If your kid’s idea of a good time includes hurtling toward concrete at 81 miles per hour, slurping frozen lemonade, and the occasional long line, skip the local playground and schlep the family out to one of these eight nearby theme parks. Whether they have a soft spot for Big Bird, a sweet tooth, or a need for speed, we’ve rounded up a list of amusement wonderlands that will close out summer with screams of delight.
Six Flags America
Boasting more than 100 rides, shows, and the largest water park in the DMV (included in the main park ticket price, no less!), Six Flags America does not disappoint. The park’s tallest attraction was added last year: Wonder Woman Lasso of Truth. This year, the Wahoo River debuted at Hurricane Harbor Water Park—and it still has an awesome wave pool, water slides, an inner tube flume, and a splash pool. Other roller coasters include Wild One, Joker’s Jinx, and Superman Ride of Steel—but you can always ride Pepe Le Pew’s Tea Party for a low-key thrill. Younger kids will also enjoy the classic Looney Tunes Prop Warehouse, a totally enclosed soft play space where they can climb, slide, and meet Bugs Bunny.
With 400 acres jam-packed with more than 60 rides, 15 roller coasters, live family entertainment—including fun performances by the Peanuts gang and a host of live music shows—AND a 20-acre water park, it just might be worth looking into one of the season pass options at King’s Dominion. The 43 life-size animatronic dinosaurs (including several you can control yourself) at the Dinosaurs Alive! Exhibit is alone worth the visit. Plus, new in 2018 is Twisted Timbers, a hybrid roller coaster that is the first of its kind in the mid-Atlantic and uses the latest technology to combine wood supports and steel track. Plummet down a 109-foot-tall barrel roll drop, loop through two more inversions, and soar over 20 airtime hills at speeds of 54 miles per hour. Gulp.
Photo: JAK SIE MASZ via flickr
More than “just” chocolate, the city of Hershey, Pennsylvania also draws visitors for its famed amusement park with more than 70 rides and attractions, including roller coasters, the largest water-play structure in the world, live entertainment, games, food, shops, and even a simulated tropical rainforest where visitors learn how cocoa beans grow and are harvested. Ticket purchases include admission to ZooAmerica North American Wildlife Park, an 11-acre walk-through zoo that includes more than 200 animals from five regions of North America. Located about two hours north of the Washington, D.C. area, the park has three resorts to choose from if you want to make a weekend of it!
Adventure Park USA
Saddle up, pardner, for this Western-themed park near Frederick, Maryland—about 40 miles outside of D.C. Open year-round, rain or shine, you don’t have to pay admission to enter the park itself. Instead, you purchase a Fun Pass with credits that works like a debit card (you can even add credits to your account online for return visits). With roller coasters, midway games, miniature golf, a classic tilt-a-whirl, go-karts, and a hands-on “mining” experience, you’ll be lucky if your kiddos have enough energy for all of the indoor fun. Yes, there’s more: a virtual reality game, soft playroom, ropes course, laser tag, arcade, bumper cars, and rock wall. We’re tired just typing that.
If you’re on the hunt for the perfect first amusement park for young children, look no further. The park is tailored for children age 7 and younger, and at least seven of the rides are specifically geared toward 1-3 year-olds. Though the park is mostly flat and accommodating to strollers, it is relatively small—which means tiny legs (and short attention spans) can handle it. The Duke’s Lagoon splash area is just enough water excitement for the preschool set, and even the live entertainment strikes the not-too-loud and not-too-scary balance well. Rent a cabana for the day so your tribe has its own private spot in the shade to take a breather!
We’re not gonna lie: nostalgia is half the draw for parents at Sesame Place. Enjoy a buffet meal with Elmo and friends, watch a show or parade, or take a spin on one of the 16 kid-friendly rides (or nine water rides) for a full day of fun with all your favorite neighborhood characters. There’s a soft play room for wee ones, a kid-powered railroad, a carousel, and the all-new Oscar’s Wacky Taxi Roller Coaster. We love and appreciate that Sesame Place has become the first theme park in the world designated as a Certified Autism Center—and, since it’ll require a trek to Philly, you can plan to enjoy the weekend there, too!
The beautiful landscaping and music playing throughout the park set the tone: this amusement park checks all the boxes. Roller coasters, a virtual reality adventure, bumper cars, kid-friendly rides (plus the Sesame Street Forest of Fun), a skyride, a train, and a huge range of music, animal, and theatrical live shows are just the beginning. Visit Wolf Valley, Lorikeet Glen, Highland Stables, or Eagle Ridge for some up close and personal animal encounters. And bring your appetite—there are restaurants throughout the park and 15 snack locations. You had us at churros!
Slowly evolving from its initial roots as a miniature golf course in 1964, this 35-acre park combines the best of nostalgic rides and modern attractions—including Cyclone, the world’s first cart coaster! Tiny tots under three feet tall can venture on 17 of the rides with an adult. A circus performs twice each day in the park, complete with acrobats, jugglers, and The Wheel of Death (not as scary as it sounds!). And the Fun Slide, Mardi Gras fun house, Tea Cups, and Jungle Golf are also perennial favorites.