A lot has happened here, and much of it can be laid at the boots of Walter Knott. Buena Park is the birthplace of the boysenberry—created in the '30s when Knott and Rudolph Boysen grafted together the blackberry, the red raspberry and the loganberry. Their roadside berry stand did not suffer as a result; then came boysenberry preserves, and in the 1940s, the beginnings of what is now Knott's Berry Farm—buildings borrowed from real California ghost towns like Calico, back when you could still borrow a building from your neighbor and not give it back.
Later came Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament (puffy shirts), Ripley's "Believe It or Not!" Museum (two-headed calf) and the Movieland Wax Museum (hurry before they close the latter two for good this Halloween!). Soon: a new pirate-themed dinner show, the Pirate's Dinner Adventure.
Buena Park is now the ultimate day trip for worn Disneyland tourists—but like several other area towns, its first industry was milk, a natural considering a grocer founded the town in 1887.
He was James A. Whitaker, a Chicago wholesaler, but he built this place into a stronghold—a fort of cows. The first creamery came in 1889, and two railroads set up depots about the same time. Wineries and citrus growers followed, minting Buena Park as a major agricultural hub.
And, as in so many other cities—Orange, Garden Grove, Anaheim—it didn't last. All this was dismantled, dismembered midcentury by suburban sprawl and urban growth. Boom years.
A drive-through Alta Dena Dairy stand near Knott and Lincoln avenues and several food distribution centers are most of the remaining evidence. Otherwise, you see here mainly what you see anywhere that houses went up postwar, mad to be lived in: suburban lawns and the people who water them. It's a common story—somehow near-epic in the retelling.
Best Car Wash Wildwater Express. Opened just a few months ago, Wildwater Express is a concept car wash inspired by whitewater rafting—a crazy blue-and-white barn with a roof shaped like crashing waves. Fully automated, it drags your car through 90 feet of wooshing and whirling while you sit back and enjoy the soapy show. The price is steep for a wash—$5 to $9—but it comes with a premoistened wipe for steering wheel and dashboard. Totally worth it. 7995 Knott Ave., Buena Park, (714) 670-6303.
Best Slot Car Track Buena Park International Raceway. Commercial slot car tracks, a mainstay of the '50s and '60s, are few and far between, but this raceway features three impressive tracks—an inclined 155-inch Ogilvie Hillclimb Track, a curving custom 155-inch Ogilvie King Track and a stand-alone drag strip the website says is the fastest on the West Coast. The track rents 15 minutes at a time; you can also rent cars or run what you brung. 6161 Lincoln Ave., Buena Park, (714) 827-9979; www.bparkraceway.com/drag/.
Best Reason to Line Up Now Pirate's Dinner Adventure. This interactive pirate-themed dinner show (is this still 2005?) is going up as fast as workmen can shiver the timbers, on the site of the former Buffalo Bill-themed dinner show. Features some kinda pirate story about a kidnapped princess; you get to eat—and, we're assuming, drink lots of rum from a barrel with a pickled dead guy inside—on one of three ships. And hijinks ensue. 600 Beach Blvd., Buena Park, (866) 439-2469; www.piratesdinneradventure.com.
Best Dilapidated Shrine -- So Dilapidated It's Closing This Halloween for Good! Movieland Wax Museum sidewalk of fame. What do Vincent Price, Loni Anderson, Hulk Hogan, Lou Ferrigno and Ray Charles have in common? They all left footprints in front of the Movieland Wax Museum. When? None of the twentysomething employees remembers, but Lou Ferrigno sure has big feet. 7711 Beach Blvd., Buena Park, (714) 522-1155.
Best Temple People constantly confuse Hinduism and Jainism, and we understand why. Both believe in the concept of moksha (liberating one's soul from eternal drudgery), both originated in India, and both believe in holy men who perform deeds of asceticism that received inordinate attention on the bad 1980s freak show That's Incredible! But there is one major difference between the two in Buena Park: while Hindus have struggled for years to build a temple, the Jains opened a 42,000-square-foot cultural center this year, one of only two in Southern California. Best thing about Jains: they kill nothing—they won't even step on grass. And that's why there are very few Jains. 8072 Commonwealth Ave., Buena Park, (714) 739-9161.
Photo by John Gilhooley
Best Hot Bartender Rock's Cocktail Lounge. The sign says it all: "COLD BEER HOT BARTENDER." Cheryl, a petite brunette, lives up to its claim. "It should say 'bartenders' but the 's' wouldn't fit on the sign," she says, adding that three out of four bartenders . . . are hot. Love her! The walls are decorated with posters of rock stars, Aerosmith to Elvis, and of course there are pretzels, a pool table, a jukebox and a fair beer selection—but the bartender is the main attraction. 6146 Beach Blvd., Buena Park, (714) 521-9440.
Best Savory Snack Nancy's Pupusera Restaurant. The Salvadoran pupusas that owner Nancy Funes serves are thick, hand-made corn tortillas stuffed with soft Quesillo cheese and either meat or vegetables, which are then grilled. The first bite is exquisite—the cheese is warm and bubbly, the meat is tender, and the vegetables are fresh and slightly juicy. Pupusas de revuelta are a popular choice: filled with cheese and tender shreds of pork. Pupusas de espinacas, filled with cheese and spinach, are also delicious. The best part? Each is under $2. 8511 Knott Ave., Buena Park, (714) 995-2086.
Best Hawaiian-American Restaurant Aloha Chicken. The namesake chicken at this small bistro is basted in soy sauce and grilled to blackened tenderness. Other specialties: Kahlua pig, smoky-sweet ribs and, of course, a Spam dish served with rice and seaweed. Each comes in a foam container with two scoops of rice, macaroni salad and a small green salad. 10488 Valley View Ave., Buena Park, (714) 826-6672.
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