A family vacation in southern California is not complete without visiting theme parks. Disneyland is of course the first to come to mind, but there are many more including two that we visited, Universal Studios Hollywood and Knott’s Berry Farm.

Knott’s Berry Farm

We spent a fantastic day at wandering through Knott’s Berry Farm, America’s first theme park.

Knotts Berry Farm

Knott’s has a terrific history, as it actually started as a farm by the Knott family in 1920. To help bring in money during the Depression, the Knott matriarch, Cordelia, started serving chicken dinners to local farm workers and travelers. The food was good and the price was right so it soon morphed into a full-fledged restaurant. The rides and attractions, starting with Ghost Town (developed using actual buildings purchased from deserted ghost towns), were added to entertain visitors who came out to their popular restaurant and by the 1950’s it was a bona fide theme park. They did not start charging admission until 1968.

Knotts Berry Farm collage

Knott’s Berry Farm was like falling into a warm bath; everything seemed familiar, nothing was overly flashy and it was simply a fun time in a cool, old-school type amusement park. Knott’s Berry Farm has several different theme sections including Camp Snoopy, Ghost Town, the Boardwalk, and Fiesta Village, each with its own unique look, feel and attractions.

Camp Snoopy, which celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2014, is perfect for the under 10’s because everything is just a little smaller and a lot more colorful. It was great for our kids to gain confidence and exert some independence by riding smaller rides without us.

 Knott's Berry Farm Camp Snoopy

Our favorite show was the Wild West show where the folks of Calico defended the bank of Fort Knott from thieving varmints!

 Knotts Berry Farm Wild West Stunt Show

We loved the Timber Mountain Log ride, and enjoyed a bit of nostalgia riding the good old fashioned bumper cars too!

 Knotts Berry Farm Log Ride Knotts Berry Farm Bumper Cars

One cannot talk about Knott’s without mentioning the roller coasters! There are 10 unique coasters all throughout the park and judging from the screams and excited faces, they all rocked!  Our kids were just a little too small for all but 2 of the coasters and it didn’t occur to us until later in the day that we adults could take turns riding as singles on the other roller coasters. Fortunately we figured it out in time to ride Ghostrider at the end of the day. An old style coaster, this monster was long, high, twisty and awesome. It’s up there with the Cyclone in Coney Island as my favorite ride! A FAST LANE pass is also available to help you bypass long lines at the more popular rides

Knott’s Berry Farm is loads of fun and a great value for your theme park dollars!

 Universal Studios Hollywood

Part of our honeymoon was spent in Southern California and so it holds a very dear place in my heart. We were 24, footloose and fancy free and one of the places we visited was Universal Studios Hollywood.

While we had a very good time, that visit is always a little bit tarnished because one iconic part of the Studio Tour was not available that day; I wanted to see Jaws. Alas Bruce the shark was out for repairs at that time, and Amity Island was taken over by the submarine from U571. I was bummed. This year however, during our tour, the shark was back and we got to experience Jaws in his entire cheesy splendor. This, coupled with the awesome King Kong 3D experience and the always exciting subway earthquake had mommy doing a happy dance in her seat on the bus…

Universal Studios Amity Island Jaws

Universal Studios is an institution. The rides never leave you disappointed, the shows are epic (Waterworld is just as thrilling 13 years later) and the whole experience is simply satisfying.

Universal Studios Waterworld


Our kids loved the Transformers 3D so much we rode it twice. They did not appreciate Jurassic Park as much as I thought they would mostly because they didn’t like getting wet! Jurassic Park was another ride that we’d been on in 2000 so I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Universal Studios Jurasic Park Scary Dinos

Their favorite part of the Jurassic Park experience? Pretending to be terrified of the dinosaurs outside the attraction!

Universal Studios Transformers

We got to meet Bumblebee and Optimus Prime outside the attraction!

We also took advantage of the Front of the Line Pass. We got priority access at each ride and attraction – which is awesome – and reserved seating at each show. We also got a behind the scenes visit with the actors in Waterworld after the show where they showed us some of their stunts, chatted with us and took pictures. The cons are the price and they often sell out during the day. You can buy it online in advance to ensure you get your VIP experience!

Couple of savings tips; I’ve seen $100 Universal Studios Gift Cards at Costco for only $80. At 20% savings, these can be applied for admission, food and in the gift shops. We also found out that if we show our Motor Association card, we got 10% off the gift shops and food.

We were able to cover almost everything we wanted to do at Universal in one day except the House of Horrors and the Mummy ride because our kids flat out refused.  We also missed the Blues Brothers but we were able to enjoy a beautiful Whoville Christmas, an added bonus to traveling in December.

Universal Studios Christmas in Whoville

I always enjoy Universal and will certainly be back! They are always changing things up so it’s never exactly the same place but some old faves will still be there!

Knott’s Berry Farm and Universal Studios Hollywood hosted our family on these adventures, however the experience and opinions are entirely my own