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Archive for August, 2009

State Park Sunday: Sonoma State Historic Park

August 30th, 2009 by bsmith | 1 Comment | Filed in State Park Sundays

I thought I would continue the Sonoma theme of my recent post, by taking a moment to highlight Sonoma State Historic Park.  This area encompasses a number of significant historical landmarks including the Sonoma Mission and General Vallejo’s home.  Here you can delve into the rich history of early Calfornia including the northernmost California Mission, the birth place of the Bear Flag, and the home and army barracks of General Vallejo, Commanding General of Alta Calfornia.


What makes this historical area so special is it is located in the heart of town, directly across from the beautiful town square pictured in my Photo Friday post and right down the street from local businesses.  As a child I remember browsing the upscale thrift shops and getting ice cream cones.

 Sonoma State Historic Park is part of what gives Sonoma it’s charm and sense of history.  It is a fun and educational family outing to complement any Sonoma getaway.  My Auntie Carol who lives in nearby Yountville commented that the whole area had been hard hit by the loss of tourism due to the recession.  I sincerely hope that Sonoma State Historic Park not be included in the impending park closures.  Sonoma needs interesting and affordable activities to draw tourists to this beautiful region.

Unfortunately, I didn’t stop by the Sonoma State Historic Park on my last visit due to time limitations, I’ll be sure to stop by on a future visit to capture this beautiful piece of Calfornia History.

Happy Trails,



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Photo Friday: Sonoma Plaza and Rose Garden

August 28th, 2009 by bsmith | 5 Comments | Filed in Photo Friday, Smith Family Adventures





Growing up in Marin County, one of my favorite family adventures was a Sonoma picnic.  We would north, and stop by the Vella Cheese factory to purchase some of their famous Dry Monterey Jack.  (This is not the Cheese Factory on the Sonoma Plaza.  My family always considered that one more of a tourist trap.)

My parents and I would head for the beautiful green park in the center of town, and enjoy our cheese with salami, sour dough, and apple cider.  Then, tummy full I would make friends at the playground or visit the rose garden.  The rose garden has a lovely assortment of colorful roses and a sun dial in the center that has fascinated generations of young visitors.

This summer I had a chance to recreate this childhood memory when we met my Auntie Carol in the same Sonoma park.  We arrived late in the day and didn’t have a chance to stop by the cheese factory, but my friend Joellen kindly found a gourmet deli that served delicious sandwiches.  The kids put on an elaborate performance on the outdoor stage, and had fun at the play ground.  They met a friendly laborador and worked hard to help him take a drink from the water fountain.

Helping Out Our New Friend

Our visit to this magical place brought back many joyful memories, and also gave me a chance to make some new ones.I enjoyed watching Justin, my ten year old transform himself into a goofy monster using the leaves he fund around the park.  It was a treat for Auntie Carol to see Justin for the first time in nine years and to meet the “new” additions to our family who are now ages four and five!

Wild Man Justin


Family Adventure Guidebooks participates in Delicious Baby’s Photo Friday Blog Roundup.

Happy Trails,



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Family Travel Tip Tuesday: Do Your Research!

August 25th, 2009 by bsmith | 2 Comments | Filed in San Diego Adventures, San Diego Beaches, Travel Tips

Our Failed Grunion Adventure

Anyone who followed me on Twitter  early this August may have noted my increasingly desperate posts about grunion ( a little fish that comes up to breed on Southern California beaches) .  I had organized a Cub Scout Grunion Run, only to discover that the grunion were not running anywhere in the San Diego area.  When I desperately contacted the leading grunion experts, they informed me that grunion are very sporadic by August.  Optimal conditions to spot grunion  occur in late April/early June.

The hard lesson I took away from my quixotic search for grunion is this, do your research!  If I  had contacted the grunion experts before I planned the outing, my scouts would have been alot happier and surrounded by fish.  Instead, as you see above, we had a blast walking up the beach at 10:30 at night, eating brownies and juice, and heading home to our beds.

Which brings me to the second lesson of the evening.  Even failed adventures can be  fun!

Happy Trails,



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State Park Sunday: Ano Nuevo State Park

August 21st, 2009 by bsmith | 2 Comments | Filed in Santa Cruz County Adventures, State Park Sundays

Elephant Seal, Ano Nuevo State Park

As summer comes to an end, I start thinking about Elephant Seals.  At  Ano Nuevo State Park, just North of Santa Cruz California you will find the largest elephant seal breeding colony in the world. Starting in mid December you can participate in guided public walks.  Tickets for this amazing experience go on sale October 20th and apparently the walks fill up quickly so mark your calendars!  They even have a live web camera set up for those of us who won’t be heading up North this winter.

If you visit outside of the tour season,  you will need to get a visitor’s permit to visit the wildlife viewing area.  See more info here.

I don’t think I’ll be in Santa Cruz this winter. Still,  if this amazing park stays open, I will definitely have to gather the kids around the laptop, and check out the web cam.  Perhaps when we make our annual pilgrimage to Santa Cruz next year, we will get visitor permits and try to observe the seals molting.

Every Sunday, Family Adventure Guidebooks  is featuring a different California State Park in order to call attention to the potential State Park closures that will be happening after Labor Day.  The California State Parks Foundation is organizing I Heart State Parks actions throughout the state over Labor Day Weekend.  For more information and to learn how to organize your own event click here.

If you would like to do a State Park Sunday guest blog or just contribute a photo of a California State Park, please leave a comment below.

Happy Trails,



PS The beautiful photo is provided by bike4freedom2 under a Flickr Creative Commons License


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Legoland Misses Me! (Legoland Offers Great Deals to Lure Members Back)

August 19th, 2009 by bsmith | 3 Comments | Filed in Legoland, theme parks, Travel Discounts

Lego New York City, Miniland California

After much deliberation our family let our Legoland passes expire this year.  Due to a family trip last year, we have Disneyland passes through December.  Two themeparks seems like too much during the school year.  Still, Legoland is making it awfully tempting to re-up.  Here are two offers I have received in the past week.

Legoland’s Tenth Birthday Offer

 My ten year old is finally getting his long awaited birthday party this Saturday.  After partying in the pool with five of his closest friends, we may be heading over to Legoland.  It turns out that like Justin, Legoland is celebrating its tenth birthday.  To acknowledge this milestone its ten year old members (and apparently former members) a FREE Legoland Standard Membership. (Yes, you read that correctly…absolutely free).  The only catch of course is that you have to pay alot for parking, and find a Legoland member willing to bring your kid along or buy Membership yourself. 

 If you have a ten year old in your family and are planning to by a whole bunch of memberships, it might be worth asking if they would honor this promotion.  It expires Sept 1, 2009 and requires a postcard so act fast.  I am hoping that like most memberships this one will come with some bring a friend coupons in December and April.

Legoland Resort Pass Offer

Our three kids had a three month Resort Pass this year that we purchased from Costco.  Since we had been 3-Month mebers we also received a postcard offering Resort Memberships for the price of a  Standard Membership.  This is a pretty good deal, since it includes free mini golf and unlimited Sea Life Aquarium admission.  The aquarium admission would come in handy on the occasional rainy days we have here in Carlsbad.  It also includes free parking which is always awesome and is offered for any Resort Passholder, even kids.  That’s a savings of $40 off of the regular adult Resort Membership price.

Will these great Legoland bargains succeed in luring back our entire family? Frankly I’m still thinking about this one.  I do miss the special member Lego building events, the free entrance into Brick or Treat, and being to head over to Legoland for a Rocking New Year’s Eve Celebration.  We will take advantage of Justin’s free membership and see how it goes.  At the very least,  another three month pass for me and the little ones may be in our future. 

Anyone else out there seen some great theme park discounts and promotions?  Feel free to share below.

Happy Trails,



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State Park Sunday: Anza Borrego

August 15th, 2009 by bsmith | 3 Comments | Filed in San Diego Adventures, San Diego Day Trips, San Diego State Parks, Spring Adventures, State Park Sundays

Anza Borrego State Park, California

The media is starting to recognize the dire straights faced by the California State Park System.  This past week, a local reporter came upon my blog and interviewed me for a piece on the California State Park closures.  Reading the North County Times article I learned something new.  The Colorado Desert District which includes local treasures such as Palomar Mountain State Park and Anza Borrego Desert State Park spends significantly more than it collects in revenue. This may put both parks on the closure list.Anza Borrego Desert State Park, wild flowers

Anza Borrego is famous for the wild flowers that bloom in the midst of the desert every spring.  Local volunteers  in the area come together to greet and assist the large numbers of visitors who flock to Anza Borrego in order to experience this natural wonder.  During my parents last visit  the line was so long that they were unable to enter the visitor’s center!

Fields of Gold, Anza Borrego Desert State Park

I didn’t make the trek to go wildflower hunting last spring, but I was certainly hoping to head out there this year since my little ones are a bit more patient and better travelers.  Unfortunately, if Anza Borrego is one of the one hundred parks that will be closed, my children will lose this opportunity to observe a desert spring.

Anza Borrego offers alot more than wild flowers.  It is the largest state park in Calfornia and has numerous hiking trails.  The website says that visitors may see a wide range of animals including roadrunners,  golden eagles, kit foxes, and big horn sheep.  If you plan to visit in the spring, check the park’s website for weekly flower updates. 

Hope that you are all enjoying your last days of summer.  State park closures will be announced after Labor Day.  Visit the California State Parks Foundation for updates and action alerts.  Also, Knudsen is making a donation for every one of their products purchased before September 6th up to $100,000.  Food for thought next time you head to the grocery store.

Happy Trails,


PS The beautiful pictures in this post were provided my my talented mother and Family Adventure Guidebooks correspondent Lee Gillin.  Thanks mom ;) .

PPS I am cheating a wee bit and entering this post in Delicious Baby’s Photo Friday in order to call attention to the potential closure of many of California’s State Parks.  To enjoy Debbie’s beautiful pictures of a Japanese Garden in Seattle and more great travel posts from around the world click here.


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Photo Friday: Antique Steam Engine Museum, Vista California

August 14th, 2009 by bsmith | 6 Comments | Filed in Family Travel, Museums, Outdoor Adventures, Photo Friday, San Diego Adventures

Antique Gas Pump, Antique Steam Engine Museum, Vista

Every year Cub Scout Camp is held at the Antique Steam Engine Museum in Vista, California. As you will see, it’s not exactly a museum, more like a collection of old steam engines, farm equipment, model trains, etc.  Visiting always reminds me of  long quiet summer days visiting my uncle in Minnesota.  Old farm tractors and combines were scattered at the edge of the fields throughout his farm.  I loved to find a good book, and sit for a while just enjoying the peace and quiet.  Unfortunately at the Antique Steam Engine Museum you are not allowed to sit on the machines, but city kids won’t know what they’re missing.

Antique Frontloader, Antique Steam Engine Museum


Other features of this unique museum:

  • One of those fun metal merry go rounds that we enjoyed at the park when we were kids.  Jared spun on this for hours.
Old School Merry Go Round, Vista, Ca

Old Fashioned Merry Go Round, Vista, Ca

  • A short track  miniature railroad and an excellent model railroad museum

Rail Road Crossing

  • A one room school house.
  • A blacksmith shop.

Call to find out about special events.  Not every part of the museum is open every day.

Family Adventure Guidebooks participates in Delicious Baby’s Photo Friday Blog Roundup.  Check out some more great travel posts here.

Happy Trails,



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Family Travel Tip Tuesday: Beyond the Diaper Bag @ Theme Parks

August 11th, 2009 by bsmith | 4 Comments | Filed in Travel Tips



Our family moved to San Diego in 2006.  We have spent the past three years enjoying all that the region has to offer including local attractions such as the San Diego Zoo, Disneyland, Seaworld, The San Diego Wild Animal Park and of course Legoland!  In the early days of our adventures we did not travel light.  A trip to a theme park included a double stroller, diaper bag, plenty of drinks and snacks to keep everyone happy, swimsuits and towels, and a sweatshirt for each family member.

Last Sunday we celebrated a milestone on our visit to Six Flags Magic Mountain.  With my youngest potty trained we did not bring a diaper bag or a stroller with us into the park.  It was very liberating.  I was able to go on all the rides without finding a place to park a stroller or stow our stuff.  I discovered that I have lot  to learn about packing light for a theme park visit.  Here are some of my revelations:

  • A fanny pack is made for theme park visits.  Now that I am traveling lighter, I have started using the fanny pack that my first boyfriend gave me for my fifteenth birthday (romantic gesture…huh? ) .  I must admit it is one of the only items that I am still using after 21 years, so David if you’re out there…thank you ;) .  The separate compartments are very practical.  I put my camera in the top one, and larger items in the bottom one.
  • Fanny packs are great for carrying hats and water bottles, but you need to plan accordingly.  Water bottles that have hooks can hang off of the fanny pack strap.  Unfortunately, it’s a bit ackward to carry a bunch, so you may need a hydration pack or more fanny packs.  All caps worn to the themepark should have a hole in the back like a traditional baseball cap.  You can thread the fanny pack strap through the hat  if your kid decides to go on a ride that prohibits hats.  Justin brought one of those military caps without a hole in the back.  I stuffed it behind the fanny pack, but it must have fallen out sometime during the day.
  • If you are trying to sneak in snacks, think small and non crushable.  Nuts or fruit leather are good choices.
  • Tubes of sunscreen or sunscreen sticks are small, light and good for touch ups.  Apply the spray stuff before entering the park.
  • Dry socks are very precious.  I had left these in the car and really regreted this.  My son’s feet got blisters from walking around in wet socks.  Sandals or Crocs might have been a better choice, although Magic Mountain is so huge, I prefer shoes with better soles.  Next time I plan to include a socks in a ziploc bag in my fanny pack.
  • After my visit I have concluded that I would like to try to bring a hydration pack like the one we take camping.  I think it would pass theme park security, keep everyone hydrated, and provide a little more room for stowing socks and snacks.
  • If you decide you need swimsuits, towels, drinks, sweatshirts, or heftier snacks, pack the lightest items you can find.  This is the time to break out those super thin beach towels that they sell in the drug stores.  Juice pouches are lighter then cans or bottles.  Thin light sweatshirts that the kids can tie around their waists are preferable to heavier jackets.  Bring plastic bags for the wet stuff.
  • For a kid who has just finished potty training, an extra set of clothes might be worth carrying.  We had one accident at the end of the day and left a little earlier than expected so we could change into dry clothes in the car.

I’m looking forward to a Disneyland adventure or two before summer is over.  Where are you off to?

Happy Trails,



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State Park Sunday: SOS

August 9th, 2009 by bsmith | 1 Comment | Filed in State Park Sundays, Uncategorized

Natural Bridges State Park, Santa Cruz, Ca

Last night I had a dream that I was making an impassioned plea for the California State Parks.  This morning  when I awakened I realized that, although I have a huge day in store, I couldn’t let another Sunday pass by without sharing with you the potential park closures that will be happening at the end of the summer.

So far it is looking like the California legislators have cut the State Park budget to the point that 100 parks will be closing afterLabor Day.  I am gravely concerned of the implications this will have for our public land, the economy of our local communities, and our children’s access to the natural world.  The parks are fragile just like the natural rock formation that you see above.  When I arrived at UC Santa Cruz in 2001, there were two such natural bridges.   Now the waves and storms have destroyed one…one remains.  

As citizens of California we cannot sit by and let the budget waves wash away these precious treasures of our state.  Today I am hoping for a miracle, park/business partnerships, a state park access pass, there must be a way to turn this around.

Let’s continue to do what we can to change our State Park’s future.  Visit the California State Parks Foundation and learn how you can make your voice heard.

Happy Trails,



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Photo Friday: The Dark Side of Family Travel

August 7th, 2009 by bsmith | 5 Comments | Filed in Las Vegas Adventures
Destiny is not a Happy Camper at the Adventurdome

Destiny is not a Happy Camper at the Adventuredome, Las Vegas

Hi All,

This ”dark night of the soul” post was actually written a few months ago on a Spring Break Trip to Las Vegas.  I am happy to report that although we have had some similiar moments since then, in general my outlook towards family travel has much improved.  What a difference a little more maturity makes! 

 My fellow travel bloggers and I spend a lot of time, trying to encourage you all to get out and travel.  We offer tips and tricks to make traveling with kids easier.  When it comes down to it, however, traveling with kids is hard…definitely worthwhile, but on the other hand very very difficult. 

Kids thrive on routine and try as you might to maintain routine while on the road it is not going to be the same.  This trip I found the quirks of my five year old Miss who must have her socks adjusted just right, and has a preferred wardrobe of about three things to be amplified to a point that it almost drove my whole family over the brink! Sleeping schedules are difficult to maintain. Toast, my four year old’s favorite food is hard to come by.  Being in constant close quarters with his younger siblings without some opportunities for escape to pursue his own interests became very difficult for nine year old Justin by the end of the trip.

Hotels are not the most kid friendly spaces for preschoolers whose voices seem physically incapable of whispering, and who long to stomp and run.  It is balance to be considerate of others while at the same time letting the kids have a good time.  Some guests will be patient with your kids idiosyncrasies.  Most smiled tolerantly as mischievous Jared tried to jump every time we got in the elevator.  (Note to other traveling moms…be sure that your kids never watch Elf !)  Most waitresses are understanding about those wiggly kids at the table and seat your family as far away from the other guests as possible…especially those young honeymooners at the corner table.  The short frustrating public tantrums…those are a bit difficult for everyone however.

Roadtrip Tantrum

My perspective may be a bit warped as I was outnumbered for the majority of the trip.  Each day I had time to fill on my own from 8 am-4pm while my husband was at work.  I experimented with keeping them out and busy, and just lazing around the hotel room and pool.  Each strategy had some benefits and some drawbacks.  Keeping the kids quiet in the hotel room got a little frustrating.  The pools were great, but once again the needs of the two age groups were hard to meet.  Justin got short shrift due to my need to keep an eye on Destiny and Jared and keep them safe.  He didn’t want to enjoy the big kid areas on his own.  Like most kids he wanted to share the fun with mom or dad.  Our adventures to the Adventuredome and the Children’s Museum were fun, but once again we were limited by Justin and Jared’s craving for adventure and Destiny’s timidity to the point of hysteria whenever she is confronted by anything remotely loud or exciting.

I think that traveling with an only child would be a very different experience.  I have very fond memories of traveling with my parents.  Even if one was busy, the other was always available to give me the attention I needed.  My parents could choose activities that were appropriate for my age level, or even if we were doing something “adult” my presence as the only child in the room gave me some positive attention.  Ken and I were able to spend some one on one time with Justin this trip.  Ken took him to Fremont Street.  I headed over to New York, New York to ride the giant fast roller coaster.  I love spending one on one time with Justin because he just talks his heart out.  He glows under my undivided attention.  He also complains A LOT, but at least I have the time to listen.  We get to share what we enjoy.  I rode the roller coaster, he grudgingly took in the Bellagio Fountains.

So why do it?  Why didn’t I just sit out this adventure and spend a quiet spring break with the kids swimming in our own familiar and somewhat freezing pool?  Because I love watching my kids rise to the occasion and work together as a team.  I love that Destiny helps me pack.  I love that Justin gives his siblings piggy pack rides on the long walk through the casino.  I love that he and Jared go off and ride some of the more exciting theme park rides.  I love that Jared gets to use the boys bathroom every once in a while under the watchful eye of dad or big brother.  Then there is the adventure…exploring unfamiliar places, swimming next to a shark tank, changing the tires on a pretend car, choosing whatever your heart desires for dinner.  Despite all our misadventures, this trip was worth it.

Destiny Gets Brave, Adventuredome, Las Vegas

Destiny Gets Brave, Adventuredome, Las Vegas

Happy Trails,


PS. This blog participates in Delicious Baby’s Photo Friday.  Keep your finger on the pulse of the travel world here.

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