Knott’s Berry Farm

Amusement Park in Northern Orange County

Old West–themed Knott's Berry Farm often teems with packs of speed-crazed adolescents testing their mettle on an intense lineup of thrill rides. Gut-wrenchers include the wooden GhostRider and the '50s-themed Xcelerator; the single-digit-aged can find tamer action at Camp Snoopy.

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. In 1941, Mr Knott built an imitation ghost town to keep them entertained, and eventually built 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. GhostRider is the west coast's tallest, fastest and longest wooden roller coaster. 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 zero to 82mph in under 2½ seconds; there’s a hair-raising twist at the top. And one of the most popular rides, since 1969, is the giant flume, Timber Mountain Log Rider.

For tamer rides, Camp Snoopy is a kiddy wonderland populated by the Peanuts characters with rides like the Linus Launcher and Charlie Brown's Kite Flyer, targeted at the pre-school set. Pre-teens will probably enjoy the selection of junior coasters, flyers and scramblers nearby.

Much of the rest of the park is old-school Americana. Main St looks essentially the same as it did in 1941, an Old West town with blacksmith shop, thread spinner and a 'pitcher gallery' where you can dress up and, you know, get your pitcher took. The Calico Railroad is an antique, narrow gauge train that routinely gets 'robbed' by bandits; you'd think management would have caught on by now. Fiesta Village is a colorfully painted pueblo with Mexican snack stands, game arcades and Mexican-themed rides.

Every year, Knott’s Berry Farm puts on SoCal’s scariest Halloween party, Knott's Scary Farm. On select days from late September through October 31, the park closes and reopens at night as Knott’s Scary Farm. Horror-minded thrills include a dozen creepy mazes, monster-themed shows and a thousand hired hands trying to scare the bejeezus out of you in 'scare zones.' Boo!

Opening hours vary seasonally, so check online for hours as well as 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.

Knott’s Berry Farm is off the I-5 Fwy or Hwy 91 (Artesia Fwy), about 6 miles northwest of Disneyland. All-day parking costs $18. There’s free three-hour parking with purchase from California Marketplace.