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Cosmos' Doggie Blog

Ask Cosmos, Millie selfieMillie writes: Now that my pack knows their team didn’t make it to the Super Bowl, what’s the best way for them to still have a super Sunday?

Cosmos: Unless the San Diego Chargers are involved, as far as I’m concerned, the only “super bowl” worth having is one filled with prime rib, top sirloin, and other succulent treats. There’s certainly Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl as a viable alternative, but in its 10th year I doubt we’ll see anything we haven’t seen before.

Because most people will watch the Super Bowl, even if just for the commercials (making Madison Avenue the big game’s only real winner), they don’t realize that Super Bowl Sunday is the one weekend day each year the Park is relatively empty, but everything is still open.

Cosmos Blog, Super Bowl Sunday activity, Guitar exhibition, RH Fleet Science CenterImagine having the entire Park to yourself, with all its sights, sounds, and scents, on a Sunday afternoon no less! Here are just a few ways to take advantage of this unique opportunity:

  • Enjoy a popular interactive exhibition like Guitar: The Instrument That Rocked the World at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center or the newly reinstalled Ripley’s Believe or Not at the Air & Space Museum without having to wait long, if at all, to interact with all the displays.
  • Take a picture or have your picture taken inside the Botanical Building without a random tourist accidentally walking into the photo.
  • Park yourself and your pooch wherever you want inside the Spreckels Organ Pavilion to hear the free Sunday afternoon concert.
  • Get seated immediately at The Prado Restaurant—without reservations.
  • Experience a special moment in front of a beautiful painting at one of the art museums without someone’s cell phone going off.

Of course now that the cat’s out of the bag regarding one of Balboa Park’s best kept secrets, February 2 may be just like any other Sunday in the Park. Speaking of cats, do we really need a Kitten Bowl on Super Bowl Sunday as well?

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Daniel's Coffee Cart in the House of Hospitality Courtyard, Balboa ParkI have a confession. I’m really not this chipper, tail-wagging pooch most readers have come to know me as — that is, not until I have had my first cup of Joe in the morning. Thankfully, Balboa Park has no shortage of cafés and coffee carts, offering a wide array coffee drinks and teas, to put some bite into my bark. Here’s a quick rundown of the Park’s best coffee and tea venues:

Daniel’s Coffee Cart — The best bet for park early birds, Daniel’s is conveniently located in the House of Hospitality courtyard and opens at 8am. Though its specialty coffee drinks are among the priciest in the Park, it does offer the best variety when only a hazelnut or peppermint latte will satisfy you.

Galileo’s Café — One of the many museum cafés in the Park that are only open during museum hours, starting at 10am, Galileo’s serves the usual variety of espresso drinks along with one of the deepest family-friendly food menus in the Park, including ice cream, so all of your pups will find something to howl about as well.

Dinosaur Café — Managed by the Cohn Restaurant Group, the Dino Café is located in the atrium of the San Diego Natural History Museum, in close proximity to my favorite bone collection. Although it’s closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, it does offer some of the best and most price-friendly coffee drinks in the Park.

Casa 2015 — Taking over the food counter between the Museum of Photographic Arts and the San Diego History Center, this park newcomer, also managed by the Cohn Restaurant Group, will mostly become known for its grab-and-go Mexican-style cuisine. But it still offers the usual assortment coffee beverages in a convenient indoor setting.

Tea Pavilion — Located next to the Japanese Friendship Garden, the Tea Pavilion should be renamed “Tea Paradise” for its wide variety of Asian-themed gourmet teas. Another Cohn Restaurant Group-run eatery in the Park, it also serves a tasty assortment of noodle soups, salads, and rice bowls at reasonable prices.

The Sculpture Court Café by Giuseppe — Perhaps the most elegant setting in the Park to enjoy your morning brew, the San Diego Museum of Art’s café serves gourmet coffee beverages as part of a diverse menu, which also includes beers, wines, and even cocktails. Perfect for well-heeled folks who don’t bother looking at the right-hand side of the menu.

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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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