My family has a long history with Knotts Berry Farm which was America’s first theme park. My grandmother used to actually buy berries from the farm before it was an amusement park. My parents, my cousins and siblings, and now our kids have all made that initial pilgrimage there. Today was the day I finally brought my daughter there.
The history of Knotts Berry Farm itself is worth a read – incredibly interesting and well written.
I haven’t been to Knotts since I was probably ten or eleven – maybe even a bit younger. I remember my grandmother taking us there several times in early childhood and then I remember going for my best friend Zeke’s birthday in 3rd grade or somewhere around there. In any event, the place is rich with family history for me.
My grandfather was actually born on an oil derrick in California in 1916. His people were the early oil and mining pioneers of this area. In fact, the old western town ‘Calico‘ in Knotts Berry Farm is modeled after an actual ghost town that my ancestors owned at least a part of. As I recall, they owned the mine and it went bust and then they sold it and it went boom – in a good way. Calico was another one of those places our family made family history trips to as a child in Southern California.
So anyway – you get the point. This wasn’t just me taking my kiddo to a fun amusement park – it was historical and had meaning.
Let’s break down the specifics.
Knotts is still a family friendly and fun place to spend the day. You can pretty much see most of the park in a day. In many ways it still felt like a sort of country fair or old fashioned town. It was friendly and felt safe. There were places for adults to enjoy ‘adult beverages’ that weren’t cordoned off in bizarre beer gardens. It felt like the world used to feel. People were friendly, the cost for tickets wasn’t over the top, and the rides we took were fun. The train, the river rafting, the log chute, the smallish roller coaster, and a couple of other fun rides. We played games on the midway and my daughter won a stuffy without breaking the bank. There are numerous food options and no shortage of arcades, places to shop and buy souvenirs, and diversions like caricature artists.
If you don’t have a fast pass, you can expect to spend 70-120 minutes in a line for any thrilling ride that might be open. Even the rides that aren’t very desirable have 30 minute or longer waits. We were there on a Wednesday that wasn’t a holiday – so I can’t imagine on a busy day with school out. Fast pass was $89 per person the day we went and we didn’t have them – tickets with AAA discount were around the same price. What that means is that if you want to ride three big rides you need to spend around 4.5 hours waiting in line if you don’t have the fast pass. Moral of the story, get the fast pass. It sucked to watch people with it jumping in the fifteen minute line while we waited 90 minutes.
Food costs were like movie theatre prices but multiplied by two or three. Insane food prices. Smallest drink was $5. $7 for a churro – the same kind costco did for $1. I could go on, but obviously inflation, trying to make up for higher wages and lost revenue during covid, etc.
Those small fountain drinks – you can request a straw but they no longer give you lids – which is probably cost cutting disguised as greenwashing. The candy shops – which used to be my favorite place to go – no longer have those old fashioned candy sticks or the candy buttons on wax paper – instead it was just the kind of stuff you see in a 7-11 plus some Australian licorice and a bit of berry flavored stuff. This made me a little sad.
Here’s another thing that may be normal moving forward but is kind of bizarre to me: Knotts is cashless. You can’t pay for anything in the park with paper or metal money – only credit and debit cards.
Knotts like everywhere is having a hard time finding qualified people to work there. When I asked why several of the roller coasters were closed – the answer I expected was that Covid had made it difficult or the recent death on a thrill ride in Florida had caused some safety reviews – but instead, I had two different employees tell me that they thought it was that they couldn’t hire or train qualified people to run them!
Holiday Inn Buena Park is a nice value hotel that offers free shuttles to and from Knotts and Disneyland so no need to pay for parking or deprive yourself of adult beverages. With AAA discounted tickets (and fast pass) and a little bit of planning – Knotts is still a fun and affordable theme park destination that has a unique flavor that is disappearing from the world – yes, the whole ‘frontier town’ genre is pretty passe’ these days – but it’s still pretty fun to see cowboys with guns wandering through the streets, watch stage coaches run, and go through track rides with creepy lighting and scary animatronic figures singing songs or blowing shit up.