Theme parks do a number of magical things; one of the most spectacular of which is that they grow with us. A day at the park looks different as a child than it does as a teen or a twenty-something. But, unlike other experiences that change with age, these places remain fun at every chronological step because they bring such visceral pleasure into our lives. The residuals keep our nostalgia batteries charged, while also powering our sense of adventure until we die (ideally, not on a ride).
To celebrate these enchanted locales, we’ve taken to listing those parks that we consider essential. In fact, we’ve picked one for each state in the union. We began yesterday with the Western states and with a brief explanation of what we find essential. We think it is important to say that we love the big parks and they are musts in their own ways, but the newest thrill ride or VR experience isn’t what we were seeking when we compiled this list. We want to capture some history, some danger, and some quirkiness.
These are “essentials” because traveling to them and experiencing their charm, even as an adult, is something you can’t replicate. Many of the attractions on our list are truly one of a kind. We love that. We also love hearing from you, so jump into the comments and share your essential theme park picks. We dig learning about new places as much as we hope you do.
Texas: Zero Gravity Amusement Park (Dallas)
Before we get to all the thrills at Zero Gravity, we want to take a minute to mention Morgan’s Wonderland, one of the best theme parks in Texas. It was designed for children with special needs and it’s a non-profit and the first park of its kind in the world. Admission for those with special needs is free and caregivers are only asked to pay a nominal admission amount. Rides are custom-designed to accommodate wheelchair riders, giving people who would never have the chance to enjoy a Ferris wheel, a carousel ride, or tooling around in a go-cart the chance to do so. It rocks. But, it has a pretty targeted audience, so we want to acknowledge it, but pick an essential that serves a wider range of visitors.
Zero Gravity has been in business since 1992 but it only operates five rides. Why? It is a very focused park and considers itself the world’s only “Thrill Amusement Park.” So, your options are bungee-jumping from a seven-story tower, free falling from a 16-story tower, riding a towering propeller that pulls 4Gs, sitting in an ejection seat that blasts the rider 150-feet in 1.2 seconds, and hopping on a 100-foot high flying simulator that speeds 60-miles-per-hour.
If you are looking for sheer adrenaline, sans the family element of most theme parks, this is your go-to. You won’t find anything like it anywhere else.