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Cosmos' Doggie Blog

Babloa Park December Nights, family watching performance at Organ PavilionEach year as I sniff my way through Balboa Park December Nights, the grandest free public kick off to the holiday season in the world, I often bark to myself, “They’ll never be able to top this next year.”

Of course, this is one of the few times in my life I’m ever proven wrong. In fact, I already know that this weekend’s December Nights celebration will be better than ever for one simple reason: longer hours, from 3pm to 11pm on Friday, December 6, and 12 noon to 11pm on Saturday, December 7.

You don’t need to be a pup in a cell phone commercial to know that more is better. In the case of December Nights, this means

More entertainment on multiple stages throughout the Park, featuring a wide variety of howling good music and dance performances, including holiday fare, jazz, rock, pop, blues, country and everything in between.

More holiday cheer, including more bell ringers, carolers, costumed performers, lights and decorations, in addition to the traditional Santa Maria Procession and Christmas Story performance in the Organ Pavilion.

More time to visit the museums, which are open free from 5pm to 9pm each evening, as you’ll have more opportunity to explore the other areas of December Nights before and after those times.

More food. Though, sadly, it still won’t be possible to sample every edible offering in the Park during December Nights, due to the sheer volume of food vendors, the extra hours should at least give me enough time to venture beyond the International Cottages and the Spanish Village food courts. The operative word being should.

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1963 Corvette, San Diego Automotive MuseumOne would assume, given my particular species, there’s only one thing I care about this Thanksgiving — table scraps. While that’s not a completely incorrect assumption, there are unfortunately not enough trimmings to keep me adequately occupied for the entire four-day holiday weekend. I suspect the same goes for any of your bipedal guests, including ones with opposable thumbs, you’ll be putting up (with) this week.

Thankfully, being the host with the most during the holiday season is quite easy when you have Balboa Park in your backyard — or, in my case, is my backyard. Here is just a small sampler plate to whet your appetite:

  1. Mysteries of the Unseen World — Explore a world that even I can’t smell in the Reuben H. Fleet’s newest IMAX presentation. Note: the Fleet and the San Diego Zoo are the only park attractions open Thanksgiving Day.
  2. Ripley’s Believe It or Not — Though it’s hard to believe any of my readers still haven’t seen this blockbuster at the San Diego Air & Space Museum, now would be a good time to discover your relatives aren’t the oddest thing in San Diego this weekend.
  3. BEERology — Since you’ll likely be knocking back a few brewskis with your weird relatives anyway, why not learn about the history of beer-making and its impact on cultures around the world at the San Diego Museum of Man?
  4. Corvette: An American Icon Turns 60 — The perfect antidote to relatives driving you crazy during the holidays is driving them to Balboa Park to see an exhibition of classic Corvettes at the San Diego Automotive Museum.
  5. Please Be Seated — No need for holiday guests to be sitting around on their haunches all weekend when they can visit this unique exhibition that explores the history of, well, what people sit on at the Mingei International Museum.

Of course, weather permitting, there’s also a big, huge park, filled with award-winning gardens and historic architecture, to keep folks occupied and to help them burn off a few calories to make room for more table scraps.

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Cosmos Blog, Balboa Park, George Herman the catGeorge-Herman the cat writes: Dear Cosmos, I just can’t seem to get my fat lazy tush off the sofa to do any serious holiday shopping this year. Ideally, I would like to buy one gift online for my entire family. Any suggestions?

Cosmos: Assuming a 65” flat panel TV isn’t in your budget, there’s really only one option that’s not only something everyone in your family will love, but it will keep your pesky housemates out of the house so you can get some quality cat napping time in.

That option is of course this year’s hottest holiday gift item, the Balboa Park Explorer. This recently launched park pass program grants its bearer free general admission to all museums and certain cultural attractions for a whole year. It’s like having free Tuesday every day of the week, but without all the parking hassles!

If you’re worried about dipping too deeply into your catnip allowance to be able to pay for such a gift, you’ll be happy to know an annual pass that allows a family of two adults and up to four children to visit any Balboa Park museum on any day it’s open to the public costs only $199. To put things in perspective, for a family of two adults and four children to visit Disneyland (just Disneyland) for one day (just one day), it would cost over $600.

And if you have any lone wolves on your holiday shopping list, the Balboa Park Explorer is only $129 ($99 for students and seniors).

Best of all, you can easily fetch as many Balboa Park Explorers as you need by visiting

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Now that the cat is out of the bag on Black Friday shopping, with many major retailers having posted preview ads already, I’m sure many readers are like me and scratching their heads, among other body parts, over what to buy their family, friends, and loved ones this year. I’m personally not seeing those unique, must-have items in the stores.

MarahLago Seduction bracelet, San Diego Natural History MuseumNot to mention, to take advantage of the best Black Friday deals, families will now be required to stand in line during the traditional Thanksgiving meal times, as many retailers are opening their doors at 6pm on Thanksgiving Day.

For those who prefer to actually enjoy a good Thanksgiving meal with family, friends, and pets, you might consider, instead, browsing at your leisure over the next month a dozen unique gift stores, all clustered within Balboa Park’s historic campus.

Balboa Park gift store buyers have a nose for distinctive gifts, from fine jewelry, bags, and accessories, to home décor, educational toys, and specialty books.

Angry Birds Space by National Geographic, San Diego Air and Space MuseumAt the Air & Space Museum Store, for instance, budding astronauts will gravitate towards Angry Birds Space by National Geographic (pictured), which offers the perfect mix of Angry Birds amusement and insights on space exploration for children.

Young animal lovers will also appreciate a number of plush toys and unique books at the San Diego History Center, including the heartwarming story of “The Dog that Belonged to No One” and “Cat’s Christmas.”

Animal lovers of any age will enjoy transforming any garden into a Zen garden with a unique line of Zen Creatures figurines at the Balboa Park Visitors Center (pictured).

Zen Creatures, Balboa Park Visitors CenterFor those, like me, who prefer digging in a garden to meditating in one, the Natural History Museum gift store is selling a variety of Dino Excavation Kits, alongside its usual wide selection of nature-themed books, home décor, and fine jewelry by MarahLago (picutred).

Photo frame, Museum of Photographic ArtsFashion hounds will be glad to know that several other museum stores in Balboa Park are also known for offering the latest styles, including the San Diego Museum of Art, which is currently featuring local designer Leslie Fastlicht Russo. Her LFR Design collection has been described as combining “a hint of elegant bohemian chic with a trace of rock star glam.” Ooh la la!

Across the Plaza de Panama, the Collector’s Gallery at the Mingei International Museum is responding to enthusiasm for the Struck by Modernism exhibition with elegant gold and silver jewelry from Steel Toe Studios and accessories by Erica Gordon, made of recycled and repurposed steel.

Lastly, I’m sure I’m not the only photo hound who would appreciate a photography-themed gift from the Museum of Photographic Arts, which specializes in a wide array vintage camera kits, books on photography, and one-of-a-kind frames, suitable for your favorite images of FiFi and Fido (pictured).

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The most frustrating thing about having such fine canine senses is that I can’t share the world I experience with my bipedal friends and family members. For example, when we pass by a bush outside one of Balboa Park’s historic buildings, all they smell are the scents coming off the brightly colored parts—the flowers, unaware that there’s a whole smorgasbord of equally interesting smells being emitted closer to the ground.

Eyelash Mite from "Mysteries of the Unseen World," Reuben H. Fleet Science CenterImagine my surprise, then, when I heard about the new large-format film presentation, Mysteries of the Unseen World, at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, opening November 8. Apparently, there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye or even the snout—things that move too fast or too slow, are too small, or are just simply invisible to the human or canine eye.

However, thanks to new “super powers” provided by high-speed and time-lapse photography, electron microscopes, and other advanced technologies used in this movie, the unsmelt world can now be seen by everyone.

Interestingly, Mysteries of the Unseen World is produced by the same company, National Geographic, that brought us the Dog Whisperer, and is narrated by Forest Whitaker, who acted in such canine classics as Four Dogs Playing Poker and Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai.

Yet, one of the best things about this movie is finally coming face to face with those teeny tiny creatures we’ve been scratching at all these years, including eyelash mites, dust mites, cat fleas, ticks, head lice, and other microscopic organisms hitching a ride on us. On the flip side of the coin, this unique film also lets us see with infrared vision like a mosquito, or how a bee’s eyes see through ultraviolet light.

As entertaining and educational as this film promises to be, I still long for the day when technology advances to the point of allowing my human companions to smell the same world I do, because I know how much they’ll love it!

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