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Cosmos' Doggie Blog

I know many of my pack members have long since stopped making New Year’s resolutions. But between you, me, and the lamppost, I don’t think it’s because they’ve finally achieved a state of purebred awesomeness. They just grew tired of setting themselves up for failure.

Fortunately, a diverse recreational and cultural playground like Balboa Park offers a number of easy paths to the most common resolutions people make, as listed in a recent study.

Balboa Park, Florida Canyon, Desert Garden, fitness walkerLosing Weight

Many experts agree: this number one resolution on most people's lists is best achieved by taking simple daily steps, aka walking. The more than 65 miles of pooch-friendly marked trails in Balboa Park provide a wide variety of scenery to explore so your daily fitness routine never gets dull.

Saving Money

The best way to get the most bang for your hard-earned bones is to not spend any. Balboa Park museums offer free admission on Tuesdays on a rotating basis, and there are many free musical performances, family programs, and cultural festivals throughout the year. I guarantee you can find at least one free thing to do in the park each week—especially if you follow this blog.

Enjoying Life to the Fullest

Not everyone has the time or means to travel to exciting locations around the world. The fact that millions of people travel to San Diego each year to spend time in Balboa Park visiting its world-class cultural attractions is a pretty good sign that there are plenty of ways to live life to the fullest right here at home—without having to hire a pet sitter.

Staying Fit and Healthy

Balboa Park isn’t just the region’s most diverse cultural resource; it also features a wide array of fitness opportunities for people at any fitness level, including lawn bowling, archery, disc golf, badminton, ballroom and folk dancing, swimming, tennis, cycling, and ball chasing in a leash-free dog park.

Learning Something Exciting

There are more than 20 first-rate museums and performing arts organizations in Balboa Park, representing almost every branch of science, engineering, and the arts. If you can’t learn something exciting from them on a fairly regular basis, then congratulations, you already know everything there is to know--ever.

Spend More Time with Family

A pup-friendly approach underlies almost everything that happens in Balboa Park, and there are several organizations that specialize in it: the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater, Model Railroad Museum, San Diego Junior Theatre, Fleet Science Center, and San Diego Natural History Museum, just to name a few.

Odds are that New Year’s resolution you made this week will be a distant memory by summer. But if you take advantage of Balboa Park’s many amenities on a regular basis, you’ll be fulfilling the requirements of at least six different resolutions whether you had planned to or not.

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Balboa Park Holiday Lights, California Tower in backgroundHave you ever felt like you’re in holiday limbo between Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve? There’s no shortage of holiday parties in the weeks before Christmas, and plenty of New Year’s celebrations around December 31. But what’s a party animal to do from December 27 to December 30?

If your pack is tired of spending every evening binge watching TV shows that have dog-piled on the living room DVR or the latest Netflix original series, why not binge on a Holiday Food Truck Festival in Balboa Park instead?

For four straight evenings (December 27–30, 4pm–8pm, weather permitting), families will be treated to a steady stream of 12 alternating gourmet food trucks parked around the Plaza de Panama and El Prado walkway under a canopy of festive holiday lights. A different musical group will hit the Plaza stage each night to perform commercial-free music (no subscription fee required).

Among the top-dog performers this week are the Leonard Patton/Danny Green Quartet on December 29 (sponsored by the Kiwanis Club) and Jarabe Mexicano on December 30 (underwritten by a grant from the Parker Foundation to the SDSU College of Professional Studies & Fine Arts).

In addition to crafting activities for kids in the Plaza, presented by City of San Diego Park & Recreation, San Diego Art Institute, and Spanish Village, the Plaza’s “Living Room” amenities will be rolled out, offering an artificial turf “carpet,” a giant checkers set, and oversize beanbags for pups to frolic on. Several museums in the park will also keep their doors open after hours during the four-day festival.

Packs tired of holiday traffic and parking hassles will probably want to take advantage of a special offer to use Lyft ridesharing service (code BPFOODTRUCK) to receive 20% off rides to the park (up to 2 rides and up to $5 off per ride) through December 30, available from 2:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.Or, families can also save a few bones by taking MTS bus service. The Rapid 215 bus runs to the park from the Santa Fe Depot via Broadway and Park Blvd. and El Cajon Blvd., out toward SDSU.

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Huggy the holiday shopping hamsterHuggy writes: Dear Cosmos, I’ve been running around like a hamster on coffee trying to buy last-minute gifts for everyone in my horde, but I’m just about gassed. What stores in Balboa Park offer the most variety and bang for my cabbage?

Cosmos: After switching to decaf, you should tunnel your way to the Balboa Park Visitors Center as the next stop on your holiday shopping spree. No, I’m not suggesting you go there to pick up brochures to shred for your burrow. Rather, you should go see for yourself what makes the Visitors Center ideal for last-minute, one-stop shopping.

Your Source for Locally Sourced

It’s only natural that the Balboa Park Visitors Center would specialize in gifts highlighting Balboa Park and San Diego as a destination in the form of trinkets, guide books, and apparel, such as this fetching T-shirt of the park’s famous Moreton Bay Fig Tree. (I like big trees and I cannot lie.)

Balboa Park Visitors Center, Moreton Bay fig tree t-shirt

What may surprise many shoppers is all the other stuff sold there, including locally made (and soon-to-be locally consumed) peanut butter and jams, locally made soaps, as well as locally made ornaments and home décor pieces.

Visitors Center, local peanut butter and jam selection


A Fairy Good Place for Gifts for Pups

The Visitors Center also offers a wide assortment of gifts for everyone in your litter, including kids T-shirts, cute animal coin purses, and all things fairy not licensed by Disney. One section of the store features all the fixings for a fairytale wonderland, including fairy figurines of all shapes and sizes, woodland creatures, gnomes, and the little homes they inhabit.

Visitors Center, Fairy figurine dispaly


And the My Fairy Garden kit lets budding horticulturalists grow their own magical lily pond for their fairies to sprinkle with pixie dust.

Visitors Center, My Fairy Garden Playset, Lily Pond

The Wind Beneath Your Chimes

But who are we kidding? This is San Diego, where sipping iced beverages on the patio with your four-legged friends is a year-round activity. The Visitors Center has you covered here as well, with gifts that enhance any garden setting, including a vast assortment of ornate windchimes and one-of-a-kind humming bird feeders.

Visitors Center, Windchime display

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View of holiday lights in Balboa Park, California Tower in backgroundLast week, I barked about some of Balboa Park’s most beloved holiday traditions. We are creatures of habit, so it’s only natural we would flock to what’s familiar to mark the holidays. But even a bird brain would realize those traditions had to start at some point in time, when they were in fact new.

So I figured this would be as good a year as any to sniff out newer holiday activities in Balboa Park that may prove to be the most enduring ways future park visitors experience the park during the holidays.

Holiday Food Truck Festival — Plaza de Panama (Dec. 27–30, 4pm–8pm)

This first ever (dare I say “first annual”?) four-day food truck feeding frenzy will take advantage of the season’s dazzling holiday lights and decorations throughout the park to showcase live entertainment, kids activities, and more (details to come in a future blog post).

Holiday Starlight Stroll — Japanese Friendship Garden (through Dec. 31)

The Japanese Friendship Garden is digging back up this after-hours tradition that allows visitors to stroll through the garden under holiday lights and enjoy holiday-themed crafts and classes until 7pm each night. This tradition may be combined with the Holiday Food Truck Festival above.

Doggone Art Show — Spanish Village Art Center, Gallery 21 (Dec. 21–Jan. 2)

Okay, so this really doesn’t have anything to do with the holidays. But it is most definitely tradition-worthy. Why? Because in addition to honoring all canines, both wild and domestic, through the juried fine art works on display, proceeds from sales will benefit the Helen Woodward Animal Center.

Holiday Memories — San Diego Model Railroad Museum (through Jan. 9)

Train lovers can learn about holiday traditions from around the world and share their own memories as they explore a vintage holiday village train layout around a train-themed Christmas tree, complete with an operating Polar Express locomotive.

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December Nights rightfully gets top-dog billing as Balboa Park’s most beloved holiday tradition. But if there’s a “most,” then there must be a second, third, fourth most beloved holiday tradition in Balboa Park as well.

These traditions aren’t difficult to spot. If you’ve been around the park as long as I have, you know them by the fact they’ve been around longer than a dog’s age … and maybe even longer. Here is a shortlist of the family-friendliest ones:

The Nutcracker — Nothing barks “holidays” as loud as the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Land of Sweets. Every year the talented pups of the San Diego Civic Youth Ballet present a fully staged performance of The Nutcracker that makes ballet fun for the whole pack. Performances run Dec. 9 through Dec. 18 at the historic Casa del Prado Theater.

Hord and Schlappi tree ornaments at Timken Museum of ArtHord and Schlappi Tree Ornament Display — For nearly 30 years, the Timken Museum of Art has somehow managed to keep all pets away from its exquisite tree display of handcrafted holiday ornaments, which are often compared to Fabergé eggs. Kids will love spotting exotic animals, San Diego landmarks, and whimsical creatures depicted by many of the ornaments.

Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas — Now in its 19th year, the beloved annual theater production at the Old Globe is getting to the point where people who saw the first performances as pups will soon be bringing back their own kids, making this a true family tradition.

Puppet Theater Performances — Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater puts preschoolers center stage by treating them to professionally performed puppet shows like “The Merry Christmas Show,” “Cindy the Elf,” and “Benito Bunny’s Great Christmas Adventure.”

Organ Pavilion Holiday Sing Along — The last Sunday before Christmas Day (this year, Dec. 18) is traditionally when the free weekly 2pm concert in Spreckels Organ Pavilion is ground zero for crowdcaroling. But with Christmas Day falling on a Sunday this year, families will get another chance to belt out favorite holiday tunes for the benefit of anyone within howling distance.

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