, the Tram Car, which dates back to 1949.     

 

Related: 18 Roller Coaster Facts for Restless Thrill Seekers

Roller Coaster
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Busch Gardens

Tampa Bay, Florida

When it comes to Florida amusement park destinations, of course, the words "Disney," "Orlando" and the like are most always considered first. But Busch Gardens has been drawing crowds since 1959 thanks to its more than 300-acre African-themed attractions that include the triple-launch Cheetah Hunt roller coaster and award-winning Serengeti Express.

Atlantic Beach Park
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Atlantic Beach Park

Westerly, Rhode Island

Atlantic Beach Park is a seaside destination billed as “A Misquamicut Summer Tradition since 1921.” With sweeping views of Block Island and Long Island, this longtime family owned and operated venue continues to be a compact amusement gem highlighted by a historic 1915 carousel.    

Santa Cruz boardwalk on a foggy day
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Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Amusement Park

Santa Cruz, California

Spend a few moments on this waterside destination’s website to be utterly charmed by a wealth of historic images of family fun through the years, no surprise as this Northern California beachside destination that made its debut in 1907. Remaining California’s oldest amusement park, as we learned, “The Giant Dipper roller coaster and Looff Carousel are both National Historic Landmarks and the entire boardwalk property is a California Historic Landmark.” Talk about old-time fun.

Trimper’s Rides
Trimper’s Rides by Bill Price III. (CC BY)

Trimper’s Rides

Ocean City, Maryland

The boardwalk attractions abound in Ocean City, perhaps none as majestically as the 1902 carousel here, which was installed in 1912. It remains the country’s oldest continuously operating carousel – a two-tier model complete with elaborate carved and painted animals. Of course, it’s set within this seaside park, itself said to be the oldest continuously family owned and operated amusement park in the world having opened in the late 19th century.     


Related: 20 Beach Vacation Spots Where Time Stands Still

Playland’s Castaway Cove
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Playland’s Castaway Cove

Ocean City, New Jersey

Everyone loves a comeback story — and this seaside spot is in the midst of one. An off-season fire (ruled accidental) this past January heavily damaged the pirate-themed destination that’s been entertaining vacationing families for a half century. The owner vowed to re-open for the 2021 season — and did, so it’s “all aboard, mateys” once more.

Belmont Park
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Belmont Park

San Diego 

Sugar magnate John D. Spreckels developed and opened Belmont Park, then the Mission Beach Amusement Center, on the Fourth of July back in 1925. This admission-free amusement park is today anchored by the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster, a historic ride once saved by preservationists. From its heights, you can see the ocean (if your eyes are open, that is).

Ferris Wheel in Navy Pier, Chicago
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Navy Pier

Chicago 

First opened to the public as the Municipal Pier in 1916, Navy Pier traces its roots to this city’s original master plan to create a site for both shipping and recreation. Today, this Chicago destination on the Lake Michigan shoreline, which was dramatically redeveloped in the mid-1990s and continues to improve, is perhaps most noted for its eye-catching Centennial Wheel, which was unveiled in 2016.

Palace Playland
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Palace Playland

Old Orchard Beach, Maine

Your great-grandmother may have visited Palace Playland, as the seasonal amusement park has operated on this same site since 1902. Billed as “New England’s Only Beachfront Amusement Park,” this 5-acre family amusement site features some 30 rides and attractions, with plenty to keep the kids entertained.

Kemah Boardwalk
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Kemah Boardwalk

Kemah, Texas

It’s said “The Fun Never Stops” at Kemah Boardwalk, a 50-acre theme park on Texas’ Gulf Coast. Some 20 miles from Houston and open since 1997, the iconic boardwalk along the shores of Galveston Bay and Clear Lake is a noted site for rides and amusements, restaurants and shows. Think it’s fun wandering through? Step it up by taking in the sweeping views from atop the Boardwalk Tower.     


Playland
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Playland

Rye, New York

The old-time feel of Playland, a Westchester County treasure since its 1928 opening, is palpable. The 280-acre art deco landmark that hugs the shore of the Long Island Sound — and has its own lake complete with boat rides and rentals, beach, museum and boardwalk (its pool is closed for renovations) — maintains its retro feel while integrating new thrill rides and amenities to complement its historic roster highlighted by the iconic Dragon Coaster. The site not only attracts locals and tourists but also film crews, most famously providing location shots for the Tom Hanks movie “Big” and Mariah Carey’s “Fantasy” video.

Carolina Beach Boardwalk
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Carolina Beach Boardwalk

Carolina Beach, North Carolina

Expect the littlest ones to be delighted with this boardwalk’s family friendly attractions including a colorful carousel, slide and carnival games. Dating back to the late-19th century and remaining one of the few boardwalks in the state, this site was renovated, starting in the late ’90s, to keep its rich history growing.

Balboa Fun Zone in Newport Beach, California
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The Fun Zone at Balboa Beach

Newport Beach, California

One of the oldest (since 1936) coastal amusement areas of Southern California, this attraction remains a favorite for its notable waterfront Ferris wheel, complete with views of Newport Harbor and the Pacific Ocean. The site also features a nautical museum and harbor cruises.

Canobie Lake Park
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Canobie Lake Park

Salem, New Hampshire

This amusement park, originally founded as a trolley park in 1902, is nestled on the shores of Canobie Lake. Some 30 miles north of Boston — and attracting an audience from throughout New England — the family-run park features some 85 rides, games and attractions. We are charmed by the Antique Cars, styled after the Model A and seating up to four. But don’t worry about speeding — they go 3 mph, tops.    


Lake Winnepesaukah
Lake Winnepesaukah by Jeff Gunn (CC BY)

Lake Winnepesaukah

Lakeview, Georgia

It was back in 1924 that Carl O. and Minette Dixon purchased lake property to create a family park for swimming and picnics. Naming the site with a Native American word said to mean “bountiful waters,” the park opened the following year. Today, it’s a fully realized amusement park better known as Lake Winnie complete with its own SOAKya Water Park.

Jenkinson’s Boardwalk
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Jenkinson’s Boardwalk

Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey

You won’t likely run into Pauly D or Snooki at this decidedly family-oriented destination, a well-maintained oceanfront entertainment mecca that’s best known for its picturesque beachfront and adjacent boardwalk aquarium, old-fashioned Sweet Shop, arcades and amusement park designed with the younger set in mind.

Pier amusement park
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Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier

Galveston, Texas

The name might lead you to think this is a vintage business, but this park, which features a famed roller coaster among its rides plus carnival games and souvenir shops, is just reaching its first decade next May. It has, though, put a new spin on a site that was indeed a historic destination, starting with 1906’s Electric Park and then continuing in the 1940s as the Galveston Pleasure Pier. Today’s retro appeal — and the fact that its rides are, literally, over the water — make it a Gulf Coast destination that just may be around for decades to come.

Riverfront Park
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Riverfront Park

Spokane, Washington

Washington State might not be the state for major theme parks, but there are still charming waterside destinations like Riverfront Park, where visitors can take a spin on a historic 1909 carousel, take the Sky Ride and participate in countless community activities, all along the picturesque banks of the Spokane River.   


Captain Kid Amusement Park
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Lake George Expedition Park
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Lake George Expedition Park

Lake George, New York

The resort destination in upstate New York is known for family fun — and this park packs two destinations into one. Magic Forest within Lake George Expedition Park is all about the rides, complete with a train that takes visitors through this amusement park that recently introduced its newest feature, High Rider. Those seeking even more adventure can opt to really journey back in time at Dino Roar Valley.

Boat lifeguard, beach and steel Pier in Atlantic City, New Jersey
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Steel Pier

Atlantic City, New Jersey

When you think of the old-time thrills of Atlantic City, perhaps New Jersey’s most famed seaside playground, the Steel Pier likely comes to mind. After all, it opened in 1898 and over the years hosted attractions ranging from the Diving Horse to John Philip Sousa and Frank Sinatra. Today, the boardwalk pier offers 1,000 feet of fun, from a gently swirling carousel to the thrill of The Slingshot. See all the oceanside action from atop The Wheel, which fills gondolas for a 15-minute ride that’s sure to make memories.

Cedar Point Amusement Park
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Cedar Point Amusement Park

Sandusky, Ohio

This 350+ acre Great Lakes amusement destination that offers thrill rides, water attractions and plenty of entertainment got its start on a Lake Erie peninsula back in 1870 as a humble bathhouse and beach destination. Today, Cedar Point is considered among the oldest operating amusement parks in the country noted for its nearly 20 options alone for those who love a roller coaster.

Lake Compounce
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Lake Compounce

Bristol, Connecticut

Considered the nation’s oldest amusement park (1846) — some “175 years of history” — Lake Compounce grew from a simple picnic place to the theme park it is today. Visitors rave it's a “great place to have fun with the family,” with attractions ranging from thrill rides such as the famed wooden Boulder Dash roller coaster to a sandy “beach” front along the lake.    


Related: 25 Amusement Parks That Aren't Horrible for Parents

Salem Willows Arcade and Park
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Salem Willows Arcade and Park

Salem, Massachusetts

This 35-acre oceanfront park established in 1858, named for the trees that surround it and offering a true “a blast from the past,” was designed as an escape for Boston’s North Shore residents. Over the years, it cultivated an extensive jazz history and today is best known for its simple pleasures. Among them are ocean breezes, quiet paths, lovely beaches and a classic Kiddieland, complete with a 1905 carousel (ideal for those timeless family photos).

Jolly Mon Indoor Water Park
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Jolly Mon Indoor Water Park

Lake Ozarks, Missouri

Not every vacation day can be a sunny day, which makes Jolly Mon a smart pick for a rainy day when visiting the Lake of the Ozarks region in Missouri. A “lazy river” plus slides and other water-park favorites add up to quite a bit at the Margaritaville Lake Resort destination, which has been welcoming guests since 1960. Don’t miss the three-story wilderness tree house, which offers slides and so much more.