Almost everyone knows about the Disney and Universal theme parks in Florida and California, but all around the country, there are regional theme parks that deserve just as much credit as the big players. These quirky regional parks often offer big thrills, plenty of places for families to relax, and scrumptious food.
Besides all the fun awaiting inside the parks, parents paying for the entire family can breathe a sigh of relief because these regional parks are often cheaper than the more popular theme park resort destinations. Another plus is that there are often no complicated apps or reservation systems to navigate at smaller parks.
Here are five quirky theme parks that every amusement park fan needs to visit in the United States.
Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Is there anything Dolly Parton can’t do? The iconic music star has her own theme park right in the heart of the Tennessee Smoky Mountains called Dollywood. The park offers more than 50 rides, plenty of down-home entertainment and live music, and delicious dining options.
Throughout the year, the park hosts seasonal festivals that celebrate everything from springtime blooms to fall harvests. Thrill seekers will want to hit up Big Bear Mountain, the newest roller coaster at the park, which traverses over 3,990 feet of track and races up to 48 miles per hour.
When it's time to eat, the one thing everyone must try is the park’s iconic cinnamon bread from The Grist Mill. The bread is made daily and you can try it with buttercream icing or apple butter. The park also has two beautiful resorts on its property that allow you to stay as close as possible to the fun, and have a slew of included amenities like complimentary parking, early entry into the park on Saturdays, and free transportation to the park.
Belmont Park in San Diego, California
Belmont Park is a historic beachfront park near Mission Beach and probably most famous for its iconic boardwalk, which offers great views of the California coast. Even cooler is that the park was founded in 1925, and home to the fifth-oldest roller coaster in the country, The Giant Dipper, a classic wooden coaster that boasts epic ocean vistas from the top.
No theme park experience is complete without food, and at Belmont Park, you’ll find everything from craft beer to oceanfront dining. Cannonball is San Diego’s largest oceanfront rooftop restaurant and serves a variety of options like sushi and burgers. Of course, classic amusement park snacks like nachos, corn dogs, and ice cream are also available.
One thing to note about this park is that the ticket structure is a little funky. To ride everything in the park you purchase a wristband based on your height. However, you can also buy ticket bundles that can be redeemed to gain access to attractions or pay per ride.
Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari in Santa Claus, Indiana
Every day is a celebration at Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari. The unique theme park has four areas themed after major holidays where you can celebrate Christmas, Thanksgiving, Halloween, and Fourth of July anytime you want. Recently, the park announced a new addition to its Thanksgiving section called Good Gravy! Family Coaster — the park's first family roller coaster.
When it’s time to cool off, head over to Splashin’ Safari, the park’s water park. Here, you’ll find everything from water racing slides and wave pools to thrilling water coasters and family raft rides. Just be sure to bring a dry set of clothes for everyone to change into after you’re done at the park.
Unlike other theme parks, Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari offers plenty of freebies throughout the day, including free soft drinks, sunscreen, parking, Wi-Fi, and more. These perks can add up quickly for families looking to have a fun day out without breaking the bank.
Silverwood Theme Park in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
Theme park fans who are also outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy Silverwood Theme Park, which is situated along the shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene. The park truly has something for everyone with rides that allow kids to drive look-alike antique cars, a log flume attraction, and an inverting coaster for thrill seekers. Fun fact: The Corkscrew inverting coaster originally opened at Knott’s Berry Farm in 1975 and moved to Silverwood in 1990.
In 2024, the park will debut a new expansion in its Boulder Beach Water Park called Emerald Forest, which will have a dueling water coaster, a splash pad, and a new food pavilion. Other exciting water park features that are already open include two wave pools, family raft rides, and a drop slide that will have you racing down at 55 miles per hour.
When it’s time to relax, you can hop on a train that will take you on a grand circle tour around the park, catch the resident musician, or see a variety show at the High Moon Saloon. When hunger strikes, there are plenty of options ranging from BBQ and pizza to burgers and burritos.
Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, California
Knott’s Berry Farm started out as a berry stand in 1920, then a chicken dinner restaurant, and eventually evolved into the theme park that it is today. The park has four distinctly themed areas including a Western-style ghost town, a boardwalk, and a dedicated kids area themed around Snoopy and the Peanuts.
Throughout the year, the park hosts seasonal events tied to the fall and winter holidays, but its most exciting festival for foodies is the Knott’s Berry Farm Boysenberry Festival in April, where guests at the park can try dozens of different boysenberry-flavored treats and drinks. Speaking of food, the same fried chicken that drew crowds in 1934 is still being served at the park using the same recipe Mrs. Knott used at Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant.
If you want to stay as close as possible to the park, the Knott’s Hotel is just steps away, but can also act as a gateway to other attractions in the area. The hotel recently underwent a multi-million dollar refurbishment with guest rooms being redesigned to feel like a country guest house.