Tag Archives: San Diego

The Art (and exercise) of Bicycles

Think of bicycles as rideable art that can just about save the world. ~ Grant Petersen


I like bicycles (part 2). The theme of my household this weekend is bicycles. I have written about my love for bike riding in a previous post complete with an itinerary specifically for San Diego. I also shared a fun experience in Austin at a bicycle festival called Tour de Fat. After riding our bike along the river to this quirky, colorful extravaganza, we were amused with fun bands, extreme costumes, silly shows, old school lawn games and humorous attempts at riding odd bikes (as seen in the picture). I even remarked to my boyfriend, “This would be perfect for San Diego.” Then, as if on cue, we walked past a booth selling t-shirts with the tour schedule on the back. The festival had been in San Diego earlier that month. I have excitedly waited 11 months for the Tour to come back around to San Diego, and that time is now!

The San Diego Tour de Fat festival kicks off with a bike parade this morning at 11:00. Anyone can register and join the procession, and costumes are encouraged. After the parade, which rides along 30th Street in South Park, the majority of the action will take place in Golden Hill Park. Check out the map on their website for more detailed information. The festival is free, but there are booths set up by local biking organizations that sell (or allow you to make) creative goods for a small fee. And, of course, because it is sponsored by New Belgium Brewing Company (Fat Tire), there will be beer for sale. These profits are also donated to local biking organizations. Despite the festival being created by a brewery, the Austin event last year was quite kid-friendly.

The bicycle is a curious vehicle. Its passenger is its engine. ~ John Howard

I am embarrassed to admit that my boyfriend and I will be driving a car to the festival. However, on the way we are heading to the Mission Bay Triathlon expo so my boyfriend can check in for his first triathlon sprint, which is tomorrow and will include close to 10 miles of biking. Even our dog will be getting in on the biking action this weekend, and no he is not a small dog that fits in one of those doggy strollers. Tucker is a strong, fast German Short-Hair Pointer that requires extensive exercise. He doesn’t actually ride a bike, but rather alongside it. We get a lot of curious looks when we go out for a bike run, but it is great exercise for him. For those of you who aren’t in San Diego, here is the remaining Tour schedule for 2011.

  • 10/8 – Los Angeles, California
  • 10/15 – Tempe, Arizona
  • 10/22 – Austin, Texas

Other cities on the tour include Durham, Nashville, Chicago, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Boise, Ft. Collins, Denver and San Francisco. Mark your calendars for next year!

For those of you in Dallas, they had their own bike parade today as a kick off to their Art in October celebration. The event called Art in Motion included bicycle decorating (and a contest) with a parade to the free museums, food trucks and other festivities.

If you need a little adult time, check out the Museum of Photographic Art’s POP Thursday event on Thursday, October 20, which is themed Greatest Hits of the Bicycle Film Festival.

Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike. ~ John F. Kennedy

UPDATE: Sunday, October 2
I attended the Tour de Fat festival in Golden Hill Park and found it to be less family-friendly than Austin’s event last year. Due to strict alcohol laws, the festival had to be divided to accommodate a beer garden, rather than simply giving bracelets to those 21 and over. This meant that the stages and some festivities were contained inside the beer garden but alongside the fence to allow families outside the beer garden to enjoy the shows. The games, food, crafty booths and bike-riding corral were accessible to those outside of the beer garden. Next year, I would recommend families join the bike parade or dine on 30th along the route to enjoy the show.

Just one of the many wacky bikes you can ride at a Tour de Fat festival, and yes, all those tires rotate.

4 Scavenger Hunts for Rose Gardens

Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden

'About Face' in Balboa Park

I like rose gardens. Last Friday I spent my lunch sitting in the Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden in Balboa Park embracing the sun and testing my will power at sitting still as bees enjoyed those roses closest to me. I don’t particularly like roses, especially in full bloom, but I love rose gardens. I love the repetition, funny names, bright colors, maze-like arrangements, perfumed breezes, and the opportunities for creative learning experiences.

A couple of years ago, I developed a series of activities for family engagement in rose gardens. These activities, along with activities for many of the other gardens and museums of Balboa Park, are part of the Balboa Park Family Activity Guide* – see additional details below. I have updated these original activities and included them here. Enjoy!

1. There are 35 types of roses. For simplicity and brevity, I have chosen five that I feel are the easiest to recognize and most common. Review the types listed below and try to find one of each at your local rose garden. Record the names and draw an example in a field notebook or get a photograph of each to add to your field notebook. This can be done with teams looking for one of each or individually with each person looking for a different variety (to be collected and combined into one notebook).

  • hybrid teas consist of one large bloom on a long stem used for cut flowers
  • floribundas or “many flowering” are low-growing and produce clusters of blooms
  • grandifloras or “large flowering” are tall-growing with a single bloom or cluster
  • ramblers or climbing roses have arching branches for covering walls or fences
  • miniatures have much smaller blooms and stems which are perfect for hanging baskets

2. Flowers are great for macro photography practice. Grab your camera for a photo scavenger hunt. Look for as many colors of roses as you can find or focus on the shapes you can find of a single color.

3. The names of the roses can be entertaining for both kids and adults. Have fun reading their unique names and brainstorming how they came to be. This makes for great story starters. Can you find a rose name for each letter of the alphabet?

4. Look for roses with characteristics listed below. Can you think of any other clues?

Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden

'Gourmet Popcorn' in Balboa Park

  • a type of food in its name
  • the longest name
  • a human name
  • an insect on it
  • the silliest name
  • two or more roses with a common word in the name
  • an adjective in the name

*The Balboa Park Family Activity Guide was created by the Informal Curriculum Experiences (ICE) committee made up of Balboa Park educators. This free guide is a collection of hands-on activities for families to complete throughout the Park and can be picked up at the Visitors Center.

Too-big Shoes & Crafty Costumes

I like dressing up, though I don’t remember doing it much as a child. Like any kid, my imagination was big enough to include multiple wardrobes for all my role-playing adventures. However, dressing up did add a level of glamour and excitement. Most kids’ first experience with dressing up is to put on a pair of too big shoes and clip-clap around in them like their favorite adult! Read below to discover where you can dress-up in southern California and explore some crafty activities for your own home.

Maritime Museum of San Diego
This fleet of vessels includes the historic Star of India built in 1863. Families can dress up as emigrants as they explore the close living quarters.

Pacific Asia Museum, Pasadena
The museum’s interactive exhibit titled Journeys: The Silk Road features a number of interactive elements including dressing as a camel handler or other traveling merchants.

Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles
As I mentioned in a previous post on books, the Skirball Cultural Center had a temporary exhibition in 2010 titled Monsters & Miracles: A Journey through Jewish Picture Books. This interactive exhibition included an exhibit to create your own monster with materials that could be used in a variety of ways depending on where your imagination took you.

Creating a Monster at the Skirball

Disneyland, Anaheim
Sure there are plenty of dressed-up characters to meet, but have you ever visited the hat shop? It’s almost as much fun as riding the rides, but define buying parameters before entering so you don’t walk away with unwanted purchases or unhappy kids. All you really need is a camera to capture the transformation of your family into classic Disney characters or other animated favorites.

Comic-Con International, San Diego
Dressing up is not a requirement for this comic convention, but it provides a good excuse. It may be the largest spectacle of costumes outside of Halloween, though not all are family-appropriate. Sunday’s line-up tends to include a number of kid-friendly activities.

Try This:
1. Create your own costume or hat out of brown paper bags from the grocery store. Grab some markers, paint, colored paper, glitter, scissors and glue to create your very own fancy outfit or funky hat for your next pretend playtime adventure. This is a great way to design your own costumes for a family play or talent show. There are plenty of websites that offer directions for these silly creations. Just type in “brown paper bag hats/costumes.”

2. Mirror Mirror on the Wall…buy an inexpensive armoire mirror and hang it on a door or wall at kids’ height. Using wet or dry-erase markers (depending on how long you want the image to last), allow your child to draw a costume reflection on their mirror image. Who will you see the next time you look in the mirror – a king, witch, cowboy or pirate?

3. Design your own Barbie or doll clothes. Are you crafty enough to sew a miniature dress for a Barbie? Have your kids help by creating the design in a sketchpad and then picking out the fabric. Barbie won’t care if the seams aren’t straight!

4. After visiting a historical site where the family can dress up or at least the staff is dressed up, have your family compare and contrast past and present lifestyles. Kids can draw or write diary entries about their life in the historical time period of the cultural site you visited.

Dressing up on the Star of India

Explore Math, Photography and Observation Skills at your Local Botanic Garden


I like botanic gardens.
With assorted plant species, winding paths, infinite colors, and interesting creatures, botanic gardens can easily meet the expectations of everyone in your family. Gardens can be mysterious places to explore, quiet spaces to reflect and relax, a photographer’s playground, a laboratory for learning and much more.

Here are a few botanic gardens I have visited:

  • San Diego Botanic Garden
    In addition to 2 children’s gardens, there are 37 acres and 4 miles of trails to explore at this Encinitas attraction. For my ideas on visiting the Hamilton Children’s Garden, check out my playgrounds post.

    Balboa Park Botanical Building

  • Balboa Park Botanical Building
    This building is one of the largest lath structures in the world. Together with the Lily Pond that lies directly in front of it, this area is the most photographed in the park.
  • The Huntington
    San Marino, California
    In addition to a library, art galleries and tea room, there are more than a dozen themed gardens spanning 120 acres at The Huntington.
    For more ideas on visiting The Huntington, check out my repetition and playgrounds posts.
  • Santa Barbara Botanic Garden
    This garden is a great place to explore on a hot day, and dogs are permitted too. Ask for a mystery scavenger hunt especially for kids.
  • Lotusland, Santa Barbara
    Exploration of this garden is by tour only, but groups are kept small and families are grouped together to provide the most enjoyable experience.

    Conservatory of Flowers

  • Conservatory of Flowers
    San Francisco
    Located in Golden Gate Park, this iconic piece of architecture is the oldest wood and glass conservatory in North America.


Try This:
1. Grab a camera for macro photography practice. This is a great activity for children and adults alike. Each season offers different subjects, so visit often and compare photos throughout the year.

2. Enhance observation skills with a scavenger hunt or I Spy. How many shades of green can you find? What shapes do you see in the cacti? What is the most unusual plant name you read?

3. Pick up a garden map and have the kids plan the visit. Will you start at the desert or topiary garden? How will you get there? Introduce or reinforce the concept of cardinal directions.

4. Draw a visual representation of your visit. Use a ruler to measure from the entrance of the botanic garden to your first stop of the visit. Hint, if the path isn’t straight, try a string or piece of yarn to measure the distance against a ruler. Record, then measure the distance to the next stop of the visit. Create a scale for the map or write about your visit using these measurements.

5. Explore patterns by designing a dream garden. Create a blueprint for your garden. Instead of a tissue paper Christmas wreath, use those same materials (colored tissue paper, glue, pencil with eraser and paper plate) to create a pattern of tissue paper flowers for your garden. First, cut the tissue paper into various sized squares. Next, wrap and twist one piece of tissue paper around the eraser end of a pencil. Then, dip the flat side into the glue and tap the paper plate where you want to place the tissue paper. Finally, release the paper and remove the pencil. Repeat until the entire plate is covered.

Check out this great blog for 10 children’s books about gardening.

Playgrounds as Tools to Teach Play

I like playgrounds, a.k.a. magical spaces for children and the young at heart. Playgrounds originated in Germany as tools to teach kids how to play. They build social skills, self-esteem and imaginations! My all time favorite playground feature is the swings, where I would belt out songs in unison to pumping my feet!

In elementary school, my friends and I started a playground tradition of pole competitions. There was a symmetrical play structure with a pole on each side of the unit. During recess, we would assign a judge to determine who gave the most creative performance sliding down the pole. The poles extended a few feet beyond the play structure, which gave us plenty of space to swing around in creative ways.

A few of my favorite playgrounds are listed below. My descriptions will not do them justice, so please Google them for photographs that will make you want to be a kid again!

  • Dennis the Menace Playground at Lake El Estero
    Monterey, California
    This playground includes a sunset bridge, hedge maze, tunnels, a locomotive to explore, and many more unique features designed by a cartoonist.
  • Kids’ World at Alameda Park
    Santa Barbara, California
    The City of Santa Barbara is home to more than 50 parks. I knew I had found the right park when I turned a street corner and saw a castle, need I say more! This 8,000 square foot playground is across the street from Alice Keck Gardens – home to koi, turtles and trumpet shaped flowers!


The next two examples are actually children’s garden playscapes, which are playgrounds that have a natural look and feel of the environment.

  • Children’s Garden at The Huntington
    Los Angeles, California
    This garden incorporates scientific principles for little ones to explore. The Huntington website is a great resource, breaking down the exhibits into the four elements of fire, water, earth and air, with descriptions and a garden map. Don’t forget to check out the adjacent conservatory with hands-on exhibits to help kids learn what makes plants unique.
  • Hamilton Children’s Garden at San Diego Botanic Garden
    San Diego, California
    The Hamilton Children’s Garden is unlike any children’s play area I have ever experienced. Within the garden there are a number of exhibits, such as Incredible Edibles, Spell & Smell Garden, Arts Garden, Garden Rhythms, Toni’s Tree House, a sundial and more. There are so many opportunities for learning, but a child would never know it! The best part is that throughout the season, the landscape may change as different plants come into bloom, thus creating a different experience each time you visit. Don’t miss the Seeds of Wonder Children’s Garden on the other side of the grounds and check out the topiary figures in the Mexican Garden along the way.


Try This:
1.     Favorites Poll: Have your little learner create a poll to find out family and friends’ favorite playground activity. Is it the slide, swings, monkey bars, pole, seesaw or something else entirely? After collecting responses, create a visual representation of the results like a graph or collage.

2.     Obstacle Course: Visit your local playground and create an obstacle course. Who can be the first to swing back and forth 10 times, take giant steps to the monkey bars, swing across the monkey bars, climb the rope ladder, go down the slide and touch the pole? Phew, need a break, sit on the bench and draw an aerial view of the course in a notebook. Create a different course each time you go and add it to your notebook. You can even log course completion times and try to break your records.

3.     Named in your Honor: As the champion of playground obstacle courses, a playground is being designed and named in your honor. Create your own 3-dimensional playground. Use any materials you can think of. Here is a list to get you started.

  • Craft supplies: construction paper, pipe cleaners, yarn, felt, corrugated paper…
  • Organic material (depending on the artwork’s life expectancy): grass, twigs, sand…
  • Other: cereal box, straws, toothpicks, pieces of broken toys, corks, bottle caps…

“All the world’s a playground!”