28 theme parks every thrill-seeker needs to visit before they die

From shiny theme parks fueled by tried-and-true attractions to off-the-beaten path gems, we’ve unearthed 28 destinations with ample amusement for the entire family. Carved up by region, our roundup of odes to excitement includes locales so appealing, you’ll also enjoy the escape from the midway.

 

Southeast

NOLA City Park – New Orleans

There’s so much for the entire family to experience in the Crescent City’s sprawling urban oasis. The New Orleans Botanical Gardens will delight nature lovers, and City Splash and Carousel Gardens Amusement Park boasts a 100-year-old carousel to round out the active attractions fun. But perhaps the expansive playground at Storyland will thoroughly enchant, where children and adults can interact with 20 enormous sculptures drawn from some of history’s most beloved fairytales. Captain Hook’s ship, Cinderella’s pumpkin coach, Jack and Jill’s hill, and many more sit primed for little people’s exploration and big people’s nostalgia.

More Southeastern spots for fun

Universal Studios Orlando, FL
Wizards and movie fans will love this location highlighting Harry Potter.
Dollywood Pigeon Forge, TN
Dolly’s famous retreat features 40 attractions, top live shows, and a waterpark.
Kentucky Kingdom and Hurricane Bay Louisville, KY
Roller coasters, 5-D movies, water slides, and much more make up this Kingdom.
Disney World Orlando, FL
Despite Epcot’s international flair, it’s still Mickey’s charming small world after all.
Carowinds Charlotte, NC
World-class rides, waterpark slides, and Snoopy-meets-Carolina hospitality.
Family Kingdom Myrtle Beach, SC
Admission to this seaside favorite—with cool rides and a waterpark—is free.

Northeast

Sesame Place – Bucks County, PA

For every kid who’s just wanted to get to Sesame Street … newsflash: We’ve found it in a quaint Pennsylvania county! This fabled thoroughfare on the outskirts of Philadelphia encompasses the likes of Elmo’s World, Cookie Monster Land, Bert & Ernie’s Slip & Slide, Big Bird’s River, and the Count’s Splash Castle. There are live productions, parades, and tons more interactive activities for puppet-loving children learning to count while learning to be good citizens. (And plenty of reminders on how to do both of those things for their parents.)

More nostalgic Northeastern destinations

Luna Park Coney Island, NY
6.2 acres of seaside fun on a historic island with scores of rides and attractions.
Catamount Aerial Adventure Park Egremont, MA
The beautiful Berkshire Mountains are the backdrop for this high-flying locale.
Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom Allentown, PA
Revamped “ThunderHawk” coaster, live shows, water slides, and much more.
Santa’s Village Jefferson, NH
Year-round Christmas spirit with rides like the Chimney Drop, fun shows, and more.
Story Land Glen, NH
German-themed escape with 21 attractions geared toward children and adults.

Central

Silver Dollar City – Branson, MO

The great state of Missouri is home to this family-centric 1880s-themed park boasting everything from roller coasters and a waterpark to seasonal events, dinner cruises, and entertainment on the Showboat Branson Belle riverboat, where children are encouraged to dress as swashbucklers. Magicians, cloggers, cartoon characters, Harlem Globetrotters—there’s a performance for every aficionado in the city’s stable of shows. There are also gatherings for storytelling, a Southern Gospel Picnic, and a camping and RV “Wilderness” area.

Photos by Silver Dollar City

More merriment in the middle states

Six Flags St. Louis St. Louis, MO
One of the chain’s nine locations debuted Virtual Reality roller coasters in 2016!
Hawaiian Falls Pflugerville, TX
Central Texas’ waterpark/adventure park location of the family-friendly chain.
Schlitterbahn New Braunfels, TX
70 acres along the Comal River full of water-related adventures and relaxation.
Morgan's Wonderland San Antonio, TX
Inspirational park with 25 attractions all accessible to special needs individuals.
Cedar Point Sandusky, OH
“The roller coaster capital of the world” boasts 365 acres along Lake Erie.
Santa's Village Azoosment Park East Dundee, IL
Critter-themed park home to over 200 animals, a mobile zoo, rides, and more.
Mt. Olympus Wisconsin Dells, WI
Journey to great heights at this Wisconsin theme park, waterpark, and resort.

West

Enchanted Forest – Salem, OR

It’s hard to get more fairytale-esque than a verdant forest in the Pacific Northwest. So if you happen to be in the Enchanted neighborhood, take a stroll down “Storybook Lane,” spy Humpty Dumpty sitting on a wall, explore Western towns and European villages, and even pan for gold. And don’t get so swept away that you forget to experience a musical comedy send-up of a classic fairytale, hear some pretend Irish singers, or hop on the big- and little-kid rides.

Photos courtesy of Enchanted Forest

More whimsy out West

Disneyland Anaheim, CA
Magical kingdom encompasses two parks with rides and interactive adventures.
Universal Studios Hollywood Universal City, CA
Go behind the scenes at this cutting-edge “City” devoted to the movies.
Knott’s Berry Farm Buena Park, CA
Distinctive Orange County “farm” with rides, activities, and shopping for all ages.
California’s Great America Santa Clara, CA
Bay Area great with thrilling rides, a waterpark, live entertainment, and more.
LEGOLAND Carlsbad, CA
SoCal’s amazing Lego-themed park, aquarium, waterpark, and hotel attraction.
Lagoon Park Farmington, Utah
Thrill rides, water slides, shows, and Halloween-themed “Frightmares” in Utah.

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