Rye Playland has been a beloved part of my life for decades. When I was a child growing up in southern Westchester, part of my birthday celebration each June included taking a few friends to the art deco amusement park nestled on the Long Island Sound. This celebration kicked off the summer season. Our first ride at Playland was always “The Whip” which was followed up by the House of Mirrors and then on to the Flying Witch. Then— it was time to get serious. We’d make our way to the Monster Mouse, one of the park’s smaller roller coasters. This red rickety contraption featured individual cars and was known for its sharp, jerky turns. In fact, people often claimed they got whiplash from riding the Mouse; Not me, I just thought it was fun.
But the ultimate excitement was when I was finally old enough—actually tall enough: 48 inches—to ride the Dragon Coaster. This iconic 1929 wooden coaster rises up 80 feet, and no matter where you are in the park, you can always hear the clickty-clack of the cars roaring along the wooden tracks. The wooden coaster has more than 3,400 feet of track, including a 128-foot drop straight into the mouth of a fire-breathing Dragon! In 2009 the Dragon Coaster was designated a “landmark coaster.”
I spent two teenage summers working in the games at Rye Playland. It’s hard to capture what was so intoxicating about those days: the work itself was fun–my favorite game to run was the water-pistol horse race– but there were also hundreds of kids your own age to hang out with, bonfires on the beach, perhaps even a late night ride on the Dragon. Maybe in the days before cell phones, it was easier to stay in the moment. Maybe it was just pure, old-fashioned fun.
A LARGE KIDDYLAND
Decades later we took my then three-year-old daughter to Playland for her birthday celebration. KiddyLand did not disappoint. Aimed at children from three to about 10, there are almost 20 rides, many of which mimic the grown-up attractions, including a mini roller coaster, a small whip, and mini bobsleds. There is also a train that chugs around the perimeter, a giant slide (I still dig that one!), flying airplanes and more. Kids run excitedly from ride to ride. It’s a perfect place for young families to have fun.
My daughter is a teenager now, but we’ve returned every year since to mark her big day. (Well, every year except 2020 when Covid shuttered the park for the entire season.) There are, of course, bigger amusement parks with flashy, upside-down roller coasters within driving distance, including Six Flags in both New Jersey and Massachusetts. But you don’t go to Rye Playland to be impressed by the rides. Nope, you’re not going to see the biggest this or the highest that. You go for a different kind of experience. You don’t need to have grown up at Rye Playland like I did to appreciate the nostalgic vibe that the vintage rides, the art deco-design and the beautiful backdrop of the Long Island Sound provides. The TK-acre park is easy to navigate, is cheaper than the bigger parks, and it offers the bonus of a beach, a newly renovated pool, a boardwalk and a host of other throw-back experiences.
Playland opened in May 1928. Current rides that were operating on opening day include the Derby Racer, the Grand Carousel and the Dragon Coaster.
The park came into existence when residents of the area pushed the local government to purchase two existing theme parks, Rye Beach and Paradise Park, and to replace them with a government-sponsored amusement park instead.
Frank W. Darling, who had worked at Coney Island, was brought in to construct and operate Playland. Darling designed the park with balance and beauty. He carefully planned the layout, with manicured landscapes throughout the park. He installed a music system so guests could hear their favorite melodies, and he paid consideration to the lighting to enhance the carnival atmosphere but in subdued tones. Playland’s signature art deco- styling was the creation of the award-winning architectural firm Walker and Gillette. Playland’s original 280-acre design included many attractions, such as picnic areas, restaurants, three ice-skating rinks, swimming pools, and two beaches, as well as amusement rides. This new amusement park was designed to be a three in one park. Playland Park was first created as a beach and swimming pool, second as an amusement park with rides, and third as a lake with a colonnaded boathouse. While not the nation’s first amusement park, the design of the park made it the first planned amusement park in the country. It is one of only a few art deco amusement parks in the United States and one of two government owned parks; in 1987, Playland was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
RYE PLAYLAND’S 2023 SEASON
Playland celebrates its 95th season with some big new changes. Both the beach and the pool, which have been closed for several years, are open and offering new amenities. The new family pool has zero depth entry, state-of-the-art lounge furniture, and panoramic views of the Long Island Sound. The changing rooms in the historic bathhouse have been updated, and a new boardwalk shop has been added. This year on the beach you can play volleyball or rent a kayak or paddelboard. But the hot new attraction is a 35-foot water slide that dumps riders right into the water.
On the other end of the park, the historic boathouse at Playland Lake, adjacent to the shores of the Sound, is offering all new “Swan and Dragon” Paddle Boat rides for $20.
Also new this summer is Play!Verse, an immersive museum walk situated right outside the Playland gates. The attraction consists of different rooms, all with fun, interactive and color-changing design installations. There is a $10 entry fee.
These days there are more than 40 rides at Playland, including several original ones dating back to 1928, including the Grand Carousel, the Whip, the Derby Racer, Ye Olde Mill—and of course, the Dragon Coaster. Sadly, the last year for the 1971 Flying Witch was 2021, although the iconic ride has been sold and will get a new lease on life at Niagara Amusement Park & Splash World in Grand Island, NY, about 15 minutes from Niagara Falls.
Current attractions include two water rides—the Playland Plunge and the Saw Mill River—they’ll help you cool off on hot days. Other favorites include the bumper cars, the Kite Flyer, the Yo Yo Swings, and the Double Shot. The Monster Mouse of my youth is long gone; it has been replaced by a tamer version dubbed the Crazy Mouse. My friends love ‘the Double Shot,’ which launches 12 passengers through two cycles of positive and negative “G” experiences – back to back! I can’t even look at it, but they seem to get a kick out of it. In 2022, Playland introduced the ‘Old Rye Motorbike Factory’. While on this new ride you control your car by pulling the throttle, which sends your motorbike into the air. I haven’t tried this one yet, but will certainly test it out this year.
Rye Playland 2023 Admission:
General Admission & Ride Pass: $39.99
Junior Admission & Ride Pass: $29.99
2023 Season Pass: $109.99
Daily Beach Access – $9.99
Daily Pool & Beach Access – $14.99
Buy tickets here or at the front gate.