15 Unique Theme Parks In The US

What are some of America's most unique theme parks? And why are we intrinsically drawn to the idea of a theme park to begin with? Perhaps we seek the adrenaline rush of a roller coaster. Maybe we enjoy the escapism a well-detailed park exemplifies, especially if its spaces bring to life a story or character we're big fans of (like Nintendo or "Star Wars," for example). Or it's possible that we just want something fun to do with family or friends. Whatever the reason, Americans are fascinated enough by theme parks to keep the themed entertainment industry thriving, with dozens of parks open across the United States.

Many of those destinations, though, are similar. Some are even identical. Industry leaders like Disney and Universal build parks in multiple locations, duplicating many of the same attractions in each domain. Meanwhile, many theme-less amusement parks may not technically belong to the same corporation but, by nature, present a homogenous hodgepodge of off-the-shelf rides and cracked cement. Elsewhere, there are parks whose themes fall into one of several frequently-used categories in the industry. Realms like "movie studio," "fairytale kingdom," "jungle," "American small town," and "Wild West" are particularly abundant.

This brings us back to the question: Which theme parks in America offer guests a truly unique experience? Not "best." Not "most popular." Simply ... unique. Let's find out.

Adventuredome (Las Vegas, NV)

Adventuredome in Las Vegas, Nevada might not fall into the traditional idea of a "theme park," but that's kind of the point of our list here. Which destinations provide an experience that can't quite be categorized because nothing else like them exists? Those are the parks we're on the lookout for.

Located entirely indoors, Adventuredome comprises five acres. Its 25 attractions aren't all necessarily one-of-a-kind, but the convergence of those experiences under one roof creates a unique offering. Have you ever ridden a roller coaster, played mini-golf, and been entertained (or terrified) by a clown, all at the same place? Adventureland also screens 4D films starring characters from "Ice Age" and "Scoob!" At night on Fridays and Saturdays, the dome's interior takes on new life with a neon flair.

Adventuredome is part of Circus Circus, a hotel and casino property on the Las Vegas strip. As such, the park is among the activities on the Las Vegas strip that aren't gambling. An all-day wristband for Adventuredome costs $60 for guests measuring at least 48 inches tall and $30 for guests measuring under 48 inches tall.

Enchanted Forest (Turner, OR)

Enchanted Forest is hardly the only theme park to focus on fairytales. However, its take on the genre makes it a unique park. Located in Turner, Oregon, Enchanted Forest is just outside of Salem, about an hour from Portland. The park resides within an actual forest. Even though its storybook source material is obviously fictional, the park's wooded setting gives it an authenticity of sorts. We know these stories aren't real, but if they were, this is exactly the kind of environment in which we'd imagine them taking place.

Sure, a handful of qualities feel not-so-subtly inspired by other parks, predominantly Disney. For example, Enchanted Forest's Ice Mountain Bobsled roller coaster bears the theme and ride setup of Disneyland's Matterhorn, while Enchanted Forest's illustrated depiction of Alice from "Alice in Wonderland" is a dead ringer of the version from Disney's animated film. All the same, Enchanted Forest is decidedly more quaint than Disney's elaborate, big-budget fairy tale experiences. Its themed outdoor spaces are intimate rather than grandiose; its family ownership feels home-grown rather than corporate.

The park operates seasonally during the spring and summer months. General admission is $27 for guests ages 13 to 61, $24 for guests ages three to 12 and 62+, and free for guests under age two. Rides require a separate fee, ranging from $3 to $5 per ride.

Gatorland (Orlando, FL)

Zoos are a dime a dozen, but how many animal attractions focus on one specific creature? Gatorland in Orlando, Florida is a mecca for all things related to the sharp-toothed, long-tailed reptile that commonly calls the sunshine state its home. Not a traditional amusement park, not quite a zoo, Gatorland lands somewhere in between. Placing a larger emphasis on hands-on activities rather than rides, Gatorland offers a unique attraction in a city filled with high-profile resorts like Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, and SeaWorld Orlando.

In terms of animal experiences, Gatorland hosts formal presentations and casual encounters alike, giving guests a variety of ways to learn about the park's residents. While alligators are certainly the primary subject at Gatorland, the location features other animals, too. Among them are capybaras, macaws, snakes, tortoises, and bobcats.

General admission starts at $35 for guests ages 13 to 59, $25 for guests ages three to 12, and $30 for guests ages 60+. Higher tiers of admission add experiences like alligator feeding or rock climbing. In an add-on activity known as Screamin' Gator Zip Line, guests zip-line over 1,200 feet high over a pond of 130 alligators. Another, dubbed Gatorland's Stompin' Gator Off-Road Adventure, speaks for itself. Hashtag, Florida.

Morgan's Wonderland (San Antonio, TX)

While several theme park resorts (like Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando) provide accessibility-friendly experiences for guests with disabilities, the team behind Morgan's Wonderland designed the park with these guests in mind first and foremost. Located in San Antonio, Texas, Morgan's Wonderland describes itself as "the one and only ultra-accessible theme park" and "the first theme park where everyone can play." The park derives its name from Morgan Hartman, daughter of founders Gordon and Maggie Hartman.

Attractions throughout Morgan's Wonderland are inclusive, allowing anybody to ride — from a zip line to a 4D roller coaster. Sensory Village is an indoor experience that invites kids to envision their future careers in an interactive community. Wheelchair Swings in the park's playground are capable of handling guests and their wheelchairs fully intact.

Morgan's Wonderland provides free admission to guests with "serious, long-term physical and cognitive disabilities," as well as guests ages two and under. Otherwise, admission costs $19 for guests ages 18 to 61 and $13 for guests ages three to 17 (and guests ages 62 and up). The park is closed during the winter months. Morgan's Wonderland is part of a property that also includes Morgan's Inspiration Island water park, Morgan's Sports fitness complex, and Morgan's Multi-Assistance Center. Meanwhile, Morgan's Camp is 20 minutes away.

Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park (Gilroy, CA)

Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park is an attraction on a mission. The park is operated by a nonprofit, Gilroy Gardens, Inc., that exists to "educate and inspire families, especially children, to appreciate horticulture and the importance of trees in our lives." Through rides, water slides, and exhibits all themed to plants and trees, park management hopes Gilroy Gardens encourages young guests to pursue horticultural careers.

The park is located in Gilroy, California, about 30 miles from San José. The rides at Gilroy Gardens might seem a bit familiar, but you've probably never experienced them quite like this before. The spinning ride that often presents itself as teacups? Here, the ride vehicles are garlic bulbs. The swinging pendulum that frequently shows up as a pirate ship in other parks? It's a banana at Gilroy Gardens. Meanwhile, Sky Trail Monorail provides aerial views of a greenhouse. Water Oasis, a water play area with kid-sized slides, is open during the summer months.

Many of Gilroy Gardens' trees boast unique shapes. One resembles a revolving door; another looks like a four-legged giant, its quadruple-pronged base extending to the sky before eventually forming a singular body. No matter what you're doing at any given moment within Gilroy Gardens, you're surrounded by beautiful landscaping. Admission starts at $55.

Hersheypark (Hershey, PA)

"What are they selling?!" [spoken in the voice of the elderly woman in the "SpongeBob" chocolate episode]. Chocolate is the name of the game at Hersheypark. Yes ... that Hershey. Located in Hershey, Pennsylvania (about two hours from Philadelphia), Hersheypark started as a recreational space for Milton S. Hershey's chocolate employees. Now, it's a full-fledged theme park, with rides named after candy under the Hershey corporate umbrella.

Attractions like Jolly Rancher Remix, Reese's Cupfusion, and Kissing Tower (named after Hershey's Kisses, of course) await guests within Hersheypark. Some rides are generic, sans any hyper-themed candy connection, but the branding presents itself abundantly throughout the park's atmosphere and architecture.

Single-day Hersheypark tickets cost $85, but visitors might find significant discounts by purchasing tickets online. At the time of this writing, for instance, the park is selling single-day tickets for $40, over 50% off the gate price. Never hurts to check! Hersheypark admission includes entry to ZooAmerica North American Wildlife Park (a zoo with its own entrance directly from Hersheypark) as well as The Boardwalk at Hersheypark (a seasonally open water park). Guests can stay overnight at one of several onsite accommodations: Hershey Lodge, The Hotel Hershey, and Hersheypark Camping Resort. Hersheypark is next door to Hershey's Chocolate World, home to a free tour of a chocolate factory that doesn't require admission to Hersheypark itself. Willy Wonka could never.

Holiday World (Santa Claus, IN)

It's all in the name, but Holiday World dedicates each of its themed lands to a different holiday: the 4th of July, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas (with an additional area, Holidog's Funtown, thrown in for good measure). Holiday World's theme is appropriate given its location: Santa Claus, Indiana (yes, really). The park opened under the moniker of "Santa Claus Land" in 1946 and changed to its current name in 1984, expanding its theme beyond just Christmas.

Holiday World is anything but subtle. For example, on the new roller coaster named Good Gravy! (exclamation mark theirs, not ours), guests ride in a literal gravy train through a tunnel of cranberry sauce. Good Gravy! is one of many incredible coasters opening in 2024 around the world. Good Gravy! is, of course, located in Holiday World's Thanksgiving area. Elsewhere, the Halloween section has Scarecrow Scrambler, Christmas hosts Prancer's Merry-Go-Round, and so forth. Some of its rides, like an upside-down swinging Mayflower ship, are confusing at best and potentially problematic at worst, juxtaposing carefree thrills with complicated moments in history.

Daily tickets to Holiday World cost $75 (or $55 when purchased online). The park is closed in the winter months. During the summer, admission to Holiday World includes entry to Splashin' Safari, an onsite water park.

Santa's Village Amusement & Water Park (East Dundee, IL)

America has quite a few Santa-centric theme parks. However, Santa's Village Amusement & Water Park (previously known as Santa's Village Azoosment Park) throws in a wildcard (literally) to the North Pole proceedings: wild animals. Santa's Village is located in East Dundee, Illinois, roughly 40 miles from Chicago.

Not every attraction at Santa's Village has a Santa connection. In fact, a lot of them don't. Many are typical amusement park rides you've no doubt experienced elsewhere, from a scrambler to bumper cars. Why is Santa's Village on our list of unique theme parks, then? Because Santa's Village leaves many questions uniquely, gloriously unanswered. Why stick with the Santa name if most of the park is Santa-less? What do the animals have to do with anything? Can a grand total of three slides qualify as a water park? Thus, the unhinged, chaotic energy of Santa's Village.

But some attractions do have that festive touch. One ride has guests joining Santa's fire brigade and spraying water from real hoses out of a moving vehicle. Another takes visitors on a virtual high-speed sleigh ride, goggles and all. Then there's the animal component. Santa's Village is home to, yes, reindeer but also tortoises, donkeys, and koi. Next door, Santa Springs Water Park presents a (slightly underwhelming) selection of summertime slides with wintertime aesthetics. Santa's Village operates seasonally. Visit the park's website to view the calendar. Park admission, which includes both Santa's Village and Santa Springs, costs $36 for guests measuring 36 inches or taller and is free for guests measuring 35 inches or shorter.

Land of Oz (Beech Mountain, NC)

Follow the yellow brick road, and it will lead you straight to ... North Carolina? Land of Oz, located in Beech Mountain, North Carolina, celebrates "The Wizard of Oz," but only during three fall weekends each year during an event called Autumn at Oz. The property was a thriving theme park in the 1970s, but nowadays, it's more like a seasonal festival with elaborate theming and Oz-inspired architecture. Photo-ops, merchandise vendors, and entertainment are the main focuses, with no rides. While one could lament the loss of the park's heyday, this is definitely a glass-half-full situation; it's something of an achievement that the place is still standing, much less annually hosting an event.

Technically, Land of Oz brings to life the public-domain literature of Frank L. Baum rather than the 1939 MGM movie. However, the latter is so tethered to the general public's idea of Oz altogether that many guests probably won't notice the difference. That, and Land of Oz doesn't shy away from overtly MGM-esque iconography, like the design of the park's walk-around character mascots. The gang's all here, appearing in person: Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man, Lion, the Wicked Witch of the West, and even the munchkins.

Stage shows, food vendors, shopping, and more await. General admission may vary by date but is around $55. Tickets go on sale in the summer. To reach Oz, guests park at Beech Mountain Ski Resort. From there, visitors choose from either a free shuttle or an added-expense chairlift to arrive at the event.

Mt. Olympus Water & Theme Park Resort (Wisconsin Dells, WI)

Whether you prefer indoors or outdoors, roller coasters or water slides, Mt. Olympus Water & Theme Park Resort in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin caters to everyone. Four separate facilities comprise this wide-ranging property. The outdoor theme park features thrills and kiddie rides galore, with loosely themed elements of Greek mythology (like the go-karts, which travel under and around a giant Trojan horse, pictured above). The indoor theme park is more akin to a commonplace activity center than a park (with mini-golf, rock-climbing, and an arcade among its attractions).

Meanwhile, the outdoor water park features the 145-foot-tall Rise of Icarus, America's tallest water slide. (Get it? Because Icarus flew too close to the sun?) Equally impressive, the indoor water park boasts Medusa's Slidewheel, America's first rotating water slide. As guests descend the slide in tubes, the slide itself spins.

Single-day admission for $33 grants access to all Mt. Olympus attractions, and promotions are often available to get discounted pricing. Onsite lodging at the resort's hotel rooms or campground comes with free admission to all four attraction facilities. The indoor components are open year-round, while the outdoor activities operate seasonally, from mid-May through mid-September. 

Sea Life Park (Waimanalo Beach, HI)

We understand if you're a little skeptical about this one. "Sea Life Park?" you might be thinking. "There are tons of theme parks about marine life. What makes this unique?" We get it. There's a SeaWorld in Florida, Texas, and California. Aquariums are a regular fixture of many cities' indoor activities. None of those, though, are surrounded by the natural beauty of Hawaii.

Sea Life is located in Waimanalo Beach, Hawaii, on the island of Oahu, complete with a viewpoint of gorgeous blue waters and the lush Ko'olau Mountains. Call us crazy, but learning about the ocean adjacent to the actual ocean is decidedly more picturesque than being surrounded by concrete. Guests at Sea Life Park can see and learn about dolphins, sharks, sea turtles, and more. In lieu of amusement park rides, Sea Life Park has educational presentations by day and a full-fledged Hawaiian luau, Aloha Kai, in the evening.

Sea Life Park is unrelated to the identically named chain of aquariums (those belonging to Merlin Entertainments, makers of Legoland parks, and Madame Tussauds wax museums, among other popular attractions). Sea Life is also not connected to SeaWorld. Instead, Sea Life Park is operated by Parques Reunidos, the same company that manages Noah's Ark Waterpark, an upcoming item on our list. Admission to Sea Life costs $45. Packages that include luau admission start at $175.

Noah's Ark Waterpark (Lake Delton, WI)

Have you ever thought to yourself, "Gee, I wonder when a company is finally going to build a water park based on a story from the Bible"? No? Well, the team behind our next attraction apparently did. Noah's Ark Waterpark is located in Lake Delton, Wisconsin, incidentally less than a mile from Mt. Olympus Water & Theme Park Resort, a fellow unique theme park on our list. Ok, Wisconsin! We see you!

Noah's Ark and its slides aren't explicitly evangelical; its branding doesn't overtly project religious beliefs onto guests (unlike, for example, Ark Encounter or the Creation Museum, both in Kentucky). Even still, the park is named Noah's Ark, after all. As such, its slides' names all reference animals (like Scorpion's Tail) or allude to a humanity-ending flood (like Point of No Return). Morally right or wrong, we're not sure. Undoubtedly unique? Absolutely.

The park is operated by Parques Reunidos, the same company behind Movie Park Germany, Adventureland Resort, and another item on our list, Sea Life Park, among other entities in its global portfolio. Single-day admission to Noah's Ark costs $60. The park operates during the summer months.

Sesame Place (Langhorne, PA and Chula Vista, CA)

"Sunny days sweepin' the clouds away" is in the forecast at America's two "Sesame Street" theme parks: Sesame Place Philadelphia (in Langhorne, Pennsylvania) and Sesame Place San Diego (in Chula Vista, California). Elmo, Abby Cadabby, Big Bird, The Count, Julia, Cookie Monster, Grover (pictured above), and their pals welcome guests to an adorable world of kid-friendly rides, live shows, character appearances, and an accompanying water park, all inspired by the beloved television program that's been going strong for over 50 years.

We realize the contradiction of listing a "unique" destination that exists in multiple locations. However, as a whole, the Sesame Place parks are notable for their distinction as Certified Autism Centers. This recognition is accredited by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards. Sesame Place Philadelphia was the first theme park ever to earn this honor. Sesame Place parks are not only mindful of — but intentional toward — welcoming guests with autism. Park personnel receive regular training and reviews to achieve this vision. (See the full list of other theme park-certified autism centers on Autism Travel. Peppa Pig Theme Park and several SeaWorld and Six Flags locations are among them.)

Single-day tickets for Philadelphia and San Diego locations start at $100 and $90, respectively, but both parks offer hefty discounts online. While not full-fledged theme parks in and of themselves, "Sesame Street"-themed lands also exist in various SeaWorld and Busch Gardens parks.