Who could figure the theme behind Knott's Berry Farm--"America's oldest theme park." What do berries, Snoopy and the Old West have in common?
But confusing motifs don't matter to the kids, who, as my 4-year-old will attest, think the park is just fine. And it shouldn't matter to inveterate shoppers, who will find the same thrills in the park's shops that the tots find on the rides.
By now, most Californians know the story of Knott's: Walter Knott began building Ghost Town in 1940 as a tribute to the Old West and as a diversion for the throngs waiting in line to eat at the Chicken Dinner Restaurant, where Cordelia Knott had been cooking and serving her famous fowls for six years.
That Chicken Dinner Restaurant still draws crowds that line up and down Grand Avenue, and it forms the hub of the park's California MarketPlace, a cluster of 32 shops and restaurants just outside the park (admission to the MarketPlace is free). Inside the park are another 30 stores and restaurants, although visiting these shops requires a ticket ($16.95 for adults). For a $17 deposit, visitors can purchase a shopper's pass and dash around the park for 30 minutes for a quick spree. And it might be worth a $17 deposit just to hop over to the funnel cake counter to grab one of Knott's famous fried slabs with boysenberry sauce.
But back to shopping. The park prides itself on stocking merchandise that is hard to find and hard to get. For this reason, Knott's is a good stop to make when you need a very unusual present or when shopping for a very unusual person. Virginia's Gift Shop carries a dizzying collection of bric-a-brac: candlesticks, boxes and charms. But it also is known for its wide selection of limited-edition statues, ceramics and clay figures--some gorgeous, some of the highly ornate variety (Tom Clark, Hummel and Daniel R. Monfort to name a few).
The Western Wear shop carries hard-to-get Stetson and Charlie Horse 1 hats, along with denim dresses, bolo ties and tiny baby cowboy boots ($21.95). For fans of geodes (globular stones with cavities of crystals), the Geode Store, owned by Randy Elliott, is well-stocked, and the park calls Elliott "the largest merchant of geode in the U.S." Here you'll find what the store claims are authentic dinosaur bones, geode key chains, magnets made of gems and all sizes of crystals. The store's biggest seller is the $10-per-pound hunks of Mexican coconut geodes purchased from a big bin in the front of the store.
Abigail's gift store carries wooden canes topped with carved wooden rabbits' heads and snakes for $51; antique replica jewelry by Piddley Links, including a $200 sterling silver charm necklace; La Vie Parisienne brooches and deco-style pins, and large marbles for 75 cents.
But perhaps the most unusual store is found at the Mott Miniature Collection, a museum of 300,000 tiny artifacts that grew from a collection of Cracker Jack prizes around 1914. Eight-year-old Allegra Mitchell's treasured Cracker Jack prizes blossomed into a family obsession after she married DeWitt Mott--an obsession kept alive by her descendants. The Motts' museum, filled with more than 50 miniature displays, sells tiny things, too: antique doll furniture (grandfather clock, $50; wing chair, $65), antique Cracker Jack prizes ($5) and tiny clocks with keys ($65).
Larger but equally unusual items are found around the corner. If you're in the market for a dried cow skull, head for the Gun Shop, which also carries non-shooting replicas of hand guns: model 1911 A-1 Colt automatic pistols for $94.95 and Colt 45s for $79, for example.
Although most of the shops are in the Ghost Town section of the park, at least two good stores are found elsewhere: Dinostore Digs in the Roaring '20s area has all manner of dinosaur paraphernalia, from plush toys to bath sponges. And Rocking Horse Toys in Camp Snoopy has a wide selection of children's goods.
You might think the souvenir shops would be brimming with the park's mascot, but Snoopy and the Peanuts crowd share space with Mickey and other Disney characters. These huge souvenir stores (one is in the MarketPlace, another in Fiesta Village) carry thousands of inexpensive toys; if you can leave without buying your kid something, you have a will of iron. The MarketPlace is studded with pleasant courtyards, fountains and park benches. Here, leisurely shopping can be fueled by any of the little restaurants nearby: For big meals, there is the Chicken Dinner Restaurant, where Cordelia's recipes are still used, along with Knott's Family Steakhouse and the Garden Terrace Cafe. For grazing, try Knott's Deli, Farm Bakery, Farm Market and Chicken-to-Go. The Berry Market sells the famous Knott's berries (including the boysenberry which was created on Knott's land in 1932) in every conceivable form. And the Candy Parlour sells lollipops and fudge from a shop with a big window where visitors can watch the candymaking.