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Cosmos' Doggie Blog

Being bred, weaned, and raised in San Diego, it’s easy to take certain things for granted: the sun, the beaches, another losing season for the Padres, and even our beloved urban oasis—Balboa Park.

House of Spain, lawn program, paella preparationThe name “Balboa Park” is such an institution itself, I wonder how many of us ever stop to think about the person it was named after, or even the fact that it was named after a person as opposed to being another colorful Spanish word, like Tierrasanta or Del Cerro. With the Centennial Celebrations just around the corner, I’ve decided it’s time to teach this old dog new tricks and find out more about Balboa Park’s rich history.

Thankfully the House of Spain, part of the House of Pacific Relations International Cottages, is offering a series of presentations and events this week in celebration of the Park’s namesake: Vasco Núñez de Balboa, a 15th-century Spanish explorer who was the first European to lead an expedition to the Pacific Ocean.

If you can’t remember your fourth-grade social studies lessons, or are a non-native transplant, then you might want to sniff out some of the free presentations that are continuing on Thursday and Friday (October 9-10) in the House of Spain’s cottage. (The presentation titled “Who Was Balboa?” will be repeated at 10am and 12 noon on Thursday and Friday.)

But let’s cut to the chase. Study after study has shown that folks, regardless of species, can’t learn diddly-squat on an empty stomach. To that end, the House of Spain will be serving up vats of paella beginning at 12 noon on both Saturday and Sunday (October 11-12). On Saturday, the paella will be accompanied at 2pm by live music by Novamenco as part of a free Lawn Program. On Sunday, which happens to be Spain’s National Day, the 2pm Lawn Program will feature a free performance by the “Olé Flamenco” dance company. Olé!

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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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As much as I’ve barked the praises of the International Cottages’ Sunday afternoon Lawn Programs over the years, I have one bone to pick with them: they are often over before I’ve had my fill.

One hour plus just doesn’t seem like enough time to soak in such a wide variety of cultural entertainment and colorful costumes and crafts, and ingest an entire country’s worth of traditional dishes, desserts, and beverages.

The House of China must’ve heard my stomach growling and decided to expand its annual Sunday Lawn Program into an entire Taste of Asia weekend festival. Taking advantage of the additional cultural resources of the Houses of India, Korea, and the Philippines, the “Lawn Program” activities will run from noon until 5pm on Saturday and Sunday, September 27-28.

Ten whole hours may seem like a lot of time to fill, but if any of the Houses of Pacific Relations can do it, I suspect China, India, Korea, and the Philippines can.

Here are just a few of the weekend highlights I’m licking my chops over:

Entertainment (free)

  • Traditional pipa lute performances
  • San Diego Taiko Drummers
  • Indian Bollywood dances
  • Music and dance by PASACAT Philippines
  • Cooking demos

Food (charged separately)

  • Chinese beef noodle soup
  • Filipino lumpia
  • Indian curries
  • Korean Bibimbap (Saturday only)

Any pups in the pack will find plenty of distractions as well, including a free Chinese lantern-making craft, Indian henna painting, and Korean fan coloring.

I foresee only one problem with this expanded Lawn Program concept: I could get used to this.


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Smokey the dog, Cosmos Blog, Balboa ParkSmokey writes: Dear Cosmos, It’s been a while since the Balboa Park Centennial Celebration has been in the news. Now that we’ve reached the final months of 2014, can you give us the latest scoop on what’s happening in 2015 and what my family needs to do to get ready?

Cosmos: To be honest, the activity updates from the various park institutions are dog piling on me to such a degree I’m having trouble digging out from under them. It seems every cultural organization in Balboa Park will be doing something special throughout 2015.

Mingei International Museum, In the Realm of Nature exhibitionIn fact, according to the 2015 Balboa Park Celebration Activities PDF, a few of these special somethings are already getting underway, including the Surf Craft and In the Realm of Nature exhibitions at the Mingei International Museum (now open), as well as next month’s Gauguin to Warhol blockbuster at The San Diego Museum of Art and The Discovery of King Tut exhibition at the Natural History Museum, to name a few. 

From what I’m seeing in this master calendar of events, more than simply putting on a dog and pony show to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the 1915 Panama-California Expo, Balboa Park cultural institutions are putting a lot of meat into various presentations to showcase the best that San Diego and the Park have to offer.

The San Diego History Center, Marston House, Model Railroad Museum, and Spreckels Organ Pavilion in particular will be highlighting the 1915 Expo’s legacy and impact on Balboa Park. My sources in the Park are also telling me that a number of high-profile signature events are still in the works and yet to be announced.

Regarding what your packmates can do to get ready, there’s really only one thing they should be doing: get their paws on a Balboa Park Explorer Pass!

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Florida Canyon Native Plant Preserve Trail, Balboa ParkThough I realize an extended period of drought won’t make my bipedal readers miss the smell of wet dog anytime soon, it may make them long for the kinds of greener open spaces we sometimes see in San Diego County after an especially wet winter.

Balboa Park’s landscaped and irrigated central areas are of course kept green 365 days a year. However, it’s impossible to keep the Park’s entire 1,200-acre campus watered year round, in spite of my best efforts during my morning walk.

Fortunately, Balboa Park’s gardeners have been putting a special emphasis on cultivating native plant species throughout the Park. And the payoff is particularly evident along the trails that snake through Florida Canyon, so much so the area is now referred to as the Florida Canyon Native Plant Preserve. (I guess they decided to use “Cosmos’s Favorite Nature Hiking Area” somewhere else.)

Several different trails that are part of the marked trail system traverse Florida Canyon, but if you’re not up for a 3 to 7-mile hike on an 88-degree day, it’s easiest to reach the Native Plant Preserve by following the zig-zagging paved walkway that descends from the Desert Garden on Park Blvd., where you can park on the street.

How deep you venture down into the canyon from there is entirely up to you, but bear in mind, as you admire the various species of succulents, coastal sage scrub, and other drought-resistant flora, getting back your car is all uphill.

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