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AMUSEMENT PARK UPDATE: HERE'S WHAT'S NEW AT THREE SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA THEME PARKS

Visiting a farm probably isn't on your itinerary for a Southern California vacation, but it should be.

Knott's Berry Farm (or "The Farm" as it is sometimes referred to by locals) is one of the most overlooked treasures in Orange County, sitting in the shadow of Disneyland - a mere seven miles, by automobile, from the home of Mickey Mouse.Thirty-five years older than Disneyland, Knott's, at age 75, is billed as America's first theme park. It is far less crowded than Disneyland and has its own new big ride. The Jaguar!, one of the West's longest roller coasters and the park's first-ever completely themed coaster adventure, is scheduled to open June 17.

This wild new ride, centered at Reflection Lake, will take passengers on a ferocious, four-minute journey through the mysterious Temple of the Jaguar and high above existing park attractions.

Knott's is known for its superb berry jams and world-famous chicken-dinner restaurant. However, the park also has 20 other shops and restaurants and a host of rides - both for young and old - in six themed areas. Knott's is more like Utah's Lagoon than Disneyland.

Compared to Disneyland (where it appears there will be no off-days or slow season this year and where even "Magic Mornings" are crowded), Knott's is far less congested. It offers a refreshing change, where children's eyes will light up, and on a spring weekday, you may find no lines at all on some rides.

Knott's has a few rides that are similar to Lagoon's Tidal Wave, Turn of the Century (flying swings), etc. But it also has a host of different rides.

For example:

- The Boomerang is a roller coaster with several loops, whose thrill is only exceeded in the West by Buffalo Bill's coaster in Nevada and a few Six Flags Magic Mountain roller coasters. (The Boomerang goes backward and is not a ride to wear eyeglasses on.)

- Montezooma's Revenge is another back-and-forth coaster that hurls passengers through a seven-story set of loops. However, until construction on the adjacent Jaguar! is completed, it may or may not be operating on some days.

- Bigfoot Rapids is a whirling trip through a whitewater gorge, where waterfalls may drench you. (A special plastic pouch on your circular raft protects cameras and wallets.) A nearby Bigfoot museum is also interesting.

- The Log Ride at Knott's is the best in the West. It is less crowded than Disneyland's Splash Mountain, has some ingenious scenery and offers riders a photo of their plunge at about half the price of Disneyland's"Splash" photos.

- The Sky Jump is a free-fall drop that gets your heart going. There's a 360-pound (two adult) limit per parachute, and park visitors can get the same panoramic view and a tamer ride on the Sky Cabin.

- The Calico Mine is a mild but dark trip into the depths of Ghost Town.

For young children, Knott's is the home of Snoopy/Charlie Brown and has a special area for children with many rides to enjoy. For example, there's the Camp Bus (a mini flying carpet ride), the Red Baron, the Twister, Ball Room, Rocky Road, balloon ride, a mini space scrambler and even a small train where kids can pump the handle to move at their own speed. There's also a petting zoo.

Knott's height restrictions allow toddlers to go on the log flume ride (they are restricted from Disneyland's Splash Mountain) and a child who is 42 inches or taller (a tall 4-year-old, for example) could ride the Sling Shot at Knott's (restricted at Lagoon's Turn of the Century).

But Knott's offers more than rides. Its 1880s Ghost Town is larger than Lagoon's Pioneer Village and has seemingly endless alleys to explore. You could spend half a day just enjoying Ghost Town alone.

There's also a new feature - the Mystery Lodge - in which an Indian sitting beside a campfire uses amazing special effects to tell the legend of Thunder Falls.

Because of its 75th anniversary, there are also fireworks and other special shows planned this summer.

- Knott's Berry Farm is 20 minutes from Disneyland at 8039 Beach Blvd. Admission prices are $28.50 for persons age 12 and up; $18.50 for senior citizens and children ages 3-11. Under age 3 are free. Parking is $5 per vehicle.

Hours of operation are - off-season: weekdays 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturdays 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sundays 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Summer hours are: Sunday through Thursday 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 9 a.m. until midnight. For more information, call 714-220-5200.