They bring ‘em in by the busloads to America’s oldest theme park. Knott’s is smaller and less frenetic than Disneyland, but it can be more fun, especially for thrill-seeking teens, roller-coaster fanatics and younger kids who love the Peanuts gang.
The park opened in 1932, when Walter Knott’s boysenberries (a blackberry-raspberry hybrid) and his wife Cordelia’s fried-chicken dinners attracted crowds of local farmhands. Mr Knott built an imitation ghost town to keep them entertained, and eventually hired local carnival rides and charged admission. Mrs Knott kept frying the chicken, but the rides and Old West buildings became the main attraction.
Today Knott’s keeps the Old West theme alive and thriving with a variety of shows and demonstrations at Ghost Town, but it’s the thrill rides that draw the big crowds. The Sierra Sidewinder roller coaster rips through banks and turns while rotating on its axis. Nearby, the suspended, inverted Silver Bullet screams through a corkscrew, a double spiral and an outside loop. From the ground, look up to see the dirty socks and bare feet of suspended riders who’ve removed their shoes just for fun. Xcelerator is a 1950s-themed roller coaster that blasts you, as if from a cannon, from 0mph to 82mph in under 2½ seconds; there’s a hair-raising twist at the top. For tamer rides, Camp Snoopy is a kiddy wonderland populated by the Peanuts characters.
If it’s too darn hot, the park’s Perilous Plunge whooshes at 75mph down a 75-degree angled water chute that’s almost as tall as Niagara Falls.
Opening hours vary seasonally, so call ahead, and check the website for discounts and deals: online savings can be substantial (eg buying print-at-home tickets). Manual/motorized wheelchair rentals cost $15/45 per day. Minimum height restrictions apply for many rides and attractions, so check the theme park’s website in advance to avoid disappointment.
Next door to Knott’s Berry Farm is the affiliated water park Soak City OC, boasting a 750,000-gallon wave pool and dozens of high-speed slides, tubes and flumes. You must have a bathing suit without rivets or metal pieces to go on some slides. Bring a beach towel and a change of dry clothes.
The park is open from Memorial Day (end May) to Labor Day (start of September), plus additional May and September weekends. Look online for often significant discounts off the full admission. Rental lockers ($7 to $22 per day) and private cabanas (from $99) are available.