Best of the Coast: Amusement Parks

Step right up for thrills, chills, and old-fashioned fun by the sea.

By Steve Millburg and David R. Henson

Adrenaline anyone?

There's nothing quite like plummeting toward earth as the wind makes a mess of your hair, vision, and balance. Drawn to this heart-pumping rush, people flock to amusement parks for the latest and greatest dose of excitement. It's over in a moment, but you never forget the wildest rides of your life.

Rye, New York
Playland really does take you back to another era--specifically 1928. That's the year the park opened. Amazingly, much of it survives virtually unchanged. The Art Deco architecture, the beach and fishing pier, and the sheltering shade trees make this a special experience. Seven original rides remain from that first season, including the Dragon Coaster (you plunge into a dragon's mouth) and a considerably more sedate carousel; 914/813-7010 or

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Family Kingdom Amusement Park and Myrtle Beach Pavilion Amusement Park
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
These separately owned, compact charmers stand 11 blocks apart. Both mix retro attractions with the latest theme park trends. Family Kingdom offers the 1963 Swamp Fox wooden roller coaster and an adjacent beachfront water park. The Pavilion contains a Herschell-Spillman carousel, a 1900 German band organ, and The Attic, billed as "Myrtle Beach's only under-21 nightclub." Family Kingdom: 843/626-3447 or Pavilion: 888/539-8662 or

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Miracle Strip Park
Panama City Beach, Florida
During the madhouse tourist season, this park is open mostly at night. That's the coolest time to visit anyway, both literally and figuratively. The salty sting of sea air mingles with summer-vacation scents of cotton candy and hot dogs. Flashing lights, gaudy colors, and jangling blasts of music swirl giddily together. And then, at the topsy-turvy peak of some head-spinning ride, you glimpse the moon spilling silver light across the Gulf of Mexico. It's perfect; 850/234-5810 or

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Santa Cruz Beach
Boardwalk, Santa Cruz, California
The park is built along a concrete boardwalk and a wide Monterey Bay beach full of volleyball players, sunbathers, surfers, and other fanciers of sand. There's a good selection of rides, including a 1911 carousel and the 1924 Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster. Teens will delight in approximately a billion video games, plus minigolf and Laser Tag. Just down the beach, the Santa Cruz Wharf, a pier teeming with seafood restaurants, juts a half-mile into the bay; 831/423-5590 or

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Cedar Point
Sandusky, Ohio
Ready for a 120-mph ride? In its 133-year history as a place for fun, Cedar Point has become famous for two things: its scenic location on a Lake Erie peninsula and its roller coasters. The park runs 16 coasters, the largest collection in the world. The newest, Top Thrill Dragster, is also the world's tallest. Riders accelerate to 120 mph in four seconds, zoom up a 420-foot hill, then plummet 400 feet while spiraling 270 degrees; 419/627-2350 or

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Coney Island, New York
If it's history you want, then Astroland is your coastal park of choice. Its headlining roller coaster, The Cyclone, sits on hallowed amusement park grounds; America's first true coaster thrilled riders here more than a century ago. This National Historic Landmark, has served as the site of several commercials, music videos, and movies such as He Got Game, The Wiz, and The Object of My Affection; 718/265-2100 or

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Morey's Piers
Wildwood, New Jersey
Billed as the "largest, most exciting amusement piers in the world," Morey's Piers doesn't have to worry about false advertising. It contains so many rides it takes three piers to hold them all. They vary from mild to wild, and include coasters with multiple inversions that give riders a unique view of the Jersey shoreline. During summer months, the piers are open until midnight; 609/522-3900 or

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Pacific Park
Santa Monica Pier, California
If you're on the other side of the States, the only place for pier fun is Pacific Park. The roller coaster and Ferris wheel offer spectacular views of Santa Monica Bay, especially at sunset. Smaller than the Southern California mega amusement parks, this vintage park is geared more for families than thrill-seekers. It's also doing its part to solve the energy crisis by operating the world's first solar-powered Ferris wheel; 310/260-8744 or

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Knott's Berry Farm
Buena Park, California
Knott's Berry Farm's newest ride, the Xcelerator, races from zero to 82 miles per hour in 2.3 seconds, up 205 feet, and then down a piercing 90-degree drop. As you're traveling through the different themes of this park, watch brawling cowboys in Ghost Town, American Indian performances in Indian Trails, or even get married in Fiesta Village at the Church of Reflection;

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Six Flags Marine World
Vallejo, California
Just a few miles off San Pablo Bay, this park offers both aquatic entertainment and white-knuckle excitement. For the family, you can choose from a variety of shows starring tigers, elephants, dolphins, or sea lions. For those looking to add spice to their vacation, Marine World serves up its newest ride: V-2 Vertical Velocity. Visitors are blown out of the station up a 150-foot corkscrew tower at 70 miles per hour. Through the station and on the other side, the train shoots up the other tower backwards, leaving a grand finale free fall;

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