Biologically 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.
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:
- Coast to Cactus (now open) — San Diego Natural History Museum
- 7 Billion Others (opens Feb. 21) — Museum of Photographic Arts
- 2theXtreme—MathAlive! (now open) — San Diego Air & Space Museum
- Masterworks of the Exhibition Era (now open) — San Diego History Center
- Balboa Park Exposition Designers 1915–1935 (opens Feb. 6) — Marston House
- Black Dolls from the Collection of Debora Neff (opens Feb. 7) — Mingei
- Don’t Try This at Home! Live Science Shows (now open) — Reuben H. Fleet Science Center
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’.
Native or transplant, indigenous or invasive—whatever you call us, we all share one thing in common: we love living in San Diego County. So much so we’ve made it one of the top 35 biodiversity hotspots in the world. The new permanent exhibition at the San Diego Natural History Museum, Coast to Cactus in Southern California lets visitors see just how diverse the region is without driving hundreds of miles in places that cell phones don’t work.
Serving as a kind of Visitors Center to the entire region, Coast to Cactus gives bipeds a unique opportunity to safely sniff around the habits of hundreds of different species of both plants and animals who currently or once called Southern California home. From the coastal chaparral of Torrey Pines to urban canyons, inland mountains, and deserts, no stone is left unturned.
The county’s main ecosystems are re-created in seven different immersive environments, including an oversized tidal flat that pups can crawl around in, a nighttime desert experience complete with a real Airstream Bambi, and a residential patio overlooking a canyon, oddly similar to the one where I live.
To flesh out the story, a dozen of my friends have agreed to serve as live animals-in-residence alongside more than 40 high and low-tech interactive displays and 200 specimens preserved for posterity.
If you thought the neighbors on your cul-de-sac were wild, you won’t believe some of the surprising creatures who still take up residence in an open field near you.
Speaking as a dog who works for bones (as opposed to US dollars), I empathize with my bipedal readers, especially those with large litters, who must watch every penny they spend. That’s why I try to faithfully report on the many affordable, if not entirely free, activities in Balboa Park.
Outside of Residents Free Tuesday, the best value for packs looking to get their paws wet checking out Balboa Park’s cultural attractions is the Kids Free in October deal. Sponsored by Museum Council, the annual program grants free admission for up to two kids 12 and under with each paid adult admission at participating museums. Any member of the human species can take advantage by simply downloading the PDF coupon for each museum they wish to visit.
Kids Free in October gives families an entire month, including weekends, to sample and expose their pups to the myriad family-friendly activities going on at the various Balboa Park museums. And because its kids free month, many museums will have a full lineup of special programs planned. (Be sure to check the Balboa Park Calendar for each museum’s exhibitions and offerings.)
Speaking of which, on Sunday, October 26, this year’s park-wide Halloween Family Day is presenting a big juicy assortment of museum activities and a carnival-like atmosphere along the Prado walkway (details to come in a future blog post). And no special coupons will be required that day for free kids admission (with paid adult) at participating museums.
Since October is also Kids Free month at the San Diego Zoo, it’s probably worth considering planning ahead and taking public transportation. In fact, pack leaders can take advantage of the MTS Family Weekends promotion, which allows up to two children (12 and under) to ride MTS bus and trolley routes free with each fare-paying adult (18 and over).
Now that’s what I call saving some bones!
For someone of the canine species, the garden is ground zero for all kinds of fun and mischief. Humans simply have no idea what I can turn up in soft, recently replanted soil: crunchy insects, old bones, missing parts from a child’s toy, and, of course, fledgling flora.
One thing I never expect to find in a garden of any kind is classic films and hundreds of people watching them. But that’s exactly what The San Diego Museum of Art will be “growing” in their sculpture garden this summer when it launches the Films in the Garden outdoor film series on Monday, July 14.
Formerly known as “Screen on the Green,” SDMA has moved its long-running summer film screenings into the cozy confines of the May S. Marcy Sculpture Garden, already home to a number of colorful visual treats in the form of 20th-century sculpture.
The four films in the series will screen under the stars every other Monday starting at 8pm and include Blood and Sand with Tyronne Power and Rita Hayworth (July 14); 1492: Conquest of Paradise, a unique retelling of the Christopher Columbus story (July 28); the Audrey Hepburn classic Roman Holiday (August 11); and the Wim Wenders’s sci-fi drama Until the End of the World (August 25).
This family-friendly event encourages folks to bring a picnic basket, though no outside libations are permitted. For packs unable to pack adequate provisions for the night, the sculpture garden’s restaurant will offer a selection of light snacks and beverages, including a full bar.
Be sure to arrive early to mark your territory as seating inside the sculpture court is limited.
If you’re a patriotic pooch like me, then you are undoubtedly wagging your tail over the fact that the calendar gods have seen fit to schedule July 4 on a Friday this year, making for a perfect three-day weekend to celebrate our great country. But you are also probably wondering how you are going to fill all three days when most fireworks shows don’t last more than 30 minutes.
What some folks may not realize is that there is more to celebrating America than eating charred hamburgers covered in beach sand (though I’m normally not one to complain). In Balboa Park, for example, bipedal citizens can take part in a number of American-themed exhibitions and events this weekend:
- Presidio to Pacific Powerhouse: How the Military Shaped San Diego examines the U.S. military’s deep and long history with the region, a story so big it encompasses the San Diego History Center, the San Diego Air & Space Museum, and the Veteran’s War Memorial and Museum (and venues beyond Balboa Park).
- Sorolla and America at The San Diego Museum of Art reveals the special relationship Spain’s top dog artist, Joaquin Sorolla, had with the U.S. art world at the turn of the 20th century, one that included the painting of an official portrait of a U.S. president (William Howard Taft).
- Surf Craft — Design and the Culture of Board Riding at the Mingei International Museum surveys the evolution of a unique American art form, highlighting the central role of two alpha dog surfers from San Diego.
- The House of U.S.A. Lawn Program at the International Cottages will enable patriots of any breed to extend their Independence Day weekend festivities all the way into late Sunday afternoon thanks to an all-American menu of potato salad, baked beans, apple pie, and, of course, hot dogs.
- The Spreckels Organ Pavilion Concert, also on Sunday afternoon, serves up a howling good selection of patriotic tunes performed by Civic Organist Emeritus Robert Plimpton. Howling dogs are of course always welcome at these free outdoor concerts.
It looks like the barking heads in Washington are no longer dragging their tails when it comes to bringing the troops home from Afghanistan this year. Whatever side of the fence you sit on, there’s no denying that all our returning service members and their families deserve a hero’s welcome, whether they call San Diego home or are just passing through for some much needed R&R.
If there weren’t already a million reasons for men and women in uniform to scout Balboa Park’s amenities this summer, the Blue Star Museum program is adding one more: free admission at participating museums for active duty military personnel, including National Guard and Reserve, and up to five family members through Labor Day.
Over 2,000 museums and cultural attractions across America, including a dozen in San Diego, are participating in this year’s program, and many of those museums are right here in Balboa Park:
- Japanese Friendship Garden
- Mingei International Museum
- Museum of Photographic Arts
- San Diego Hall of Champions
- San Diego History Center
- The San Diego Museum of Art
- Veterans Museum and Memorial Center
Summertime is always the best time to see top dog exhibitions in Balboa Park, and this summer is no exception. At the San Diego History Center, for instance, military families can see the unprecedented collaborative exhibition Presidio to Pacific Powerhouse: How the Military Shaped San Diego and its satellite display at the Veterans Museum and Memorial Center.
The San Diego Museum of Art is rolling out two blockbuster shows this summer: Spanish Sojourns: Robert Henri and the Spirit of Spain and Sorolla and America. On June 21, the Mingei International Museum opens the very cool Surf Craft — Design and the Culture of Board Riding, and the Museum of Photographic Arts explores the legacy of the legendary photographer Ansel Adams in After Ansel Adams — to mention a few highlights.
Of course the only active duty service dogs permitted in museums are those certified to accompany people with disabilities.
With our recent run of record-breaking spring temperatures, it’s clearly never too early to think about the coolest places for us hot dogs to chill out. Being a longtime Balboa Park resident, I’ve learned quite a few tricks that both old and new dogs can easily learn to beat the heat.
First and foremost, it’s important to realize that as the mercury rises, so does the AC (and dehumidifiers) inside most Balboa Park museums in order to protect fragile artworks and artifacts.
To put it another way, for less than the price of Costco’s cheapest window air conditioner, my bipedal readers could buy an annual Balboa Park Explorer pass and spend a year’s worth of excessively warm days inside the climate-controlled galleries of over a dozen different museums.
In addition, many museums regularly show movies. So instead of running to the multiplex for the latest “blockbuster” that will be sitting in your nearest Redbox machine before you can say “I can’t believe I spent $12 on that turd!” you can chillax in one of four different state-of-the-art theaters within Balboa Park.
Pawing through this week’s schedule, the Reuben H. Fleet is currently showing the very cool underwater adventure Journey to the South Pacific inside its unique full-dome IMAX theater. The San Diego Natural History Museum shows movies like Ocean Oasis and Great White Shark 3-D in its giant-screen theater all-day long, included in the regular admission price. The Museum of Photographic Arts will be featuring the Japan Film Festival in its cozy screening room this Sunday, May 18. And the San Diego Air & Space Museum presents pup-friendly films, not just in 3-D, but 4-D!
And for us four-legged critters, who generally can’t enter the indoor cultural attractions, it’s worth pointing out Balboa Park has trees, lots of shady trees, something that no San Diego public beach can offer.
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.