Photo by Jack GouldDespite the glitzy theme-park "entertainment zone" at its heart, this center-of-the-Southland city still clings to a sunny but conservative suburban spirit. Like neighboring Anaheim, Buena Park (unnecessarily translated by some guidebooks as "good park") has pinned its hopes on America's appetite for expensive rides that make you throw up. But there's a decidedly mellower vibe to this unassuming freeway-bound town once you venture past Beach Boulevard. Gone are the heady rube-lubing days of yore when the last porno theater in the county shared real estate with an alligator farm and an "Enchanted Village" boasting a half-man, half-chimp mutant. Angry residents and something like good taste conspired to nurture a kinder, gentler entertainment zone, and a strong family-values ethos persists (in addition to the protests against the construction of a Hindu temple, Buena Park is home to homosexual-hating homeless advocate and Baptist firebrand Wiley Drake). Sure, that slapdash roadside-huckster tradition is still alive—just drive down Beach Boulevard at night—but with a pseudohistorical tie-in. Buena Park is about more than "anything for a buck." Call it the thinking man's Anaheim. Just don't think too hard.
BUENA THEME PARK
Knott's Berry Farm. The oldest theme park in California is also one of its more endearingly schizophrenic, combining gut-churning thrill rides and grandiose Vegas-style stage hokum with dollops of Americana hoopla and plenty of underpaid high school kids in sweltering Snoopy costumes. Halloween means Knott's Scary Farm, when Elvira and other aging denizens of the dark transform the park into an authentically fright-worthy evening out. 8039 Beach Blvd., (714) 220-5200.Knott's Soak City, USA. The slippery-when-wet water-slide companion to the original park (with a separate admission fee, of course) is highlighted by rides named after potentially fatal sea conditions: Riptide, Heavy Swell, Typhoon and so on. Sounds potentially fun! Say hi to mascot Surfer Dick for us, and wipe that smirk off your face! It's short for Richard. 8039 Beach Blvd., (714) 220-5200.Movieland Wax Museum. If it were any more realistic, they'd be grave-robbing: the folks at the Movieland Wax Museum take accuracy very seriously when they're putting together their cinematic still-lifes—even to the point of using real human hair. 7711 Beach Blvd., (714) 522-1154.Wild Bill's Wild West Dinner Extravaganza. If it were any more rootin' and tootin', it'd maintain a C average in school and currently be serving as president of the United States. Rollicking, pistol-waving dinner-show fun for the whole family. God bless the Second Amendment. 7600 Beach Blvd., (714) 522-6414. Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament. The original blast-from-the-past knight-time entertainment center, as featured in (for better or worse) Jim Carrey's The Cable Guy. Vicariously vent that pent-up freeway rage as a couple of guys in armor beat each other with swords, and don't forget to tip your serving wench. 7662 Beach Blvd., (714) 521-4740.Independence Hall. A brick-by-brick replica of the site of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, as commissioned by dyed-in-the-wool patriot Walter Knott back in the tie-dyed mid-1960s. They've made some improvements, too: Could Thomas Jefferson have ever dreamed of the happiness to be pursued in such a gift shop as this? Next door to Knott's Berry Farm, 8039 Beach Blvd., (714) 220-5200.Ripley's "Believe It or Not!" Museum. Most recently in the news for showcasing a set of supposedly effective African fertility idols (which my ex-girlfriend demanded we stay far, far away from), Ripley's is a cheerful, non-exploitative freak show for the new millennium, a potent blend of the bizarre, the blasphemous and the artfully contrived. Well, if you consider deformed babies and shrunken heads non-exploitative, which we do. 7850 Beach Blvd., (714) 522-7045.
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Bernie's Cafe. The local meat-and-potatoes hangout (meat and potatoes about $8.60) tucked away on the quiet side of the Santa Ana Freeway. Slide into a cozy booth, order the Big Deal ($2.99 for two pancakes, an egg, and sausage or bacon) for breakfast, and listen to the old-timers rattle merrily away about the rash of local Bigfoot sightings (see below). 6086 Beach Blvd., (714) 739-4504. Bismillah Halal Tandoori Restaurant. Indian and Pakistani food, with chicken tandoori so tender it'll melt in your mouth ("Tandoori-tastic!" we've been known to exclaim, lamely). And don't miss the karahi lamb—so spicy you could strip chrome off a bumper! 8901-D Knott Ave., (714) 827-7201. Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant. Tucked alongside Knott's Berry Farm like a remora against a great white shark, this greasy little diner serves up even greasier fare, including the best fried chicken in town. Sip the Knott's punch carefully or cut it with vodka—straight, it'll kick your ass. Cordelia Knott don't mess around. 8039 Beach Blvd., (714) 220-5080.Karuta. Monster-sized Japanese teppantorium, where the knife-juggling showmanship is as hot as the food—kids, don't try this at home. 6890 Beach Blvd., (714) 994-2730.
BUENA NIGHT'S SLEEP
Crescent Motel. Best place in town to lose your virginity. At $35 per night (for a waterbed, even!), you'll be able to sail into the wonderful world of sleazy sex on even the lowliest burger jockey's salary. If they're full up or your parents have the place staked out, consider also the Coral, the Copper Barrel or the Franklin, which actually had a stack of soiled mattresses baking out back when we stopped by. 8530 Beach Blvd., (714) 828-3483.
BUENA PARK AFTER DARK
Ozz Supper Club. The nice lady at the chamber of commerce said nighttime fun in Buena Park depends on whom the Holiday Inn has booked for Thursday night, but she obviously doesn't know how to party. This gay-friendly (they've even had same-sex weddings there!) club is so hot and hopping that Buena Park's finest reportedly patrol inside only in close and cozy single file—to prevent any surprise ass-tapping, you see. But cops couldn't really be that juvenile, could they? 6231 Manchester Blvd., (714) 522-1542.
BUENA PARK'S BUENA PARKS
William Peak Park. An incongruously expansive suburban oasis, perfect for sitting in the shade and sipping lemonade (one of the last free good times around these days). It's probably the only park in town not packed with shrieking kids and overpriced foodmush, so do yourself a favor and go. 7225 El Dorado Dr.Whitaker-Jaynes Estate and Bacon House Park. A tiny but immaculately kept little patch of nature next to the historic estate of the same name. Some of the oldest buildings in Buena Park (dating from the 19th century) were dragged to this site to spare them from the tender mercies of freeway construction crews, and now its Zen-like austerity offers a convenient respite from the Beach Boulevard blues. 6631 Beach Blvd., (714) 562-3570.
Orange County Record Swap. Bar none, the best rendezvous for the human cockroaches that are compulsive vinyl collectors, with dealers sometimes creeping in from other continents. If it was only released as a limited colored-vinyl tour promo edition (signed and specially puked on by the band), you'll find it here. And you might find it cheap. The swap meet is held every fourth Sunday just down the street from the tourist strip, and it's probably the most culturally substantial event in town. Sequoia Athletic Club, 7530 Orangethorpe Ave., (714) 739-4141.
IN SEARCH OF . . . BUENA PARK
Brea Creek. Site of Orange County's only reported Bigfoot (yes, that Bigfoot) sighting. In 1982, residents on nearby Franklin Street reported a smelly, hulking figure prowling around the drainage channel. Police took plaster casts of immense footprints and determined that the culprit was just a particularly large and unkempt transient. At least, that's what they want you to believe. Brea Creek underpass at Franklin and Beach.
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