This guide offers our tips for visiting Knott’s Berry Farm, which is a regional theme park in Southern California. It’s incredibly close to Anaheim, so if you’re already planning a vacation to Disneyland, Knott’s is an easy day trip as it’s only about 15 minutes from Disneyland. In this Knott’s Berry Farm guide, we’ll cover planning tips and tricks that will help you save money and time, avoid crowds, choose where to eat, which rides to do, and fully plan your visit to “America’s 1st Theme Park.”
You might be wondering whether that moniker is accurate. Well, it depends upon your perspective. Like Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm has a rich history, starting in 1920 as an actual farm. In 1940, it opened the beginnings of Ghost Town, which is when it claims to have earned the “theme park” title, beating Disneyland by 15 years. Regardless of which was the first theme park, Knott’s and Disneyland have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship, with Walt Disney drawing inspiration from Knott’s and the founder of Knott’s being one of Walt’s invited guests to the opening day of Disneyland. Some Imagineers have even contributed to Knott’s over the years!
The first question you might have before anything else is whether you should even visit Knott’s Berry Farm in the first place? With Disneyland, Disney California Adventure, Universal Studios Hollywood, and Six Flags Magic Mountain all in the same area, plus a ton of other exceptional entertainment options in Los Angeles, it’s tough to visit them all. My answer to that question is maybe…
I’ve been an annual passholder at Knott’s Berry Farm, and there are some things I really like about the park. Ghost Town, for example, is one of my favorite spots in any park in Southern California. There are some exceptional (and exceptionally kitschy) rides I enjoy at Knott’s, too. In terms of the attraction lineup, Knott’s is relatively balanced, with sections that appeal to a variety of age groups.
Unfortunately, this “balance” comes at the expense of the park’s overall design. In more than a couple places, Knott’s feels like Frankenstein’s Monster: Theme Park Edition. At various points in its existence, it seems Knott’s has had identity crises, building upon its original quaint charm with sections for roller coaster junkies, and then for kids. These various sections lack cohesion, and parts of Knott’s Berry Farm feel more like an amusement park than a theme park.
Even though I really like Knott’s I’d put it behind Universal Studios Hollywood on the list of parks in Southern California. Due to all of the improvements made at USH in the last 5 years and its unique studio tour, that typically gets my vote as the “other” park to visit on a trip to Southern California outside of Disneyland Resort.
That’s not a hard and fast rule, though. Knott’s is cheaper than Universal Studios Hollywood, far more conveniently-located relative to Disneyland, and offers a lot for both fans of vintage Americana and thrill junkies. In those regards, it surpasses Universal Studios Hollywood. It’s a pretty close call between the two parks, in other words.
Ultimately, you’ll have to decide for yourself which option is better for you, or if you should do neither or both in addition to Disneyland. With that in mind, here are our tips for best-experiencing Knott’s Berry Farm…
When to Visit
It’s unlikely you’re flying out to Southern California exclusively to see Knott’s Berry Farm. If you are, kudos. Most of you are probably adding on a day as part of your Disneyland or Southern California vacation, so it’s really just a matter of choosing the day to visit within your existing itinerary.
Crowd patterns at Knott’s Berry Farm are pretty comparable to Disneyland. The biggest difference is that Knott’s annual passes do not have blockout dates. This means that weekends are almost always the busiest days of the week at Knott’s, whereas Saturdays at Disneyland tend to be slower because so many Annual Passholders are blocked out.
More broadly speaking, the busy season at Knott’s is the same as the busy season at Disneyland, and vice-a-versa with slow seasons. Crowds at both are primarily based upon school schedules–primarily those of Los Angeles and Orange County, California. You can basically refer to our When to Visit Disneyland post to determine when to visit.
As for when to visit California, we’re partial to the fall and winter months. Summer doesn’t get humid like Florida and many other states. More importantly, summer is when tourists flock to California, which means heavier crowds and more expensive hotels. Visiting California between Labor Day and mid-November can mean significantly lower crowd levels and hotels that are about half the price as peak season.
How Many Days?
One full day is plenty of time to see and do the highlights of Knott’s Berry Farm. Even if you do every ride, show, and have 2 meals in the park, you should be able to accomplish everything in a single day if you are reasonably efficient.
About the only exception to that is if it’s particularly busy (let’s say you visit during spring break) or your party includes roller coaster junkies who want to experience some of those multiple times. Even then, I have a pretty difficult time recommending multiple days at Knott’s Berry Farm. (Even Knott’s doesn’t see its park as a 2-day experience–ticket options are 1-day or Season Passes.)
If you’re going for just one day, the best option for a Knott’s Berry Farm ticket is simply going to be buying tickets online on their website. You’ll save money by pre-purchasing, depending upon the date. Like Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm has ‘flex’ pricing, meaning that days they project to be busier have higher prices.
If you’re considering doing more than one day at Knott’s Berry Farm, you might consider a Season Pass. Knott’s offers three tiers of Season Passes: Regular, Gold, or Platinum. We normally opt for the regular one, which is less than the cost of two 1-day tickets to Knott’s. None of these Season Passes have blockout dates, so going up in tiers just gets you more perks. You can compare perks here.
Note that Knott’s passes run by calendar year, meaning the clock starts ticking on January 1 regardless of the date that you purchase the pass. Because of this, Knott’s sometimes will offer Season Pass deals towards the end of the year that also include the following year.
You might also find Knott’s Berry Farm discount offers on 1-day tickets or Season Passes at Costco, Ralph’s, Vons, and other California grocers. We usually start to see these offers after Labor Day once attendance starts to drop off.
Knott’s Berry Farm Touring Plan & Strategy
If you care about roller coasters and are visiting Knott’s Berry Farm during spring break, the summer, or on a weekend, it’s imperative that you arrive at rope drop. While Knott’s is generally far less crowded than Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, its roller coasters can all have hour-long waits on busier days during the midday hours.
Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to beat the crowds at Knott’s Berry Farm simply by arriving early and having an efficient touring plan or strategy for the day. Upon arrival, here should be your plan of attack for Knott’s, in order:
Voyage to the Iron Reef
Bigfoot Rapids (move up in priority if hot, down if not)
Timber Mountain Log Ride (move up in priority if hot, down if not)
Calico Mine Ride
Everything else not on that list can be done at your leisure, as time allows…
A few notes on that plan. First of all, I have not visited since Sol Spin opened (in late-April 2017), but I assume it’s popular, as anything new usually is. I’m not sure where you’ll want to slot that into the itinerary, but probably before Coast Rider.
In my experience, the longest lines by far are for GhostRider and Pony Express. You should try to knock those out as quickly as possible upon arrival. Voyage to the Iron Reef had long lines midday during my last visit, but its newness should be wearing off by now.
Both Bigfoot Rapids and Timber Mountain Log Ride can get long lines (60-90 minutes) during the middle of the day during the summer. Other times (i.e. when it is not hot), they can have minimal waits. If you can beat the rush to these attractions, do so, but it might be wiser to prioritize Jaguar, Coast Rider, and Xcelerator, and instead revisit the water rides once the sun goes down and the wait times subside.
You want to do as much as you can before the park gets crowded, at which point it’s probably a good idea to slow down and do less popular things until later in the evening when wait times start to subside.
The three attractions at Knott’s Berry Farm that I view as must-dos are Timber Mountain Log Ride, Calico Mine Ride, and Mystery Lodge. Timber Mountain Log Ride is fun and detailed, a log flume ride like Splash Mountain except with a logging motif.
Think of this as akin to Pirates of the Caribbean meets Big Thunder Mountain Railroad…meets some other stuff. It’s a family-friendly dark ride that is a ton of fun and a visual treat. I recommend a couple of rides aboard this train, as there’s so much detail you cannot possibly see it all in one ride-through.
Mystery Lodge is an under-the-radar attraction that was developed by BRC Imagination Arts for the 1986 Expo in Vancouver called Spirit Lodge. You may recognize the name BRC Imagination Arts–they also created Impressions de France for Walt Disney World, and there are rumors that Mystery Lodge was originally destined for EPCOT Center’s Canada pavilion. (It has a very EPCOT Center-esque vibe to it.) I love Mystery Lodge and all of its 1980s-kitschy glory.
Oh, and if you remember longtime Disneyland performers Billy Hill and the Hillbillies, you can now find them at Knott’s Berry Farm as Krazy Kirk and the Hillbillies.
Also new for 2017 is VR Showdown in Ghost Town, which is an add-on experience with an additional fee per person. I’ve also yet to do this, and do not have any insight into what kind of lines it draws.
If you’re a roller coaster junkie or don’t plan on arriving to Knott’s for rope drop, consider purchasing the Fast Lane pass. The price is more expensive than Knott’s admission itself, but this gets you a Fast Lane wristband, which includes unlimited priority boarding on 12 of the park’s most popular rides, including GhostRider, Voyage to the Iron Reef, Xcelerator, Silver Bullet, Coast Rider, Pony Express, Jaguar, and more.
Fast Lane is too expensive for us to justify, so I have no firsthand experience with it, but the unlimited nature is certainly appealing if you’re into thrill rides.
Where to Stay
There are a number of factors to consider here. Are you visiting Knott’s Berry Farm as a day-trip from Disneyland? Is the visit part of a Southern California or a California road trip that does not include Disneyland? Let’s address each of these…
Disneyland Day Trip – Stick to your hotel in Anaheim and just drive there and back. This is ridiculously easy, and even in traffic should take around 15 minutes. If you don’t have a rental car, take an Uber (roundtrip, the Uber cost is only going to be about as much as parking at Knott’s for the day).
Southern California Vacation – If you’re doing this but for some reason are not visiting Disneyland (which seems unlikely given that you’re reading this blog to plan), we’d recommend doing a split stay, and having one hotel in Orange County for that portion of your trip, and then a separate hotel in Los Angeles. From there, head north to Santa Barbara or south to San Diego and continue your California road trip.
I cannot see a single scenario that I’d recommend staying in Buena Park, California. I guess you could make the case that it’s centrally located to both Los Angeles and Orange Counties, and is far less expensive than the hotel norm in both places (both true statements), but there’s little appeal to Buena Park beyond Knott’s. It’s not necessarily a dangerous area, but it’s not nice, either.
When it comes to eating at Knott’s Berry Farm, there are really only two things you need to know: Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant and Knott’s Boysenberry Festival.
The former is the best restaurant at Knott’s (technically, it’s outside the park, and does not require admission to access), with fried chicken that rivals Plaza Inn at Disneyland. Ask a group of locals which fried chicken is better and you’re likely to start a fierce debate.
If you need a midday break and don’t mind a short walk, there’s also a Portillo’s Hot Dogs that’s a 5-10 minute walk from the front gate. Being from the Midwest, I’m partial to Portillo’s, although it’s hardly California cuisine.
Aside from joyous Boysenberry Festival, Knott’s celebrates Halloween and Christmas, with the Knott’s Scary Farm and Knott’s Merry Farm (respectively) celebrations. While there are components of Halloween and Christmas that are included with regular theme park admission, some aspects of Halloween require an additional ticket.
For Halloween, the standard offering is Knott’s Spooky Farm, which occurs on weekends in October. This provides a daytime, “non-scare celebration of cheer rather than fear.” Knott’s Spooky Farm features Halloween shows, activities, and decorations and is primarily aimed at young children.
By contrast, Knott’s Scary Farm/Halloween Haunt is a special ticketed evening event aimed at an older audience with more mature themes. Featuring mazes, scare zones, and a limited attraction lineup, the whole point of this experience is to scare guests.
Knott’s Merry Farm is entirely included in regular park admission, and is basically Christmas at Knott’s. There’s seasonal entertainment that includes a Snoopy Christmas Ice Show, Knott’s Christmas Crafts Village, where dozens of local artisans selling their unique gifts, and other seasonal entertainment and decor. Ghost Town is entirely transformed for Christmas, and looks great.
I think this is probably covers just about everything most people will need to know when planning a visit to Knott’s Berry Farm as an add-on to your Disneyland or Southern California vacation. If you would like to see some of these topics covered in greater depth, please let me know in the comments.
Are you considering visiting Knott’s Berry Farm? What interests you most about the park? If you are a Knott’s Season Passholder or veteran of the park, any touring tips of your own? If you’re a first-timer, is there anything else you’d like to know? Chances are if you have questions still, so does someone else! Please share your thoughts in the comments below.