Theme or amusement parks have been a part of American culture since the 1800s — when people looking for family-friendly entertainment flocked to “pleasure gardens.” In true American fashion, these parcels of land set aside for recreation and entertainment pushed themselves to get larger and flashier with each passing year, transitioning from boardwalks and bandstands to roller coaster paradises forever promising the “NEXT BIG THING!”
When compiling our list of essential theme parks in each state, we realized that this evolution may create expectations in the hearts of readers. So, we want to preface this: the essential isn’t all about what is the biggest or brightest. Instead, we define “essential” as those parks that connect us with a state, with those around us, and with the past in a way that no other attraction can. In some cases that means they’re weird AF; in other cases, they may simply be the most fun (as decided by us, of course). Either way, they are all must-visit destinations.
Check out our picks and tell us about your formative theme park experiences. Did you work at one? Do you make a yearly pilgrimage? Did your fave from childhood close and leave a hole in your heart?
Washington: Wild Waves Theme Park (Federal Way)
Before we get to our pick for current parks in WA, let’s talk a little about Luna Park — a Seattle amusement park that was only in business from 1907 to 1913. It was designed and operated by Charles I.D. Looff, who both carved and installed Coney Island’s very first roller coaster. In fact, the park took its name from Coney Island’s Luna Park. We would have gone with Looff Park if we designed it, but whatevs.
Fun fact: Luna Park was the site of Seattle’s first manned flight on July 4, 1908. Plus, there were acts like Uncle Hiram the clown, Don Carlo’s Trained Monkey and Dog Circus, and the Original Human Ostrich. How big is the human ostrich competition getting in the US when you have to emphasize you are the OG Human Ostrich? If this park had made it to today, we know it would have been our pick. Sadly, people kept snapping their necks and things of that nature on the rides and sustaining sufficient patronage was impossible.
Okay, back to present day. We think the must-see theme park in Washington is Wild Waves Theme & Water Park, opened in 1977, the same year as The Enchanted Village (lots of enchantment in the Pacific Northwest). It was opened by Byron Betts and was initially only 12-acres with a half-dozen rides. Now, it is over 70-acres and serves as a destination for the entire state.
We are big fans of the 1906 carousel. But the Ring of Fire, a 60-foot, 360-degree looping coaster that propels you up, down, and upside down, is a can’t miss thrill ride. And, the I-5 Dive Skycoaster, which is one part bungee jumping and one part skydiving is also hella cool.