Sometimes we roll our eyes when our parents or grandparents start their stories with a – “Well…back in my day…”
But it’s true, there were some great experiences to be had “back in the day” that we – and our children – don’t have the opportunity to enjoy.
Many great tourist spots of America’s past have fallen into neglect and disrepair, losing popularity as our society looks for faster-paced, higher-tech options.
But all is not lost.
There are still some retro destinations of yesteryear that are still going strong, and they’re just as fun and corny as they were back in our parents day.
I’m in a New York state of mind…
Coney Island, New York is probably the first thing that comes to mind when you think of an old-timey amusement park.
After becoming a famous seaside resort in the mid-1800s, businessmen and thrill-seekers saw the potential for bringing amusements to the area.
From the late nineteenth century through the end of World War II, Coney Island was the largest amusement park in the U.S. before falling into neglect.
At the time, it contained several competing amusement parks within its boundaries and was a hub for inventors and showmen to bring their wares to the public.
Families could swim and relax on the beach, then hit the boardwalk for a roller coaster ride or a visit to the penny arcade.
Coney Island drew visitors from all over the nation as an all-inclusive family fun location. It contained some of the first – and most famous – roller coasters of the era, and one of the nation’s first carousels.
In fact, the Elephantine Colossus – a massive building shaped like an elephant and containing a brothel – was visible to immigrants sailing into New York in the late 1800s. It was said to be their first view of America before the Statue of Liberty came into sight on arriving boats.
And then there’s the famous hot dogs.
Yes, famous Nathan himself, Nathan Handwerker, started selling hot dogs on Coney Island in 1916 – and the rest is the stuff of New York legend.
Although it’s had its ups-and-downs, Coney Island is still a great family destination.
Through many renovations over the years, most recently in the last two decades, the old amusement park feeling of days gone by is still present.
The beaches are well maintained for visitors with sand dredging and maintenance performed by the city. Food vendors, arcades, and rides still line the boardwalk and are accessible from parts of the beach.
And those world-famous wooden roller coasters still bring thrills to young and old – but maybe wait until after the ride to have a Nathan’s dog with a funnel cake chaser.
The famous Wonder Wheel Ferris Wheel, built in 1918, still illuminates the night. 1927’s Cyclone, one of the nation’s only original wooden coasters still in operation, is a must-ride. And “Brooklyn’s Eiffel Tower,” the Parachute Jump, still stands (although not operational) as a landmark representing everything Coney Island is known for.
These rides and several other locations at Coney are designated as National Historical Landmarks.
And how about this for your bucket list? Each New Year’s Day, the Coney Island Polar Bear Club holds an annual swim in the frigid waters. They’ll be happy to have you join them.
So if you’re looking for a fun family trip that brings back that feeling of nostalgia and the American Dream, Coney Island can’t be beat.
Then there’s the ode to the heart-shaped honeymoon…
Do you remember those corny honeymoon destinations of the 60s and 70s?
You may be too young, but your parents probably remember how popular they were – and they are still popular with couples looking for a throwback kind of vibe for a weekend getaway.
There are plenty of great resorts in the Catskills and Adirondacks of New York with the same feel, but Pennsylvania’s Poconos Mountains is truly a kitschy place to stay, especially for honeymooners.
The earliest resorts in the Poconos were started by Quakers from Pennsylvania, but they likely didn’t envision what the resorts would become known for – the “Honeymoon Capital of the World.”
In 1945, the first adults-only honeymoon resort was opened in the area. In the next decade, the Poconos would be second only to Niagara Falls as a couples’ destination and innovative business owners used the rise in popularity to take things up an interesting notch.
Morris Wilkins, a business partner of the Cove Haven resort, invented the infamous heart-shaped bathtub in 1963—and thus the symbol for the Poconos resort industry was born.
Several resorts still retain this retro feel, drawing in honeymooners whose parents loved the area or older couples looking to celebrate their anniversary with a stay at their early stomping grounds.
Heart-shaped bathtubs, heart-shaped jacuzzies, and heart-shaped beds can all be found to this day at Paradise Stream Resort!
And if you want a truly original Poconos experience, take a soak in their 7-foot-tall champagne glass whirlpool tub at the Pocono Palace Champagne Tower.
Just don’t ask us how you get in – or out. It may not be the best place to celebrate a 50th wedding anniversary!
Since change is inevitable, the Poconos resort industry has reinvented itself to be a more family-friendly destination as well.
It is a major hub for waterparks, including four resorts with indoor parks like Great Wolf Lodge and Kalahari Resort geared towards families with children.
But the industry is smart enough to remember their roots and ride the wave of young couples who are always looking for unique travel destinations.
The Poconos are a great conglomeration of old and new, with something for both a couples-only weekend or a family road trip with all the kids.
Speaking of honeymoon destinations…
As mentioned earlier, the Poconos’ rival for tourism in days gone by was Niagara Falls.
And natural wonders are always a top travel destination—with Niagara Falls consistently ranking as one of the nation’s top 10 most beautiful and popular tourist spots.
The Niagara Historic Reservation and Park was designed in the late 1800s by landscape architects Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux of Central Park fame.
They increased public access to viewing spots, but excluded the typical “touristy” traps to preserve the natural beauty of the area.
Niagara Falls, both on the New York and Canada side, has attracted daredevils and honeymooners for over a hundred years. Thrill seekers would go over the falls in a barrel, walk across it on a tightrope, or parachute down – which many did not survive.
Maybe this is where the term “taking the plunge” came from – something these daredevils and newlyweds had in common when visiting Niagara.
One famous incident involved Bobby Leach, who went over the falls in a steel barrel in 1911. He broke a few bones, but survived—only to die on a publicity tour after he slipped on an orange peel and developed gangrene.
There’s a life lesson in there somewhere.
In the early 1900s, Niagara State Park and surrounding areas went through a multimillion dollar refurbishment to improve bridges, access paths, the visitor’s center, and observation tower.
Still a popular spot for couples, the park now includes family-friendly amenities like Niagara Discovery Center and Niagara Aquarium.
Perhaps the most popular attraction is the Maid of the Mist boat tour. Started in 1846 as a ferry to cross between the U.S. and Canadian borders, the boat tour has expanded to multiple trips a day.
And the Rainbow Bridge is a must see, crossing between the borders over Niagara River Gorge.
Niagara is one of those timeless travel destinations that every generation has enjoyed.
And families and friends will likely receive postcards of this picturesque location saying, “Wish You Were Here” for generations to come.
So how about taking some time to visit these popular tourist spots your parents or grandparents have told you stories about.
See where they made their memories, and then make a few new ones of your own.
All of these spots, and more, are great for a couple’s retreat or a family vacation with the kids, so let’s keep the stories going for the next generation!