Summer is the season for amusement parks, and thankfully the mid-Atlantic region has many. We found 10 that are all within a day’s drive of Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia and everywhere in between. Whether your kids love Cookie Monster, construction vehicles or chocolate, you’ll find a theme park made for them. These destinations are following CDC guidelines for reopening and are ready to welcome you and your family for a safe and much-needed day (or several days) of fun.
The only theme park in the United States dedicated entirely to the characters and stories of the award-winning “Sesame Street” television show, Sesame Place offers rides, shows, dining experiences and, most importantly, ample opportunities to meet and take photos with Elmo, Big Bird and his friends. During the summer, check out the park’s multiple-themed water rides and special events. At the end of July, Sesame Place will hold a weeklong Christmas in July celebration and a birthday party to mark 41 years of operations. 100 Sesame Road, Langhorne, Pennsylvania; sesameplace.com
For kids fascinated by construction equipment and machines—and we know there are a lot of them—there’s no better place to take them than Diggerland USA. At this New Jersey destination, “the only construction theme and water park in America,” according to the attraction’s website, kids and their families can drive, ride and operate real machines and vehicles, but you’ll find plenty of classic amusement park rides, water park activities and carnival games. In addition to these attractions, Diggerland USA also offers birthday parties, group events and overnight camping trips at the park. Word-of-mouth warning for Googlers: Make sure you visit the Diggerland USA site rather than the United Kingdom theme park of the same name. 100 Pinedge Drive, West Berlin, New Jersey; diggerlandusa.com
Just a 5-mile drive from Ocean City, Maryland, Frontier Town is packed with family fun. The destination, which hosts nearly 600 campsites, also has plenty of kid-friendly attractions, including a water park, the Frontier Town Western Theme Park, an arcade and miniature golf. If you’re looking for funny family photo opportunities, check out the huge great white shark prop—one that was used in “Jaws”—which calls the park home. Frontier Town also has special summer events on the calendar, including an animal-themed week, a space camp week and a week for family-friendly activities. 8428 Stephen Decatur Highway, Berlin, Maryland; campground.frontiertown.com
Consistently voted the world’s most beautiful theme park, Busch Gardens offers exciting rides and nature experiences. Thrill-seeking families will love trying out the park’s seven world-class roller coasters. For a more low-key experience, bring the kids to meet the animals who call the theme park home, including Clydesdale horses, sheep, wolves and border collies. Whether or not you’ve already made the trip to Sesame Place, your kids can find their favorite characters here too. Busch Gardens also has a “Sesame Street” Forest of Fun area with themed rides and photos opportunities with the friendly creatures. In July, the park will hold its special Summer Nights events with fireworks, concerts, a laser light show and more.
1 Busch Gardens Blvd., Williamsburg, Virginia; buschgardens.com/williamsburg
Water Country USA
If your kids still have energy after a trip to Busch Gardens, be sure to check out Virginia’s largest water park, only 3 miles away. Water Country USA offers plenty of extreme thrills, including the state’s first water coaster and fast, twisting water slides. Younger ones will enjoy calmer splash areas, water playgrounds and kid-friendly slides. If you’re looking for endless summer fun, you can purchase a “Two-Park 2021 Fun Card” that allows you to visit both Busch Gardens and Water Country USA multiple times all season long. 176 Water Country Parkway, Williamsburg, Virginia; buschgardens.com/williamsburg/water-country-usa
A theme park designed specifically for young children, Dutch Wonderland, the self-described “Best Amusement Park for Families in Pennsylvania,” has 35 rides and attractions. Known as “A Kingdom for Kids,” the park has been consistently recognized as a premier park for families and ranked as one of the top kids’ parks in the world by Amusement Today
magazine. Summer is the perfect time to check out Dutch Wonderland’s Duke’s Lagoon water park that has kid-sized slides, splash areas and a lounge area for parents. Be sure to pay a visit to Exploration Island if you have any dinosaur lovers in your family; the Prehistoric Path is lined with 22 life-like dinosaurs, and the Dino Dig gives kids a chance to dig for fossils and artifacts in a sand pit. 2249 Lincoln Highway East, Lancaster, Pennsylvania; dutchwonderland.com
It’s hard not to love Hersheypark. What could be better than a theme park filled not only with plenty of rides but also chocolate? This summer marks the opening of Hershey’s new Chocolatetown, which is entirely dedicated to everyone’s favorite sweet treat. Check out the park’s biggest roller coaster and enjoy an ice cream parlor, confectionery kitchen and full-service restaurant and bar in the new chocolate-themed area. Hersheypark also offers rides designed for families and young kids so that everyone can find something to enjoy here. 100 W. Hersheypark Drive, Hershey, Pennsylvania; hersheypark.com
America’s largest free-admission amusement park is packed with family-focused activities. Parents and kids alike will enjoy Knoebels’ two old-fashioned wooden roller coasters, laser tag, mini golf and arcade games. To beat the summer heat, be sure to check out the park’s 900,000-gallon Crystal Pool filled with mountain stream water. And if you don’t want to make the ride there and back in one day, Knoebels offers more than 800 campsites for tents and campers. 391 Knoebels Blvd., Route 487, Elysburg, Pennsylvania; knoebels.com
Six Flags America
Conveniently located between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Six Flags America has more than 100 exciting rides, attractions, shows and games. The park is tailored toward all ages, with plenty of thrilling rides for adults and an assortment of calmer rides for younger kids. Little Looney Tunes fans will love the Looney Tunes Movie Town, a children’s area themed around the classic animated television show. At the Looney Tunes Prop Warehouse, an enclosed play space features various activities for little kids. Hurricane Harbor, Six Flags America’s water park, is open for the season with a variety of slides, a special beach play area just for kids and more. 13710 Central Ave., Bowie, Maryland; sixflags.com/america
Kings Dominion is the only theme park in Virginia that offers two park experiences for the price of one: the amusement park and the Soak City water park. Kids will want to check out Planet Snoopy, a Peanuts-themed area made just for them. At Soak City, your family will want to pay a visit to the newly redesigned Coconut Shores play area, which has a multilevel structure, eight fun slides, a mini wave pool and other cool stuff for kids. Parents can enjoy relaxing poolside in private cabanas, as well as a new Beach Street dining experience, with multiple food trucks and live entertainment. 16000 Theme Park Way, Doswell, Virginia; kingsdominion.com