A few miles from Anaheim, Buena Park first found fame around a small family farm—and it has grown ever since into a wide-ranging family-friendly destination.
The Orange County town dates back to the 1850s and a few buildings still remain from those frontier days—including the site of the Stage Stop Hotel, now the home of the California Welcome Centre. But Buena Park was really put on the map in the 1920s, when a farmer named Walter Knott started having success growing a hybrid berry called a boysenberry (part loganberry, raspberry, and blackberry); his farm stand expanded into a restaurant and later into Knott’s Berry Farm theme park.
Today, the theme park is still the biggest attraction in town, with its own hotel and a classic selection of rides, live shows, and an updated version of that original tea shop, called Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant. During the summer, the offerings include the nearby Knott’s Soak City Water Park.
Otherwise, the main artery of town runs along Beach Boulevard, which is home to a slew of hotels, restaurants, and two big dining-meets-family-entertainment attractions: Pirate’s Dinner Adventure, a swashbuckler-starring dinner theatre set on a Spanish-style galleon in a huge indoor lagoon; and the popular chain Medieval Times, where you’ll dine while watching jousting, falconry, and acts of chivalry.
Tucked between the two theatres is the must-try Porto’s Bakery & Cafe, the only Orange County outpost of the beloved Cuban bakery from L.A. County. Don’t mind the line that can form outside any time of day—it moves briskly. Inside, a dazzling array of pastries, Cuban sandwiches, and the famous potato balls (stuffed with beef, or cheese and peppers) await.
Families—or anyone with a sweet tooth—will also want to stop at Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour, a revival of the 1960s-era parlour where you can still get the 30-scoop Zoo sundae, delivered to your table on a stretcher. This location also has an attached candy counter where you can learn to make saltwater taffy and take a bag of your own confections home. Next door is Knott’s Independence Hall, a brick-by-brick replica of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, down to a copy of the Liberty Bell. Grown-ups, meanwhile, may want to pull up a stool at the nearby Cauldron Spirits and Brews, a witches-and-wizards-themed pub and eatery with magically themed cocktails (like the Grey Witch cocktail with gin, champagne, and crème de violette) and Provençal-style pub fare, such as Croque Monsieur sliders.
Keep driving west on Beach Boulevard and about 10 miles later, you’ll arrive at the famous surf breaks of Huntington Beach.
From board shorts to mouse ears to designer clothes, what you wear in this sun-splashed corner of the state says everything about how you like to play. Whether it’s surf-perfect beaches or celebrated theme parks, all framed by oceanfront towns dotted with luxury yachts, “The O.C.” stands out as one of California’s—make that the country’s—most iconic destinations.
“Surfing is like golf. . . it keeps knocking you down. But when you stay with it and catch that wave. . . magic.” --actor Dennis Quaid
Shop at spectacular South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, or get the surfer look in Huntington Beach, aka Surf City, USA.
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