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Cosmos' Doggie Blog

cosmos-blog_valentines-day-in-balboa-parkIt’s really no coincidence that Balboa Park is the region’s most popular venue for weddings, proposals, and first dates. So with Valentine’s Day falling on a Monday, make this Saturday and Sunday the perfect “date weekend” in San Diego’s top romantic hot spot.

 

Whether it’s puppy love or something else, here are my top five things to do with your honey bun this weekend:

 

Garden Strolls: No need to buy flowers as you will find plenty of live blooms (even in February) to enjoy with your sweetie throughout the Park’s many gardens, including in the Botanical Building, the Alcazar Garden, and the Desert Garden.

 

Romantic Picnic Spots: Nothing is more romantic than packing an elegant meal and sharing it in some of the Park’s more scenic out-of-the-way nooks, such as Zoro Garden, the Marston House Garden, and the courtyard behind the Park Administration Building. There are also some great areas with picnic tables in Redwood Circle, Pine Grove, and Golden Hill Park.

 

The Prado Restaurant: If you prefer to let someone else do the cooking (and dishes), the Park’s premier restaurant for fine dining is The Prado at Balboa Park. Not surprisingly, the restaurant is already booked for Valentine’s Day, but if you make a reservation soon, you can still find openings on Saturday and Sunday.

 

Museum Hopping: Impress that special someone with how cultured you are by taking him or her to some of San Diego’s most prestigious museums. Fortunately, February happens to be Museum Month, so you can save some coin for chocolates and more chocolates.

 

Off-leash Dog Parks: If it’s just you and your best four-legged friend (nothing wrong with that), this weekend would be a great time to visit one of Balboa Park’s three off-leash dog parks. Not only because your best bud will enjoy flocking unfettered with the neighborhood pack, but you just might meet that fellow dog lover of your dreams. Remember: MUST LOVE DOGS!

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San Diegans are truly blessed this time of year. And I’m not just talking about a conspicuous lack of blizzard conditions. For over two decades, a coalition of all the best museums in the county (a.k.a. The Museum Council) has banded together to make February Museum Month.

 

cosmos-blog_museum-month-2011Far from just a clever PR tactic, Museum Month is actually a gift to residents and visitors to the region, who can take advantage of ridiculously reduced admission fees, as in 50% off! For the entire month! For your entire family!

 

To get in on this deal, my bipedal pals just need to stop by any Macy’s Department Store in San Diego County (no purchase necessary) to fetch a free Museum Month pass. One pass is valid for up to four pack members.

 

And while 40 participating museums may seem like a lot, 14 of them are conveniently located here in Balboa Park, making February the ideal time to check out:

 

 

And that’s just to whet your appetite. For a complete list of all the current exhibitions at Balboa Park museums, be sure to browse the Calendar.

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cosmos-blog_turtle-reef-film_sdnhmAs a landlubber, I’m often too busy chasing the biodiversity that surrounds me on terra firma to give much thought to what goes on below the water’s surface. Luckily, two movies currently playing at two different Balboa Park museums go to great depths to show what I’ve been missing.

 

The first film, Galapagos at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center takes audiences to the remote islands and surrounding waters made famous by Charles Darwin. The domed IMAX format film brings viewers face-to-face with the islands’ giant tortoises, marine iguanas, and unique birds before plunging them deep into the waters Darwin never saw.

 

There, sea lion pups frolic while hammerhead sharks lurk and moray eels play hide and seek with the camera crew and biologist Dr. Carole Baldwin. Then, in a deep sea submersible we follow the good doctor 3,000 feet below the surface to observe fantastic creatures never before seen by human or canine eyes.

 

Another underwater adventure, Turtle Reef, awaits visitors in the Natural History Museum’s giant-screen 3D theater. Using the graceful Hawaiian green turtle as its screen-popping centerpiece, this film follows a day in the life of various creatures that live along Hawaii’s majestic coral reefs.

 

From dawn to dusk and to dawn again, audiences see the unique symbiotic relationships among the colorful fish, crustaceans, and plant life that ensure no food is wasted and everyone gets a good bath, thanks of course to all the resourceful cleaner fish (the deep sea’s answer to the household pet).

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Whether you are just passing through San Diego or a long-time resident like me, Balboa Park’s 1,200-plus acres of cultural and recreational activities can seem a bit daunting. And while the Park’s website offers a wealth of information to help you plan your visit, there are at least five reasons why you should first stop by the Balboa Park Visitors Center.

 

cosmos-blog_balboa-park-visitors-center_house-of-hospitality1. Directions—There’s no need to sniff around in circles when you can pick up colorful maps, brochures, and guide books that describe everything there is to do at the Park’s many museums, performing arts venues, gardens, trails, and activity centers.

 

2. The Personal Touch—Let the Visitor Centers’ knowledgeable volunteers help you customize a visit based on your particular, if not peculiar, interests. You can then have that personal touch extended by joining one of the many tours led by a Park Ranger or other expert guide that leaves from the Visitors Center.

 

3. Great Deals!—Whether you are in town for a day or a week, the Stay-for-the-Day Pass and the Balboa Park Passport are the most affordable ways to visit several or all of the Park’s 14 museums, which otherwise charge for admission separately.

 

4. Souvenirs—While your memories and photos you take of Balboa Park will last a lifetime, don’t neglect the pack members you left behind at home who will appreciate a picturesque postcard, travel mug, T-shirt, or visor emblazoned with logos and graphics of San Diego and the Park.

 

5. Provisions—Did you forget your water bottle or extra camera batteries? The Balboa Park Visitors Center’s gift store also stocks beverages, snacks, and basic accessories to make your visit even more enjoyable as only a chocolate bar can. There's even a ground-level water dish outside the entrance during regular hours for me and all my four-legged friends.

 

Since getting lost trying to find the Visitors Center defeats the purpose, I should mention that it is centrally located at the southeast corner of the historic House of Hospitality Building and is open every day from 9:30am to 4:30pm. (It’s the “i” symbol on this linked map.)

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cosmos-blog_ask-cosmos_andyAndy writes: Dear Cosmos, Like you, my family and I have been exploring Balboa Park for years. But now we’ve become creatures of habit, always hitting the same spots during each visit. How do we get out of this rut and discover new sights and smells?

 

Cosmos: While I know how tempting it is to stick to the same route to your favorite sniffing spots, there is such an unending supply of fresh scents throughout Balboa Park’s vast grounds worth exploring. Fortunately, a recent major expansion of the Park’s marked trail system makes it easier than ever to access them.

 

cosmos-blog_trail-system_east-mesa1Joining the gateway sign at Sixth and Upas St. on the Park’s West Mesa are three new signs at each of the three remaining corners of the Park, adding ten marked trails to the existing five. The three signs are located at the Morley Field Sports Complex (in front of the swimming pool and tennis courts), at the entrance to Golden Hill Park, and at the northeast corner of Park Blvd. and President’s Way.

 

While many of the trails overlap in sections, walkers, hikers, and joggers can now select from a wider range of distances, terrain, surfaces, and scenery. Another new feature is the ability to follow your progress on your smart phone using Google Maps—ideal for those who dare tackle the trails without the benefit of a super tracking pooch.

 

Speaking of tracking scents, I am happy to report that the maps, which can be downloaded and printed out, also show the location of the nearest restroom and dog park along the various paths.

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