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30 miles SE of Downtown Los Angeles

Although destined to forever be in the shadow of Mickey's megaresort, the reality is that Knott's doesn't even attempt to compete with the Disney empire; instead, it targets Southern California thrill-seekers (droves of them) by offering a far better selection of scream-inducing thrill rides.

Like Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm is not without historical background. In 1920 Walter Knott began farming 20 acres of leased land on Hwy. 39 (now Beach Blvd.). When things got tough during the Depression, Mrs. Knott began selling pies, preserves, and home-cooked chicken dinners. Within a year, she was selling 90 meals a day. Lines became so long that Walter decided to create an Old West Ghost Town -- America's first theme park -- in 1940 as a diversion for waiting customers.

Today Knott's amusement park offers a whopping 165 shows, attractions, and state-of-the-art rides that are far more intense than most of the rides at the Disneyland Resort. Granted, it's less than half the size of the Disney Resort, but if you're more into fast-paced amusement rides than swirling teacups, it offers twice the thrill.

Essentials

Getting There -- Knott's Berry Farm is at 8039 Beach Blvd. in Buena Park. It's about a 10-minute ride north on I-5 from Disneyland. From I-5 or California 91, exit south onto Beach Boulevard. The park is about a half-mile south of California 91.

Visitor Information -- The Buena Park Convention and Visitors Office, 6601 Beach Blvd., Ste. 200, Buena Park (tel. 714/562-3560; www.buenapark.com), provides specialized information on the area, including Knott's Berry Farm. To learn more about the amusement park before you arrive, call tel. 714/220-5200 or log on to www.knotts.com.

Admission, Prices & Operating Hours -- Admission to the park, including unlimited access to all rides, shows, and attractions, is $57 for "Regular" (ages 12 and up), $25 for Junior (ages 3-11) and seniors 62 and older, and free for children 2 and under. Admission after 4pm (on any day the park is open past 6pm) is $29 for Regular and $25 for Junior. Parking is $12. Tickets can also be purchased at many Southern California hotels, where discount coupons are sometimes available.

Like Disneyland, Knott's offers discounted admission -- $47 -- for Southern California residents with zip codes 90000 through 93599, so if you're bringing local friends or family members along, try to take advantage of the bargain. Always check the website for deals and discounts, too. Also like Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm's hours vary from week to week, so call ahead. The park generally opens daily at 10am and closes at 6 or 7pm, except Saturdays, when it stays open until 10pm. Operating hours and prices often change with seasonal promotions, so it's always a good idea to call Knott's Info at tel. 714/220-5200 for specific hours on the day you plan to visit. Stage shows and special activities are scheduled throughout the day; pick up a schedule at the ticket booth.

Touring the Park

Despite all the high-tech multimillion-dollar rides, Knott's Berry Farm maintains much of its original Old West motif and also features the Peanuts gang: Snoopy, Charlie Brown, Woodstock, and pals are the official costumed characters of Knott's. The park is divided into five themed areas, each one of which features at least one of the thrill roller coasters that are the Knott's claim to fame. The MarketPlace is located adjacent to, but outside of, the theme park, and features 14 unique shops and restaurants, including the original favorite, Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant, and a T.G.I. Friday's. They've also added a Pink's (tel. 714/220-5084; www.pinkshollywood.com); the Hollywood hot dog legend, for which people stand in lines wrapped around Melrose, now has a home in the OC. Serving the same great hot dogs and extras, Pink's 72-year tradition is the perfect addition to Knott's casual MarketPlace.

Ghost Town

The park's original attraction is a collection of authentic 19th-century buildings relocated from deserted Old West towns in Arizona and California. You can pan for gold, ride an authentic stagecoach, take rickety train cars through the Calico Mine, and get held up aboard the Calico Railroad. If you love wooden roller coasters, don't miss the clackity GhostRider.

Bigfoot Rapids -- The longest of its kind in the world, this $10-million, 3 1/2-acre ride is styled like a turn-of-the-20th-century California wilderness park with a raging white-water river, cascading waterfalls, soaring geysers, and old-style ranger stations. Climb aboard a six-seat circular raft and prepare to be bounced, buffeted, tossed, spun, and splashed along fast-moving currents. Let there be no doubt: You will get extremely wet on this one.

Calico Railroad -- Board this 1881 narrow-gauge steam-engine train -- once part of the Denver and Rio Grande Southern Line -- for a round-trip tour of half the theme park, interrupted by "bandit" holdups.

Ghost Town Artisans -- An entertaining holdover from the earliest days of the park, these living-history booths showcase old-time crafts and tall tales presented by costumed blacksmiths, woodcarvers, a spinner, and storytellers who help bring Ghost Town to life for curious kids and history buffs.

GhostRider -- Looming 118 feet high, this coaster is the park's single largest attraction and one of the longest and tallest wooden roller coasters in the world. Riders enter through a replica mine and are strapped into gold, silver, or copper mining cars for an adventure that twists and careens through sudden dips, banked turns, and cheek-flattening G-forces. The ride isn't nearly as smooth and quiet as the steel roller coasters, and that's part of the thrill. Coaster enthusiasts worldwide worship this classic.

Mystery Lodge -- This amazing high-tech, trick-of-the-eye tribute to the magic of Native American storytelling is a theater attraction for the whole family. The Old Storyteller takes the audience on a mystical, multisensory journey into the culture of local tribes by employing centuries-old legends passed down through oral history.

Pony Express -- The west was never so much fun. This coaster invites you to saddle up on your own pony and then delivers speed and thrills never seen in the Old West before. Warning: This ride will leave you wanting more. It's that much fun!

Silver Bullet -- This inverted coaster dangles riders from the steel track that weaves its way through the center of the park. Flying over Reflection Lake from the edge of the stagecoach stop to the top of the Log Ride mountain at a height of 146 feet, this high-speed thriller sends riders head over heels six times with cobra rolls, spirals, corkscrews, and other whacked-out whirls.

Timber Mountain Log Ride -- Riders emerge from a dark and twisting "sawmill" waterway and plummet down a 42-foot flume for the grand splash. Compared to the other water rides in the park, this one leaves you only slightly sprinkled.

Wild West Stunt Show -- This wild and woolly stunt spectacular is a raucous salute to the Old West presented throughout the day in the open-air Wagon Camp Theater.

Fiesta Village

Here you'll find a south-of-the-border theme -- festive markets and an ambience that suggests old Spanish California. A cluster of carnival-style rides includes a 100-year-old merry-go-round, plus Knott's version of Disneyland's Tea Cups, where you can sit-and-spin in your own sombrero. You can stroll the paths of Fiesta Village, which are lined with old-time carnival games and state-of-the-art electronic arcades.

Jaguar! -- Loosely themed around a tropical jungle setting, this wild roller coaster includes two heart-in-the-mouth drops and a view of Fiesta Village from high above. It's a good family roller coaster for first-timers or the easily frightened.

La Revolución -- A real stomach-churner, this ride spins you in circles while swinging back and forth more than 65 feet in the air. It's like being in the rinse cycle of a washing machine that's swinging from a rope.

Montezooma's Revenge -- Blasting from 0 to 60 mph in 5 seconds, this not-for-the-fainthearted thriller then propels riders through a giant 360-degree loop both forward and backward.

The Boardwalk

The park's Boardwalk area is a salute to Southern California's beach culture, where colorful architecture and palm trees are the backdrop for a trio of thrill rides. Other amusements include arcade and boardwalk games, and the Charles M. Schulz Theatre, where seasonal productions include a Snoopy ice show or holiday pageant (check the marquee or park entertainment schedule for showtimes).

Boomerang -- This corkscrew scream machine sends you twisting through three head-over-heels loops in less than a minute -- but it doesn't end there, since you're sent through the track again . . . backward.

Lazer Invaders -- In this adaptation of the classic Lazer Runner, participants equipped with lasers and fiber-optic vests battle for supremacy in a richly evocative atmosphere. Each combatant must make use of protective walls and laser power to vanquish opponents.

Perilous Plunge -- Just 34 feet shorter than Niagara Falls, this wet adventure sends riders to a height of 127 feet and then drops them down a 115-foot water chute at a 75-degree angle -- 15 degrees from a sheer vertical. Prepare for a thorough soaking (a boon on hot days, but best experienced before nightfall, when it can get chilly).

Sky Cabin -- Just when you were thinking all the rides were for hard-core adrenaline-seekers (most are, actually), this quiet ride offers the same spectacular views at a calmer pace. The slowly rotating "cabin" ascends Knott's vertical tower, providing panoramic views of the park and surrounding area.

Supreme Scream -- They could've called this one the Evil Elevator: Seated and fully exposed riders are hoisted straight up a 30-story tower with their feet dangling in the air, then held at the top just long enough to rattle the nerves before plunging downward faster than gravity at more than 60 mph. The whole descent takes only a bowel-shaking 3 seconds. It's one of the tallest (and most unnerving) thrill rides in the world.

Xcelerator -- It's scary just looking at this super-high-tech 1950s-themed roller coaster, which launches you from 0 to 82 mph in 2 1/3 seconds, then whips you straight up 20 stories (with a half-twist thrown in for added addling) and almost straight back down again. It's like riding on the outer edge of a gigantic paper clip.

Camp Snoopy

This will probably be the youngsters' favorite area. The first-ever theme-park area dedicated solely to kids, it's meant to re-create a wilderness camp in the High Sierras. Six rustic acres are the playgrounds of Charles Schulz's beagle and his pals, Charlie Brown and Lucy, who greet guests and pose for pictures. There are more than a dozen rides in the camp; several kid-size rides are made especially for the younger set, while the entire family can enjoy others. Scaled-down stock cars, locomotives, 18-wheeler semis, hot-air balloons, and even the Peanuts gang's school bus give kids a playland of their own. There's also a child-size version of Supreme Scream called Woodstock's Airmail, and Joe Cool's GR8 SK8, a miniature thrill ride for the whole family. The biggest thrill ride in the area is Sierra Sidewinder, a traditional roller coaster with the exception that your car spins in circles while you're zooming along the track. It's mild enough for the whole family, yet quite thrilling. Interactive attractions include the Camp Snoopy Theatre, starring the Peanuts gang (little kids are transfixed by this show).

Indian Trails

Explore the ride-free Indian Trails cultural area, which offers demonstrations of Native dance and music by authentically costumed Native American and Aztec dancers, singers, and musicians performing in the round on the Indian Trails stage. In addition, the compound showcases a variety of traditional Native American structures from the Pacific Northwest, Great Plains, and Southwest. The area includes four towering totem poles, standing from 15 to 27 feet high; three authentic tepees, representing the Arapaho, Blackfoot, and Nez Percé tribes; and more. The arts and crafts of Native American tribes from the western part of North America are also demonstrated and displayed. While exploring Indian Trails, visitors can enjoy a sampling of Native American foods, including Navajo tacos, Indian fry bread, and fresh-roasted ears of corn.

Getting Soaked at Knott's

Surf's up at Knott's Soak City Water Park, a 13-acre water park next door to Knott's Berry Farm, with a theme of surf woodies and longboards of the 1950s Southern California coast. The fun includes the Pacific Spin, a multiperson raft ride that drops riders 75 feet into a six-story funnel tube, as well as body slides, speed slides, an artificial wave lagoon, and an area for youngsters with their own pool and beach-shack fun house. The park is at 8039 Beach Blvd. (tel. 714/220-5200; www.knotts.com). Admission prices are $32 for "Regular" (ages 12 and up), $22 for Junior (ages 3-11), and free for children 2 and under; parking is $12. After 3pm, tickets for all ages are $20. Ask about special promotions and discount coupons (or check the website). The park is open mid-May through early September. Soak City Water Park opens at 10am and closes between 5 and 7pm, based on the season.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.