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Cosmos' Doggie Blog

This time of year my readers invariably start hounding me for advice on how to keep their fitness resolutions. Perhaps it’s because I’ve managed to maintain my trim haunches in spite of my insatiable appetite for anything edible. But more likely it’s because they know I have my toenail on the pulse of the myriad physical activities available in Balboa Park.

One activity that I’ve practically taken for granted all these years, because for me it’s merely an opportunity to bark at and chase something, is bicycling. With so many scenic roads and trails throughout Balboa Park, which is in turn surrounded by charming neighborhoods all on relatively flat ground, bicycling through Balboa Park is … well … um … like riding a bike.

For those who live too far away to bike all the way into Balboa Park and who drive one of those new subcompact cars that’s roughly the size of a bike, you have options. The MTS bus service has bike racks on all of their buses, and the trolley system now allows anyone to carry a bike on board without a permit. (It’s actually easier and more permissible to transport a bike on the bus or trolley than a non-service animal—go figure!)

For bipedal folks who don’t own a bike or families who don’t wish to transport an entire fleet of them, you have another option: renting. Wheel Fun Rentals, conveniently located by my favorite hang-out, the Village Grill, next to the Spanish Village Art Center, offers a variety of self-propelled vehicles that can be rented by the hour, half-day, or full-day, depending on how many energy bars and water bottles your are packing.

From individual mountain and kids bikes to deuce coupes and surreys, Wheel Fun Rentals can accommodate packs of any size. The double surrey, for example, can safely seat up to four adults and two to three pups. Now that’s what I call a work out!

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Beginning January 2, that big beautiful bridge that links Nate’s Point Dog Park to my favorite sniffing grounds around the Central Mesa will be closed to vehicles for at least four months in order to complete much-needed retrofitting work. Normally, the Cabrillo Bridge closing would make me one depressed doggie. However, being a firm believer that you can in fact teach an old hound new tricks (I’m living proof), here are a few ways to make the best of the situation:

Walk from the West Mesa — If you are coming in from the 6th Avenue side of Balboa Park, don’t despair. The bridge will still be open to foot (and paw) traffic, and the Central Mesa is just a pooch kick away from the West Mesa. Simply park along 6th Avenue or Balboa Drive and hoof it. You’re in Balboa Park — it’s not like you’re walking through an industrial park for goodness sake.

Enjoy the Detour — Just like there is more than one way to skin a cat (I can think of at least 10 off the top of my head), there are scenic alternatives to driving into Balboa Park. Simply head north on Sixth Avenue, go east on University, and then go south on Park Boulevard. Or, taking the 163 highway south under the Cabrillo Bridge, exit at Park Boulevard. Or, coming north on I-5, take Pershing, turn left on Florida Drive, and then turn left on Zoo Place to Park Boulevard.

Take the New Tram — Also new this year, a green-colored tram is replacing the red tram system. In addition to being larger capacity, the green tram allows for wheelchair access. It currently stops at three key locations: the spacious Inspiration Point Parking Lot off of Park Boulevard at President’s Way, the Palisades area at the south end of the Park, and in the Plaza de Panama, offering full access to the Central Mesa area.

Discover a New Dog Park — If you are already in the Central Mesa area and frustrated that you can no longer drive directly to Nate’s Point Dog Park, there are two other dog parks in the Balboa Park area. The closest one is the Morley Field Dog Park. To get there, head north on Park Blvd. to Morley Field Drive, and it’s your first right after crossing Florida Drive. You can’t miss it (or, at least, I can’t).

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With such beautiful weather forecast for the coming week, it’s likely that any extended pack members in town for the holidays will want to do more than go to the mall to return ugly sweaters. San Diego beaches are certainly an option — for penguins who don’t mind the chilly water temperatures.

It’s no wonder then that Balboa Park is San Diego’s #1 destination for holiday guests. But before piling the pups into the mini-van, be a good host and note the following:

Poinsettia Display, Balboa Park Botanical Building1. Arrive Early

The week between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day is one of the busiest in Balboa Park all year. The same goes double for the San Diego Zoo. Parking lots will fill up quickly, so consider public transportation if you prefer sleeping in past 10am (when most museums open) or park in the Inspiration Point Parking Lot and use the free tram.

2. Know What’s Open and When

If you plan on coming to the Park between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, be aware of special holiday hours for the various cultural attractions. To keep it simple, only the Zoo and the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center are open on Christmas Day, and they are joined by the Natural History Museum and Air and Space Museum as open on New Year’s Day. And many museums close a little early on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Otherwise, regular hours will generally be in effect on all other days. Which leads me to the next item …

3. The Park Is Extremely Dog Friendly

If you’d rather not leave your best friend(s) home alone to paw through guests’ luggage and recently opened gifts, there is plenty to see and do in Balboa Park without setting foot inside a museum (which aren’t so dog friendly), including miles of hiking trails through lush urban parkland, numerous award-winning gardens, historic architecture, and, count ‘em, three dog parks!

4. Get the Most Bang for Your Buck

If visiting multiple museums is indeed on the itinerary, be aware of the many options for discounted visits, including the Balboa Park Passport (7 days), the Stay-for-the-Day Pass (1 day), and the Balboa Park Explorer (unlimited admission for an entire year!).

5. Don’t Miss Special Holiday Traditions

On the verge of celebrating its 100-year anniversary in 2015, you'd better believe Balboa Park offers plenty of holiday traditions. Of particular note are the annual poinsettia display in the Botanical Building, the Old Globe Theater’s yearly presentation of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, more kid-friendly holiday performances at the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater, and the free New Year’s Day concert at 2pm in the Spreckels Organ Pavilion — to name a few.

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Barkley the dachshund writes: Dear Cosmos, I always seem to get a little anxious as the New Year approaches because I know certain exhibitions will be leaving, and my bipedal pack members will miss the chance to see them. What can I tell them?

Cosmos: Since the last thing your family needs is an anxious dachshund on their hands, I’ll give you the full scoop on which exhibitions in Balboa Park are scheduled to close in the next few weeks. But please don’t blame me if seeing your other pack members leave the house throughout the holidays to catch these “last chance” exhibitions adds to your separation anxiety.

 San Diego's Craft Brew Culture, San Diego History CenterBottled & Kegged: San Diego’s Craft Brew Culture (closes Jan. 20): Any out-of-town guests this holiday season will be impressed to see why San Diego is quickly becoming leader of the pack when it comes to the craft beer industry. This pup-friendly show at the San Diego History Center digs up the region’s rich beer history and profiles some of the county’s award-winning brewers.

Coffee: The World in Your Cup (closes Jan. 5): If your family dozes off too much during the holiday season, there’s a good chance they’ll miss this intriguing exploration of another popular brew. The eye-opening exhibition at the San Diego Natural History Museum examines how much impact one tiny bean can have on numerous economies and cultures around the world.

Allied Craftsmen Today (closes Jan. 5): Beer makers aren’t the only craft makers on the cutting edge in San Diego, as seen in this diverse display at the Mingei International Museum. Featuring works in a wide variety of media by members of the long-running Allied Craftsmen collective, the exhibition proves the benefits of staying loyal to one’s pack.

Ripley’s Believe or Not (closes Jan. 5): Last but not least, according to the San Diego Air & Space Museum’s website, this popular blockbuster is “closing soon.” But I’ll believe it when I see it. Whatever the case, why take a chance on missing 2013’s biggest must-see exhibition?

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Winter Break camps, Reuben H. Fleet Science Center kids experimentThe holiday season can be stressful enough without having a litter full of pups underfoot while shopping, decorating, baking, wrapping, and hosting. Add to that the fact that this time of year the energy level of most pups is at an all-time high thanks to a steady dose of holiday candy and the excitement over getting new toys.

While video games and DVDs offer some degree of distraction, who wants to hear the constant sounds of gunfire and explosions or cloying songs from animated movies while trying to get things done or even, heaven forbid, rest?

Thankfully, you can kennel your pups guilt-free for a few hours, or a few days, during the winter break at one of several different winter camps offered in Balboa Park this season.

The San Diego Natural History Museum, for instance, offers a number of one-day and one-week camps from Dec. 23 to Jan. 17, for grades 1–2 and 3–5. Camp topics that most pups won’t even realize are educational include Dinosaur C.S.I., Bug Hunter, Time Travelers, and Animal Mysteries, to name a few. Note that the deadline for one-day camps during the week of Dec. 23 is this Friday.

The Reuben H. Fleet Science Center also offers a flexible series of one-day and one-week camps from December 23 through January 3. So instead of letting your kids play video games all day, have them learn how to create games in a computer programming camp. Or how to build mega structures or an actual guitar.

Likewise, at the San Diego Junior Theatre winter camps, pups can spend their break learning to sing, dance, and act on stage at San Diego’s premiere theater for youth rather than barking along to the same Disney or Pixar video for the umpteenth time. Week-long camps for grades K–8 run from Dec. 23 through Jan. 10.

You can thank me later.

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