No matter what theme park or amusement park you visit, you're going to have to crack open your wallet to ride a coaster or hop on a carousel. But, while most parks charge a flat, pay-one-price fee (and often a hefty one at that) to pass through its turnstiles and ride unlimited attractions, a handful offer free admission and a pay-as-you-go policy for its rides.
For families on a budget, or visitors who are along for the ride but aren't all that keen to try the rides, free-admission parks can be great bargains. Besides (or instead of) open gates, some parks offer free parking and other free amenities.
The amusement area includes a number of operators. Admission to the seaside parks and famed boardwalk is still free, as is the entrance to the public beach. A Nathan's Famous hot dog, however, will cost you. You can easily (and fairly cheaply) get to Coney island by taking the subway.
- Brooklyn, New York
Knoebels is one of the few remaining free-admission parks, and one of the largest in the US. Rides are individually priced, and tickets can be purchased a la carte. Discounted ticket books are available. Knoebels also offers pay-one-price options. Parking is free, shows are free, and visitors can bring their own food.
- Elysburg, Pennsylvania
The free-admission park offers individual ride tickets as well as unlimited ride passes. The nearby Family Kingdom Water Park, however, requires a separate admission. Seaside amusement parks used to be an American staple. Today, Family Kingdom is one of the few surviving places where screaming passengers aboard white-latticed coasters compete with the crash of the surf.
- Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Admission to the traditional amusement park is free (although the adjacent Water World water park does require an entrance fee). Waldameer also offers pay-one-price options. Among its featured attractions are the highly regarded wooden coaster, Ravine Flyer II, and the classic Whacky Shack dark ride. In addition to its open gate, Waldameer offers free entertainment and free parking.
- Erie, Pennsylvania
You'll have to pay to enter Holiday World, but the value-oriented park lays on the freebies once you're in the gate, including the industry-defying offer of unlimited, free fountain drinks. Other perks:
One of the few remaining family-run parks, Holiday World has charm to spare, some of the friendliest staff members on the planet, spotlessly clean grounds, and other features that corporate parks often can't match. And it offers three of the best wooden coasters on the planet.
- Santa Claus, Indiana
Part of the sprawling Mall of America, visitors have free admission to the indoor theme park, Nickelodeon Universe. The park offers all-day and two-day wristbands for unlimited rides. Or, visitors can purchase pass cards a la carte, which can be redeemed for ride tickets.
Other Free Theme Parks
Other free-admission parks include:
- Indiana Beach in Monticello, Indiana
- Belmont Park in San Diego, California, which also offers free parking
- Pacific Park in Santa Monica (on the pier), California
- DelGrosso's Amusement Park in Tipton, Pennsylvania, which also offers free parking. (The Keystone State really loves free-admission amusement parks!)
- Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in Santa Cruz is another California seaside park.