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Living It Up On Beach (boulevard)

3-HOUR TOUR

February 25, 1993|MAX JACOBSON | Max Jacobson is a free-lance writer who regularly contributes to The Times Orange County Edition.

Beach Boulevard, Buena Park, is a hornet's nest of tourist activity, especially when one is referring to the stretch between the Riverside (91) Freeway and La Palma Avenue, next to Knott's Berry Farm.

On this street you find themed dinner theaters such as Wild Bill's Wild West Extravaganza and Medieval Times, a place where it's possible to bring the entire family to a combination dinner/jousting match.

Here are some other places a local might head on a typical weekday.

11 to noon: Madame Tussaud, what have you wrought? Movieland Wax Museum, open since 1962, is a commercialized tribute to her memory, a series of back-lit stages where great figures of Western culture are enshrined for profit and general amusement. Despite the rampant commercialism (you pass through a souvenir shop to complete the tour), there's a unique magnetism about this place that stays with you long after you've left.

The museum is a literal maze of cleverly styled scenes depicting classic Hollywood film and TV sets, peopled, if you will, by lifelike figures of popular stars. The actual likenesses are erratic--some are stunningly real, some you have to stretch to recognize. See Sammy Davis Jr. singing "I Gotta Be Me," John Wayne in full cowboy regalia, W.C. Fields in "Poppy," the Barrymores and, gasp, even Michael Jackson, looking slightly more human than he does today.

Highlights include a replica of the bridge from the Starship Enterprise, Superman's Fortress of Solitude and a Chamber of Horrors complete with every movie monster from Frankenstein to Jason.

To be au courant, the museum has recently added Latino figures such as Christina and Celia Cruz (a talk-show host and the Queen of Salsa, respectively), and has updated the proceedings with "Home Alone's" Macauley Culkin and President Bill Clinton, the former looking more dignified than the latter. After the recent tax proposals, maybe they'll consider moving Clinton alongside Jason.

Noon to 1: On this most American street, how could you even consider eating anything other than a down-home American meal?

The great virtue of PoFolks has to be that it is directly next door to Movieland, but there are other reasons to dine here. Prices are low, for instance, and the cooking at this national chain, basically mildly homogenized Southern, is occasionally respectable.

Seafood gumbo is one dish that makes a good lunch, and at $2.49, a most inexpensive one. It's chock-full of shrimp, rice and chunked okra, just as it would be in the South.

If you want a heavier, more homey lunch, try breaded dishes such as pork chops or kuntry-fried steak, both served with plenty of a good, rich cream gravy and light, tasty biscuits. I'm not a big fan of the chicken here; I find it can be quite oily (for better chicken, try Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner restaurant, about a mile away.)

But I quite like the gooey, sticky sweet desserts at PoFolks, and so do most kids. Gooey apple and blackberry cobblers come topped with great orbs of slushy vanilla ice cream; the good strawberry shortcake is properly rich, and then there is the Moon Pie, an exceptionally nasty and dry marshmallow pie in a chocolate covered graham cracker, a dessert you have to be a kid to finish.

1 to 2: Across the street and about a half block down, you'll find Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum. My generation fondly remembers the absurd Ripley blurbs carried in the hometown newspaper "peanut found in the shape of the letter 'W,' " "man who didn't speak for 30 years" and the legendary travels of Robert Ripley, all chronicled in this diverting museum.

Much of the museum, which opened in September, 1990, is a compendium of Oriental curiosities collected in recent years by Ripley staffers (skulls from New Guinea, etc.), but there are more than enough of the usual Ripley trademarks: a toothpick Eiffel Tower, Buck Helm's car (Helm was the man crushed by a freeway in Oakland), a likeness of Jesus Christ composed entirely of words from the Gospel According to St. Mark, graphic films of sword swallowers, tarantula eaters and the old adventurer himself, scouring the world for astounding marvels.

It's all overdone and good fun. Throbbing jungle drums, screeching monkeys and rattling bones penetrate the imagination.

And when the tour's over, you exit, quite appropriately, through an earthquake simulator.

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