The husband, son, step-son, and I headed up to Buena Park for a weekend in June. I’ll have to preface this post by saying this is not a place I’d recommend. I say this because I enjoy the outdoors and freedom which seems harder and harder to find. I wouldn’t recommend this as a place for those who are put off by crowds, over-priced tourist attractions, and overly restrictive rules. I may not return to this part of California again, however, I’ll tell you my “likes” and “dislikes” if you happen to be heading that way.
I didn’t like…
Knotts Berry Farm
I’ll keep it simple. Crowded, over-priced, and lines that take way too long to get to the rides. There were also way too many issues with rides breaking (happened four times with us) and untrained staff. On a good note, the old west town was really cute and seemed interactive for the older kids and they did have some nice grounds with old, established trees which offered some shade. I have always wanted to experience this park, but now that I have, I’m good. I won’t return.
This is a very populated area with many parks and tourist attractions, so traffic is a given. We were happy to be able to walk most places from our hotel, but we had to go through the residential area because the main street was so busy and smoggy. It’s walkable, yes, but not really enjoyable when you’ve got big trucks and smokey, old cars zooming by. The residential streets are all connected and quaint to walk through.
Again, it’s a tourist area, so what did I expect? I don’t know, I guess I assumed since it was coined as a “family friendly” area, I expected a bit more family friendly pricing, but that wasn’t the case. Everything is expensive and it seems much more expensive than it was several years ago. Like ridiculously expensive…$15-$28 for a salad, $20-$25 for a burger, $10 – $15 for a kid’s meal expensive. Not including $15 cocktails or $10 beers. I am glad we packed lunches for most of the trip, and I will suggest anyone who opts to visit here to do the same. Ouch.
First off, I liked this hotel because it was FREE. “Free” in the sense that I used Marriott points combined with my annual category-5 free night in order to stay two nights. This is a category-4 hotel on the Marriott scale, so something to keep in mind if you are a Rewards member.
The four of us stayed in a standard room with two queens. The hotel and beds were very clean, comfortable, and the room was enhanced with modern features and décor. The window area was equipped with a powerful A/C and a blackout curtain which allowed the boys the opportunity to catch up on their sleep, which apparently they needed (GIANT eye roll). The fridge in the room was big enough to hold all of our packed lunches and snacks that helped hold us over during road trips and growing-boy-appetites.
The staff was incredibly friendly and approachable. At one point I asked a gentleman behind the counter if he knew of any local hikes and by the time I had poured a cup of complementary coffee in the lobby, he had a stack of hikes and their descriptions printed out for me to thumb through. Very friendly, very accommodating. Five stars for service and rooms.
Breakfast was typical, American fare. Scrambled egg-type-food, sausages, a few breakfast cereals, bananas, apples, and an oatmeal station. Oh, and waffles, I can’t forget the waffle maker that my step-son loaded up each morning and then delivered the bounty to our table only to be devoured in seconds.
I have seen advertisements for these kitschy events for years, and never attempted to go in the past. Now that I am traveling with a teen and a three year old, I figured we’d give it a try. I was able to get free passes to experience the event, which made the decision much easier. The extra cash we saved was spent on extremely expensive, yet extremely strong and tasty pirate drinks. Aye matey, momma’s juice is on point!
We arrived about 30 minutes before the show and were able to walk around the ornately decorated lobby with large velvet curtains, a full bar, cheesy gift shop selling everything pirate, and mingle with the other guests awaiting the show. Pirates wandered through the crowed serving fried mac’n’cheese balls, meatballs, and Once the show was getting ready to start, a small play/introduction was put on and the crowd was divided into groups by their specific color-coded pirate. We were assigned the red pirate (which suited my “ROLL TIDE!!!” family just fine) and headed off to the stage hooting and hollering with the rest of our swarthy crew. The actors do a really good job of getting the kids and crowd excited. Maybe it was my giant pirate punch, but I was feeling quite enthusiastic and participatory.
Without ruining the experience for others, I can say I was beyond surprised and impressed. The play was well acted, choreographed, the special effects and stage decor was much more elaborate and realistic than I expected, and my three year old and teen step-son were enthralled the entire time. There were some loud gun shots, so for a bit I was covering the three year old’s ears, but other than that, this was a really fantastic experience and I highly recommend going with your littles if you can get a good deal!
To avoid traffic and to get a little bit of nature, I convinced my husband to avoid taking the 5 or the 405 home and instead, head towards Huntington Beach and take the 1 all the way down the beautiful California coast. We headed west and as we did so, started noticing some of the houses looking similar to the half-timbered homes we’ve been living among the last four years in Germany. I told him I remember hearing about a German store out here, but couldn’t quite recall all the details. I started searching on my phone and sure enough, just three miles from where we were stopped at a red light was a place called “Old World Village“. I convinced him to stop and I am so very glad that we did. We pulled into the parking lot and the area opened up to a little village that seemed all too familiar to us. Right at the edge of the parking lot was a small market, Rathaus, cobbled streets, a church, and painted Bavarian-like buildings stretching through the streets like a mini “alt stadt” (old town).
We first headed into the market where my son immediately spotted his favorite Kinder Joy egg. I found my favorite coffee additive and a few other memorable staples from our previous life. We wandered through the store picking up items and recalling memories. We also had a smug chuckle when we saw how much they were selling bottles of Dornfelder and Reislings for knowing that wino-mom here stashed away just under 200 bottles of wine to bring over from Germany at a 1/4 of the cost they were selling these for. If you’re stationed overseas, BRING BACK ALL OF THE WINE. You won’t be sorry, trust me. It costs you nothing (depending on your state) and you can enjoy a taste of “home” for years to come if you plan it right.
After shopping, we wandered through the quiet “village”. It was Sunday morning and a bit overcast. My son skipped through the area with his German flag in one hand and Kinder egg in the other while my husband and I pointed out the building art and chatted about our Sunday lives back in Germany. We strolled past a cafe with a small group of people outside relaxing, talking, and enjoying coffee and pastries. They were speaking in German and without missing a beat, we greeted them with a “Hallo, Guten Morgen” and for a second, completely forgot we were in Southern California. It was a surreal 20 seconds or so, but it was a peaceful retreat back to a life we only recently left. It was a good way to round out the weekend full of chaos and over priced amusement that we again confirmed was something we do not desire to experience again. We prefer life at much slower pace, these days.
If you want a dose of Germany, I highly recommend checking this place out. They host a lot of events throughout the year and a restaurant that serves kasespatzle and German sausages (with vegetarian options!!) that are made locally by a German butcher/metzgerei. They also host what looks like a pretty bumpin’ Oktoberfest which we are figuring out how to attend. My fellow ex-Germany friends, get your fix, here!