One of the best parts of visiting an old-fashioned carousel is looking at the beautifully carved and painted animals.
A horse is a horse, of course—unless it's a carousel pony painted in bright colors and covered with beautiful details. Look closely at the West's best merry-go-rounds and you'll see steeds (and other noble beasts) embellished with swords and pistols, flowers and fruit, knights and eagles, even the American flag or an ear of Kansas corn. Here's where to find the best band organs, brass rings, and fanciful equines.
Balboa Park San Diego. Dogs, cats, deer, and dragons are just a few of the party animals on this ride built in 1910, near the entrance to the famous zoo. (619) 239-0512.
Jantzen Beach SuperCenter Portland. These aerodynamic horses with high-flying manes once revolved at an amusement park on an island in the Columbia River. Now they race around at the mall. (503) 289-5555.
King Arthur's Carousel at Disneyland Anaheim, Calif. This perfectionist's assemblage features horses from four different carvers and four different merry-go-rounds. Paint nicks are touched up regularly. (714) 781-7290.
Kit Carson County Fairgrounds Burlington, Colo. Because it's older (circa 1905), the animals don't go up and down. But that means it can go fast! Open Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Riverfront Park Spokane, Wash. In the golden age of carousels (1900 to the Great Depression), Charles Looff was the only carver on the West Coast. Look here for his trademark "sneaky tiger," stalking his prey, always in a circle. (509) 625-6600.
San Francisco Zoo Lions and tigers and ostriches—oh my! Wild critters share the spotlight with bejeweled horses by master carver Marcus Illions. (415) 753-7080.
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Santa Cruz, Calif. This National Historic Landmark is one of the few carousels where you can still reach for the brass ring. It shares ground with the equally hallowed Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster. (831) 423-5590.
Santa Monica Pier Santa Monica, Calif. You've seen it on television and in the movies, most notably in The Sting. But Paul Newman and Robert Redford failed to savor all the delicate carvings of this carousel. (310) 394-8042.
Photography courtesy of Muu-Karhu/Wikimedia Commons
This article was first published in May 2002. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.