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Cosmos' Doggie Blog

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.

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Cosmos Blog, Harry and Mr. BibbsHarry and Mr. Bibbs write: Dear Cosmos, I don’t know if we’re just seeing double, but it seems every time a photo of Balboa Park is posted on Facebook, there’s a giant electrical giraffe poking his head into the frame. What’s the scoop on that?

Cosmos: It must be impossible for an 11-foot giraffe to avoid photobombing almost every picture snapped in his direction, especially for someone like my friend Russell, who has taken up temporary residency in Balboa Park and is bird dogging everything there is to see and do here.

STEAM Family Day, Russell the electrical giraffe with Fleet classLike yours truly, Russell has become a minor celebrity of sorts, serving as unofficial mascot of Maker Faires all over the country. And since he’s a native San Diegan, it only seemed natural that he’d be on hand to greet visitors at the upcoming STEAM Family Day, on March 16, when about a dozen Maker exhibits will be on view throughout Balboa Park. 

Everyone coming to the Family Day is invited to sniff out Russell, a giant and very personable work of animatronic art, at the San Diego Air & Space Museum, where he’ll be stationed the entire day. Russell is the product of the imagination of Maker-extraordinaire Lindsay Lawlor and is named after the British coder who brings the giraffe to life.

But that’s not all there is for curious pups to see and do at what promises to be one of the most eventful Balboa Park Family Days ever.

For example, several other Makers will be demonstrating their high-tech tinkering skills at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, the San Diego Automotive Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Japanese Friendship Garden, and the Museum of Photographic Arts. And that’s on top of the usual assortment of hands-on science experiments and arts and crafts that will be free with admission at various other museums.

Packs who prefer to bring their leashed friends to the Family Day can still participate in over a dozen free booth activities on the Prado walkway, hosted by park cultural institutions and partnering organizations. They can also enjoy the free outdoor children’s concert at Spreckels Organ Pavilion at 2pm and a variety of art-making activities in the Spanish Village Art Center.

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My canine senses have become so in tune with the International Cottages Lawn Programs, my mouth actually starts watering at 2pm every Sunday from March through October. However, being Balboa Park’s canine ambassador, my presence is often required elsewhere at that time, so I have to be a somewhat choosy eater.

House of Iran, costumed dancer, International Cottages, Balboa ParkFortunately, a March Sunday line up that includes Ireland and Iran makes it easy for me to prioritize where I need to be when the Lawn Program dinner bell rings, because those two countries certainly put the “I” in international.

For example, you don’t need to be an Irish setter to know that no Saint Patrick’s Day celebration would be complete without the House of Ireland’s annual Lawn Program, taking place this year on March 16. Its authentic Irish dancing, music, and costumes, not to mention stew, pastries, and coffees, make all the other St. Patty’s Day festivals green with envy. This alcohol-free event is also family and pet friendlier than many other celebrations around town.

The following week, March 23, I like to celebrate the first day of spring, along with the Persian New Year, at the House of Iran’s annual Lawn Program extravaganza. Professional dancers from Los Angeles will be on hand to perform a variety of traditional ethnic and folk dances, complete with authentic costumes. The menu for the day includes … wait for it … chicken kabob, pita, rice, and baklava.

Rounding out the month and my belly is the House of Mexico's Lawn Program on March 30. Celebrating the richness and diversity of our neighbor to the south in a one-hour program makes this lawn program one of most eventful, colorful, and tasty of them all.

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Robert Henri, Girl with a Green Fan, Spanish Sojourns, San Diego Museum of ArtMy 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.

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Cosmos Blog, Ask Cosmos, Bruno and RosieBruno and Rosie write: Dear Cosmos, the dog days of summer are extremely overrated. It’s really the final weeks before the start of spring that have a way of bringing us down. What do you recommend?

Cosmos: You hit the nail right on the snout with that one. Anticipating all the new sights, sounds, and smells that come with springtime can be excruciating at times. But this old dog has a few tricks up her sleeve for preventing this time of year from affecting my usual sunny disposition. What’s my secret? Sniffing out some of these late-winter activities in Balboa Park to lift my mood and make me forget it’s still doggie-sweater weather.

Desert Garden, Balboa Park 2014Botanical Building: This horticulture wonderland puts the green into evergreen, while an ample collection of blooming orchids can add a splash of color to any grey overcast day, even for colorblind pooches.

Desert Garden and Cactus Garden: Speaking of color, the scores of blossoming succulents and curious-looking desert flora in the Desert and Cactus Gardens can provide quick funk relief to even the most downward of dogs.

Sunday Organ Concerts: There’s really no better way to shake off the winter blahs than by having bright sunshine and up-tempo tunes piped in at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion concerts each Sunday afternoon at 2pm.

International Cottages Lawn Programs: These mini-cultural festivals don’t wait until spring to start bringing mood-elevating music, lively dance performances, colorful costumes, and warm smiles to the faces of park visitors.

Dog Parks: Pet therapy is really where it’s at these days, so why not start your course of treatment by watching cute, cuddly canines frolicking in one of the three dog parks in Balboa Park?

Disclaimer: All of the above activities are free and have no negative side-effects.

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