Kayaking, beachcombing, and hiking are all about enjoying nature in its pristine state. But New York is about man-made pleasures, too, so it’s worth paying a visit to Playland in the city of Rye, New York, to see why an amusement park built in 1928 is still drawing crowds today; precious little has changed with its simple, time-tested approach.
Playland, which is open from May until just after Labor Day, is less than an hour away from New York City by train or bus. The simplest way to get there is to take a Metro-North train from Grand Central Terminal to Rye, which is a stop on the New Haven line. The trip takes about 45 minutes. From the Rye station, there are frequent shuttle buses to the park.
Playland is a kick even if you don’t enjoy rides or cotton candy. The seaside park offers a fascinating look into what America was like during the early twentieth century before the exuberance of the 1920s gave way to the Great Depression. Listening to the joyful squealing of children harks back to a sillier, less-self-conscious time when we ourselves were kids. It gives visitors the feeling of being in a time capsule, which may be why it was used as the location for Tom Hanks’s character’s transformative fortune-telling in the movie Big.
Get to the park just before noon (opening time) so that you can hear the national anthem and watch youngsters hoping in vain to be let in a few minutes early climb the closed gates. Many original rides are still in operation, including the Grand Carousel, with its 66 bejeweled and mirrored hand-carved steeds. There is the venerable Dragon Coaster, an intimidating wooden roller coaster that has been in use since Playland’s second season. There is also a large pool, a mini-golf course, an arcade, kid-friendly rides, and a placid lake used for boating.
If you’re brave enough to ride the Dragon Coaster, you’ll be rewarded atop the attraction’s highest peak with a magnificent panoramic view of the park and the Long Island Sound estuary beyond. Then, before you know it, you’ll be hurtling downward at an alarming speed, plunging headlong into the darkness of a dragon’s mouth, and emerging, thankfully, on the other side of the tunnel for another series of swoops and turns. Kids stagger out of the cars excitedly, most of them desperate to ride again. You’ll want another turn too.