Being weaned in a coastal town like San Diego has given me a keen appreciation for the many underwater delicacies swimming just a few miles off of our scenic beaches. Unfortunately, my dog-paddling skills can only take me so far, requiring me to seek out other ways of sniffing out the many aquatic wonders found in the deep blue seas.
One important resource I’ve discovered are the IMAX films that premiere at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center every so often that explore the world’s vast and remote oceanic environments teeming with curious pawless creatures. A perfect example is the recently released Journey to the South Pacific that takes viewers to the center of the “Coral Triangle,” formed by the 17,500 islands that make up West Papua.
The film follows Jawi, a 13-year-old Papuan boy, who has to be the happiest kid you’ll ever meet who doesn’t run around with his own pet pooch. It quickly becomes apparent that children in this part of the world are so completely surrounded by playful creatures, both above and below the water surface, it would be nearly impossible to focus their attentions and affections on a single pet.
But with so many great creatures comes great responsibility, as Jawi soon learns while exploring reef life aboard the Kalabia, a floating classroom that teaches villagers how to protect the delicate life balance that they, and the planet, rely on.
Along the way we meet a colorful array of the 2,000 species of sea life that live or seek passage through the busy reefs, including sea turtles, manta rays, whale sharks, sea horses, corals, and other finned life forms I didn’t know how to spell while taking notes during a recent screening.
In addition to coming out of this film with an even greater appreciation for the incredible biodiversity land mammals can only dream of, interestingly, I also developed an unusual craving for anchovies.
Take it from an old gal like me: having a litter of pups is expensive. Keeping your entire brood equipped with video gaming gear, Barbie play sets, DVDs, iPods, iPads, bicycles, athletic shoes, designer clothes, and eventually smart phones and a car can take an enormous bite out of anyone’s nest egg.
That’s why I always keep a keen eye out for the best ways to save a few bones when it comes to family entertainment. Perhaps the greatest value I’ve sniffed out in a very long time is the recently launched Balboa Park Explorer Pass.
For less than the price of taking a family of four to a Southern California amusement park for one day, two and adults and up to four offspring (3–17) get unlimited general admission at 17 Balboa Park museums and cultural attractions for an entire year! At a price of only $199 for the Explorer Pass, even if you only visit each museum once during the entire year with your pack, you come out ahead—way ahead.
If you aren’t already sold (dog help you), you are probably wondering why you would even want to go to any of these museums more than once a year. For starters, most park museums, especially the bigger and more expensive ones like the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, the San Diego Museum of Art, and the Natural History Museum, change their exhibitions several times throughout the year, and most of them are included in the general admission price.
Many museums also offer free special programs throughout the year, such as family activity days, special tours, and concerts, as part of the day’s admission. These include the Natural History Museum’s Ms. Fizzle Wacky Science Sunday performances, the Family Sundays at the Mingei, the San Diego Museum of Art’s Old Masters of Music and Art and Thursday Night Jazz concert series—the list goes on and varies according to the season.
For anyone who still hasn’t clicked the Balboa Park Explorer Pass link above (again, dog help you), I can only assume you do not have a large pack to keep off the furniture. In that case, there are discounted passes available for individuals ($129) and seniors and students ($99). You can lick me later.
My mail bag has been overflowing with questions about Balboa Park’s West End. For example, one reader writes: Hey Cosmos, What’s all this monkey business I’m hearing about a new section of Balboa Park called the West End? As a weekly park visitor, I haven’t seen any buildings, gardens, or cultural attractions that haven’t always been there—at least in my lifetime.
Your keen canine senses are spot on! Other than the removal of cars from the Plaza de Panama last year, there haven’t been any significant changes or additions in the Park of late.
So what exactly is this Balboa Park West End?
It’s an awareness campaign to draw attention to the five attention-worthy cultural institutions in Balboa Park closest to the Cabrillo Bridge, which is in the midst of a massive restoration project to keep it standing for at least another 100 years.
The message is simply this: not only is it business as usual at the San Diego Museum of Man, the Old Globe Theater, The San Diego Museum of Art, the Timken Museum of Art, and the Mingei International Museum, but we have lots of extra special treats in store for our guests.
What kind of treats? The kind of tail-wagging spectacles my bipedal readers get especially excited about, including the whimsical Function & Fantasy exhibition at the Mingei, the intoxicating BEERology display at the Museum of Man, an acclaimed performance of The Winter’s Tale at the Old Globe, and two blockbuster shows featuring paintings by Robert Henri and Joaquin Sorolla later this spring at the Museum of Art.
For everyone else, it’s worth mentioning that the West End is also home to the historic Nate’s Point Dog Park, which is still open for business as well and accessible by crossing the Cabrillo Bridge on foot.
You’d think after 25 years I’d get over it, even if I was that old in human years: half-priced admission to dozens of museums throughout San Diego County, including over a dozen right here in my own backyard, Balboa Park, for an entire month!
Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t be happier for all my bipedal packmates, who can pick up their free Museum Month Pass at any participating Macy’s department store to receive their discounted entry privileges through the end of the month.
Unfortunately, not being a certified service animal, I am not allowed to accompany them. Instead, I’ll be spending many an hour home alone during the month of February awaiting my family’s return. Well, at least they always come home with smiles on their faces (the human equivalent to tail-wagging as I understand it) and plenty of information about what’s going on in Balboa Park museums that I can share with my readers.
So what can I look forward to missing? For starters, a number of interesting, first-class exhibits at these popular Balboa Park museums:
Japanese Friendship Garden
Marston House & Gardens
Mingei International Museum
Museum of Photographic Art
Reuben H. Fleet Science Center
San Diego Air & Space Museum
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 and Memorial Center
Fortunately for me, February is also Bark in the Park month (February 16) and the month that Lawn Programs return to the House of Hospitality International Cottages (February 23)—so I'll be back to my tail-wagging self in no time!.
The holiday season can be stressful enough without having a litter full of pups underfoot while shopping, decorating, baking, wrapping, and hosting. Add to that the fact that this time of year the energy level of most pups is at an all-time high thanks to a steady dose of holiday candy and the excitement over getting new toys.
While video games and DVDs offer some degree of distraction, who wants to hear the constant sounds of gunfire and explosions or cloying songs from animated movies while trying to get things done or even, heaven forbid, rest?
Thankfully, you can kennel your pups guilt-free for a few hours, or a few days, during the winter break at one of several different winter camps offered in Balboa Park this season.
The San Diego Natural History Museum, for instance, offers a number of one-day and one-week camps from Dec. 23 to Jan. 17, for grades 1–2 and 3–5. Camp topics that most pups won’t even realize are educational include Dinosaur C.S.I., Bug Hunter, Time Travelers, and Animal Mysteries, to name a few. Note that the deadline for one-day camps during the week of Dec. 23 is this Friday.
The Reuben H. Fleet Science Center also offers a flexible series of one-day and one-week camps from December 23 through January 3. So instead of letting your kids play video games all day, have them learn how to create games in a computer programming camp. Or how to build mega structures or an actual guitar.
Likewise, at the San Diego Junior Theatre winter camps, pups can spend their break learning to sing, dance, and act on stage at San Diego’s premiere theater for youth rather than barking along to the same Disney or Pixar video for the umpteenth time. Week-long camps for grades K–8 run from Dec. 23 through Jan. 10.
You can thank me later.
One would assume, given my particular species, there’s only one thing I care about this Thanksgiving — table scraps. While that’s not a completely incorrect assumption, there are unfortunately not enough trimmings to keep me adequately occupied for the entire four-day holiday weekend. I suspect the same goes for any of your bipedal guests, including ones with opposable thumbs, you’ll be putting up (with) this week.
Thankfully, being the host with the most during the holiday season is quite easy when you have Balboa Park in your backyard — or, in my case, is my backyard. Here is just a small sampler plate to whet your appetite:
- Mysteries of the Unseen World — Explore a world that even I can’t smell in the Reuben H. Fleet’s newest IMAX presentation. Note: the Fleet and the San Diego Zoo are the only park attractions open Thanksgiving Day.
- Ripley’s Believe It or Not — Though it’s hard to believe any of my readers still haven’t seen this blockbuster at the San Diego Air & Space Museum, now would be a good time to discover your relatives aren’t the oddest thing in San Diego this weekend.
- BEERology — Since you’ll likely be knocking back a few brewskis with your weird relatives anyway, why not learn about the history of beer-making and its impact on cultures around the world at the San Diego Museum of Man?
- Corvette: An American Icon Turns 60 — The perfect antidote to relatives driving you crazy during the holidays is driving them to Balboa Park to see an exhibition of classic Corvettes at the San Diego Automotive Museum.
- Please Be Seated — No need for holiday guests to be sitting around on their haunches all weekend when they can visit this unique exhibition that explores the history of, well, what people sit on at the Mingei International Museum.
Of course, weather permitting, there’s also a big, huge park, filled with award-winning gardens and historic architecture, to keep folks occupied and to help them burn off a few calories to make room for more table scraps.
The most frustrating thing about having such fine canine senses is that I can’t share the world I experience with my bipedal friends and family members. For example, when we pass by a bush outside one of Balboa Park’s historic buildings, all they smell are the scents coming off the brightly colored parts—the flowers, unaware that there’s a whole smorgasbord of equally interesting smells being emitted closer to the ground.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I heard about the new large-format film presentation, Mysteries of the Unseen World, at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, opening November 8. Apparently, there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye or even the snout—things that move too fast or too slow, are too small, or are just simply invisible to the human or canine eye.
However, thanks to new “super powers” provided by high-speed and time-lapse photography, electron microscopes, and other advanced technologies used in this movie, the unsmelt world can now be seen by everyone.
Interestingly, Mysteries of the Unseen World is produced by the same company, National Geographic, that brought us the Dog Whisperer, and is narrated by Forest Whitaker, who acted in such canine classics as Four Dogs Playing Poker and Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai.
Yet, one of the best things about this movie is finally coming face to face with those teeny tiny creatures we’ve been scratching at all these years, including eyelash mites, dust mites, cat fleas, ticks, head lice, and other microscopic organisms hitching a ride on us. On the flip side of the coin, this unique film also lets us see with infrared vision like a mosquito, or how a bee’s eyes see through ultraviolet light.
As entertaining and educational as this film promises to be, I still long for the day when technology advances to the point of allowing my human companions to smell the same world I do, because I know how much they’ll love it!
As much as I enjoy the wide diversity of scents I’m exposed to in Balboa Park each summer, as hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over the world pass through, I don’t mind getting the Park all to myself again after Labor Day weekend has passed.
That’s not to say that Balboa Park becomes a ghost town. Far from it. It’s just that more of my favorite local flavors come to the surface, and there’s no waiting in line in front of my favorite trees while overheated tourists enjoy a timeout in the shade.
I understand that my bipedal friends also appreciate the more manageable crowds this time of year, especially when it comes to the greatest benefit of living in San Diego County: Free Tuesdays.
With pups back in school and folks returning to the salt mines, I understand it may be difficult for many to take advantage. But that’s what personal days are for — aren’t they? I mean, after taking care of a few personal errands and appointments, what else are you going to do?
It would be a doggone shame to sit around on your keester when you can waltz into three or four different museums that are free on any given Tuesday to reconnect with your cultural heritage, learn about the latest discoveries in science and nature, or discover a new hobby.
Take next Tuesday (the third one of the month) for example. That’s when The San Diego Museum of Art, Mingei International Museum, the Japanese Friendship Garden, the San Diego Art Institute, and the Museum of Man are free. That’s five first-rate cultural organizations for the one low price of FREE to any San Diego County resident!
So before filling up your next Tuesday with meetings and appointments with clients, you may want to consult with the Balboa Park Calendar first to check on which museums are free and what they currently have on exhibit.
As a canine, I’m inherently pack-conscious, whether it’s my immediate domestic pack or my Balboa Park dog park pack. But around the Fourth of July, I’m reminded of my place in the United Packs of America. And it just so happens that a number of Balboa Park institutions* are honoring our national pack this year with cultural displays showcasing the many local flavors of American culture.
Allied Craftsmen Today at the Mingei International Museum, for instance, explores the significant growth of the arts and crafts movement in this country following World War II by highlighting San Diego’s local artists collective (a.k.a. pack), one of the few still around today.
Bottled & Kegged: San Diego’s Craft Brew Culture at the San Diego History Center reveals an entirely different, if not slightly intoxicating, side to local craft making, revealing how San Diego’s craft beer industry has begun to vie for leader of the pack status both nationally and internationally.
Handcrafted Journeys: Japanese American Woodworkers in San Diego at the Japanese Friendship Garden showcases the great diversity of American culture by examining the legacy of Japanese craftsmanship in a variety of functional and decorative objects made locally, some dating prior to World War II.
Toy Cars at the San Diego Automotive Museum highlights our culture’s fascination with cars, which begins when we are pups (and continues well into adulthood for many), through a display of chase-able auto-related toys, including scooters, models, soapbox derby cars, and pedal cars.
House of USA Lawn Program: Of course no Fourth of July weekend in Balboa Park would be complete without the annual Sunday afternoon cultural extravaganza at the House of Pacific Relations International Cottages. From my perspective, there’s simply no better way to celebrate American culture than by chowing down on hot dogs, baked beans, potato salad, and apple pie, while enjoying patriotic music and performances.
Dog Bless America!* Note that most museums will be open on July 4, except for the Mingei and Timken Museum of Art. Other museums may have special holiday hours. Be sure to check each individual museum’s hours while making your plans.
Every pooch knows all too well how tough waiting for someone to get home can be. But where most of my fellow canines need to hold down the fort for only a few hours, families with pack members on military deployment often wait months.
What better way to celebrate their return by treating them to the latest exhibitions at some of Balboa Park’s finest museums—for FREE!
For the fourth year in a row, the Blue Star Museum Program is joining forces with the National Endowment for the Arts and 2,000 museums and art centers across the country to offer free museum admission for active duty, National Guard, and Reserve military personnel and their immediate families from now through Labor Day.
Balboa Park museums participating in this year’s summer salute to the military are
- Japanese Friendship Garden
- Mingei International Museum
- Museum of Photographic Arts
- San Diego History Center
- San Diego Museum of Art
- Veteran’s Museum and Memorial Center
And for military families who think they saw everything there is to see at those museums during the past three summers, have I got news for you!
A number of new shows opened recently or are opening later this summer, including Bottled & Kegged: San Diego’s Craft Brew Culture at the San Diego History Center; Pictures of the Year International at the Museum of Photographic Arts; Allied Craftsmen Today (beginning June 15) at the Mingei; and Arnold Newman: Masterclass (beginning June 29) at the San Diego Museum of Art—to name a few.