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Archive for May, 2010

Five Family Fun California Vacation Activities That Your Kids Will Love

May 18th, 2010 by bsmith | 5 Comments | Filed in Family Travel, San Diego Adventures, San Diego Zoo, Santa Cruz County Adventures

With three kids and the price of airfare,  we tend to stick close  to home for many of our vacations.  That doesn’t mean we spend all our time at Disneyland, however.  There are lots of fun ways for families to enjoy their California vacations.  Here are some of our favorites from North to South.

View from the Train, Train Town Sonoma
View from the Train, Train Town Sonoma

Sonoma Adventures

  • Picnic in the Sonoma Plaza: This was one of my family’s favorite day trips as a child.  Last summer I returned with my kids and am happy to say it continues to be very fun.  Grab a picnic from a local gourmet deli and play at the Children’s Playground.

Ride a train at Train Town: Admission is affordable and the ride on the miniature train is perfect for all ages.  You stop to take on water at a kid sized town that the little ones enjoy exploring.



US Pampanito, Fisherman's Wharf San Francisco California

San Francisco Adventures


  • Visit Fisherman’s Wharf  Play vintage games at the Musee Mechanique and take an audio tour of the USS Pampanito Submarine.
  • Explore the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park This National Historic Park has a cheap entrance fee and plenty of big vessels to explore.  They also have a wide assortment of tours and kids programs.


Roaring Camp Railroads, Santa Cruz, California

Santa Cruz Adventures

  • Ride a Train Through the Redwoods  Roaring Camp provides old fashioned family fun.  You can ride a steam train through the redwoods or catch a diesel down to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.
  • Ride the Giant Dipper  at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk This is my favorite roller coaster in the world.  It’s more than 100 years old and you can catch a glimpse off the ocean and the town of Santa Cruz as you zoom along.

Carlsbad Adventures

  • Build and Test at LEGOLAND California Carlsbad, California is a charming family oriented beach town with a great family attraction.  Legoland California is an interactive theme park for young children.  The Sea Life Aquarium and the new LEGO themed Water Park give families more reasons to visit.
  • Play at the Flower Fields. Unfortunately the Flower Fields have finished their season, but if you return next spring, you will be awed by the fields of flowers.  Kid’s enjoy a quaint Santa’s Village themed playground.



Soar Over the San Diego Zoo

San Diego Adventures

  • Go on Safari at the San Diego Zoo.  It may be clique, but a visit to the world famous San Diego Zoo is a must see for family travelers.  Keep an eye out for The Unauthorized Guide to the San Diego Zoo releasing later this year.
  • Stop by Cousin’s Candy in Old Town.  Old Town San Diego is a great location for family adventure.  Kids enjoy visiting the old buildings and learning about life in old San Diego.  The highlight of your trip will be the trip to this old fashioned candy store- trust me ;) .

Happy Trails,


PS “I wrote this blog post while participating in the Williamsburg Tourism and TwitterMoms blogging program for a chance to get a $50 gift card. For more information on how you can participate, click here .


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Mondays Are for Dreaming: A Big Fat Road Trip!

May 17th, 2010 by bsmith | 1 Comment | Filed in Mondays are for Dreaming, Road Trips, San Antonio

One thing that  the Smith Family is lacking is a big fat chunk of time for travel.  We have about one week a year that we can dedicate to going wherever we want. Other vacations are either Mom and the kids traveling solo  or in whatever city Daddy is teaching in.  That’s why this Monday I am dreaming of a multi week roadtrip, perhaps up to the Pacific Northwest or to several National Parks.   Maybe we would even head out to Montana to visit my friend Joanne,  Something that would give our family a chance to explore new parts of the country and give our California born and bred kids a new perspective on what life is like in the other 49 states.

A few of my favorite travel bloggers have attempted such trips.  If you are also road trip dreaming on this Monday morning stop by and visit:

  • Last year On The Go With Amy took a spectacular road trip along the Mississipi.  It was a family adventure a la Travels With Charley or Jack Kerouac.  If you didn’t catch this trip on the first run.  Check out Amy’s archives of her Mississipi Road Trip.


  • My friend Sharlene Trekaroo Editor and blogger at Double the Adventure had an amazing road trip last year.  She headed up into Canada then across the American west.  Most of the trip she traveled on her own with two toddlers…amazing!  I loved following her journey and suggest that you do as well.  Sharlene is very focused on helping her kids explore  the natural world so she has great tips for hiking with kids.  Her photos are also spectacular.   Here are the archives for Sharlene’s 2009 Canadian and US roadtrip.


  • Mara at Mother of All Trips also had some great roadtrip posts last summer.  I couldn’t find a link to the archive of her trip, but here is a post that gives you an idea plus some links to great road trip tips.

Mara is currently giving away a San Antonio Family Vacation.  Funny thing is this time last year I was Dreaming of a San Antonio Roadtrip.  Still am in fact!

Hope I win ;) .  If I do I promise to give a detailed account of our San Antonio Adventures.

Happy Trails,



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Photo Friday: Flamingo Flock Out for a Stroll (Seaworld, San Diego)

May 14th, 2010 by bsmith | 2 Comments | Filed in Photo Friday, San Diego Zoo, Sea World

Flamingos Out for A Stroll, Seaworld, San Diego

 Last Month, my son’s preschool class enjoyed a field trip to Sea World San Diego.  This is an annual event for all six preschool classes so I have been lucky enough to take my kids for the past three years.  I thought I had seen everything at Sea World until a flock of flamingos paraded by soon after our arrival.  School groups are allowed in early, so I’m not sure if this is something that the average tourist would be able to experience, but it was surreal fun for our group to make way for our flamingo friends.  I captured this picture of my son’s very first preschool teacher enjoying this spectacle.   I’m sure Jared will treasure it  in the future.

 A few days later, Ken and I took the kids to the San Diego Zoo and captured another happy flamingo moment.


Off to the Zoo on Sunday.  Hopefully I’ll have some great pictures to share next week!

Happy Trails,


P.S. Family Adventure Guidebooks participates in Delicious Baby’s  Photo Friday Blog Roundup.  Love this post about her visit to Turkey!


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My Top Ten Creative and Affordable Vacation Ideas

May 11th, 2010 by bsmith | 3 Comments | Filed in Family Travel, Legoland, Museums, Road Trips, San Diego Beaches, Ski Adventures, Smith Family Adventures, Snow Vacations, theme parks, Travel Discounts, Travel Tips

I have been meaning to do this kind of tip post for a while now, but my friends at Twittermom finally gave me the excuse I needed to get it done. Here are the Family Adventure Guidebooks Top Ten Creative and Affordable Vacation Ideas:

Saving Money on Food:

1) Pack a Picnic.  Whether you’re hitting a theme park or on a road trip, packing a picnic cuts down on the cost of overpriced, yucky fast food.  I am always sure to include  some special treats: berries, salami sandwiches, etc…something the kids don’t get to enjoy every day.  Eat your picnic at a local park or rest stop.  Your kids will make new friends and get their wiggles out.

2) Do it Yourself Room Service .  Supermarket delis have fun, healthy take out.  Everyone can eat what they want and if you get paper plates…no dishes.  TV Dinners are a rare treat in our family so if there is a microwave and freezer in the room I sometimes pick some up.

3) Pick Hotels that Have Breakfast Included.  Last summer our family stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Santa Cruz for two weeks.  It was lovely to have a hardy breakfast (eggs or omlette, sausage, fruit,etc.) every day.  Since we filled up at breakfast we were able to eat a lighter lunch!

Saving Money on Lodging:

4) Time Shares Don’t buy one…rent one…!  Our latest discovery is renting time shares on a per night basis.  With a family of five, we find that we all have a happier vacation if we are able to spread out.  Renting a time share gives us extra space, a full kitchen,  and privacy for Mom and Dad at an affordable price.

5) Join the Club.  Join Hotel Chain loyalty rewards clubs and stay at only one or two chains when you can.  Also keep an eye out for stay ___ nights get a night free promotions.  Our summer Holiday Inn Express stay yielded a five day  ski vacation in Lake Tahoe.  We used our bonus nights at the Holiday Inn Express in South Lake Tahoe,  and used the the money we saved to pay for ski lessons. 

Saving Money on Themeparks and Attractions:

6) Do Your Research.  Figure out how many days you are going to spend  at a themepark, then look at all the admission possibilities including memberships.  Sometimes buying a membership is the same price or even cheaper then a number of single day admissions.  It may be worth buying a membership and making a return trip.

7) Keep an  Eye Out for Discounts and Special Events.  LEGOLAND holds a special fundraising event for the schools every year.  They also invite people to a smaller section of the park  at night to experience their Halloween festivities for less than the price of full admission.  The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk offers discounted weeknights during the summer.  Our family never misses them when we go to visit.  All rides are the cost of one ticket which adds up to significant savings if you want to ride the famed Giant Dipper more than once.

Vacation Fun on a Budget:

8.) Visit a Children’s Museum:  These are way cheaper than theme parks and are just as fun!  My friend Minnemom has pointed out that some museums have reciprocity agreements. So, if you purchase a membership at your local museum it may give you free admission to museums at your vacation destination.  Some of my favorites are The Bay Area Discovery Museum, The Children’s Discovery Museum of San JoseThe Lied Discovery Children’s Museum in Las Vegas, The Exploratorium in San Francisco and The Portland Children’s Museum.

9) Hit the Beach. You can spend a blissful day (or two or three) with your kids entertained for hours.  Just purchase a few cheap buckets and shovels, pack a picnic, slather on the sunscreen, and read a book that you brought from home or picked up at a local used book store.  If you want to splurge you can rent surfboards or boogie boards from a local business like the one run by my friends at Concept Specialty Board Shop  in Encinitas, California.

10) Play at the Park.  Here in California playground safety laws were changed a few years ago so almost every town has had to update their playground equipment.  This is a real benefit for travelers.   No trip to Monterey would be complete without a visit to the famous Dennis the Menace Park.  Our kids love to perch on top of the train.  Even less famous parks can be lots of fun.    Some other favorite California Parks  are Cottonwood Creek Park in Encinitas, Louden Nelson Park in Santa Cruz,  Holiday Park in Carlsbad, and Moonlight Beach Park in Encinitas.

Happy Trails!


“I wrote this blog post while participating in the Toyota Sienna and TwitterMoms blogging program for a chance to get a $30 gift card. For more information on how you can participate, click here.”


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Photo Friday: San Diego Cityscape, Porto Vista Hotel

May 7th, 2010 by bsmith | 4 Comments | Filed in Family Travel, Photo Friday, San Diego Adventures, San Diego Zoo

Boats Sail by Porto Vista Hotel, San Diego

Living up in Carlsbad, a tony suburb in Northern San Diego county, sometimes it’s easy to forget that I’m minutes away from a metropolitan city.  Last night I ventured down town to Little Italy for a Mom’s Night Out event at the elegant Porto Vista Hotel.  We met at the Porto Vista’s rooftop bar which offers  a stunning view of the San Diego Harbor and downtown.

San Diego Cityscape from Porto Vista Rooftop Bar

This hotel has a very distinctive vibe of retro urban chic.  Step into the lobby and you are greeted by a bright yellow vintage vespa.  Everything is sleek and post modern.  I stopped by The Glass Door Restaurant, which offers city views through wall length windows or share an intimate cocktail with  your  love out on the balcony.

Fun quirks of this sophisticated hotel are the fact that you can bring your dog to the Friday HappyHour or attend a free yoga class.  Although it’s not the first place you would think of when planning your family vacation, it’s proximity to the airport and down town as well as shuttles to many nearby attractions make it a destination to consider.


As twilight fell over the city and I headed home, I took a moment to reflect on my downtown San Diego adventure.  I plan to return with my children this summer.  It’s time that they get a taste of  life in the big city and see the world outside their sheltered corner of San Diego.  I’m looking forward to exploring the restaurants of Little Italy, and maybe going in search of the best gelato San Diego has to offer.

I enjoyed networking with other bloggers including  ,Meladramatic Mommy, Mommy of Many, Ali Starkey, Natalie at   I had a chance to reconnect with my friend San Diego Momma.  I always turn to her blog when I need to laugh…and think, or maybe think…and laugh.  I also had a chance to talk with Charity Lacey, a San Diego Marketing expert with a new business venture  You + Me Marketing designed to connect bloggers and brands.

Family Adventure Guidebooks participates in Delicious Baby’s Photo Friday Blog Roundup.  Other places you could find me this week are Mother of All Trips Mondays are for Dreaming,  The Carnival of Cities currently visiting Travel Savvy Mom, and Trekaroos Spotlight Thursday .    My post about the new Polar Bear Plunge exhibit at the San Diego Zoo is now live at Uptake. Phew!  I’ve been busy this week.

Off for a well deserved rest ;) .  Have a great weekend!

Happy Trails,



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Armchair Adventures: Julie and Julia

May 4th, 2010 by bsmith | 4 Comments | Filed in Mondays are for Dreaming, Uncategorized

I will confess yesterday was the classic terrible, horrible, no good ,very bad day.  I decided to take the tests for both my classes on the same night.  So I spent most of the day studying and reading, only to find when I got to class, that the key points I thought I knew so well had just flown from my brain and the 20 point question was on something that I didn’t quite understand from last semester.

I didn’t feel like I was a stellar mom either.  My littest guy had multiple tantrums, I made the mistake of asking his preschool director for parenting advice.  She gave me an answer that made sense for any ordinary kid, but my gut tells me that it won’t make sense for this particular kid, so I ended up still confused and angry that I had revealed my parental incompetence.

When I got home I turned to Netflix to find something to escape my troubles, usually a fruitless endeavor.  Then I came upon it…Julie and Julia.  I had heard a little bit about the movie, starred Meryl Streep and Amy Adams,  directed by Nora Ephron, what did I have to lose?  What hadn’t clicked for me is this is a movie about blogging and travel.

 A few minutes into the movie the Ah Ha moments started coming fast and furious.  Both characters spoke to me.  I appreciated Julie’s vunerability, her attempt to learn how to focus (also my quest), and her insecurity as she wondered if anyone was listening to what she was writing…well are you? 

Like Julia Child, I am learning more about where my passion lies and how I can pursue it.  I was inspired by the fearlessness with which Julia Child approached her life and her career.  I think that my approach is characterized by timidness and that’s something I need to try harder to overcome.  I’m heading to a blogger Mom’s Night Out on Thursday, and I’ve been desperately trying to find a friend or neighbor to go with some so I don’t have to approach that crowd alone.  Hopefully Julia’s spirit will embolden me to just march in, start introducing myself, and  passing out business cards. 

 Jared, my littlest guy told me this morning, “Mom, I’m so glad you’re a blogger so you don’t have to go to work.”  Funny how the little person in my life can remind me of my ultimate goal, carve a place for myself as a writer and a business person so I can be there at 2:30 when the kids come home from school and spend the summer days at the beach or at LEGOLAND.

The other thing that was wonderful about this movie is that it reveals to us how Julia Child fell in love with France.  This woman’s passion for the food and people of France has inspired me to dream of dining in Paris and taking in the Louvre.  A few years ago I read an article about a  bicycling  tour  through Provence.  Well, I would need to learn how to ride a bicycle…but wouldn’t the adventure be worth it?

It was a very powerful experience watching a movie about a person falling in love with a country, and it reminded me of how my visits to Latin America have transformed me as well.  Perhaps in my journey of self exploration it’s time to get back to that.  I’m wondering if food would be a way to reconnect.  Perhaps its time to learn how to make crispy Venezuelan arepas and Argentinan empanadas de choclo.   I would love to learn to make those gorgeous pastas  a la Roquefort.  Don’t get me started on the ice cream…we may be in Buenos Aires this December and the ice cream store is the first place I will be heading with my kids.  I have never tasted ice cream like that anywhere else in the world.

I may go on to read the book or I may not.  I did a little online research and the real Julie Powell is very different from her idealized movie counterpart.  Just as Julie enjoys the myth of  Julia Child, but is challenged by the real life person, I prefer to hang out with the idealized blogger and chef for a while before exploring the grittier side of her rise to fame.  I do, however think I’ll pick up a copy of My Life in France and enjoy Julia Child’s french adventures.

If you are interested in joining me on this armchair adventure here are some suggestions:

My Life in France (Movie Tie-In Edition) (Random House Movie Tie-In Books)

Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen

Julie & Julia

Although it’s not Monday, I am including this post in The Mother of All Trips  Mondays Are For Dreaming blog roundup.  I hope it inspires other travelers and bloggers to do some dreaming of their own!

Happy Trails,



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New Addition to LEGOLAND, California: “Clutch Powers 4-D Adventure”+ Legoland Ticket Giveaway Info.

May 3rd, 2010 by bsmith | No Comments | Filed in Legoland, San Diego Day Trips

Clutch and Friends, Clutch Powers 4-D Movie Legoland, California

This Spring my kids and I were invited to preview LEGOLAND’s newest 4-D movie, “Clutch Powers” and spend the day at LEGOLAND.  As usual LEGOLAND delivered a fast paced and creative 4-D movie experience that great for preschoolers and young school aged kids.  We also received a complimentary Clutch Powers DVD that was watched many times at home.

As long as your child can handle a darkened movie theater with lots of noise and some surprises, (mist, blowing air, etc), this movie will be lots of fun.  It’s a great way to take a rest after a busy day at LEGOLAND.

I enjoy Clutch Powers a lot because he is creative and solves problems using LEGO Bricks.  One of my favorite things about the LEGOLAND  movie is that the creations look very much like the models I see being invented at home.  They are interesting, show out of the box thinking, but don’t look like the slick LEGO models that you can buy in the store.  I think this encourages kids to think creatively and problem solve.  With a little imagination, it’s easy to become Clutch Powers saving the universe with their LEGO building prowess. 

The movie starts out with a lot of competition and infighting among Clutch and his friends, but ends with a message of cooperation.  It might be good  to review this lesson on your way out the door, since of course the competitive extremes are what get the big laughs from the kids.

If you think your kids would enjoy a copy of the Clutch Powers DVD you can purchase  LEGO: The Adventures of Clutch Powers at Amazon using the highlighted link.

I was joined at the preview by my friend Colleen Lanin, from Travel with her daughter.   Our kids immediately bonded and we had a great time exploring the park together.  You can read more about the Family Adventure Guidebooks/ Travel Mamas adventures at LEGOLAND at Colleen’s Travel Mamas Blog.  She is also giving away free LEGOLAND tickets plus a copy of my excellent LEGOLAND Guidebook so be sure to stop by.

Summer is coming up.  If you want to make the most of your LEGOLAND visit, check out my UPTAKE post on beating the summer crowds at LEGOLAND, California.

Happy Trails,


*Photo Courtesy of Legoland California

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