New Yorkers often bemoan rapid changes to old-school spots such as Coney Island, where recent "upgrades" seem to have wiped away the grit and charm of old Gotham. Anyone who yearns for the New York of yesteryear needs to head directly to Playland in Rye, New York. Somehow, the amusement park in southern Westchester, in operation since 1928, has managed to revitalize itself with modern standards while maintaining the original charm of the last century. It’s among the most underrated gems for summer fun in the area.
Kiddyland features more than 20 rides for tots and preschoolers.
While some theme parks aren’t worth it for preschoolers, Playland has a huge Kiddyland with more than 20 rides perfect for little ones. You won’t find more kiddie rides in any park in the area. Some of our favorite rides were the teeny, tiny Kiddy Carousel, the original wooden Kiddy Coaster and the Playland Express railroad. There’s also a shaded area with children’s entertainment. Costumed characters had the kids up and dancing and having a blast.
The Playland Yo-Yo delivers high-flying action.
But Playland isn’t just for little kids. There are plenty of rides for the whole family. The Gondola Wheel was our favorite, taking us into the sky for a fantastic view of the whole park and the Long Island Sound. We had fun on the bumper cars, go-karts, and big swings, too. Thrill seekers won't find enough rides to make Playland a destination, but don’t miss the Dragon Coaster, which is a landmarked historic wooden coaster original to the park. There are also two water rides if you need to cool off.
The most unique ride we encountered was the Derby Racer, an antique steeplechase ride. It looks like a carousel, but that delusion is quickly set straight. You’ll know this ride was made in another era as you cling to your horse speeding around the track. You have no straps or belts to keep you on, just the attendant reminding you, "Lean left, lean left!" It’s terrifying and a bit hard. I guess that's what was considered fun in 1928?
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Except for two new thrill rides, most attractions are either classics or unique antiques, including the Derby Racer. But that’s the fun of Playland. With its Art Deco buildings, picket fences, and plenty of old-fashioned family fun Playland feels a bit like an afternoon in Mayberry. The setting is wholesome and the fun is, too. It’s a welcome respite from the complex, technology-driven world families live in today.
Cotton candy, anyone? Playland offers classic carnival fare.
In addition to rides, Playland has the usual midway games and an arcade. Food concessions are run by chains such as Nathan’s and Popeye’s. Leaving the park, there’s also the Pier Restaurant and Tiki Bar, where you can get slightly overpriced drinks and seafood. Even though the restaurant is on the water, our view was blocked so it wasn’t as beachy a feeling as I hoped.
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With more than 50 rides, Playland is a full day of fun, but there’s lots more to do, too. Old-fashioned lake cruises take you back in time. There’s also miniature golf, a swimming pool, a sandy beach on the Long Island Sound, even an indoor ice rink for additional fees. Fireworks displays go off every Friday night in July and August.
For all that fun, Rye Playland is a pretty good deal, especially for Westchester residents, who get a discount. One plus for families: Parents who don’t plan on doing any rides can buy a spectator ticket for $10 (free for Westchester residents). Also, children younger than 2 are free. If you plan on visiting three or four times, a season pass will save you money.
Playland isn’t as accessible without a car as, say, Coney Island, but it’s not hard either. Metro-North offers a Playland package that includes transit to the park and an entrance ticket. From the train, connecting buses take you to the entrance of the park, but make sure to check the schedule to be certain your train has a connecting bus.
Check all the details and plan your visit at Rye Playland's website.
All photos by the author.
This post, originally published in July 2016, has since been updated.