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What’s the difference between an amusement park and a theme park? Glad you asked: An amusement park has rides and games, as well as other entertaining attractions, while a theme park is an amusement park that has a central theme. Now that that’s settled, you’ll want to look to the East for the best classic old amusement parks, but to spread the love we dug up a few gems out West, as well. Here are the very best vintage amusement parks in the U.S.

RELATED: 7 amusement park wonders of the world

 

Lake Compounce Amusement Park: Bristol, CT (est. 1846)

Rated America’s first and oldest continuously-operating amusement park, Lake Compounce continues to be top-rated. In addition to having the longest and fastest wooden coaster on the Eastern seaboard—the top-ranked Boulder Dash!—it’s also home to a 1911 carousel, a 1911 trolley, the Mark Twain sternwheel paddleboat and the Wave Swinger swing ride.
Best ride Boulder Dash

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Cedar Point

Cedar Point: Sandusky, OH (est. 1870)

Located on a Lake Erie peninsula beach, Cedar Point‘s first roller coaster, the Switchback Railway, arrived in 1892. An innovative and popular park, it is consistently top-rated. With 365 acres it is considered the world’s largest amusement park and said to have the most rides and most roller coasters (the park has 17, among them the world’s biggest, longest, tallest and fastest). Additional rides include the Power Tower thrill ride, the Giant Wheel Ferris wheel and Soak City water park.
Best ride Millennium Force

Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom: Allentown, PA (est. 1884)

This park grew slowly, transforming from a trout hatchery into a summer attraction featuring a scenic railway and Ferris wheel. It later added a carousel, whip ride, roller coaster and Tunnel of Love. Today the Planet Snoopy area is devoted to young children with gentle rides, while full-size roller coasters—Talon, Stinger and Possessed—and other thrill rides entertain older kids and adults. Everyone enjoys the highly-ranked water park.
Best ride Possessed

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Coney Island

Coney Island: Cincinnati, OH (est. 1886) 

Situated along the Ohio River, this park was originally called “Grove Park, The Coney Island of the West” (at that time, Ohio was considered “West”). A year later it was renamed Coney Island. Rides include a Giant Circle Swing, a shoot-the-chutes water ride, a wooden Ferris wheel and roller coasters. Currently, Typhoon Tower—said to be the world’s largest Hydro Storm—is the prime attraction.
Best ride Typhoon Tower

Oaks Amusement Park: Portland, OR (est. 1905)

Located at the foot of the old Sellwood Bridge, this was the first amusement park on the West Coast. It is well-priced with free parking, and is a popular place to roller skate and picnic. It’s all nostalgia here, with a section of kiddie rides and miniature golf, plus a hand-carved Herschell-Spillman carousel (circa 1911), bumper cars and a miniature train that goes all around the park.
Best ride the vintage carousel

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The Giant Dipper at Sant Cruz Beach Boardwalk

 

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk: Santa Cruz, CA (est. 1907)

Set along one of the few boardwalks left on the West Coast, this park has free admission. A half-mile-long concrete boardwalk parallels a gorgeous beach and ocean. Visitors pay per per use for the adult and kiddie rides and can freely peruse arcade games, fast-food stands and souvenir shops. Major rides include the Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster (built in 1924 and now a National Historic Landmark) and the Logger’s Revenge flume ride, but no one wants to miss the old-fashioned carousel that features 70 hand-carved horses and a rare ring toss.
Best ride Giant Dipper

Sea Breeze Amusement Park: Irondequoit, NY (est. 1879)

Overlooking Lake Ontario near Rochester, beautiful Sea Breeze has a popular carousel, a spinning roller coaster and other classic and modern rides (bumper cars, a log flume and kiddie rides), as well as Raging Rivers water park. its Jack Rabbit wooden rollercoaster was the fastest in the world when it debuted in 1920.
Best ride Jack Rabbit

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Lakeside Amusement Park

 

Lakeside Amusement Park: Denver, CO (est. 1908)

Located on a picturesque lake with mountain views, this park promises “excitement, history and charm.” It has trains, a merry-go-round, a drop tower, bumper cars and many spinning rides, plus Kiddies’ Playland just for young children.
Best ride Drop Tower

Idlewild Park: Ligonier, PA (est. 1878)

This naturally beautiful park attracts families and children. Its original amusement area—Olde Idlewild—has plenty of nostalgic amusements, including traditional rides such as a 1920’s carousel, Ferris wheel  and Tilt-A-Whirl. Other popular attractions at Idlewild include the Raccoon Lagoon, Story Book Forest, Jumpin’ Jungle and Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood (formerly known as Mister Rogers Neighborhood) children’s areas.
Best ride Wild Mouse

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Tagged: California, Midwest, Portland

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Carole Terwilliger Meyers
Carole is a Berkeley-based travel writer who most especially enjoys cultural and culinary travel. She contributes to an assortment of publications and is the author of 18 books. Carole oversees two websites, berkeleyandbeyond.com and webcamtraveler.com, and she blogs at travelswithcarole.blogspot.com.
Carole Terwilliger Meyers

@traveluv

Carole Terwilliger Meyers; freelance travel writer, website publisher https://t.co/2OVgyjVzAQ, and blogger https://t.co/nK7BBHVpCG
#christmastreeornaments at #macyssf look good enough to eat, #travelswithcarole #christmas @ Union Square, San Fran… https://t.co/zDXKRF3qXX - 3 hours ago

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