When people come to visit Southern California, the first thing that comes to mind is either Disneyland or Hollywood. This means that when people dream about coming to California, they are all dreaming about a gigantic mouse, or people with gigantic egos. I’m not sure whether that means people are all dreaming of rodents or not. I guess it depends on what you think of that giant mouse. In either case, people have a little bit of tunnel vision when it comes to visiting Southern California landmarks.
Enter Knott’s Berry Farm, the red headed stepchild of Southern California theme parks. It is the theme park that sits half way bewtween the magic and grandeur of Disneyland and the thrills and chills of Six Flags Magic Mountain. And with Universal Studios having walking velociraptors and Transformers as well as adding the section of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, there is a second park competing in the magical realm. (Disneyland is still the champ. Sorry Universal.) It would seem like Knott’s couldn’t keep up with this theme park competition Apocalypse. Knott’s has a few shows and a few thrill rides, but nothing like the Frozen show at the Hyperion theater, nothing like Harry Potter, and nothing like the thrills, twists, and turns of Batman the Ride.
But I want to tell you not to fall asleep on Knott’s Berry Farm. Why should you not fall asleep on it like you would on your seat after the 30th name called in a graduation ceremony in a class of 10,000 students? (Hopefully you wake up for your friend’s/child’s name just before passing out once more.).
First, I think you should consider the history of the park. This doesn’t mean just the age of the park but seeing Knott’s as a piece of U.S. history. In 1920, a full 35 years before Disneyland would open, Walter Knott opened a berry stand on what would now be called Beach Blvd. In 1934, because of the popularity of the Berry Farm his wife started cooking dinners for those who would have to wait for the berries. These dinners, as well as the berries, became so popular that in 1940 Walter Knott felt the need to expand and bought a whole bunch of buildings from ghost towns across the country to create a themed ghost town in Buena Park. This was still 15 years before Disney could make that mouse of his a theme park of his own. It was also 24 years before Universal Studios Hollywood and 31 years before Six Flags Magic Mountain would even be a fever dream. By 1950 Knott would hold a summer long “county fair” as well as add other theme rides. And the rest, as we say, was history.
Second, aside from the amazing history of the park, and those delicious unique berries, you have to consider the price of the park in a comparative way when you consider what to do in California. Admission to Disneyland for one day for a family of four will cost you between 400 and 500 dollars. If you want to see as much of the parks as possible, you need to go multiple days. Add in a stay at one of the amazing Disneyland hotels, consider all of the food you will consume, and you may as well be buying round trip tickets to Europe for an all expenses paid cruise through The Mediterranean. Universal and Magic Mountain are slightly better, but still hundreds of dollars more expensive for their annual passes. And if they don’t get you on the admission, they catch you on the back end for food. A Knott’s Berry Farm Annual Pass including both the amusement park and the water park, with a meal plan for two meals a day, costs 217 dollars. This is annual passes and meals for a family of four is less than 900 dollars. Enough said.
But I don’t want you to go to a place just because it has history and it’s cheaper than going to some of these other places. Advocating that would be like advocating taking your children to the local cemetery. You might convince them that there are ghosts and give them a thrill; but when they realize that you are the one wearing the white sheet, neither you nor they will be smiling. I want you to have a few great ideas of things to do there in your back pocket to take with you when you go. (I wouldn’t drop you out of an airplane without a parachute. I promise.) Because Knott’s does have some amazing little finds throughout the park.
And if those two don’t convince you, the smaller lines may just be the tipping point. It would be for me and my daughter. Having an annual pass makes people line intolerant. It’s like lactose intolerance where you get the pain in your stomach every time you see a long line.
Without further ado, here are my 10 amazing little finds, unique to Knott’s, that make it a must see when you come to California.
10) The Geode Shop – Tucked in shortly after you enter the park, the geode shop is an amazing little place where you can see pretty things as well as see cool tech tools that would please any family. Johnny is bored by all of the jewels and stones in the shop, have him watch the water stone cutting machine as it drills through a geode. Your spouse needs a little bit of a Hollywood thrill? Have them peruse through all stones that are signed by Hollywood stars of yesterday and today. Your daughter Julie gets bored looking at rocks? Let her see all of the beautiful jewels buried inside when you cut through the stone. It’s an amazing and beautiful shop. Just a warning. You may have to drag Johnny away from the cutting machine.
9) Independence Hall – If after trying to fool your children with the white sheet, you still want to show your kids ghosts, try some American historical ones. While not technically inside the park, Independence Hall is a little piece of history brought to Southern California. It is an exact replica of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, built down to the very brick. If you don’t have the opportunity to get back to the east coast, you can see a replica of where they signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, on the west coast. Outside of Philadelphia it is the only place to experience this unique piece of history. Aside from the building itself they frequently have free educational presentations throughout the year so be sure to check out the schedule to see what they have going on.
8) The Glass Blower – Nearly all the way to the Ghost Town cemetary (I swear I’m not stuck on cemetaries, and I don’t see dead people. So don’t ask.), The glass shop is one part beauty, one part craft, and one part Americana. Ok, maybe not particularly an American craft but it is a beautiful piece of art work where any child would be mesmerized by the craftsmanship. When you get there at the right time you can see an artist at work. I know watching them blow into a long pipe to help shape and formed colored glass. Now that I think about it, it’s for adults too. (I know what you are thinking and don’t go there.) Just get your mind out the the gutter and watch some amazing work.
7) The Beautiful Waterfalls – I know Disneyland can be all about the little things. But we rarely think about the little things when it comes to Knott’s. It’s the Ghost Town and it’s the rides and nothing else. You just need to take a look around and see some of the amazing views that they came up with. From beautiful Log Ride falls to a great little vista in the middle of Camp Snoopy, you can find some beautiful idyllic places inside the park. I personally love the wooden bridge by the one in Camp Snoopy. If your husband is anything like me, he will be difficult to pull off the bridge. You might have to promise them to go to the next number on the list in order to convince them to get off the bridge. Food, glorious food, wonderful food….
6) Knott’s Bakery – Also another one of those gems that you can go to outside the park and only stop in for a few moments. I’m not sure your waist will thank you, but it’s an amazing feast for the eyes and the tastebuds. From pies to pastries to the extraordinary boysenberry cronuts, you have to go in and try out one of the little delectables tbat they have on sale. Just make sure that you don’t break your bank account on all of the delicious edibles. The weight fairy will not magically make your pounds disappear. I have it on good authority.
5) The School House – Every time my daughter and I go into the park, she makes a beeline for the school house. Not going to deny that a lot will have to do with the teacher you have there, but we have recently had two amazing experiences with newer teachers they have there in the park. They take the kids back to what it was like to be in a schoolhouse in the mid 1800s. And the good ones will teach your kids some lessons. It’s schooling they will love going to even on a Saturday. And if little Johnny and Erica cannot stop fighting or touching each other you can just tell them that you are in the 1800s now and you will strictly follow the lashing rule for boys and girls playing with each other. One look at the rules and they will move away from each other. Very far away.
4) The Museum – Given that you have entered a ghost town, and a chance to experience the Old West, you cannot leave without visiting the western museum. There is a ton of historical artifacts inside: histories on the pony express; old roulette wheels that they had in saloons; hand carved arrow tips; pictures of Wild West Legends; and guns that date back to the early turn of the century . . . the nineteenth century. Make sure to compare your children to the pictures of the men and women who were wanted in the old west, then inform the nearest cast member. They might have to go to Knott’s jail.
3) The Birdcage Theater and Krazy Kirk and the Hillbillies – Yes there are other shows that go on in the Birdcage Theater. But if you are going to go there you must go to see Krazy Kirk and the Hillbillies. The birdcage theater holds a plethora of acts going on there from melodramas to musical acts. It was modeled after the Birdcage Theater that existed in Tombstone Arizona, where miners would come in at all hours to drink, swear, and talk to the saloon girls. I’m guessing mostly talking to the girls. They did have some famous acts come through for the time, including Eddie Foy. (Catch the biopic with Bob Hope as Eddie Foy if you want to learn a little about him.) The biggest and most fun act there now is Krazy Kirk. They play every Saturday, summers, and during special events. If you need an amazing laugh, or need Billy to settle down, make sure you get Billy to sit in the front row. If Kirk gets one look at Billy and his missing front tooth, Billy will be covering his mouth for the rest of vacation, just ask my daughter. Maybe you should wait until the end so Billy still smiles for the family pictures.
2) Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant – Since this was the restaurant that was attached to the Berry Farm, I couldn’t get through a whole list without talking about the chicken dinner restaurant. You get homemade chicken dinner made with the original recipe, so you get that authentic feel from the food that you get inside. From amazing chicken, rolls, corn and salads you get yourself a complete dinner. You get so much food you all might finding yourself needing someone to roll you out on a wheelbarrow. And for anyone looking for some adult faire, they have boysenberry wines and beers added to the renovated restaurant. The renovation included a bar with some of those special drinks to try. As always, please drink responsibly, or I’ll make sure that the monsters or evil clowns from Knotts Scary Farm make an early enterance to the park.
1) The Boysenberry Festival – I don’t know that I would call myself a foodie. I just love food. Wait. Does that make me a foodie? I guess it does. As long as you love the flavor of boysenberry, you will not get out of this festival without needing to go through a rigorous 10 week Zumba class at the gym. Ok. Maybe a twenty week class. They have so many different things that they can do with boysenberry. You have butters, relishes, dips, jams, jellies, BBQ sauce, etc. etc. etc. (Imagine me as the king of Siam from The King and I.) They have so many different foods there that you will never be able to eat them all. Unless you are a food eating contest participant. Then I pity your stomach, your gall bladder, your liver, your doctor and the grocery store who caters to your purchase of hundreds of hot dogs. (I get you needing to practice but ew!) I am hoping to go back this year and get the opportunity to try the deep fried boysenberry ice cream. (Don’t judge me!) What flavor of boysenberry do you want? This year they extended the festival to three weeks so you know I will be there. It’s always near Spring Break so check the website for details.
One last little mention, knowing some of you will stare at me, and this list, like I belong in a straight jacket and in a padded cell. There is no Knott’s Scary Farm on this list. I left it out for a reason; whether it’s a good one is for you to judge. All of the preceding things at Knott’s Berry Farm are available to you upon regular admission, even if they do not occur all year long. They do not require an extra paid admission to get into the park. And for those of you who are wondering, yes, I consider Knott’s Scary Farm to be one of the best Halloween attractions around. But that is for another blog.
So what are some of your favorite places to go to, that people don’t know about? And for those who have been to Knott’s, what are some of your hidden places there that you love? Follow the blog and get inspiration, recipes, travel tips, parenting advice (whether good or bad is up to you), and hopefully a laugh or two along the way. Shoot me an email in the contact form and I will get back to you. I always love hearing from you.
Until next time, this is me, signing off.
David Elliott, Single Dads Guide to Life