West coast trip - advice please!

Edited: June 20, 2019, 9:22 AM

Hello gang.

Life's taking me to Portland, OR at the start of next month. But in order to save a little money on flights (or re-allocate the saved money, anyway) I'm going to fly in to San Francisco and make a bit of a road trip out of it all there and back to see some other places. Including, of course, some parks.

I'm planning to spend most of a day at Discovery Kingdom on the way up, and check out Enchanted Forest when in Portland. On the way back down I'm hoping to stop at Lagoon and Evermore, and finish the trip with a few days in Anaheim - mainly because I've never been to Knotts, but also to check out new stuff at DCA. (My last visit was pre-Cars Land.) I may squeeze an evening in at Disneyland too - but I'll see Galaxy's Edge at WDW later in the year, so I've no strong desire to take a whole day there.

I've a few questions that hopefully some of you will be able to help me with…

1. In the case of all of the above, am I better off buying tickets online in advance, or will I find decent coupons etc in the area?

2. $30 for parking at SFDK?!? Is this an actual thing people pay, or will I find coupons? Given I'm going solo, it's really making me consider skipping the park entirely.

3. I'm really struggling to find accommodation walkable from Disneyland that's a) less than $100 per night and b) has reviews that suggest it's clean and not bug-ridden. (I know it's high season, but I'm really not after anything deluxe - a simple clean room would just be nice.) Does anyone have any tips or recommendations? I'm not completely opposed to staying further out and parking, but I'm assuming parking on resort in mid-July is going to be hellish.

4. I'm planning to get a Knotts season pass, because I'd like to squeeze in a full day *and* a morning after. Plus I'd like the early entry - and the passholder discount on the Knotts hotel makes it pretty reasonably priced, particularly as it saves me the parking charge. (I'm just intending to do a single night there.) Do they ever do discounts on the season pass?

5. Have any TPI readers been to Evermore? I'm really intrigued by it (particularly as someone who works in theatre) but the few legit reviews I can find online are from when the park opened, where they all talk about how the place was still much a construction site. Does anyone know if things have improved since then? I'm unlikely to be heading that way again in the near future, but if it's still distinctly unfinished then my time on this trip might be better spent elsewhere.

6. Any other tips/thoughts? My only visit to the west coast was a week in LA some years ago - where I did Universal & SFMM, and have no strong desire to do those again. (I am of course packing in a bunch of other stuff as well, including a few days in SF, a stop in Vegas and a couple national parks, but figured I'd keep this focussed to parks for now...)

Replies (9)

June 20, 2019, 11:20 AM

This sounds like quite a road trip with some serious miles (the loop from SF to Portland to Salt Lake to Vegas to LA is well over 2,000 miles).

If you're concerned about the price of parking at SFDK and are remotely considering a stop at SFMM, I would highly encourage you to purchase a Gold Plus Membership. The membership drags the costs out over a 12-month period, and you have to remember to cancel it if you don't want to keep it beyond, but the cost for a year is $94.68 (plus tax), which is significantly cheaper than the price for a single Gold Season Pass ($201.99 plus tax). The Gold Membership most importantly includes parking and admission to all Six Flags parks over the 12-months you're obligated to remain a member, so pretty much a second visit to any Six Flags in North America validates the cost. That's pretty much the ONLY way to avoid the $30 parking aside from taking Uber or some other public transit option to the park. Unless you're going to stay at the Courtyard across the street from the park, there's nowhere else within reasonable walking distance to park your car.

Cedar Fair rarely discounts their season passes, and if they do, it's typically only near the end of the summer for the following year when they add extra benefits to the passes (not necessarily reduce the price).

We're staying at a hotel across the street from Disneyland when we're there in late July/early August, but we are using credit card points to defer the cost of a hotel that is well beyond our typical threshold ($250+/night). On our last trip to Disneyland, we stayed at the Day's Inn on the north side of the 5 from the parks. It was about a 20-minute walk to the Esplanade, and they didn't charge for parking (though I think every hotel within 2 miles of Disneyland now does). I'm not sure when exactly you're planning to be in Anaheim, but the rates are typically in the $100-150 range. However, I doubt you're going to find anything else decent within reasonable walking distance of Disneyland. The biggest hassle with parking at Disneyland is not getting into the garages, it's getting to the parks from the garages (and then out of the garages at the end of the night). It's difficult to tell what crowds will be like when Galaxy's Edge opens to the masses next week, so perhaps you might want to hold off on making a decision until there are more reports on crowd levels and how long it takes to get on a tram in the morning once people start showing up for Galaxy's Edge en masse.

Bobbie Butterfield can probably tell you more about Lagoon, but it's definitely a park that has always intrigued me.

June 20, 2019, 8:21 PM

Sounds like a fun trip! You're definitely covering quite some distance here. To answer your questions...

1. You'll definitely want to buy tickets online for the California parks. I'm not sure what the best option for Lagoon is...you could probably search and see if anything comes up regarding local discounts there. Enchanted Forest is pay per ride (plus a small gate fee), so just wait until you get to the park to purchase your tickets for that one.

2. All Six Flags parks gouge for parking. No coupons for parking as far as I know. A vast majority of visitors to the park have a season pass that covers parking, so I don't know how many people actually pay it. If you think there is any chance you'll visit another Six Flags park within 12 months, I recommend a Gold Membership as it's good at every park, includes parking, and is only about $20 more than a one day ticket plus parking. Alternatively, you could visit California's Great America instead.

3. Hotels that cheap don't really exist on Harbor during peak season. In mid-July, basic hotels (Super 8 and similar) near Disneyland are typically going to be $125-150. If you need something under $100, you're going to need to venture outside of the Disneyland Resort area and drive or bus in.

4. Knott's Berry Farm can easily be completed in one day, but if you're planning to go for two it is cheaper to get two one-day tickets at the online rate than a season pass. Cedar Fair rarely offers any sort of discount on season passes, and parking is an upcharge on passes. If you stay at the hotel, they will probably let you leave your car in the lot for both days without charging you extra.

5. I can't say anything about Evermore other than that the concept looks really cool. Keep in mind that they operate limited hours, so it might be difficult to fit the park into your schedule.

6. If you go to Lagoon, give yourself a full day there. It may not be huge and is a pure amusement park, but there is a lot to do and the park is operated extremely well. For Disney, either do one day just at DCA or get a two-day, one park per day ticket and do one day at each park...don't try to do both parks in the same day as the one-day hopper is insanely expensive ($200 vs. $225 for a two-day ticket). If you get the Six Flags membership, SFMM is well worth another visit if you haven't visited in over 5 years and enjoy roller coasters...Twisted Colossus is the best on the west coast. Not sure of anything else specific, but if you've got questions I'll try to answer them.

June 22, 2019, 8:15 AM

Thanks lads. To clarify, I'm doing all this over the best part of a month - so it's a lot of miles, but spread over enough time that I'm never doing more than a few hours in one go. (Give me an audio book and some A.C. and I'm quite happy with a long drive anyway, particularly when it's through a part of the world that's new to me.)

I might well go for the Six Flags gold plus then - I'd rather take the (not impossible) chance that I might get to another park within the next year than drop that much just to stick a car in a lot. And it gives me an excuse to pop into Magic Mountain for a few hours, as I'll be driving past it anyway.

Yeah AJ, Knotts hotel offers free parking to passholders - it's one of the main reasons I'm considering staying there and getting one tbh.

I'll look at re-allocating some funds for staying near DL. Any recommendations in the ~$150 bracket?

July 7, 2019, 9:34 PM

Hello again all.

So I'm halfway through my trip - much changed from above. I'm staying in Portland (beautiful city!) longer than expected, which means I've cut the drive down from here and am just flying down to LA, where I'll spend a few days (longer than I would have done before, so a silver lining there) and then take a few days to drive up the stretch of Highway 1 to SF.

I'll hopefully get around to doing a brief trip report at some point, but I managed to get to both SFDK and CGA. One I loved, one I was underwhelmed by. (I'll let you guess which was which.) Also Oaks in Portland, which is surprisingly cute! Adrenaline Peak is much better than a short Euro-Fighter dumped in a car park has any right to be.

(Also I paid $40 for the Winchester Mystery House which made me so mad I started a TripAdvisor account for the first time in my life just so I could write a scathing review. FYI.)

But a couple more questions as I go into the final leg, if I can borrow some more of your time please!

1. For both Knotts and SFMM (the latter of which I'll hopefully spend a morning & early afternoon in) what should my game plan be for the first couple hours of opening? I'll have early entry at Knotts as a hotel guest, but I don't really have a sense of what the biggest queues at those two parks are. My priorities at SFMM are X2 and new coasters since 2011.

2. What's the highly-recommended food & drink at DL/DCA? (Stands, counter, table service, whatever.) Anything I should be booking for? I'm an East coast regular, so can pass on Dole Whips etc. And no need to try for Oga's.

Thanks again for all the info. When are you guys coming to Europe so I can return the favour??

Edited: July 7, 2019, 10:53 PM

You should be able to do all the major things at Knotts in your timeframe assuming they are all open. The best coaster there is unquestionably Xcelerator and the rest of the lineup is highly mediocre. Ghostrider was a rough mess when I lived in socal but since then its gotten various refurbishments and new trains...so there's a possibility it might be good now. I heard it was good when it re-opened but have no idea if it still is.

It looks like Xcelerator actually is part of the early entry so there shouldn't be any issues there, knock that out along with the new coaster Hangtime and Coast Rider during early entry and then I guess you can do the S&S tower while your there. Then you can work your way up towards the front of the park where Silver Bullet, Montezuma's Revenge, and Sierra Sidewinder are. They also have a Booster Bike coaster called Pony Express that is pretty bad TBH, and do Ghostrider before you leave so that way it has some time to warm up (and if its really bad it doesn't ruin your day haha).

If you plan on eating lunch there I wouldn't recommend getting the bland outrageously expensive Cedar Fair food, i'd drive the 5 minutes to Portillo's, eat, and drive back to the park (I would actually walk but I know most people wouldn't lol). If you are really pressed for time just do the park and leave for lunch after.

I will say that Knotts really is not one of my favorite parks. To me its one of those boring mediocre Cedar Fair parks, so much so that the past 4x i've gone to Socal I haven't even bothered going even though they have gotten some new rides. I have heard however that since Dick Kinzel retired it has gotten a lot better: they have redone the Ghost Town area and restored some of their classic rides like the Log Flume and the Calico Mine Train.

There's no way you'll be able to do everything at SFMM in half of a day there's just way too many coasters, and with it being summer there will be lines and if its a weekend there will be long lines guaranteed. You have a pretty good idea of the must sees with X2 and all the coasters built after that (Twisted Colossus, Tatsu, Full Throttle). I'll give some brief reviews that will hopefully help you out.

Apocalypse - I think its closed, but if its open its definitely worth a ride. Its a pretty damn good GCI but like any wooden coaster the roughness can be temperamental depending on the day.
Batman - good ride...same as all the other BTR clones
Full Throttle - haven't ridden it but looks decent, definitely worth a ride
Gold Rusher - classic old school mine train, worth riding if line is short (it usually is)
Goliath - pretty crappy for such a massive hypercoaster, but hey you went all the way out there and its a huge coaster so you've got to ride it
Revolution - Not the greatest ride out there but still got to ride it for the historical factor. I haven't ridden it since before the OTSRs were removed, but now that its lapbar only again its probably a fun ride.
Ninja - I actually kinda like this ride. Certainly not one of the best coasters in the park and if you're pressed for time you could say its skippable...but IMO unquestionably better than Iron Dragon at CP.
Riddlers Revenge - a damn good B&M standup, probably the best one out there
Scream - this ride blows. Its a clone of Medusa/Bizarro at GADV which i'm not a big fan of either but for some reason is a lot rougher and its out in the middle of nowhere over a parking lot. I mean of course you should ride it because its a big ride and you might like it, but if pressed for time i'd say skip it.
Superman Escape From Krypton - apparently they have this thing running at 100mph again so I guess you got to do it. The old version was pretty bad, didn't go anywhere near 100mph or the top of the tower but looks decent now.
Tatsu - Probably the best B&M flyer there is (I like Mako better if you include the theming, but just going by layout Tatsu is a more intense ride)
Twisted Colossus - haven't ridden it but heard its amazing. I've been on a lot of RMCs and they are all great so i'm sure its one of the best coasters, if not the best, in the park.
Viper - the last Arrow megalooper left in the world, that reason alone is enough to make it a must ride to me haha. I will admit I have a certain fondness for this ride because I used to marathon the hell out of Shockwave when I was at kid, and I had the opportunity to ride GASM a few times over the years as well. I will admit most people don't care much for these rides (hence why Viper is the only one left) and i'd be surprised if it lasts much longer, but if you are going to ride it go in the second to last row. The front row of the last car is always the smoothest on the old school Arrows.
X2 - I really liked this ride when it first opened but the last few times i've ridden it, it was rough as hell and dropped way out of my top 10 (its an almost 20 year old Arrow so I guess that's to be expected).

It's hard to create a "game plan" that you can stick to for that park because 1: the park is huge and the rides are spread out and 2: its a Six Flags park so operations are hit or miss to put it nicely. Not sure how familiar you are with the parks here but SFMM known as one of the dumpiest big parks in the country. It does have some great coasters though.

I know I crapped on KBF and SFMM a lot in this post but I just don't like them very much lol. DLR on the other hand is amazing and i'm sure you will have a great time there.

Edited: July 8, 2019, 12:41 AM

Let me offer you some advice from a So Cal local who visits both parks several times a year and doesn't hold disdain for them...

For SFMM, you'll want to arrive at least 30 minutes before opening. Once you're inside the park, head directly to Full Throttle if it is operating. As this coaster is located right at the entrance and has pretty poor capacity for a park the size of SFMM, the line often quickly builds to 40+ minutes and stays there all day. Get this out of the way first, then hightail it to Twisted Colossus. With three trains running, this one moves people quickly, and if the line is short I recommend riding two or three times (especially if you don't get a duel on your first ride). From here, hit Lex Luthor if you're a fan of drop towers and CraZanity if you're a fan of pendulums, then head to Metropolis for Justice League. You may have ridden this ride at other Six Flags parks, but SFMM's version is unique with more animatronics and additional scenes. Next, climb to Samurai Summit for Superman (if you haven't ridden it since the cars were turned backwards), then head down through Rapids Camp Crossing to hit X2 and New Revolution (which received new trains a couple years ago and is well worth re-riding). Assuming no delayed openings, you should be able to complete the above by about 2 P.M. If there's anything else you'd like to ride at the park, do so as you pass it to avoid doubling back.

Knott's is a bit of a double-edged sword since experiencing GhostRider in it's best form requires a lengthy wait. The entire coaster was retracked by GCI a couple years ago and now runs extremely well, but operates with only two 24 passenger trains vs. three 28 passenger trains as before. As a result, the line moves much slower than it used to and often stretches to over an hour on all but the quietest days. As the ride runs best later in the day (and is particularly great at night) recommendation therefore is to save this one for later in the day and be prepared to brave the queue. As a result, I suggest the following:

1. When early entry starts, grab a quick ride on Sierra Sidewinder first, as this coaster gets lines due to limited capacity and a low height requirement. Once you're off, head to the Boardwalk and tackle the attractions there. Most guests run to GhostRider or Silver Bullet at opening, so if you head here you should be able to get a couple rides on each major attraction before the crowds show up.

2. Once done with the Boardwalk, grab a ride on the Timber Mountain Log Ride and Calico Mine Ride. These are classic Knott's attractions that date back to the 1960s, but have recently been renovated.

3. Head over to Pony Express next. It's not the greatest ride out there, but it's unique. If you're up for getting a bit wet, the new Calico River Rapids is over here as well.

4. By now, it will likely be around lunchtime and crowds will have picked up, so work your way through the park in whatever order you like. Knott's isn't too large, so it is easy to get from any location to anywhere else. In general, Montezooma's Revenge has the shortest line of the major coasters and can be visited at anytime, and Silver Bullet has high enough capacity that lines stay under 30 minutes once the opening rush has worked their way through. Be sure to spend a couple hours exploring Ghost Town, checking out some of the Ghost Town Alive activities and taking in the Wild West Stunt Show. As mentioned above, aim for a night ride on GhostRider unless you're willing to brave the queue twice.

When it comes to Disneyland dining, my favorite full service restaurant is Carthay Circle at DCA. I haven't eaten at any of the table service restaurants in Disneyland in over a decade, so I can't comment on those. For counter service, my go-tos are Flo's and Smokejumpers at DCA, and Zocalo and Plaza Inn at Disneyland. If there is a table service restaurant you definitely want to try a reservation is a good idea, but unlike Florida it is often possible to get a table day of (especially for lunch).

I hope you enjoy the remainder of your trip! Feel free to ask if you've got any additional questions about the parks.

As for Europe, I'm looking at doing a UK trip in the 2021-2023 timeframe and hopefully additional international trips every 2-3 years after that. I'm practically out of new parks stateside, so it's time to jump the pond.

July 8, 2019, 6:15 AM

I will have two very short contributions: get to all the theme parks early as the crowds don't tend to hit until later in the morning, and at Disneyland get a Monte Cristo sandwich at either of the restaurants in New Orleans square. If you don't eat much you can share it.

Edited: July 14, 2019, 6:59 PM

FWIW, I'm currently at Knotts, and love the place. I'm now 3 for 3 on Cedar Fair parks that I've had an unexpectedly brilliant time at, given all the criticisms I've read about them. Is this a recent improvement or what? Perhaps my standards are just low as a Merlin regular, but each has been clean, well-organised and really pleasantly themed/landscaped with a good mix of attractions beyond coasters. Thumbs up.

Edited: July 15, 2019, 2:19 AM

I don't know about the others, but in the case of Knott's I can say that Cedar Fair has been putting a ton of money into improving the quality of the park. Under Kinzel, Cedar Fair used Knott's to compete with SFMM and tried to turn it into Cedar Point west, destroying much of what used to be there in order to add coasters that didn't quite fit in with the place (the most obvious example being Silver Bullet). Once Ouimet took over, he realized that Knott's was not like any other park in the chain and needed to be treated differently, so beginning in 2013 the company started overhauling one section of the park each year to restore the charm Knott's used to have and fill in holes within the park's attraction line up. As of this year, they've finally hit pretty much everything that needed attention and have turned the place into one of the most well-rounded parks in the chain.

Ten years ago, I would have described Knott's as a fun park, but not a must visit unless time permits after including Disney, SFMM, and Universal in your itinerary. Now, however, I'd strongly encourage anyone with at least three theme park days in So Cal to devote one to this park.

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