My family and I recently had the opportunity to visit Southern California’s Knott’s Berry Farm, known as America’s first theme park, in order to review it for Baby Gizmo. Knott’s began as a roadside berry stand and chicken restaurant in the 1920s and is now a world-famous theme park with five themed areas, a 13-acre water park called Soak City, and the 321-room Knott’s Berry Farm Hotel, which has a wing with Snoopy-themed rooms, a fitness center, a pool with a children’s activity area, and lighted sports courts. Knott’s is located only 10 minutes from Disneyland in Buena Park, California, making it a fun addition to a family vacation in Orange County.
Having grown up in Southern California, my husband remembered Knott’s for its giant roller coasters (there are currently 10 of them) and other thrill rides. He was therefore skeptical that the park would be appropriate for our nearly 3-year-old twins. Still, we were excited to give it a try.
We arrived at Knott’s about 11 am on a Friday in April and were surprised (and pleased) to find that the crowds were very thin. We were also a bit surprised by how hot it was. While the temperature was only 72 degrees, the sun was so strong that it felt much hotter. Luckily, we remembered our sunscreen!
It didn’t take long for us to find that there is plenty for small children to do at Knott’s. The main draw for little ones is Camp Snoopy, a Peanuts-themed area geared toward the park’s youngest visitors. That’s where we spent most of our afternoon. Camp Snoopy is undergoing a huge revitalization in honor of its 30th anniversary that will be unveiled this summer, so several of the rides were closed when we visited. Still, our boys had a blast riding the ones that were open. The best part is that we waited no more than 5 minutes for any of them, which meant that we didn’t have to deal with antsy and impatient kiddos. Most of the rides themselves were very short, though, which may be frustrating to families visiting on a busier day with longer wait times. Many of the rides require kids under 42″ to ride with an adult, so keep that in mind.
Here are the rides the boys rode—and loved—at Camp Snoopy:
- Grand Sierra Scenic Railroad: My boys are train lovers, so they were thrilled to ride this mini replica of an authentic steam engine locomotive, which took us around a lake and across a real drawbridge.
- Flying Ace Balloon Race: These brightly colored balloons slowly rise into the air and rotate, sort of like the Dumbo ride at Disneyland.
- Red Baron: Riders board World War I biplanes and can use a lever to move the plane up or down as the ride rotates. Because adults can’t ride this ride, the boys sat alone in a plane, and neither was big enough to figure out how to pull the lever to move the plane up. That led them to scream, “Our plane is broken!” the entire time. Despite the frustration, though, they still enjoyed the ride.
- Camp Bus: Riders sit in rows on this bus, adorned with pictures of Snoopy and the Peanuts gang, as it rotates in a circular motion in two different directions.
- Rocky Road Truckin’ Company: My little vehicle enthusiasts loved this ride, which allowed them to ride in a semi-truck along a winding track. Neither boy was able to honk their horn, but they didn’t mind!
- Timberline Twister: This children’s coaster was the boys’ very first roller coaster ride—and they sat with their daddy in the front row! There were a few small drops and turns, which gave them a huge thrill but didn’t scare the Bejeezus out of them.
But the highlight of Camp Snoopy for my boys was the stage show we saw at the Camp Snoopy Theatre, featuring beloved Peanuts characters Charlie Brown, Lucy, and Linus. All of the kids in the audience seemed to really enjoy this show. The boys also got to meet and take a picture with Snoopy himself, which they were quite thrilled about!
Several more Camp Snoopy attractions, including a small ferris wheel and a huge Snoopy bounce house, were either closed during our visit or we weren’t able to get to them. There will be over 30 attractions in total when the new Camp Snoopy is unveiled this summer.
The four other areas of Knott’s are the western-themed Old West Ghost Town, the Spanish-themed Fiesta Village, the beach-themed Boardwalk, and the Native American-themed Indian Trails. There are several other family and children’s rides scattered throughout these areas, including a merry-go-round, two other train rides, and the Butterfield Stagecoach, where you ride in a coach pulled by real horses.
The Calico Mine Ride—Knott’s first major attraction—was closed during our visit as it undergoes a major refurbishment complete with new state-of-the-art animatronic figures and enhanced scenery. This eight-minute train ride takes riders on a winding journey through the dimly lit tunnels of a gold mine. Passengers visit underground lakes, waterfalls, caverns filled with thousands of mysterious formations, and chambers filled with bubbling pots and geysers. While it sounds really cool, my boys may have been a bit frightened on it.
We instead rode the Calico Railroad, which gave us a round-trip tour of the park. The boys were thrilled to look out the windows of this narrow-gauge railroad and were completely unphased when a couple of bandits suddenly (and loudly) burst into our car and screamed at us to put our hands up. (If you have a toddler or preschooler that gets easily frightened, you might consider skipping this ride.)
There are also plenty of other attractions at the park, including games, an arcade, several live shows, and more.
Overall, we spent only about four and a half hours at Knott’s, which was more than enough time for our boys to do everything they wanted to do. So if you have only small children, I wouldn’t recommend making a trip to Orange County just to visit Knott’s. But if you have bigger kids as well, you can certainly make a weekend of it by enjoying the theme park one day and Soak City the next. Or if you’re in the area for an extended vacation, it might be fun to fit an afternoon at Knott’s into your itinerary. Here are a few tips:
- Don’t pay full price: While one-day admission tickets for ages 12 to 61 are $62 at the gate, they’re only $39 online if you buy three days in advance. Tickets for kids ages 3 to 11 and for seniors age 62+ are $33 both online and at the gate. Click here to purchase tickets.
- Beware of high food prices: My husband and I paid about $35 for flavorless chicken sandwiches and fries at one of the food vendors in the park. Prices were just as high at all of the other food stands. So, I’d suggest grabbing meals at Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant, T.G.I. Friday’s, or PINK’s hot dog stand right outside the park. (You can get a hand stamp that will allow you free reentry.) While Knott’s does not allow guests to bring outside food into the park, it does allow baby food and toddler snacks. We even brought in small peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the boys (we were unaware of the policy) and they didn’t confiscate them while checking our bags.
- Dress in layers: If you’re planning to spend an entire day at Knott’s or are going later in the day, bring a sweatshirt! While the park can get very hot during the day, Southern California is known for its cool evenings.
- Time it right: Knott’s Berry Farm is open every day except Christmas Day. Click here for hours, which vary. Weekends, school vacations, and summers are obviously the busiest times, so go on a weekday during the school year if possible. Soak City is open mid May to mid September. Click here for dates and hours.
Thank you to Knott’s Berry Farm for giving my family a wonderful afternoon. We look forward to returning when the kids are older!