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Kid Friendly Sacramento Hotel: Best Western Sandman

June 14th, 2011 by bsmith | No Comments | Filed in Sacramento Adventures, Sacramento Family Travel

Jared enjoys the Grotto, Best Western Sandman Sacramento

Yesterday we officially kicked off our Sacramento road trip.  My mom grew up north of Sacramento in Auburn California.  The grand daughter of a gold miner, she has unique insight into this area.  For many years I have dreamed of taking a trip up North to explore our mining heritage and to introduce the kids to all the kid friendly Sacramento attractions that I have visited over the  years .  I’ve been waiting and waiting for the little guys to be old enough to enjoy such a journey and we’re  finally here!!!!

My mom discovered a fun and kid friendly hotel about a 2o minute walk from Old Town Sacramento.  From the outside the Best Western Sandman looks like the classic 1960′s style motor lodge.    Behind  closed doors, the rooms are updated and spacious.  They include a microwave and refrigerator. The also have free Wi-Fi that actually works!  The hotel has a laundry room and a fitness room as well as a small pool. 

 The kids loved the “secret” gate that led out to the banks of the American River.  We all enjoyed a walk before taking a dip in the pool.

American River Walk, Sacramento California

The Best Western Sandman serves continental breakfast including waffles.  The attendant was so kind, helping the kids get their food as I juggled the needs of  two hungry younsters.

Jared is still discovering new cool statues throughout the property.  I’ll take some  pictures of the more ambitious works of art (some  are two stories high), but here are two of Jared’s favorites.

Jared and his Bear Buddies, Best Western Sandman Sacramento

Off to the train museum and Sutter’s Fort.

Happy Trails,


*Best Western Sandman did not provide me with anything complimentary.  In fact they don’t know I exist.  I just think that their hotel is great for families with kids.


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Photo Friday: Ethiopian Feast

June 10th, 2011 by bsmith | 2 Comments | Filed in Washington DC

Ken and Justin prepare for an Ethiopian Feast

Last June we took my oldest child to Washington D.C. after his fifth grade graduation.  One advantage of a big kid only trip is that you can be a lot more adventurous with your choice of restaurant.  I found this Ethiopian restaurant on Yelp near our Virginia hotel.  We enjoyed the sour tasting flat bread and the wide assortment of items to dip it in. 

On the same trip, we had a delicious sushi dinner and spent way too much money at the Capitol Cafeteria.

Next time you travel, get bold with your restaurant choices. You’ll never know what you and your family will discover.

Happy Trails,


Stop by Delicious Baby’s Photo Friday to see some great photos of her Vancouver adventures.


Quick Packing Tips for Surviving a Summer Road Trip with Kids

June 8th, 2011 by bsmith | 2 Comments | Filed in Uncategorized

Among my friends my claim to fame is that I’m the woman who takes so many road trips with her kids, usually on her own.  When we relocated to Southern California, I committed myself to eight hour road trips to visit family and friends back in Santa Cruz.  Combined with the fact that plane tickets for a family of five are steep, we spend a lot of time on the road for our family vacations.  I’m in the midst of preparing for a road trip up to the California Gold Country and thought I would share a few packing tips  for your summer road trips:

Divide=Conquer:  Pack a Separate Suitcase for Each Stop

Since most of our stops are only for a night or two I pack a series of small roller bags with the appropriate clothes for each hotel.  Then I just transfer PJ’s and toiletries from one suitcase to another.  The swim suits and towels go in a separate beach bag.  This strategy has served me well.  It’s easier to juggle kids when I have less bags to wrangle and dirty clothes don’t get mixed up with clean clothes.

Stay Comfy Smith Family!

I have the kids bring a soft blanket and a pillow .  These come in handy when we are leaving on a chilly dark morning or arriving late at night.  I also throw in a camping air mattress, sheet,  and pump in case the kids don’t want to share a bed or the room can’t accommodate everyone.  I also make sure that everyone has flip flops to wear at pit stops since my kids like to take off their shoes when they travel, and I don’t want to waste time with socks and shoelaces for a short bathroom stop.

Well Stocked Cooler=Road Trip Success

I have a small cooler with wheels in the trunk where we keep healthy snacks for pit stops  as well as a small bag of non perishable snacks up front.  I also stock the cooler with some picnic food so we can avoid restaurants  at our destination  and have do it yourself room service.  Instead of waiting for food and paying high prices for tip and taxes, we have a picnic in our room with food from our cooler supplemented by TV dinners or food from the supermarket deli counter.

A few bottles of Starbucks Mochas  purchased from my local grocery store keep me alert for less than that fancy Starbucks drive through coffee.

Looking forward to a summer full of Smith Family Adventures!  Where are you headed?

Happy Trails,



Dreaming of Florida Adventures

June 5th, 2011 by bsmith | Comments Off | Filed in Family Travel, Florida With Kids

In a few weeks I’ll  be on a plane to Florida.  It will be our first family plane ride in five years so I expect it to be a little rough.  I’ve purchased Gameboys off e-Bay and am brainstorming  other ways to keep the kids busy and quiet for the flight.  I think the trip will be worthwhile, however.  It will be wonderful for the kids to experience a different part of the country and explore  unique marine ecosystems.  We plan to snorkel, kayak, fish, and collect shells during our Florida family adventure.

Our first stop will be West Palm Beach, and today I’m dreaming of a getaway at the Breakers Palm Beach Resort.  This newly refurbished classic luxury resort would be the perfect place for a Florida family getaway.  We could take dip in one of the many pools and enjoy the private beach club.  The kids would delight in the children’s activities while I  read a novel pool side.  It would be a great way to relax after my crazy plane flight.  They also have some great family friendly promotions right now, like free day camp for certain weekdays and free kids meals at their restaurant.  Despite these perks, for  this family on a budget, the Breaker’s may be an impossible dream.  Still, with a little luck and the help of the family travel website Trekaroo, my dream may actually come true.  They are running a contest for a three night stay at the Breakers Palm Beach.  Contest ends on Sunday, June 6th so head on over and enter.   Hope I’m the winner though ;) .

Happy Trails,



Photo Friday: Spring Comes to the Self Realization Temple Meditation Garden Encinitas

June 3rd, 2011 by bsmith | 4 Comments | Filed in Outdoor Adventures, San Diego Adventures, San Diego Day Trips, San Diego Family Travel, Uncategorized


Family Adventure Guidebooks Photo Journalist in Training, Justin Smith

This post is made possible by one of the hansomest young photographers I know,  my son Justin Smith, age 12.  I did not join him on this outing.  Although this garden really brings out the best in kids who are able to walk quietly and use their inside voices, it is not appropriate for preschoolers, toddlers and even exuberant kindergarteners.  Jared and I stayed home!  Recently my seven year old daughter joined my mom for a trip to the Self Realization Temple Meditation Garden.  It was a rite of passage for Destiny that she was able to enjoy the garden in a quiet and mature manner, and we lavished her with praise.  Looking forward to that hopefully not so far off day, when the entire family can enjoy this garden.  In the mean time I live vicariously through Justin’s gorgeous photos:

Cactus in Bloom, Self Realization Temple Garden Encinitas

Koy Pond, Self Realization Temple Garden Encinitas

Cacutus by the Sea, Self Realization Temple Garden Encinitas

Check out Delicious Baby’s Photo Friday for more amazing travel photos!


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Photo Friday: Spring at San Elijo Lagoon

May 26th, 2011 by bsmith | 3 Comments | Filed in San Diego Adventures

The Gillin Cousins at San Elijo Lagoon

 My father passed away on May 2nd about six months after his diagnosis with pancreatic cancer.  If you haven’t heard much from this blog lately, it’s because I took a sabbatical from blogging and many other activities to focus on enjoying my last few months with my Dad.  It was a worthwhile endeavor.  My father, John Gillin relished life. His warm and generous spirit touched the lives of many.  He was blessed by visits from friends and family from all over the country in his last few months.  The kids had the chance to meet and get to know their relatives.  We shared many happy family occasions this year.

After Dad’s death, my Godfather Terry  my dad’s cousin and my cousin, Colin flew in for my Dad’s funeral.  It was so fun to watch them meet and get to know each other for the first time.  Each shared characteristics that were also intrinsic to my dad; his sparkling blue eyes, his quiet sense of humor, and his warm calm approach to life.  Even in this difficult time it was extraordinary to spend time together as a family.  My son Justin was overjoyed because Colin brought his son 15 year old Graham with him.  After years of enduring gatherings of younger, (and mostly female) cousins, Justin had finally  found a kindred spirit.

Touching Down at San Elijo Lagoon

One of our weekend activities was an outing to nearby San Elijo lagoon.  The flowers were in bloom and my cousin Colin the wild life biologist helped us to understand more about the bird behaviors we observed.  My six year old is a big fan of anything green, especially frogs, so he enjoyed visiting with this fellow at the nature center.

Jared's Froggy Friend, San Elijo Visitors Center

Justin was inspired by the wild flowers in bloom, and took some amazing nature shots.

Cactus in Bloom, San Elijo

Blooming Daisy, San Elijo Lagoon, Del Mar

Mom and Jared San Elijo Lagoon

I love the above photo of Jared and me.  It really captures the joy of that day.  Our San Elijo adventure was not only the perfect way to celebrate spring.  It was a powerful reminder of the gift of spending time with extended family.

Happy Trails,


P.S. For more spring adventures check out Delicious Baby’s Photo Friday Blog Roundup.


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Move It Monday: Motivation

May 23rd, 2011 by bsmith | No Comments | Filed in Move It Monday

I just returned from an outstanding writing work shop by the Op-Ed Project .  This is an organization that is working hard to change the grim statistic that only 20% or less of the opinion pieces published on major news outlets (everything from the New York Times to the Huffington Post) are written by women.  If there are any mom bloggers out there who would like to change this statistic and perhaps the world check out the Op-Ed Project website to see when a workshop is coming to a city near you.  In the mean time they have some great resources about writing and submitting Op-Eds.  I am hoping to use what I learned in the class to take my one woman campaign to keep California’s State Parks open, to the masses.  Hopefully I will be posting a link to my very own published Op-Ed soon.

However, I digress.  At this work shop I met an exercise physiologist who doesn’t like to exercise.  She knows about the tremendous benefits that exercise can have for her health and well being, so she works out, but she doesn’t really enjoy it.  Reflecting upon this revelation led me to the following conclusions.

1) Exercise must be vitally important to human health for this woman to devote her life to the study of how it effects the human body, despite the fact she doesn’t enjoy doing it.

2) That’s just not how I roll.

I have known at least something about the benefits of exercise for myself and my children for many years, but I didn’t do anything about this knowledge until I consciously began to seek out exercise that I enjoy.  Finding a way to enjoy physical activity took some creativity and willingness to try new things.  I had to relearn how to ride a bike and force myself not to stop because I looked very silly teetering around my cul de sac.  I had to be open to modern technology, throwing caution to the wind, to play Dance Central on Kinect (Currently my absolute favorite way to exercise).  I had to model for my kids how they could have fun skiing even though they might come tumbling down the mountain and get their pants full of snow.

Although today I fell off the  wagon,I  still manage to fit in some kind of exercise at least 3-4 times a week.  Thanks to my exercise physiologist friend  and her excellent blog ,I’m also going to start doing some strength training and perhaps some sit ups and pushups.  Those necessary good for you but not too fun exercises should build muscle and reduce the mommy flab earned by two pregnancies.  I’ll let you know how that goes.

Happy Trails,



Through the Darkness We Will Rise! Benefit for Japan This Saturday at the Moonlight Amphitheatre

April 25th, 2011 by bsmith | 1 Comment | Filed in At Home Adventures

Through The Darkness We Will Rise, Benefit for Japanese Tsunami Relief

One of the the things I love about this big old crazy world is how very small it is.  Through the years, I have had the privilege of learning about the culture and people of Japan from friends and former students.  When I was a camper at YMCA World Camp,  two Japanese exchange students spent time in our home.  Their warmth and good humor were infectious.  I dreamt of visiting their beautiful country and was disappointed when I didn’t win a Rotary Club scholarship to make my dream come true.

Later I had the privilege of teaching ESL to several groups of Japanese girls.  They were a teacher’s dream: organized and eager to learn.  In our classroom exchanges they learned about US culture and I caught a glimpse of their culture.  They joyfully shared a Japanese popular song at their goodbye luncheon.  That memory remains a treasured part of my teaching memories.

My dear friend Naomi Shirashi Cooper is helping to organize a benefit this Saturday to benefit the US Japan Council, a non profit organization which is raising money to support NGO’s and the Japanese Red Cross who are assisting tsunami victims in Japan.  Naomi is from Japan and still has family there.  Luckily her family does not live in the affected area, but after the tsunami she had friends who were seeking out family members who lived in the areas that were hit. 

 I admire Naomi’s dedication to the country of her birth and want to support her in any way I can.  Please leave the kids home with Dad and join me for a Mom’s Night Out of great music and shopping in support of Japan.  100% of the proceeds will go to Japanese relief.  Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door.  Doors open at 4:30.  The show starts at 6:30.  No outside food is allowed, but the concession stands will be open so bring some cash for dinner. The show itself will be broadcast in Japan.  Let’s hope it brings some comfort to those who watch it. 

Visit the Through the Darkness We Will Rise! website to find out more about this outstanding event.  Invite a friend or two or twenty to join you for this Mom’s Night Out for a great cause.

See you on Saturday!

Happy Trails,



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Happy Easter from Family Adventure Guidebooks!

April 24th, 2011 by bsmith | No Comments | Filed in At Home Adventures

A few photos of our at home Easter adventures:

Saturday Easter Egg Hunt:

Jared enjoyed the eggs, but not the bunny!
Much happier cuddled up to big sis!

Easter Egg Hunt at Nana and Baba’s After Church:

Easter Joy

Baba’s Easter Smile

Swimming and Crafts with My Sister In Law’s Family

Justin Splash Down

Destiny and Jared Hard at Work on Their Easter Birdhouse

The Final Product

 Hope you had a Blessed Easter with your family.  Stay tuned for Move it Monday…

Happy Trails,




Move It Monday: Mesquite’s Adventures, Using the Dog to Motivate the Kids to Hike

April 18th, 2011 by bsmith | No Comments | Filed in Camping with Kids, Dog-Friendly Travel, Las Vegas Adventures, Las Vegas with Kids, Road Trips, Smith Family Adventures, Spring Adventures, State Park Sundays, Traveling with the Dog, Uncategorized

Mesquite and Justin, Cave Explorers, Valley of Fire State Park, Las Vegas Nevada

Twelve years of parenting has taught me that bringing the dog along is one of the best ways to get kids hiking.  My friends and neighbors thought I was crazy to bring the dog on our last vacation, but Mesquite had an awesome time and provided the kids with motivation to keep moving.

Sniff Stop, Valley of Fire State Park, Las Vegas Nevada

My sweet eight year old puppy scaled rocks and hiked to the petrified forest at Valley of Fire State Park.  She reminded us to stop and rest in the shade from time to time. 

Even back at the swanky Oasis RV park, she motivated us to walk several blocks to get the the Doggy Park which provided an hour of kid friendly entertainment as the kids happily through ball and bones for the Doggy Park visitors while Mequite hung out in the shade and enjoyed being petted.

The great thing about Nevada State Parks is that they let dogs on almost all the trails as long as they are on a leash.  Because of this liberal policy Mesquite was able to join us for most of our adventures.  Something to keep in mind when planning a dog and kid friendly trip.

Happy Trails,


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