Just like any other author, Jennifer Best wants to sell lots of copies of her latest book, Best Family Adventures: Santa Barbara County. But before delving into an interview to talk about it, she put first things first: She walked out of the room only to return with her homeschooled daughters and a math textbook, which she thrust out and asked, “What do you think this is? It’s a trapezoid, right?” And she nodded as if prompting an agreement. “Yeah, it has to be a trapezoid,” she said as she turned back to her daughter. “What we do now, is turn to the back and look it up, and oh, it's a quadrilateral.”
With that done, Best plopped herself down on the couch of her Orcutt home, tucked her bare feet underneath her, and brushed her long blond hair off her face. Once she got settled, she took a deep breath and started to talk about her latest book. But then the tea was ready and her two daughters, busy doing their homework, wanted some.
It quickly became easy to see why this former reporter embarked on a multi-year effort to compile a book of family adventures in San Luis Obispo County and now Santa Barbara County: to spend more time with her family. And she wants others to do the same with their families.
“We have all this electronic distraction,” she said. “If you do something peacefully together, somewhere quiet, without the distraction, that’s quality time together.”
In her jeans, green hoodie sweatshirt, and relaxed demeanor, Best doesn’t come across as pretentious—but she said she sometimes feels she does when she talks to people about things to do in the area. She explained, almost apologetically, that people often ask her if she’s been to this place or that location.
“And I don’t know what to say,” she admitted. “I don’t want to sound like a know-it-all, but yeah, I kind of wrote a book about it.”
But she quickly added a challenge: “If there’s something in the book I’ve left out or I don’t know about, my e-mail is in there and you can bring it to my attention. I love finding out about new places.”
Best Family Adventures: Santa Barbara County features maps, resources, and activities from a local’s perspective. Best said it isn’t just the highlights—she actually visited every pocket park, museum, and art gallery included. Her daughters visited most of them, too, though that’s not to say the book focuses only on activities children would like.
“I wanted to define family in a broader sense,” she said. “If you’ve never had children, then that’s your family. If your children are grown, then that’s your family now. For college students, that core group you are with all the time, that’s your family.”Family comes first for Best, who planned to leave her journalism career once her children were born. She did, but her former editor encouraged her to write a weekly column on her explorations around the area. She agreed.
“But I set down the terms: I’m taking my daughter with me. And I’m not doing it when she’s sick.”
With the rules set, Best spent 2 1/2 years writing about her family’s hiking adventures. Eventually, she realized the service she was providing to other families.
“Three different families said they were ripping out these stories and making binders, and I thought, ‘If they are making a book, maybe I should.’”
A San Luis Obispo native who now lives in Orcutt, Best said before writing her books she thought she knew everything there was to do in the area. Now she knows better—especially with her latest book covering Santa Barbara County. For instance, it includes places like the Natural History Museum, which she never had time to visit as a reporter.
“It’s a small place, but they have so much there,” she said. “And the docents are really good. Everyone who works there has a specialty in something about the area.”
And now Best herself has a specialty—an answer to anyone who complains there’s nothing to do around here: “You just slap down the book and say ‘Here’s 272 pages of things to do. Pick something.’”
Arts Editor Shelly Cone’s life is always an adventure. Join her at [email protected].