There’s so much to do and see in and around Buena Park, it’s hard to narrow down the choices. But often, time is limited. Need to get a real feel for the area – with just 3 days in Southern California? Follow this three-day itinerary for a great overview of the vicinity. Then plan to stay longer next time!
Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner could wait - we had all our eyes on that coaster at Knott’s Berry Farm. Photo Courtesy Visit Buena Park
Sometimes we spend a week or more in an area, drinking in all the local culture, events and food. When our time is limited, we need to take a more focused approach to getting acquainted with the region. So, with just 3 days in Southern California, we created an itinerary that allowed us to visit some of the “must see” attractions, while taking in some of the local culture too.
With the help of the Visit Buena Park Travel Guide, we were able to please the beach lovers, the star seekers and, of course, the coaster lovers in our family. If you’re planning a Southern California trip, no matter what the length, be sure to get your copy of the guide - it’s free, but invaluable!
We did have to make some compromises, since we only had 3 days. The major one - this Disney family believes that, to truly experience Disneyland, you need a couple of days to dedicate solely to the Disney parks, so we’re holding that for “next time.” But if you have just 3 days in Southern California – and are willing to bypass Disney – we think these attractions are so compelling, “next time” will happen quickly!
Day One – Hurray for Hollywood!
FIRST DAY ITINERARY
- Hollywood Sign
- Hollywood Walk of Fame
- TCL Chinese Theatre
- Knott’s Soak City
- Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament
With Disneyland off the table, each of us created itinerary requests that fit our own interests and personalities. For my star-struck teen, that meant we couldn’t get away without a stop in Hollywood! So, after a quick breakfast at the hotel buffet, we headed north for approximately 30-45 minutes (27.5 miles) to let her get her fill of what she called “the glamorous life.”
Our first stop was actually a drive-by of the iconic Hollywood sign because, really, what trip to Tinsel Town would be complete without that? I learned later there are actual hikes to the Hollywood sign, but the “Easy Hollywood Hike” was a six-mile trek. With only 3 days in Southern California, we didn’t have the time or the energy for that, so hiking to the Hollywood sign is another entry on the “next time” list.
Next, we headed to the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame. We had seen so many of our favorite actors, singers and comedians “get their star” through the years – on TV, of course. Now we had our chance to search out our favorites.
The stars are embedded in the sidewalk down Hollywood and Vine, and each star bears not only the name of the celebrity being honored, but a symbol designating which category the honoree was in (motion picture, broadcast television, theater/live performance, audio recording/music and broadcast radio).
We ran around locating our favorites, including the Beatles (both collectively and individually), Robin Williams, Kristin Chenoweth and, of course, Mickey Mouse.
Footprints in Concrete
Before heading out of Lalaland, we made a final stop at TCL Chinese Theatre, which is just down the block from the Walk of Fame. This iconic theatre plays host to over 50 events each year, many of them red carpet movie premieres. Here we compared our hands and feet to the prints in the cement, including favorites like Melissa McCarthy, Ron Howard and Johnny Depp.
If we had time, we would have loved to have been a part of the TCL Chinese Theatre VIP Tour, a 30 minute walking tour which dives into the history of the world-renowned movie palace. But, since we only had 3 days in Southern California, we had to head back. Another idea for “next time.”
Our “next time” list includes this, one of the new water slides at Knott’s Soak City. Photo courtesy of Visit Buena Park.
Wet and Wild
After a quick stop for lunch, we headed back to Buena Park. It was time to cool off, so we enjoyed a couple of hours of water fun at Knott’s Soak City, the only outdoor water park in the OC. This 15 acres of water fun boasts a plethora of tubes, slides and chutes – there were 15 in total when we visited, and I read that this year that number will boost to 22 with the addition of seven new attractions. Four even include Aqua-launch chambers, where you wait in a tube for the floor to drop, launching you on your ride. You know I have that on the list for “next time” too!
Soak City was perfect for the afternoon. My kids burned off excited energy while cooling off in the waves and rapids, while my husband and I took a lazy ride along the Sunset River. (That’s one of the benefits of having teens – no little ones to chase around the kiddie pool!)
We headed out after a couple of hours because of dinner reservations, though the kids would have loved to stay longer.
Dinner in a Castle
My husband had made reservations for all of us to attend Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament in Buena Park. It was a eat-with-your-fingers dinner show set-up, this time centered on tales of knights and their steeds, princesses and Royal Courts. We enjoyed the roasted chicken and corn (though I did long for a fork!), and I was pleased to see that my daughter, a vegetarian, was offered hummus, pita bread, and carrots and celery. (A vegetarian bean stew is also available.) Our knight, alas, was not the victor, but we all agreed the show was a winner.
Go dark knight! Jousting is on the menu at Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament in Buena Park. Photo courtesy of Visit Buena Park.
Day Two – A Wild West Theme Park
SECOND DAY ITINERARY
- Knott’s Berry Farm
- Knott’s Independence Hall
- Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor
We really could have covered our second day itinerary with one entry – everything Knott’s! I was excited to explore the park that bills itself as “California’s Best Theme Park.” After all, it has some stiff competition!
But before we headed towards the thrill rides, my family visited at Knott’s Independence Hall in Buena Park. Right across the street from the theme park, this is a brick-by-brick replica of the original Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Being Philly folk, we knew we wanted to check this out!
From the outside, Knott’s Independence Hall is the spitting image of the real thing. However, it’s a bit different inside. While the original is known for the rooms where the Declaration and the Constitution were hammered out, this replica is filled with artifacts and exhibits, including a replica Liberty Bell on the ground floor of the tower, where it originally was in Philadelphia (it’s since moved to its own pavilion).
The Hall was Walter Knott’s labor of love, designed to allow those on the west coast have a taste of the history they may never be able to visit across the country. In Knott’s honor, admission is free. Now there’s a reason to make room for this attraction in during 3 days in Southern California!
The wooden Ghost Rider was a favorite of my family of coaster fans. Photo courtesy of Visit Buena Park.
When it comes to theme parks, my family is all about the coasters. We all have our preferences – one loves wooden classics, another likes hoops and loops, yet another has a need for speed. But we all agree on one thing: coaster is king.
So, with that in mind, we approached Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park and its coasters – and came away thrilled. Talk about speed! Montezooma’s Revenge took us from zero to fifty in 3 seconds, then hurled us first forwards, then backwards through a gigantic hoop. But that was child’s play compared to the Xcelerator, which goes from zero to 82 mphs in less than 3 seconds, then hurl back down a 90-degree angle towards earth – all with a 50’s theme. Crazy!
Other family favorites included the Wild West Frontier Show, the Timber Mountain Log Ride, the Calico Saloon Show and the Ghost Rider, billed as the longest, tallest and fastest wooden coaster on the west coast.
We grabbed snacks throughout the day, then had a hearty chicken meal at Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant, a staple at the park since 1934. We scheduled dinner a little on the early side, as we had one more surprise waiting before we headed back to the hotel for the night.
We were all about the nostalgic fun - and the ice cream - at Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor. Photo courtesy of Visit Buena Park.
Step Up To The Trough
When we first planned our 3 days in Southern California, we knew we wanted to stop at Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor in Buena Park. My husband and I have fond memories of going to Farrell’s for shakes and sundaes after events during our high school years (many, many years ago). That Farrell’s closed years ago, but we remembered the restaurant as family-friendly and fun – and the Buena Park Farrell’s lived up to the reputation.
We dared our kids to share a Pig’s Trough, which is a double-sized banana split. We tried tempting them with the blue ribbon you receive upon completion, but they stuck with conservative (and delicious) classic hot fudge sundaes.
I kept hoping someone would order a Zoo, the team-sized 30 scoop sundae that made Farrell’s infamous back in NJ. When I was young, the waiters sang some sort of song and sirens rang when a Zoo was ordered, but unfortunately, I didn’t have the opportunity to see if the same happens on the west coast.
Day Three – Beach Babies
THIRD DAY ITINERARY
- Newport Landing Whale Watching
After two busy days, we needed to kick back a little. And, being from the Jersey shore, I grew up on the Atlantic Ocean. I didn’t want to leave the “left coast” without seeing the Pacific, so we planned a ride south down the coast (24 miles south) to Newport Beach and enjoyed a laid-back beach day for the last of our 3 days in Southern California.
Although we just wanted to soak in the rays and take a dip in the mighty Pacific, there was plenty to do if your family wants a more active beach experience. Surf lessons, shopping, fishing and standup paddle boarding were all popular choices. You could even rent a yacht – at $500!
But, as we were coming to the end of our vacation budget, our choice was a budget-friendly whale-watching excursion with Newport Landing Whale Watching. If there’s anything more thrilling than a 0-80 mph coaster, it’s the site of a pod of dolphins dancing over waves alongside your boat. We didn’t get to see an orca (which are my favorite animals!), but that just gives me something more to look forward to. Next time!