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Timken Museum of Art front entrance at duskIt’s “Kids Free in October” month and once again families have a perfect opportunity to introduce their litter to all the great arts and culture attractions in San Diego. Over a dozen museums in Balboa Park are offering free admission for pups 12 and under (in human years) through October 31 as part of the San Diego Museum Council’s Kids Free in October program. To participate, pack leaders need to register on the Museum Council’s website and print out a coupon for each museum they wish to visit (dozens of other museums across San Diego County are part of the program as well, but we won’t talk about those here).

For parents who are just happy to remember to bring their cell phone when they leave the house, or simply don’t have pockets, like me, to carry around a wad of coupons for the entire month, I have good news: There are several coupon-free ways to take advantage of kids free month in October.

Halloween Family Day — As part of the spooktacular park-wide annual Family Day on October 29, kids 12 and under are admitted free with a paying adult at participating Balboa Park museums — no coupon required! There will also be plenty of creepy crafts and other activities, both inside and outside of the museums, and food trucks from 11am to 4pm that day.

San Diego Zoo — Still looking for ways to celebrate the San Diego Zoo’s 100-year anniversary? You’re in luck! Several centennial-themed programs and activities for kids are planned throughout October, during which kids 12 and under are admitted free to the Zoo without a special coupon.

Where Kids Are Always Free (at least for the foreseeable future) — Though most Balboa Park museums let kids five and under, or two and under, in for free, there are several museums that are truly free for kids year round (not just in October). The San Diego Museum of Art is free for anyone 17 and under; and the Timken Museum of Art is always free for everyone. Meanwhile, kids 12 and under are admitted free at the Museum of Photographic Arts, the Veterans Museum, and the San Diego Art Institute.

So wherever you can, please save a tree or two (because I really love trees), and take advantage of these free opportunities for kids that don’t require a coupon!

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With all the pups back in school already, Labor Day weekend is no longer the summer swansong it used to be. Not surprisingly, Labor Day weekend is now the least-traveled holiday period of the year, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California. None of that of course changes the fact that we have a three-day weekend coming up, and it still feels like summer (at least I’m still shedding like it is). This means that families will need to find plenty of cool things to do this weekend that don’t involve long road trips.

Here are just a few suggestions of cool, fun things happening in your own backyard, a.k.a. Balboa Park:

Starsky and Hutch's 1975 red Grand Torino from the Star Cars exhibitionNational Parks

What if I told you it’s possible to visit many of our country’s National Parks without leaving the city limits? The spectacular IMAX film National Parks Adventure at the Fleet Science Center and the exhibition America's Cathedrals: Photography and the National Parks at the Museum of Photographic Arts transport visitors to some of the most majestic natural landmarks in the world to honor the 100-year anniversary of the National Parks system.

Science Fiction, Science Future

Also at the Fleet Science Center, families can learn the science behind the fiction of their favorite science fiction movies without sneaking onto a Hollywood movie set. A variety of very cool hands-on displays allows pups to design a cyborg, move objects with their mind, talk to a robot, and discover the truth about traveling through wormholes.

Star Cars

Speaking of saving you a weekend trip to Hollywood, the San Diego Automotive Museum is offering a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for autograph hounds to meet some of the most famous TV and movie car celebrities of the past 75 years. Among them are the 1958 Plymouth Fury from the movie Christine, Starsky and Hutch’s 1975 Grand Torino, and KITT, the 1991 Pontiac Firebird fromKnight Rider.

Kawaii in the Garden

Pop culture icons are also in ample supply at the Japanese Friendship Garden where a pack-friendly display explores the Japanese cultural fascination with cuteness. The various artforms on display reveal the historical and aesthetic influences behind everything that’s cute and extra adorable in contemporary Japan, though I may never fully understand the whole Hello Kitty thing.

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If there’s one thing I tell my bipedal readers is better than Macy’s Museum Month, it’s a leap year Museum Month. That’s because area residents and their packs have one full extra day to squeeze in all 40 San Diego County museums that are offering half-price admission during the month of February.

Saving a few bones is nothing to bark at, and the Museum Month Pass available at any area Macy’s Department Store (no purchase necessary) is the golden ticket to discounted admission for up to four pack members at dozens of San Diego County’s finest cultural attractions.

Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, exterior, Museum Month 2016If you feel like you’ve bitten off more than you can chew even with the extra day, I recommend taking puppy steps by starting with the 13 participating museums in Balboa Park:

With the 2015 Balboa Park Centennial celebrations coming to a close, a number of Balboa Park museums are installing new exhibitions for 2016. The Mingei International Museum, Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, Museum of Photographic Arts, The San Diego Museum of Art, and San Diego Automotive Museum, to name a few, already have (or will have by the end of the month) fresh displays in their galleries.

So don’t let another leap day go by without fetching a Museum Month Pass!

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I don’t need to tell pack leaders that raising kids is expensive. By the time their pups graduate from obedience school and head off to college, middle-income parents will have spent an average of nearly $250,000 for a child born in 2013, according to recent government estimates.

A quarter of a million dollars for just one kid!

It’s now more important than ever to save a few bones whenever possible. I know something that can help: over 40 museums in San Diego, including 12 in Balboa Park, are offering free admission to pups 12 and under during the month of October with each paid adult.

Now in its fifth year, the San Diego Museum Council’s Kids Free in October is the perfect opportunity for families to expose their litter to some of the best family-friendly cultural entertainment in San Diego as well as a number of special exhibitions planned especially for the Balboa Park Centennial.

Participating Balboa Park museums include

Japanese Friendship Garden
Marston House
Mingei International
Museum of Photographic Arts
Reuben H. Fleet Science Center
San Diego Automotive Museum
San Diego History Center
San Diego Model Railroad Museum
San Diego Natural History Museum
The San Diego Museum of Art
Timken Museum of Art
Veterans Museum at Balboa Park

Here’s the catch (there’s always a catch): visit the San Diego Museum Council’s website to download a special coupon (good for up to two children per adult). Each museum requires its own coupon, so print out a ream of them if you need to.

If you prefer to save a tree, most museums are granting free admission for children 12 and under (with paid adult) without a coupon during Balboa Park’s Halloween Family Day on Saturday, October 31. There will also be dozens of free hands-on activities and crafts throughout the Park that day (more info to come in a future blog post).

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With Labor Day falling so late this year when many schools are already back in session, families may feel like they are on a short leash for this three-day holiday weekend. Fortunately lower gas prices are making car trips the way to go for a quick Labor Day weekend getaway.

Pack leaders will be especially happy to hear that they still have time to catch this year’s biggest exhibitions in Balboa Park, including many that offer an interactive playground atmosphere.

Circus: Science Under the Big Top

Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, thru Sept. 7

This is your last chance to step right up and experience life as a circus acrobat, contortionist, juggler, or clown through a variety of interactive displays while learning the science of how humans and animals perform such incredible feats.



San Diego Air & Space Museum, thru Sept. 13

Your pooch will never have another chance to eat your kids’ math homework after they learn how much understanding algebra and geometry can improve their skateboarding, video game design, music-making, mountain biking, rock climbing, snowboarding, and robotics skills.


Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland

The San Diego Museum of Art, thru Oct. 13

The legendary playground is brought back to life through original paintings, drawings, posters, films, sound recordings, and artifacts, revealing how folks had fun before smart phone apps told them how to sniff around and interact with their environment.


Nighttime Zoo — Shake, Rattle, & Roar

The San Diego Zoo, thru Sept. 7

Watch my favorite animal friends move to a different beat as a variety of musical performances throughout the zoo get everyone’s claws and paws tapping.

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It should come as no surprise that San Diego’s illustrious pedigree as a military town is interwoven with Balboa Park’s history as the cultural epicenter of San Diego. In fact, during World War II, the Park proudly served as a base for training and convalescence of service members. Seventy years later, Balboa Park is still home to the Bob Wilson Naval Hospital, a top dog medical facility in the region.

Continuing this rich tradition, seven Balboa Park museums will once again offer free admission to active-duty military personnel and their families, including Reserves and the National Guard, through Labor Day as part of the Blue Star Museums program.

Presenting a number of special exhibitions in celebration of 2015, the participating museums include

This means any dog tag-wearing service member can bring his or her pack (up to five members) to see such Centennial–worthy exhibitions as 7 Billion Others at the Museum of Photographic Arts, Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861–2008 at The San Diego Museum of Art, Ingenious! The World of Dr. Seuss at the San Diego History Center, and Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum at the Mingei International Museum … to name a few.

But that’s only half the story. Seven other museums in San Diego County, including the nearby New Children’s Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown are also on the itinerary. For a full list of participating museums in California, sniff around the website of the National Endowment for the Arts, which co-sponsors this program.

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As a highly trained canine, I have a keen appreciation for any fellow four-legged creature who knows how to put on a good show under the circus big top. Not only does it take practice and skill to perform unimaginable feats night after night, but a deep knowledge of math, physics, and biology.

My bipedal readers can now get an inside look at how both humans and animals are capable of such daring exploits, thanks to science, in a new exhibition at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, Circus: Science Under the Big Top.

Across 20 interactive exhibitions, pups of all ages can learn (and practice) how to walk a tightrope, perform aerial acrobatics like a trapeze artist, juggle different kinds of objects without chewing on them, lift heavy weights, become a contortionist, and hit their landing as a human cannonball.

There’s also an important section on communicating with animals so humans can learn how to properly perform with them. To get in the right frame of mind, visitors (both kids and their adult handlers) are invited to dress up as a lion, tiger, or bear.

As an exhibition designed to teach the science behind the circus spectacle, I was especially pleased to hear one exhibit uncovers the illusion behind the sideshow flea circus. The very idea that the most annoying creature on the planet is capable of being a trained circus performer on par with some of my fury friends has always chaffed my hide.

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Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, windmill building education programLet’s face it — most pups are more concerned with having fun NOW than what happened in Balboa Park 100 years ago. You can drag them by the leash to all the great exhibitions, performances, and special events taking place this year you want, but chances are they will mostly remember the fun times they had at the event — not the Balboa Park Centennial itself.

Perhaps the best way to help everyone in your litter appreciate that they are part of an epic 100-year anniversary of an Exposition that put the City of San Diego on the world map is to enroll them in a Balboa Park summer camp.

Over a dozen park institutions participate each year in the Balboa Park summer camp program, collectively offering a one-stop summer camp experience for kids of all ages all summer long. Full-day and half-day camps (which can be combined to make it a full day) are available in such a wide-range of subject areas that pups will be begging for more.

So instead of sitting around the house all-day connected to electronic devices and jumping on and chewing up the furniture, they can be learning how to dig up dinosaur fossils or ancient civilizations, launch a space rocket, sing and dance on stage, create an artistic masterpiece, care for endangered species, plan and build a railroad, or design the perfect automobile … to mention a just few possibilities.

Also, Balboa Park museums are making a special effort to mark the Centennial with a remarkable slate of special exhibitions this year. And since many summer camps are designed around specific exhibitions, pups will have unprecedented access to sniff around some of the biggest shows celebrating 2015, giving them even more memories to share with their own brood one day.

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Humback Whales, mother and calf, IMAX film, Reuben H. Fleet Science CenterBiologically speaking, there are very few creatures in the animal kingdom that can actually sing, partly because for some reason the vocalizations that dogs and wolves make are incorrectly termed “howling.” Such is not the case for the seafaring humpback whale. Not only are these majestic creatures the largest mammals on the planet, but they are among the world’s most widely recorded singers who don’t collect royalty checks.

Since it’s impractical to hear them live in concert, a new IMAX film at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, appropriately titled Humpback Whales, enables audiences to see these prolific chanteurs up close in a life-size format.

Narrated by my favorite Jedi, Ewan McGregor, the immersive film follows humpback whales on their annual 6,000-plus mile round-trip journey, displaying not only their singing talents, but also revealing in rare footage how they feed, play, and take care of their pups.

In one unique behavior captured live on film, called bubble netting, the whales co-operatively trap a school of fish in a tunnel of air bubbles, signal to the others through “singing,” and then simultaneously swim up for the feeding frenzy. Now that’s what I call singing for your super! (though I personally find begging a much more effective means for getting a mouthful of fresh seafood.)

In addition to playing an important role in their feeding, playing, and mating habits, singing was largely responsible for bringing humpback whales back from the brink of extinction over 40 years ago. Beginning in 1970, the first recordings of their singing brought increased awareness to their plight and laid the foundation for an environmental movement to save the whales, making this IMAX film a tail-wagging feel-good story.

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Filling in for Cosmos, who is taking a much-needed vacation this week, is his only feline friend with a long-enough attention span to write a complete sentence, Randy.

Fence sitters still waiting for the purrfect opportunity to pounce on the many special exhibitions that celebrate Balboa Park’s Centennial year will be pleased to know February is Macy’s Museum Month. This means families of all stripes can receive half-price admission at over a dozen participating Balboa Park museums once they get their paws on a free Museum Month Passport at any Macy’s department store.

Those too busy catting around to visit a nearby Macy’s can now download a Museum Month Pass directly from the San Diego Museum Council’s website. The pass is good for up to four people, so if your litter has grown recently, be sure to snag more than one.

Museum Month runs through February 28, which will give you ample time to prowl around these exhibitions that are truly the cat’s meow of 2015:

The pass is also good for half-price admission at dozens of other cultural attractions throughout San Diego County. Unfortunately, none of them are as conveniently located all in one spot as the Balboa Park museums are. Just sayin’.

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