Southern California theme park regulars have missed out on a lot this year thanks to the ongoing pandemic, but outdoor shopping and dining locations such as Universal CityWalk outside Universal Studios Hollywood and Disneyland Resort’s Downtown Disney District have recently made an effort to welcome guests with new health and safety guidelines in place, though admission to their respective parks is still off-limits.

The beloved local attraction Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park (just a ten-minute drive northwest from Disneyland) has taken that gradual reopening process one step further by actually allowing guests inside its theme park itself for the new limited-time Knott’s Taste of Calico event, though admission is restricted only to the park’s classic Ghost Town area and no rides are operating during the “food and retail experience.”

Watch Live from Knott’s Berry Farm – Taste of Calico:

In the above live-streamed video, I walk around Knott’s Taste of Calico exploring the Ghost Town area and giving a look at the event’s offerings and crowd levels.

Outside the entrance to the theme park, Knott’s Berry Farm has set up picnic tables as an outdoor eating area in front of Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant, which is open for reservations, curbside pick-up and carry-out.

At the park entrance we found the usual health and safety guidelines posted, along with a switchback queue leading guests through security and the temperature screening area. At first we were a little alarmed by the number of guests we saw wearing their masks or face coverings inappropriately (often down under their noses) and not being corrected by Knott’s employees, but once we were inside the actual park compliance seemed to be much higher– though still not at 100%. Hopefully this improves as the event goes on.

Upon entry we were handed our Knott’s Taste of Calico Adult Tasting Cards, which also serve as admission tickets for the event. The cards can be redeemed for up to five items from the eight kiosks scattered throughout Ghost Town, with selections such as Pulled Pork Sliders and Boysenberry BBQ Wings. We tried the Boysenberry Jam Sugar Cookiewich and Boysenberry Icee Float, both of which were very tasty.

In the hour or so after the 4:00 PM opening, the crowds at Knott’s Taste of Calico were very manageable, though the lines for food kiosks would steadily grow through the afternoon, as we would soon discover. Still, the physical distancing efforts were effective throughout Ghost Town during our stay and we mostly felt comfortable with the volume of guests and traffic flow in the park.

One of the absolute highlights of this experience was getting to interact with the terrific and memorable citizens of Calico once again. These characters, who would ordinarily populate Knott’s fantastic “Ghost Town Alive!” summertime immersive theater event, greeted guests as they entered the Ghost Town area and entertained them as they waited in lines for food. At one point we even enjoyed a magic show on the Calico Town Square Stage. The park atmosphere became an absolute highlight of our time in Taste of Calico.

As a sign of the times, Knott’s is selling face masks with family iconography printed on them such as the map of Calico, boysenberries, and familiar Knott’s Berry Farm logos. These popular items go for about $10 each and we couldn’t resist picking up a couple for ourselves.

Beyond food, the other half of Knott’s Taste of Calico is dedicated to retail, with outdoor vendors set up and  throughout Ghost Town. Offerings include jewelry, apparel, honey, and other assorted sundries.

As I mentioned earlier, rides were closed and pathways to other areas of Knott’s Berry Farm were blocked off to guests, but we could see the newly installed sign for the upcoming Knott’s Bear-y Tales: Return to the Fair attraction.

The unfortunate downside to Knott’s Taste of Calico being limited to food and merchandise is that there isn’t much else to do besides stand in line and eat, which led to very lengthy queues being formed by a couple hours into the event. Consequently, I would definitely recommend showing up early and redeeming your Tasting Card before the crowds begin to fill out. Fortunately, Knott’s employees were pretty good about keeping guests physically distant in the lines even after they started winding down the paths into other areas.

Ultimately I think Knott’s Taste of Calico is an interesting experiment and a clever way to get around the no-theme-parks restriction currently in place in the state of California. I believe over time Knott’s would figure out a way to get people moving through the lines faster and keep everybody happy during their experience, but unfortunately the event only lasts through one more weekend. Perhaps if there is a positive enough response we could see an extension through the rest of the summer, but for now it was enough of a thrill just to step back into one of our favorite Orange County locations.

Knott’s Taste of Calico runs again this weekend, Friday through Sunday, July 24-26. For more information, be sure to visit Knott’s Berry Farm’s official website.