The city of Buena Park is a good alternative for families touring the Anaheim area. With moderately priced lodging and food venues, as well as proximity to freeways, it provides a more affordable choice for travelers who wish to experience Southern California’s attractions on a budget.
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When people think of family-friendly destinations in Southern California, Anaheim and San Diego come to mind. However, Buena Park, a hidden gem a couple of miles away from the Disneyland Resort, can also provide visitors hours of fun and entertainment. From Knotts Berry Farm to a Pirate Dinner, families with special needs kids will appreciate the slower pace of Buena Park. We got to explore the area last month and had a great time.
The area now known as Buena Park was originally a series of large ranches. The city of Buena Park was founded in 1887 by James A. Whitaker, a Chicago grocer who purchased a large sum of land from the previous owner. Today, Buena Park is a sleepy town that is mainly tourist-based. The area’s entertainment and lodgings are more affordable than its neighbor, Anaheim.
Holiday Inn Buena Park
We stayed at the Holiday Inn Buena Park, a quiet, budget-friendly property that accommodates special needs. We liked the property’s location on Beach Blvd, near a mini-mall with plenty of dining venues, from Fuddruckers to Subway.
The hotel rooms offer a no frills but comfortable lodging option for families.Our room featured two queen beds, desk, and a mini sitting area. We got to enjoy the pool, a great addition for kids in the evening.
Autism Travel Tip: The best part about staying at the Holiday Inn is that they offer a free shuttle taking guests to Disneyland and Knotts. Guests don’t need to worry about transportation to some of the nearby venues or paying hefty parking charges for the day.
The Business Bureau
The Buena Park Business Bureau is the perfect first stop for anyone visiting the city for the first time. We were surprised to discover that the office is set up in a well kept quaint historical building, which used to be a stagecoach inn.
Autism Travel Tip: The venue doubles up as one of the few California Visitors’ Centers in the state. Here, visitors can get guidebooks and souvenirs, among other resources to make their visit more enjoyable.
Knotts Berry Farm
Though many locals have been to Knotts Berry Farm, the theme park is less known to visitors outside the state. Knotts Berry Farm is an excellent alternative for families wishing to enjoy the fun of a theme park without the crowds and hustle and expense of Disneyland.
Knotts Berry Farm was started by boysenberry farmer Walter Knott and his wife, Cordelia, who began serving fried chicken dinners at their small restaurant. Walter Knott decided to build a small theme park to attract guests, and this theme park eventually grew into Knotts Berry Farm.
Knotts offers mostly slow paced rides and attractions for kids without the sensory overload. However, it does boast a few more fast paced, thrilling rides too, for thrill seekers like our son! One of the biggest draws of Knotts is the Camp Snoopy area, where the young kids can enjoy activities and take pictures with costumed Peanuts characters! Another that is our favorite is GhostTown that started off as a replica of California’s Calico back in the 1950’s.
Autism Travel Tip: Guests should start the morning with the unique Boysenberry Latte available at the Starbucks outside the park
Pirate Dinner Show
For dinner, visitors can enjoy a nighttime dinner extravaganza at Pirate’s Dinner Adventure! Though there is a vague kidnap story, the central theme of the pirate show is Cirque de Soleilesque acrobatics!
Visitors should come a few hours before their ticket time to enjoy the unlimited appetizers, which includes fried mac n’ cheese and delicious jalapeno poppers. Adults can enjoy alcohol, with refillable cups at half the original price. At the end of the show, guests can get souvenirs or selfies with the actors! Our son enjoyed chatting with the cast and asking them ‘behind the scenes’ tips how they performed the battle scenes.
Autism Travel Tip: Parents should know that those seats in the front will be splashed with water. The show also has loud noises like gun fights as well as strobe lights that may disturb some.
Side Trip to The Nixon Library
Twenty minutes away is the Nixon Library, in the sleepy town of Yorba Linda. Last year, the library underwent a big remodel, and now features many interactive exhibits.
Visitors can see the former president’s birth home as well as his presidential helicopter. This helicopter served four presidents and was even used by President Gerald Ford after Richard Nixon resigned the presidency. The helicopter famously served Nixon during his trip to Egypt.
What we most enjoyed about the library was the fact that it showed all the different facets of Nixon. While they didn’t shy away from the Watergate scandal, the library also explained all that Nixon accomplished during his presidency. Nixon was responsible for Affirmative Action and continued the desegregation of public schools. On the international front, he jump-started US-China relationships and helped Israel during the Yom Kippur War. Furthermore, he ended US involvement in Vietnam as well as convinced Russia to curtail the arms race by reaching the SALT agreement.
Autism Travel Tip: The best part of the library was the replica Oval Office. While many presidential libraries have an oval office, here visitors can sit in and take a picture in the president’s chair.We also enjoyed the relaxing reflecting pool with nearby picnic areas, perfect for anyone who needs a moment of peace.
Porto’s Cuban Cafe and Bakery
Porto’s, boasting Cuban food and baked goods, is Buena Park’s latest restaurant. This chain was started by a family that fled from Castro’s regime in the sixties. The family matron started producing her famous Cuban pies, and the family opened its first location in Glendale. Within two decades they had several locations.
Porto’s is hugely popular and often has long lines. Thankfully the Buena Park Porto’s is one of the largest sites, with a huge parking lot. When we went, our son ordered all seven of their most popular appetizers. Needless to mention, he found them all delicious. We also tried a Mamey drink, a fruit which tastes like carrot pineapple, as well as a raspberry macaroon cake.
Autism Travel Tip: Porto’s is across from Medieval Times, so visitors can walk off extra lunch calories while watching the show horses graze!
Mrs. Knotts Restaurant
No trip to Buena Park is complete without trying Knotts Berry Farm’s fried chicken or pies! At Mrs. Knotts Restaurant, guests can feast on fried chicken and boysenberry pie.
Autism Travel Tip: The Independence Hall park across the street is the perfect place to rest and eat. Most kids will love to watch and feed the chickens and ducks roaming the grounds freely. Furthermore, for an impromptu history lesson, visitors should venture inside the Hall to see the Liberty Bell and the US Constitution room.
Overall, we discovered Buena Park has a lot to offer for families. The town’s family-friendly venues and lack of crowds spell fun times for all member of the family, including those with special needs.In fact, we plan to go back later this summer to explore Knott’s Soak City and Medieval Times, two highly popular attractions that we did not get to try this time around.