BUENA PARK, Calif. — About 100 years ago, Walter and Cordelia Knott arrived in Buena Park and began cultivating berries on 20-acres of leased land.

Little did they know that from those humble beginnings as farmers, the berry farm would bear more than just fruit over the years and century. The "farm" has turned into a full-fledged theme park, with the Knott's namesake attracting more than three million to four million people a year.

What You Need To Know

  • After being closed for more than a year, Knott's Berry Farm reopens to the public May 21 

  • The Western-themed theme park in Buena Park founded by Walter and Cordelia Knott is celebrating its 100-year anniversary

  • To mark the occasion, Knott's unveiled new rides and attractions including a 4D dark ride called Bear-y Tales: Return to the Fair

  • Knott's officials said there is a lot of pent up demand and expect plenty of visitors this summer

"The Knott's spirit of hard work and down-home hospitality still drives our business today," said Jon Storbeck, president of Knott's Berry Farm, during a media event Thursday.

Walter and Cordelia Knott started as farmers and began cultivating an experimental berry called boysenberry, historians say. Boysenberry is a hybrid of red raspberry, blackberry, and loganberry.

The couple then opened a roadside restaurant serving Mrs. Knott's famous fried chicken dinner and boysenberry pie. The diner became so popular that Walter Knott had to create a ghost town-themed attraction to keep visitors — who would wait up to two to three hours — from leaving.

Now, 100 years later, Knott's Berry Farm, owned by Ohio-based Cedar Fair Entertainment Co., is celebrating that historical beginning and chain of events.

"Sometimes we're called an accidental theme park," said Jeff Gahagan, vice president of maintenance and construction and special projects, to Spectrum News. "This is a historic celebration."

The coronavirus pandemic shut down Knott's Berry Farm and theme parks across the state to slow the spread of the virus.

But after being closed for more than a year and the release of new state guidelines, the Western-themed Knott's Berry Farm is reopening to the public today and kicking off the 100th anniversary of the berry farm. The anniversary celebration, which runs through Sept. 6, is dubbed "the family reunion."

Gahagan said the title is fitting since so many families couldn't go out during the pandemic that Knott's is looking forward to welcoming them back to the theme park.

"This is a major milestone," Gahagan said. "The rich history of the property and all of the families it has touched. This is a family reunion."

Knott's, Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood, and theme parks across the state have been closed since the coronavirus pandemic surfaced in March 2020. As part of an effort to slow the spread of the virus and limit large gatherings, the state shut down theme parks and other major entertainment and sports venues.

Knott's worked around the closure by hosting a series of outdoor food festivals throughout the year. Gahagan said this allowed them to keep some workers employed and, most importantly, better prepared them to operate in a pandemic environment.

When the state allowed theme parks to reopen at a limited capacity, Knott's reopened for a short time to season passholders.

Coupled with their experience with the Taste of events already had a head start in keeping visitors safe. Orange County currently sits in the yellow tier under the state's Blueprint for a Safer Economy plan. As a result, theme parks can reopen with 35% maximum capacity.

"We have a lot of practices in place," Gahagan said. "We enforce the mask rules, socially distancing in the lines, cleaning and sanitizing our tables after each use, hand sanitizers throughout [the park]… When we were able to reopen to season passholders, we refined our practice. So when we were finally allowed to reopen to the public, all we needed to do was add the element of rides."

To mark the 100th-anniversary occasion, Knott's will feature a whole new lineup of entertainment and attractions.

The headline attraction is Knott's Beary-Tales: Return to the Fair, an interactive 4D-themed dark ride that replaces Voyage to the Iron Reef. Voyage closed in January 2020. The new Bear-y ride is a special homage to the original Bear-y Tales dark ride at Knott's from 1975 to 1986.

Knott's Summer Nights is also back, featuring live music, disc jockeys and plenty of new menu items.

Long-lost characters have now resurfaced — Boysen, Moxie, Brawny bears, and Whittle the prospector are available for socially distanced meet and greets.

At night, the theme park will light up areas inside the park and culminate in a special moment with the redesigned illuminated K-tower on top of the Sky Tower attraction.

Gahagan said that while the pandemic has been tough on business, it renewed interest in the park from the general public.

There's a lot of pent-up demand from season passholder visitors to new visitors, he said.

Louise Murray is the chairperson of the Triotech board of directors. The Quebec, Canada-based Triotech helped develop the Bear-y Tales ride for Knott's.

Murray said the 100th-anniversary celebration and all of the new attractions would be good pure family fun.

After experiencing the year-long closures due to the pandemic, Knott's Berry Farm's reopening is needed for many families out there, she said.

"I think this is so important in people's lives," she said. "[Knott's] being successful at it brings respite and peace. It's all about driving hope. This is a milestone. Everyone keeps talking about that this is the start of the roaring 2020s. Well, get ready for this now."


J. Eric Lynxwiler, an author and a Knott's Berry Farm historian, said that Walter and Cordelia Knott would be "flabbergasted" at how the theme park has been able to survive and thrive. Lynxwiler said he's proud that Cedar Fair and Knott's Berry Farm officials are celebrating their rich history.

"I don't think Walter and Cordelia ever believed that their little volcano and ghost town — behind a chicken dinner restaurant — would last," Lynxwiler told Spectrum News. Lynxwiler is the author of "Knott's Preserved: From Boysenberry to Theme Park."

"Walter would give a lot of credit to American ingenuity, he said. "He believed in following your dream in America. And he didn't let anybody tell him no."