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Cosmos' Doggie Blog

Girls sitting in airplane cockpit, Summer Camp, San Diego Air and Space MuseumBelieve it or not, the vast majority of what pups learn during their lifetime comes not from obedience school but from the world around them. For many, this world is becoming increasingly limited to digital forms of information and entertainment from tablets, smart phones, online videos, and computer games.

Not that I’m totally dogging digital forms of information — I make a pretty good living at it. But before I make my contribution to the Internet’s vast digital archive, I spend a fair amount of time sniffing around one of the world’s largest and most diverse cultural resources in the world: Balboa Park.

With Balboa Park’s Summer Camp program, pups from all over San Diego County can experience new ways of learning, creating, discovering, problem solving, exploring, and playing that don’t involve constantly staring at TV monitors and touch screens. Over a dozen world-class cultural organizations present a wide range of topics and activities in full-day or half-day camp format that can be mixed and matched week to week over the course of the summer.

Just to give you an idea of what I’m barking about, here is just a small selection of possible camp activities in Balboa Park:

·       An astronaut camp in a space station simulator at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center

·       Collecting natural objects in the Park to create walking sticks, animal masks, and more at the Spanish Village Art Center

·       Experiencing traditional life in Japan through crafts, gardening, games, food, and other activities at the Japanese Friendship Garden

·       Building rockets and launching hot air balloons at the San Diego Air & Space Museum

·       Discovering and practicing the art of ballet with the San Diego Civic Youth Ballet

·       Digging for artifacts and meeting archeologists at the San Diego Museum Man

Balboa Park Summer Camps are especially convenient for larger packs of finicky campers who need a variety of activities to hold their attention. Through a unique collaborative camp program, campers can spend the morning in one camp, enjoy a chaperoned lunch break in the Park, and then be escorted to a camp in another part of the Park.

The most popular camps are filling up quickly, so be sure to start contacting each institution separately to sign your pups up before it’s too late!

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Hot dog! Or better yet — fish taco! Food trucks will be pulling up inside the Plaza de Panama this Friday, April 1, from 5 to 9 o’clock — in the evening! Seriously, this is no April Fools’ joke. Four of San Diego’s most popular trucks, Tacos La Mezcla, Caliano by Spinelli, Sushi Uno, and Cousins Maine Lobster, will be delivering affordable gourmet treats, including fresh carnitas, wood fired pizzas, and seafood rolls, to my home away from home.

Tacos La Mezcla food truck, Food Truck Fridays, Balboa ParkBut what’s really got my tail a waggin’ is that this week’s Food Truck Friday is just the soft launch of a new program organized by the Balboa Park Conservancy and the City of San Diego Park and Rec to bring food trucks to Balboa Park’s favorite gathering spot on a regular basis. The date of the next Food Truck Friday, May 6, has already been announced.

Last year, the Balboa Park Conservancy worked with Park and Rec and outside funders to activate the Plaza de Panama, making it a central hub in Balboa Park for picnicking with your pet at the many new tables and living room-style furnishings, enjoying an occasional free outdoor performance, using the free public Wi-Fi, playing a giant chess match, and viewing modern sculptures installed by The San Diego Museum of Art.

Food Truck Fridays are the next step in the evolution of this space. Not only will all species of visitors be able to enjoy fancy foods from San Diego’s pick-of-the-litter mobile eating establishments, they’ll also be treated to acoustic guitar music by Mario Olivares and can wash down their meal with craft beers, wine, and cocktails at the adjacent Panama 66 bar or the nearby Prado Restaurant.

Keep an eye on this blogspace for the announcement of new Food Truck Friday dates and related activities as summer approaches.

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I have great news for anyone else still feeling sick as a dog over the end of the Balboa Park Centennial celebrations. Balboa Park’s largest attraction, not to mention one of the world’s most famous animal attractions, the San Diego Zoo, is celebrating its own 100-year anniversary this year. Even better, several Balboa Park cultural institutions will be honoring the zoo’s major milestone throughout 2016.

The Lore Behind the Roar exhibition, San Diego History Center, zoo elephant coop in 1966Leading the pack is a major exhibition at the San Diego History Center that surveys the entire 100-year history of the San Diego Zoo. Created in collaboration with San Diego Zoo Global, The Lore Behind the Roar: 100 Years of the San Diego Zoo is a pup-friendly interactive experience that allows visitors to “ride” on a vintage zoo tour bus, hear intriguing stories straight from the horse’s mouth (aka long-time zoo employees), sniff around the zoo’s extensive animal and plant collection, and discover little-known facts about the zoo. In addition, a special kids area called the Roar Family Den features engaging family activities, such as the Animal Dinner Table, Condor Puppets, and the Life of a Zookeeper.

Those champing at the bit to learn how the San Diego Zoo emerged from a ragtag collection of animals left behind by the 1915-1916 Panama California Exposition into a top dog San Diego destination should check out this interactive online timeline, filled with facts and photos spanning the zoo’s entire history.

Another intriguing section of The Lore Behind the Roar reviews the zoo’s many contributions to popular culture, including its nationally syndicated TV show Zoorama, which was filmed live at the San Diego Zoo. Baby boomers are invited to scratch their nostalgia itch and show everyone in their litter what life was like before color TV with daily showings of episodes from the popular TV series.

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Logan and Roxy near the Lily Pond in Balboa ParkLogan and Roxy write: Dear Cosmos, In anticipation of spring break, our family is looking for quality off-leash entertainment that will appeal to pups of all ages and won’t break the piggy bank like a trip to “Pricey-land” would. What are the best options in Balboa Park this month?

Cosmos: Unlike another “happiest place on earth,” Balboa Park and its cultural attractions don’t charge extra bones to visit them on the most popular days, including weekends and spring break. In fact, many museums and performing arts organizations in Balboa Park are a downright steal compared to even going to the movies. After a little sniffing around, I’ve come up with a list of Balboa Park’s best-kept bargain secrets.

Free Outdoor Activities!

Balboa Park’s 1,200-acre campus is home to dozens of open-air experiences that are 100% free — every day. With five play areas with slides, swings, and picnic tables; over a dozen gardens, including the Botanical Building; and 65 miles of hiking trails, a family could visit Balboa Park for an entire week without digging into your eldest’s college fund.

San Diego Model Railroad Museum, Photo by Richard BentonBalboa Park Explorer Annual Pass for Families

Perhaps the best value in Southern California, the $229 Explorer Annual Pass offers general admission to two adults and up to four pups (3–17 in human years) to 17 different museums in the Park, including such kid favorites as the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, Natural History Museum, San Diego Air & Space Museum, and Museum of Man.

Museums with Family-Friendly Pricing and Exhibits

For out-of-towners or those not ready to commit to an annual pass, several museums feature a budget-friendly pricing structure. The San Diego Museum of Art, for example, charges $28 for a pack of two adults and two kids. The Museum of Photographic Arts is offering “Pay What You Wish” pricing through May 29. And the always pup-friendly San Diego History Center and Model Railroad Museum will also entertain a family of four for around $30.

Puppet Theater Shows Are Only $5!

The Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater is the only place in San Diego that features professional-quality puppet shows every day, year-round. Appropriate for everyone in your litter, this month’s performances include spring holiday favorites “Benito Bunny’s Great Easter Egg Hunt” and “Peter Rabbit.”

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I recently barked about an exciting development in my home away from home, Nate’s Point Dog Park. Last January, 18 glorious new trees were planted in Nate’s Point off-leash area thanks to a $20,000 grant from Beneful’s Dream Dog Park program. Coordinated by the Balboa Park Conservancy, City of San Diego Park & Rec, with the help of dozens of dog park-loving volunteers, installed jacaranda, tipuana tipu, and mahogany trees for future generations of pooches and their human companions to enjoy.

Nate's Point dog park, bench and plaque in honor of Kevin ChildreI am now both happy and sad to report another development in Nate’s Point enhancements. Last weekend, the Friends of Balboa Park helped install a new bench and plaque at the entrance to Nate’s Point in honor of Kevin Childre (aka “Father Tuck”) who regularly brought Tucker Doodle, an Instagram sensation and personal packmate of mine, to the dog park. Last May, Father Tuck went to doggie parent heaven after a tragic bicycling accident.

Kevin’s friends and family quickly raised the $5,500 bones needed through a GoFundMe campaign for the bench and plaque. The new cement bench was officially dedicated on March 6, Tucker’s birthday, much to the surprise and delight of Kevin’s wife Margaret.

Part of the inscription on the plaque reads, “All you need is love and a dog.” No truer words have ever been spoken.

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