Great warriors riding majestic steeds, covered in sweat, blood, and perfume. No, this isn’t a script from the new Game of Thrones Season (unfortunately). I am referring to the birth of the carousel.
What we know today as the go-to attraction for over-enthusiastic, cotton candy stuffed kids was originally developed in the 12th century to be a high-intensity training exercise. The method behind the madness? Horsemen would ride around in circles trying to wack their opponents with a perfume-infused ball. Weird, I know.
These unique training conventions were quickly adopted for entertainment purposes. Carousels aren’t only known for wacky training exercises or attracting kids to amusement parks.
These iconic attractions offer something special that bring in people from all over the world, from all walks of life. Young and old alike. What is stopping mom and dad from hopping on and going for a nostalgic spin? Nothing! We aren’t going to judge.
Maybe it’s the spark of imagination when you get to choose which noble steed to ride into battle. Or which sea creature will take you on the next circular adventure. The mix of artistry and amusement also make carousels a prime target for romantic evenings. Maybe one of these featured in our article is only a short drive away from you!
No two carousels are built alike. Wood, metal, stone. Fast and slow. You could argue that it is more art than a carnival ride, especially considering some were meticulously hand-carved.
Each carousel featured below has a unique story to tell. Some have seen the world. A few have been featured in classic and adored films while some have stories to tell that will never be heard. One or two have even been given awards!
The actual number of carousels still in operation today is unclear. Of the thousands created, only a handful still exist. Many carousels in America are starting to be classified as National Historic Landmarks, which will help preserve the ones remaining.
From horses to lobsters and planes to cars, here are the 23 Best Carousels we RAVE about!
Jane’s Carousel • Brooklyn, NY
This beautiful carousel was designed by Pritzker-prize winning architect Jean Nouvel and constructed by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company nearly a century ago.
Originally built in Ohio, it was restored in 1984 and relocated to Brooklyn. It is now enclosed in glass for both preservation and to allow visitors rain-free rides. It was also rated “Best Public Space” by the 2012 Travel & Leisure Design Awards.
Cedar Downs Racing Derby • Sandusky, Ohio
This distinctive carousel on the shore of Lake Erie near Cedar Point Amusement Park was built in 1920 and was moved to its current location in 1967. With 64 horses, it artfully mimics a horse race and reaches a maximum speed of 15 mph – fairly impressive in the carousel world.
A Carousel for Missoula • Missoula, Montana
This gem of a carousel is located on the Clark Fork River and was constructed by Missoula cabinet-maker Chuck Kaparich. It has a maximum speed of 11 mph and all the horses were carefully handcrafted; some even have real hair.
Crescent Park Carousel • East Providence, Rhode Island
This huge carousel has graced Crescent Park since 1895 and is a result of the handiwork of legendary carousel builder Charles I. D. Looff. It has 61 horses and was restored in the 1970s. It is now featured in the National Register of Historic Sites and Places.
Looff Carrousel • Spokane, Washington
This stunning carousel was originally was built in 1909 as a gift for master carousel craftsman Charles Looff’s daughter on her wedding day. It features elaborate decorations, hand carved horses, a tiger, a giraffe and a ring to catch.
Endangered Species Carousel • Fort Wayne, Indiana
The first of its kind, this carousel depicts endangered species from Southeast Asia to help raise awareness and promote conservation. Built relatively recently in 1994, it’s a major attraction for the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo that surrounds it.
Pier 39 Carousel • San Francisco, California
This double-decker carousel was handcrafted in Italy and decorated with paintings of the San Francisco area including the Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower, Chinatown and Alcatraz island. Animals on this carousel include lions, panda bears, dolphins and more.
Columbia Carousel • Chicago, Illinois
Standing 10 stories tall, the two-level Columbia Carousel is located in Chicago’s Six Flags Great America. The iconic ride has a twin in L.A.’s Six Flags Magic Mountain. Introduced in 1976, this carousel features 16 original oil paintings, 106 beautifully carved figures, and more than 1,000 old-fashioned carnival lights.
Smithsonian Carousel • Washington, D.C.
This historic carousel was built in 1947 by Allan Herschell. It’s located on the Washington D.C. mall just steps from where the 1963 Civil Rights March occurred and down the street from where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I have a dream” speech.
Originally located in Baltimore, this carousel became a civil rights movement symbol when an African American family rode it on the first day the park became desegregated. It was relocated to Washington D.C. in 1981.
House on the Rock • Spring Green, Wisconsin
This majestic carousel features thousands of flashing lights, hundreds of angels suspended in air and lots of thrills. It is considered the world’s largest indoor carousel and is located inside of the House on the Rock in Spring Green, WI on top of Deer Shelter Rock, a sandstone formation located in the Wyoming Valley area.
Boston Greenway Carousel • Boston, Massachusetts
This relatively new carousel was built for the Boston Greenway project. Donor Amalie Kass funded it to provide entertainment for neighborhood children and features fanciful creatures local to the Boston area like a fox, squirrel, lobster, peregrine falcon and even a grasshopper.
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Looff Carousel • Santa Cruz, California
This 1911 carousel is a National Historic Landmark and has been in its original location for over 100 years. It features an outside row of jumping horses and a working ring dispenser.
Dentzel Carousel • Meridian, Mississippi
This double row carousel has been in operation since 1909 and is considered a National Historic Landmark. The animals were all hand carved from poplar and bass wood in Philadelphia by the artist Dentzel.
Santa Monica Looff Hippodrome • Los Angeles, California
The Santa Monica Looff Hippodrome on the Santa Monica Pier in the Los Angeles area was once a Looff carousel, but replaced by a Parker in 1990. Its location on the Santa Monica Pier is quite lovely and picturesque.
New Orleans City Park Carousel • New Orleans, Louisiana
The “Flying Horses” carousel at New Orleans City Park is over a century old. The hand painted animals were hand carved by Looff, Carmel and Murphy. There are both stationary and moving animals including horses, a lion, a camel and a giraffe.
Tilden Park Merry Go Round • Berkeley, California
This merry go round features four rows of hand-carved giraffes, horses, chickens, dogs, cats, lions and more. It was built over 60 years ago and is still running strong. Its beautiful park location in Berkeley, California makes it an idyllic setting for a carousel ride any time of year.
Bear Mountain Carousel • Bear Mountain, New York
This special carousel features animals native to the Hudson River Valley including a red fox, rabbit, river otter, skunk and even a turkey. It’s located in a beautiful state park where you can also camp, swim, fish and enjoy the outdoors.
Kit Carson County Fairgrounds Carousel • Burlington, Colorado
This inspiring merry go round was manufactured by the iconic Philadelphia Toboggan Company and now housed at the county fairgrounds in Burlington, Colorado. It features three rows of animals in a 12-sided building. The menagerie of animals features horses, goats, zebras, burros, camels and adorable goats.
Yerba Buena Gardens Carousel • Long Beach, California
This Looff carousel was originally located in San Francisco and was relocated to Long Beach, California for a short while, then was refurbished and brought back to Yerba Buena Gardens of San Francisco. It was renamed the LeRoy King carousel after the former SF Redevelopment Commissioner (he brought his wife here for a carousel ride on their first date – so romantic!)
Tom Mankiewicz Conservation Carousel • Los Angeles, California
This California-themed carousel features 66 endangered animals and is located in the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens. Instead of an organ melody, this carousel exclusively plays music by California musicians.
Carousel Bar • New Orleans, Lousiana
This carousel for grown-ups offers a unique experience for both locals and tourists crowded shoulder to shoulder enjoying exotic drinks. It has roots dating back to 1949 in the famous New Orleans 5-star Monteleone Hotel in the French Quarter.
Six Flags Over Georgia • Atlanta, Georgia
This is one of the largest carousels in the USA, a five-row beauty that debuted in Chicago’s Riverview Park in 1908. Known as the Riverview Carousel, it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Trimper’s Rides • Ocean City, MD
This carousel from the 1920s located in a classic beach town is graced by a variety of animals, including an ostrich, pig, goat and a frog. It is one of numerous antique rides at Trimper’s on the boardwalk.