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Cosmos' Doggie Blog

Two labradors, Cash and GeorgiaCash and Georgia write: Dear Cosmos, Being a large pack, our family spends a lot of bones taking advantage of the many special summertime activities around San Diego. We aren’t even halfway through the season, and Cash is already cashed out. What’s the best way to get the most bang for our bone in Balboa Park?

Cosmos: Being a lone wolf definitely has its advantages when it comes to entertainment and dining in a pricey metropolitan area like San Diego. But traveling in a pack and sharing experiences with loved ones can be even more fun. Thanks to the City of San Diego, the Balboa Park Conservancy, dozens of nonprofit cultural organizations, and generous private donors, there is still plenty of pack-friendly fun to be had in Balboa Park, even on a shoestring budget.

In no particular order, here is my top 15 list of affordable things you should check out this summer in Balboa Park:

  1. Kids on play equipment in Morely Field Balboa ParkGo inside the always-free Botanical Building — the 100-year-old structure is one of the Park’s shadiest spots and offers ample selfie opportunities in front of exotic plants.
  2. Eat your way around the world at an International Cottages Sunday lawn program. Though the food isn’t free, the cultural entertainment, good cheer, and smiles are.
  3. Visit the San Diego Museum of Art on Friday evening. As part of the Park After Dark festivities, one of the Park’s finest museums charges only $5 a head after 5pm.
  4. If you’re free on Tuesdays during the day, so is a rotating selection of Balboa Park museums, but only for those with the right pedigree: the deal is for San Diego County residents only.
  5. See what’s new at the Timken Museum of Art. Free for anyone, anytime (during operating hours), the Timken now features changing displays of rare artworks on loan.
  6. Enjoy howling good tunes at the free Twilight in the Park concerts. Each Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evening at 6:30pm, a different band hits the Organ Pavilion stage.
  7. Watch a free Film in the Garden. Four-legged best friends are always welcome at this free Monday night film series in August, set this year in front of the Botanical Building.
  8. Discover healthy new uses for trees in the Trees for Health garden. The natural outdoor pharmacy is one of many great reasons to explore the West Mesa. 
  9. The Marston House offers another prime opportunity to sniff around a one-of-a-kind garden on the West Mesa for free.
  10. You won’t believe your ears when top-dog organists from around the world perform on THE world’s largest outdoor pipe organ at the International Summer Organ Festival.
  11. Renew your best-friend bonds by treating your four-legged packmates to one of Balboa Park’s three free dog parks.
  12. You can also safely unleash your two-legged pups on one of many play areas scattered around Balboa Park’s vast 1,200-acre grounds.
  13. Witness art in the making at the Spanish Village Art Center, home to 37 artist studios nestled around a pet-friendly and picturesque courtyard.
  14. Take an informative stroll at a Saturday morning Offshoot Tour. The free 10am tours, led by expert horticulturists, start at the Visitors Center and explore the Park’s historic landscapes.
  15. Sniff around the weekend flower shows presented by the San Diego Botanical Garden Foundation inside the Casa del Prado.
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Balboa Park: Come for the Pokémon, Stay for the Culture

Pokemon Go, capturing Pokemon in parkIf you’ve visited Balboa Park in the past week, you’ve undoubtedly noticed more folks than usual are walking around with their snouts glued to their cell phones. What could possibly cause people to spend more time looking down at a five-inch screen than at historic architecture, gardens, and landscaping? You shouldn’t be surprised to learn that it’s a game, and not just any game, but a Pokémon game.

Yes, Pokémon is back. And much to the iconic game franchise’s credit, it has figured out a way to combine swiping at virtual objects on a screen with going outside and discovering new places, both close to home and anyplace in the world you travel.

So just what is it about this magical app that has led tens of millions of people to download it in just one week? Like the original game did in the 1990s, Pokémon Go feeds on our insatiable hunger to collect things. If you need proof of that, just look at the vast collections housed at the various museums in Balboa Park, which have amassed everything from insect specimens and model trains to historic airplanes and fine art.

Pokémon Go turns players into technologically advanced hunting dogs who are tasked with tracking down and catching cute animated creatures who now seem to inhabit the very world we live in. There are scores of different Pokémon to collect, and each type of geography or environment features certain types of Pokémon creatures.

The way the game is set up, Pokémon tend to cluster around points of interest on a map, making Balboa Park, with its many landmarks and public buildings, ground zero for Pokémon hunters in San Diego. In fact, Balboa Park has no less than 25 PokéStops, places in the game where players can fetch in-game supplies or eggs that can hatch new Pokémon, or install a lure to draw Pokémon to the area. Players can also take advantage of Balboa Park’s free Wi-Fi.

What many players may not realize, however, is that Balboa Park is not only the region’s number one location for Pokémon, it’s also the cultural heart of San Diego, featuring dozens of world-class museums, performing arts venues, award-winning gardens, and historic architecture. So once you’ve collected all the Pokémon lurking in Balboa Park, you might want to check out the many objects on display in the Park’s museums that humans have found important enough to collect and preserve for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Where will your Pokémon collection be 100 years from now?

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I realize I’ve barked about the International Summer Organ Festival in a couple of posts already, but it bears repeating: free organ concerts by some of the world’s top-dog organists on what is now officially the world’s largest outdoor pipe organ. Free. Here, in San Diego. Every Monday night at 7:30pm through August 29.

Spreckels Organ Pavilion, June 27 concert, photo by Mike CoxFor those who think organ music consists entirely of works by classical composers (Bach, Mozart, Handel, etc.), you are in for a big surprise if you attend next week’s performance on July 11. German-born organist and UCLA professor Christoph Bull, who is used to playing on the world’s largest church organ in Los Angeles (no bull), is presenting two in memoriam pieces he arranged for David Bowie’s “Life on Mars” and Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U.”

What I personally find remarkable about this year’s roster of performers is that some aren’t settling for simply playing on the world’s largest outdoor pipe organ solo for the first time. For instance, on July 18, Daryl Robinson will bring some serious boom to his performance in the form of timpanist Jason Ginter, who accompanies Robinson on several pieces during the concert.

The following Monday, July 25, local favorite Dr. Alison Luedecke is joined by an entire pack of musicians, the Millennia Consort. Together they will perform a variety of works for organ, brass quintet, and percussion by classical and modern composers.

Last but never least, closing out the annual summer series in style on August 29, Dr. Carol Williams will be accompanied by another organist on another organ! This I’ll have to see to believe my ears. Thankfully all concerts in the Spreckels Organ Pavilion are 100 percent pooch friendly. For those unable to attend in person, all International Summer Organ Festival Concerts are streamed live at Ustream (just like the free Sunday afternoon organ concerts). You can also watch select past concerts there as well.

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Once every few years, when the stars of Canis Major and Canis Minor align in just a certain way, the July 4 holiday falls on a Monday, giving us a perfect three-day Independence Day holiday weekend. And thanks to the recent launch of this summer’s Food Truck Friday/Park After Dark extravaganza, weekends in Balboa Park now officially begin every Friday at 4:30pm, resulting in four days and nights to properly celebrate America’s birthday.

Here are four special ways on four different days to experience the Fourth:

Sunburst pattern quilt from Quilts and Color exhibition, San Diego Museum of ArtFriday, July 1: Food Truck Friday and a Film

In between chowing on gourmet food truck fare from a dozen different food trucks, bipedal guests have two opportunities to catch the IMAX film National Parks Adventure (at 5pm and 7pm) at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center. The immersive film takes audiences on the ultimate off-trail adventure to more than 30 different national parks, demonstrating how great America still is the moment you turn off the news channels and step outside.

Saturday, July 2: Quilts and Color

A new exhibition at The San Diego Museum of Art explores one of my favorite pastimes, napping on soft, colorful quilts. Quilts and Color from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston features over 40 eye-popping quilt designs made in the USA in the 19th and early 20th centuries. I have it on good authority, however, that exhibition visitors aren’t actually permitted to lie on the quilts on display, doggonit!

Sunday, July 3: House of USA Lawn Program

No July 4 weekend in Balboa Park is complete without an old fashioned Independence Day community picnic that includes hot dogs, baked beans, potato salad, and apple pie. Heck, no summer weekend in America is complete without mass quantities of all of the above. At any rate, the House of USA will once again present its annual red, white, and blue extravaganza at 2pm as part of the International Cottages’ Sunday lawn programs.

Monday, July 4: International Summer Organ Festival

On the evening of July 4 at 7:30pm, packs of all stars and stripes will be treated to audio fireworks as only the largest outdoor pipe organ in the world can fire them off. The virtuoso American organist Dave Wickerham will perform a howling good selection of patriotic tunes and songs from the Great American Songbook, including medleys of top-dog composers Irving Berlin and George Gershwin.

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Camden, Ask Cosmos, Cosmos BlogCamden writes: Dear Cosmos, I’m trying to get my family to check out some of the evening activities in Balboa Park with me this summer, but they keep dragging their tails about going. How do I convince them it’s worth the trip?

Cosmos: I know it can feel like you’re barking at the moon when trying to get a pack of couch potatoes out of the house – even on a nice summer evening. Sometimes, it takes a lot more than a gentle tug of the leash to overcome the call of streaming video services and pizza-ordering apps. Fortunately, Balboa Park’s evening offerings this summer are more than enough to get even the laziest of dogs off their haunches. Here’s a quick overview of this summer’s hottest programs.

San Diego Natural History Museum Facade at duskFood Truck Friday / Park After Dark

It was only a matter of time before someone realized the best way to get San Diegans to visit their local museums on a Friday night was to bring a dozen gourmet food trucks into the Park. Food Truck Friday becomes a weekly feeding frenzy beginning July 1.

Twilight in the Park

As I barked about at length in last week’s blog post, the free weekday (Tuesday–Thursday) concert series is not only the best entertainment value in town, but it redefines “social media.”

International Summer Organ Festival

Speaking of social media, how many of your virtual friends across the country can post a selfie in front of the world’s largest outdoor pipe organ as it’s being played by one of the world’s top organists? Exactly none … unless they live in San Diego.

Films in the Garden / Star Cars Film Series

The San Diego Museum of Art’s free showcase of art films in an artsy setting returns with a full slate every Monday night in August. The San Diego Automotive Museum gets into the act as well with a Friday night film series to complement the many “Star Cars” in its galleries.

Bird Park Concert Series

It should come as no surprise that one of the city’s best community park summer concert series is still technically in Balboa Park. Bird Park, near Morley Field, has been hosting top-dog talent at its family-friendly concert series for almost 15 years.

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