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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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Coast to Cactus exhibition entrance, San Diego Natural History MuseumNative 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.

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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.

Kids Free in October, Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, marble rollercoasterOutside 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!

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Films in the Garden, The San Diego Museum of ArtFor 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.

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Joaquin Sorolla, portrait of William Howard Taft, San Diego Museum of Art, Balboa Park, Cosmos BlogIf 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:

  1. 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).
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
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