OK, travelers, close your guidebooks (and your suitcases). It's time for a pop quiz.
1. What's the oldest amusement park in Orange County, Calif.?2. What's the location of a chicken dinner restaurant that serves 1.5 million meals a year?
3. What Southern California park takes passengers for rides on the Calico Railroad?
If you answered Disneyland, Disneyland, Disneyland you're wrong, wrong, wrong.
The correct answer is Knott's Berry Farm, which traces its roots back to 1920 before Mickey Mouse was even knee-high to a grasshopper. That was when Walter and Cordelia Knott first moved to Buena Park, Calif., and began farming on 10 acres of rented land.
That tiny enterprise has grown to become part of a 150-acre complex encompassing an ever-expanding amusement park, world famous restaurants and even a small plaza of retail shops.
The main difference between the two world-famous parks is "pixie dust" vs. gold dust. While Disneyland concentrates on fantasy, both past and future, Knott's Berry Farm has a more robust, frontier feel. The main focus at Knott's is on early California and the colorful Southwest past.
Knott's Berry Farm was already firmly established by the time Disneyland opened in July of 1955. But it was undoubtedly the Disney park in nearby Anaheim that initiated a remarkable boom for tourism in Orange County and swept Knott's into a new era of rapid growth along with it.
Prior to that time, Knott's was more of a sleepy little roadside stop a potpourri of ghost town relics and one of the region's best restaurants and purveyors of world-famous jams and jellies.
Through the `20s and `30s despite the Great Depression years Walter Knott was able to slowly add to his 10-acre plot and frugally expand his business. From selling berries to Los Angeles area grocers to construction of the farm's first permanent commercial building in 1928, housing a tea room, a berry market and a nursery for selling berry plants, the Knott's Berry Farm concept slowly evolved.
While Knott was involved with helping Rudolph Boysen, Anaheim parks superintendent, perfect a new strain of berry (later to become known as the boysenberry a luscious hybrid blend of loganberry, blackberry and red raspberry), Mrs. Knott did her part by selling jams, jellies and home-baked pies and pastries. In 1934, she served eight fried chicken dinners on her wedding china probably not realizing that she was launching what would eventually become one of the world's most renowned eateries.
By 1940, the Knott's restaurant was dishing up nearly 4,000 dinners on a typical Sunday. Walter, in order to give the customers something to do instead of just standing in line, began a project of his own developing the Knott's Ghost Town, with authentic, historic buildings from throughout the American West.
On a recent sunny California Sunday, my 14-year-old daughter and I paid an all-too-brief visit to Knott's Berry Farm to see what it looks like today. While wandering through the clean, fairly compact, well-arranged park, it bought back memories of a visit I had made as a young boy in the post-war years. Back then, visiting with my parents, it was just a ghost town, but I was delighted by the various mannequins dressed up as crusty, old miners panning for gold and the old-time Boot Hill cemetery with its wooden grave markers.
The park is just as pleasant in the 1980s.
While it, like Disneyland, is roughly divided into various themes, the entire complex is basically a salute to the early California settlers and the region's Hispanic roots.
The Ghost Town and Calico Square are pretty much like they were back in the '40s. There are stagecoach rides and an old narrow gauge railroad.
Other areas of the park include:
Camp Snoopy: A cool, refreshing area that's like a little sample of the High Sierras tucked away in Orange County. Characters from the "Peanuts" comic strip and park employees, dressed like forest rangers, are featured in a rustic setting with waterfalls, a creek, a couple of rope bridges, rocky cliffs and log cabins. The rides and exhibits here are geared for the younger set, including a delightful two-story fun house called Beary-Tales Play House.
Fiesta Village: A tribute to Southern California's hispanic heritage, including a shop selling Mexican trinkets and one of the park's biggest rides, the heart-stopping Montezooma's Revenge, a forward-backward loop coaster.
Roaring 20s: A throwback to the old-time amusement parks, with such rides as Soap Box Racers, the 20-story high Sky Jump (coupled with a gentler Sky Cabin 360-degree revolving elevator for those who don't particularly want to be dropped from the top of the parachute jump), and one of the park's earliest white-knuckle rides, the Corkscrew loop coaster. Nearby is the Cloud 9 ballroom an art-deco dance hall, which is used for a variety of functions. These days it's the site of a 3-D movie originally filmed for Marineland, an unusual film called "Sea Dream." There's also the ride-through Kingdom of the Dinosaurs and the Pacific Pavilion, site of a daily dolphin show. The Roaring 20s area segues into . . .
Ghost Town & Calico Square, where you'll find a terrific log flume ride and the Calico Mine Ride, on which passengers aboard little wooden mining cars are taken down into the dark, mysterious shafts and depths of the replica of an old gold mine. It's also fun to just wander along the meandering streets and boardwalks of the Ghost Town, browsing in the general store and watching the artisans at work on their various crafts. Or you can while away some time booing the villain and cheering the hero in a Bird Cage Theatre melodrama. Great fun.
Throughout the park are a variety of restaurants and fast-food eateries. Adjacent to the park itself is a collection of retail shops and more restaurants, including a western steak house, a bakery, several gift and souvenir shops, an international bazaar and, of course, the famous Chicken Dinner Restaurant. The lines for this restaurant are almost as long as those for some of the rides inside the park. But service is quick and the lines do move right along. The meals, prepared from many of Mrs. Knott's original recipes, are well worth the wait.
Just across the street from the main compound, reached by an underground pedestrian passageway, is an exact replica of Philadelphia's Independence Hall. No admission charge is required to visit this historic display.
Season: Open daily year-round, except Christmas. Park opens at 10 a.m. (ticket offices open half an hour earlier). Some of the retail stores and restaurants in the plaza open about 9 a.m. Admission: $16.95 (adults), $12.95 for children 3-11 and senior citizens over 60. Children under 3 admitted free. For information, phone (714) 827-1776.