A few miles from Anaheim, Buena Park first found fame due to 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 Center. 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, part raspberry and part blackberry); his farm stall 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 eatery, 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 family-friendly cabaret attractions: Pirate’s Dinner Adventure, a swashbuckler-starring show 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 LA County. Don’t worry about the queue that can form outside at any time of the day—it moves briskly. Inside, a dazzling range 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. There's also an attached confectioner's counter here, where you can learn how to make saltwater taffy (think chewy sweets) 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, including 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 (including the Grey Witch cocktail which contains gin, champagne and crème de violette) and Provençal-style pub fare, such as Croque Monsieur sliders.
Keep driving west on Beach Boulevard and after about 10 miles, 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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