We have no shortage of options when it comes to theme parks here in Southern California (and I'm a big fan of ALL of them), but Knott's Berry Farm holds a special place in my heart. My grandparents frequently took me to Knott's Berry Farm when I was a kid, wistfully telling me tales of the days that they would visit during my mom's childhood. “This is the oldest theme park in America,” grandpa would say, launching into an explanation about the historical significance of the train tracks running throughout the park.
It was on one of these trains that I was “held up” for the first time. I remember it vividly. A cartoony, bearded man stormed onto our car and staggered, bowlegged, right on over to me. “Hey Raggedy Ann, give me all yer money!” he said in his gruffest tongue-in-cheek voice to the doll I clutched in my five-year-old arms. I puffed my little cheeks up and glowered right back at him. “No, you big thief! Go get a job!” That story has been told and re-told in my family more times than I can remember.
Knott's Berry Farm is well-known for its wide variety of rides that appeal to everyone in the family, from Camp Snoopy for the little ones to Cedar Fair's thrill rides for the older set. My favorites, though, are the ones that invoke childhood nostalgia or have interesting historical stories. The infamous Calico Mine ride (currently undergoing restoration) was the first to incorporate a hidden switchback to make the line appear shorter than it actually was. Legend has it that when Walt Disney came to wait in line for the ride, he was so astonished that he loudly declared, “You old S.O.B!” and promptly stole the idea for his own parks.
Peanuts Playhouse is another lifelong favorite of mine, as much for the entertainment as for the incredible conversations I've had with park employees. This area of the park is said to be haunted, with lights turning on and off for no apparent reason and displays dismantling themselves (if you're not into that, I promise you can still have a ton of fun with Snoopy and Charlie Brown – the park's signature characters – without noticing any apparitional disturbances).
If you ARE into ghouls and hauntings, Knott's Scary Farm is a must-experience California favorite. Every October, the park is taken over by monsters and witches for the ultimate in humor and horror for the whole family.
Finally, no trip to Knott's Berry Farm would be complete without sitting down for dinner at Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner restaurant. The eatery that started it all is one of America's largest and most popular single-family restaurants, and is certainly deserving of the theme park that originally built up around it as a way to entertain guests while they waited for their food.