The boysenberry is a hybrid berry - part loganberry, raspberry and blackberry and Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park is a unique combination itself: an intriguing bit of Southern Californian history that has grown into a classic theme park with lots of local flavour.
The theme park’s story began in the Great Depression, when a farmer named Walter Knott started having success growing the purplish berries on his family farm in Orange County. The adjoining tea shop that his wife Cordelia opened in 1934, serving fried chicken and boysenberry pie—became so popular that the Knotts added an Old West attraction to keep their waiting customers occupied, and the theme park was born. Rollercoasters and live shows were added from the 1950s, and the Halloween event Knott’s Scary Farm was launched in 1974.
The adjoining tea shop that his wife Cordelia opened in 1934,serving fried chicken and boysenberry pie—became so popular that the Knotts added an Old West attraction to keep their waiting customers occupied, and the theme park was born.
Today, Knott’s Berry Farm has a wide selection of rides, live shows and an updated version of that original tea shop, Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant. You can shop for jams and sauces in the neighbouring shop or pick up Peanuts memorabilia at the Peanuts HQ, all on the walkway just outside the theme park gates. Inside the park, you can also enjoy berry treats, including boysenberry cream soda in a mason jar at the Calico Saloon, or boysenberry ICEEs (a frozen carbonated drink) at park kiosks. Nearby, you can beat the heat on the tube slides and wave pools at Knott’s Soak City Water Park, open from May to September. You can even stay the night at the Knott’s Berry Farm Hotel, which features some Snoopy suites, more pie and pretty affordable rates (look for the deals that combine admission with your hotel room).
Read on for tips on what to see, ride and taste at Knott’s Berry Farm.
The Old West–themed Calico Mine Train was the first big ride to open at Knott’s Berry Farm, back in 1960, at that time, it was a groundbreaking 'dark ride' rollercoaster with animatronic gold miners inside. Today, the Buena Park theme park has a wide range of rides, from G-force-pushing thrillers to child-friendly fun in the Camp Snoopy area.
On the fast-paced end, check out HangTime, a 'dive coaster' in the park’s Boardwalk area that has a steep vertical drop and mid-air suspensions, or the Xcelerator, which goes from 0 to 82 mph in a little more than two seconds. If you like spinning rides, try the Sol Spin, which features six rotating arms that go up to six stories high. And keeping with the Old West theme of the Calico Mine Train, the Ghost Rider is the fastest wooden rollercoaster on the West Coast.
Families with little kids, meanwhile, will love the Camp Snoopy area, devoted to low-key rides and the Peanuts gang. Glide through the air on a security blanket on the Linus Launcher, sit in a classic swing ride on Charlie Brown’s Kite Flyer, or ride a gentle all-terrain vehicle on Pig Pen’s Mud Buggies.
For crowd-pleasing thrills, don’t miss the classic Timber Mountain Log Ride which, like the Calico Mine Train, features animatronic miners and animals, but ends in a splashy 42-foot flume. Or get a good dousing on the river-raft ride Bigfoot Rapids—just gentle enough that you can enjoy the ride’s greenery that includes trees, shrubs and wildflowers which are all indigenous to California.
The first attraction at Knott’s Berry Farm, back in the 1940s, was a walk-through cyclorama called The Covered Wagon Show, which chronicled the Knott family’s move to the west. Today the theme park’s live shows embrace that Old West magic, while also adding in music, storytelling and even ice-skating Peanuts characters.
The first true live shows at the park were presented in 1954 at the small Bird Cage Theatre, a replica of a theatre from Tombstone, Arizona, that is located in Ghost Town. The tiny theatre originally put on melodramas - classic tales of villains, good guys and damsels in distress, and it still presents those same stories, often with cheeky, 21st-century humour. The talent is good, and there is even some impressive precedent here: this is the stage where a former local boy named Steve Martin had his first paid comedy gig.
The other shows around the park change periodically, but some themes always apply. The Old West flavour continues at the musical revues at the Calico Saloon Show, and the open-air Wagon Camp theatre presents crowd-pleasers like the Wild West Stunt Show, which combines a cowboy-fuelled showdown with Hollywood-calibre stunts. During the summer, this section of the park is the focal point of Ghost Town Alive!, with appearances by bandits, cowboys, robbers, judges and normal folks taking part in Western-style hoedowns. Nearby, take a look at the Virtual Reality Showdown, an interactive experience in Ghost Town.
In the section of the park for younger children, there is always a show (sometimes with a seasonal twist) at the Camp Snoopy Theatre, which features various members of the Peanuts gang; check times to see when the characters will be available for meet-and-greets.
The Mystery Lodge, next to Bigfoot Rapids, offers a Native American storyteller, performing against a colourful backdrop of special effects. Check the schedule at the Charles M. Schulz Theatre, outside the Boardwalk area, which often features big Peanuts-themed shows, like the impressive Snoopy on Ice, which showcases both the characters on skates as well as impressive, competitive-level figure skaters.
Right next to the entrance to Knott’s Berry Farm stands the thrill, so to speak, that started it all: Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant, an updated version of the farm stall and restaurant that was the inspiration for the park itself.
In 1934 Walter Knott’s wife Cordelia opened a tea shop next to her husband’s boysenberry farm stall, selling slices of boysenberry pie and then adding fried-chicken dinners on Sundays. By the 1940s the lines for the Sunday dinners had become so long that the Knotts built an Old West attraction next to it to keep their waiting customers occupied and the early version of Knott’s Berry Farm theme park was born.
Since Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner still sits outside the park entrance, you don’t even have to go into the theme park to enjoy a meal there, though the sound of the rollercoasters might prove too tempting. Either way, the classic dinner is largely the same: three pieces of fried chicken, mashed potatoes with gravy, a choice of cabbage or cherry rhubarb, and biscuits (similar to a plain scone), accented with boysenberry preserves (and then, of course, pie for dessert, or you can swap this for boysenberry sherbet). The menu also includes crowd-pleasers such as big salads and open sandwiches, and the new bar includes beer, wine and boysenberry-infused cocktails. The expanded interior of the restaurant channels some of that country tea shop ambience, with warm wood floors and a farmhouse-chic aesthetic. Or, head next door to Chicken to Go, where you can get takeaway fried chicken, whole pies and fresh biscuits.
The boysenberry may be a summer fruit, but Knott’s Berry Farm finds plenty of ways to celebrate its origins and various holidays year-round.
The calendar year kicks off with the Knott’s Peanuts Celebration, held on select weekends in late January and February, featuring live shows with Peanuts characters, meet-and-greets, and added attractions like character-drawing classes. In March, Ghost Town is consumed with the Knott’s Boysenberry Festival, when your pass will get you tastings of creative berry-centred dishes (like chicken wings with a boysenberry glaze, or quesadillas made with purple boysenberry tortillas and accented with a spicy berry dipping sauce). You can even pair your food with boysenberry wine, along with other local wines and beers. During the summer, the Wild West section of the park is the focal point of Ghost Town Alive!, with appearances by bandits, cowboys and normal folks taking part in regular Western-style hoedowns.
In the autumn there's Knott’s Scary Farm (typically from mid-September to Halloween), when the park gets a spooky makeover, with haunted houses and mazes that feel like live horror films and thrill rides in the dark. The park's paths are even in play, with creepy clowns and zombies popping in and out of the fog. The scarefest only runs on selected nights during the season, and is not recommended for children under 13. Younger children (or grown-ups who aren’t fond of ghouls) will prefer Knott’s Spooky Farm, which runs on selected days, when there is trick-or-treating in Ghost Town, a Halloween Hootenanny on the Timber Mountain Log Ride and a special show at the Camp Snoopy Theatre.
By mid-November, the park shifts into Knott’s Merry Farm (running through until early January), when Christmas decorations cover the park, carollers stroll about and shows abound, including a several Peanuts shows (including Snoopy on Ice), a Wild West–themed Christmas show at the Calico Saloon, and old-fashioned takes on A Christmas Carol and The Gift of the Magi staged at the Bird Cage Theatre. Stay for the evening when man-made snow falls over Ghost Town.
Just a few blocks from the rollercoasters and pies of Knott’s Berry Farm is Orange County's largest water park, Knott’s Soak City. A veritable water-fun wonderland, it also channels some of the thrills and names of the nearby SoCal beaches.
Admission is separate for Soak City, which is only open from mid-May to early September. Over its 15 acres, the water park offers 23 speed, tube and body slides; the 2.8-million-litre Tidal Wave Bay wave pool; a one-third-of-a-mile lazy river; and the three-storey Beach House, with 200 water guns, nozzles, sprayers and more.
If you want the ultimate thrill, try Shore Break, the seven-storey-high tower that has six different slides, four of which send you off using an Aqua-Launch chamber, where the floor drops out from under your feet.
Or, you can race on the six-lane Banzai Falls slide, or splash in one of the attractions named after SoCal beaches. Malibu Run features four individual inflatable-tube slides that start at a height of nearly 12 metres, while the Laguna Storm Watch Tower offers three inflatable raft tube slides for one or two riders each. Take the whole family together on the The Wedge, a raft-ride-style slide that’s a nod to the infamous wave at nearby Newport Beach.
Younger children, meanwhile, will like the Gremmie Lagoon, a water playground for families. To upgrade your day at the park, book one of the cabanas, which come with shaded loungers and a dining table, as well as four inner tube rentals and table service. As a reminder that you’re not too far from the origins of the theme park next door, the Portside Pizza eatery at Soak City offers a boysenberry-topped funnel cake (think a cross between a doughnut and churros) for dessert.