15 Vintage Amusement Parks That Offer Serious Nostalgia

Ferris wheels and cotton candy are right around the corner.
Updated May 8, 2024
Fact checked
Fair carnival rides and tent top against blue sky

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You probably have fond memories of visiting amusement parks as a child. Whether you love the roller coasters, the fun games, or the delicious food, amusement parks make everyone smile, young and old.

Luckily, you can travel back in time to recapture those magical feelings this summer. Here are 15 vintage parks you don’t want to miss.

Luna Park (Coney Island): New York

Edi Chen/Adobe Sunset on the beach of Luna Park in Coney Island New York City

Arguably the most famous vintage amusement park in the U.S. thanks to its depictions in pop culture, Luna Park on Coney Island is a New York City icon. Situated right on the beach, this park was first opened in 1903, although it had a grand reopening in 2010.

The Cyclone is Luna Park’s most historic attraction. Adrenaline enthusiasts may prefer the Thunderbolt instead.

Sea Breeze Amusement Park: Irondequoit, New York

Courtesy of Sea Breeze Amusement Park Sea Breeze Amusement Park

Boasting more than 70 attractions in total, Sea Breeze Amusement Park in Western New York has roots that go back to 1879. By 1920, the park was home to the wooden roller coaster the Jack Rabbit, which reached unprecedented speeds for the time.

You can still ride the Jack Rabbit today, as well as enjoy thrill rides, splash around in the water park, watch circus performers, and more.

Pro tip: If you’re driving your car to the amusement park, make sure you follow these tips to help you save on gas.

Playland Park: Rye, New York

Joel Villanueva/Adobe Ferris Wheel From Rye New York

Nestled adjacent to the Long Island Sound in Rye, Playland Park opened its doors in 1928. The vintage amusement park is best known for its Dragon Coaster, which started operation the following year and continues to puff away today.

Playland Park is also home to the Derby Racer, a carousel with a need for speed, as well as a variety of other thrill rides and attractions.

Canobie Lake Park: Salem, New Hampshire

Courtesy of Canobie Lake Park Canobie Lake Park

If your summer vacation plans are taking you to New England, stop by Canobie Lake Park in Salem. The amusement park first opened in 1902 as a rest stop with canoe rentals and picnic areas, evolving as developers added rides and games over the years.

Today, Canobie Lake Park is home to thrill and water rides, fun activities, and the annual Screeemfest in autumn.

Lake Compounce Amusement Park: Bristol, Connecticut

Courtesy of Lake Compounce Amusement Park Lake Compounce Amusement Park

Also in New England is Lake Compounce Amusement Park, the oldest continuously operating amusement park in the U.S.

Celebrating its 175th season in 2022, the park is famous for having the Boulder Dash wooden roller coaster, the quickest and longest of its kind on the Eastern Seaboard. More modern rides include the Wildcat, Zoomerang, and Thunder N’ Lightning.

Pro tip: If your amusement park adventure is taking you across the country, you can earn cash back or travel rewards by purchasing your trip with one of the best travel credit cards.

Idlewild Park: Ligonier, Pennsylvania

Courtesy of Idlewild Park Idlewild Park

Heading into Pennsylvania — home to several classic amusement parks — you’ll find Idlewild Park. Its history began in 1878, when a railroad owner and a landowner teamed up to open a recreational area.

Fast-forward to today, and Idlewild is the longest-operating amusement park in Pennsylvania, with plenty of rides and attractions, including the SoakZone.

Dorney Park: Allentown, Pennsylvania

Courtesy of Dorney Park Dorney Park

Nearby in Allentown is Dorney Park, which dates back to the late 1800s. Originally the site of a fish farm, the Thunderhawk roller coaster opened in 1923 on the site. It still runs today, along with several more contemporary roller coasters.

There are also tons of water rides at this vintage amusement park, which is famous for its family fun.

Knoebels Amusement Resort: Elysburg, Pennsylvania

Jorge Moro/Adobe Colorful old-fashioned ferris wheel on a summer day

Also located in Pennsylvania is Knoebels Amusement Resort, which opened its doors in 1926 at the site of a creek-fed swimming area. Rides and attractions followed, including the historic Grand Carousel, one of the largest in the world.

Today, the park is home to plenty of rides and roller coasters, including the vintage Phoenix and the modern Impulse, added in 2015.

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Coney Island: Cincinnati

Courtesy of Coney Island Cincinnati Coney Island Cincinnati

This park originally was named Grove Park, The Coney Island of the West. Coney Island obviously takes its name from its New York City counterpart. This amusement park started operating in 1886, and today primarily functions as a water park for families.

One of the most popular attractions at Coney Island is Typhoon Tower, which is the biggest hydro storm ride on the planet.

Cedar Point: Sandusky, Ohio

Joe Hendrickson/Adobe Cedar Point Amusement Park

Cedar Point opened in 1870 and rests on the banks of Lake Erie. This vintage amusement park is the biggest of its kind, with the most rides of any park.

You may need to visit this park several times to experience all of the roller coasters and thrill rides.

Lakeside Amusement Park: Denver

Courtesy of Lakeside Amusement Park Lakeside Amusement Park

Lakeside Amusement Park opened in 1908, when approximately 50,000 folks showed up for some fun and games.

Note that the website says many attractions here, including the vaunted Cyclone, are currently closed.

Lagoon: Farmington, Utah

Courtesy of Lagoon Park Lagoon Park

In 1886, Lake Park opened on Great Salt Lake in Utah. Thirteen years later, the amusement park with a mule-powered merry-go-round moved to a pond-front location near Farmington, changing its name to Lagoon.

These days, you can enjoy a host of modern roller coasters and thrill rides at this popular Utah destination, including a mega-coaster dubbed Cannibal.

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Oaks Amusement Park: Portland, Oregon

Tada Images/Adobe antique Ferris Wheel in Portland's Oaks Amusement Park

Heading to the Pacific Northwest, you’ll come across Oaks Amusement Park, not too far from urban downtown Portland. This park’s history began in 1905, soon thereafter becoming home to a carousel, a roller skating rink, and other amusements.

Of course, Oaks Amusement Park has newer thrills more than a century later, such as the exciting Adrenaline Peak roller coaster.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk: Santa Cruz, California

othman/Adobe Beach boardwalk with an amusement park taken in Santa Cruz CA

While this vintage amusement park doesn’t have tons of towering roller coasters that will take your breath away, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk makes up for that with classic charm.

This oceanfront park opened in 1907, and has iconic rides like the Giant Dipper and the Looff Carousel, old-school fair food, and events for the whole family.

Belmont Park: San Diego

Tada Images/Adobe Belmont Park a beachfront amusement park

Down in Southern California, you’ll find Belmont Park. Formerly the Mission Beach Amusement Center, this vintage amusement park began operation in 1925.

It’s especially famous for its old-school wooden roller coaster that — like the ride in Santa Cruz — is named the Giant Dipper, which still runs today. It also has plenty of contemporary thrill rides and amusements.

Bottom line

CURAphotography/Adobe Tickets

Taking a road trip to one or more vintage amusement parks this summer will no doubt bring on the nostalgia. After all, what’s more fun than going on roller coasters and eating fried food?

Perhaps you will introduce those activities to your kids for the first time, seeing the fun through their eyes. And that will only make you closer as a family.

But do your homework ahead of time so you can reduce your money stress and make sure your vacation is fun.

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Cat Lafuente Cat Lafuente is a Florida-based writer and editor with extensive experience in digital and print content spaces. Her own personal finance journey — particularly consolidating debt and paying it off, in turn boosting her credit score and becoming a homeowner — inspired her to join the FinanceBuzz team; she hopes she can help others do the same.

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