There’s something quintessentially summer about amusement parks. They showcase the type of foods we all love to eat during the season—funnel cakes, soft serve ice cream, hot dogs—and they correspond with the accompanying sense of innocence and childlike wonder that comes when the weather is hot and the possibilities are endless.
Thankfully, living in Baltimore, several of the country’s premier theme parks are within driving distance.
Six Flags America: Bowie, Maryland (36 Miles)
The lowdown: A short commute to Bowie brings big drops and water rides galore.
Driving distance: About an hour.
Don’t Miss: Six Flags America isn’t much different from any other Six Flags you may have been to, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t fun to be had. New for 2019 is Maryland’s only floorless coaster, Firebird, which reaches a top speed of 56 mph and has a nine-story drop. The park’s anchor is Superman: Ride of Steel, which has a top speed of 73 mph and a 20-story drop. There’s also a water park with a variety of slides and its skate park-inspired tube ride Halfpipe.
And if you’re willing to drive a little further, Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson Township, New Jersey is about 150 miles away, around a 2.5 hour drive. It has one of the most terror-inducing rides anywhere, Kingda Ka, which is the tallest roller coaster in the world at 456 feet. It blasts riders from 0 to 128 mph in 3.5 seconds. If that’s not enough, there’s a separate drop tower, Zumanjaro, attached to Kingda Ka, which drops from 415 feet.
Hersheypark: Hershey, Pennsylvania (90 Miles)
The lowdown: Yes, that Hershey, the one with all the chocolate and, as it turns out, serious thrills.
Driving Distance: 1 hour and 40 minutes.
Don’t Miss: Hersheypark perhaps places more emphasis on the “theme” part of theme park than any other spot in the area. Everything is devoted to promoting all things chocolate, from the massive Chocolate World at the front of the park— where, among other things, you can design your own candy bar and buy a burlap sack’s worth of candy—to big drops and adrenaline spread across the park.
Baltimoreans can also get a taste of home at the Chickie and Pete’s crab fries stand. But what you’re really here for is the coasters, and Hershey has 14, to be exact. Park standouts include Great Bear, launch coaster Storm Runner, Fahrenheit, which has a 97-degree stomach-churning first drop, and Skyrush, which reaches a top speed of 75 mph. Hesheypark also just announced its fastest and tallest roller coaster yet. Set to open in 2020, Candymonium, will reach a top speed of 76 mph and a maximum height of 210 feet. Don’t miss the attached water park, too, which you can check out with admission. And after a day at the park, as long as you have a designated driver, check out Tröegs Independent Brewing just off of the Hersheypark grounds.
Kings Dominion: Doswell, Virginia (130 Miles)
The lowdown: Virginia is a theme park haven, and Kings Dominion makes its case as the state’s authority on amusement parks.
Driving distance: Just over two hours.
Don’t miss: Kings Dominion has 12 roller coasters, including the rip-roaring Intimidator 305—named after Dale Earnhardt himself—with speeds up to 90 mph and a 300-foot drop. There’s also Twisted Timbers, which follows a current amusement park trend of steel-wooden coaster hybrids. The drop tower here is no joke, dropping 27 stories from a height of 305 feet and reaching a top speed of 72 mph. And, if you’re feeling really adventurous, the park has introduced new Instagram-worthy food options for 2019, including the MacDog and Party Shake.
Busch Gardens Williamsburg: Williamsburg, Virginia (200 Miles)
The lowdown: The sister park to Tampa, Florida's Busch Gardens, this park’s sections are divided by different countries with corresponding ride and food stands.
Driving distance: Barring traffic, approximately a 3.5 hour drive.
Don’t Miss: Busch Gardens Williamsburg is renowned across the country for its roller coasters. From the out-of-your-seat “airtime” of Apollo’s Chariot and the zooming inversions of Alpengeist to floorless dive coaster Griffon and Tempesto’s 154-foot inversions, the thrills abound. Be sure to check out Finnegan’s Flyer, a swing ride that’s new for 2019.
You’ll also eat extraordinarily well. Chow down on German pretzels and beer, or visit Marco Polo’s marketplace for Italian, Mediterranean, and Asian fare.
Kennywood Park: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (235 Miles)
The lowdown: Existing in some form or another since 1898, Kennywood Park is the place to go for Pittsburgh’s biggest rides—a place that leans into its location and serves up big-time thrills.
Driving distance: A shade over four hours.
Don’t Miss: Look, we know how most Baltimoreans feel about Pittsburgh—we have decades of Ravens-Steelers games to show for it. But we have to hand it to them—they know how to run an amusement park. Kennywood features not one, but two roller coasters that offer drops of more than 200 feet. The first, Steel Curtain, is new for 2019 and features the tallest inversion in the world at 197 feet. There’s a swing ride that reaches 50 mph, too. Be sure to check out Parkside Cafe, which has been around as long as Kennywood, serving pastas, sandwiches, chicken, salads, and more. The Potato Patch french fries are also a crowd favorite—douse them in cheese to show the locals you know what’s what.