It's my first time to sunny San Diego. In my mind, I had visualised a laid-back beach city not dissimilar to one of my favourite southern California cities, Santa Monica. But I’m in for one big surprise.
Yes, there is sun and surf but that’s not what I’m here for. Instead, I set off to visit the city’s haunts and hotels that have been made famous by some of Hollywood’s best-loved flicks.
First stop is Kansas City Barbeque. Let me set the scene: It’s 1986. Tom Cruise is a fighter pilot named Maverick. He sings You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling to his love interest, Charlie – played by Kelly McGillis – in a local bar. The movie: Top Gun. Don’t think it’s lost on me that I’m a vegetarian at a diner where the speciality is ribs! Still, I soak in the atmosphere as local fighter pilots stop by for beef brisket and pulled pork, sitting near the bar and jukebox that served as a backdrop in the blockbuster hit.
Our afternoon adventure is a thrill ride – literally. We hop on Harley-Davidsons for a chauffeured Eaglerider tour to some of the top sites in this city, the second largest in the states after Los Angeles.
We cruise to Julian, the apple capital of San Diego County, a 90-minute ride away. Famous for apple pie, it’s hard to resist a slice of this humble dessert from one of the local quaint bakeries. The hardest decision is which to try. Traditional? Boysenberry and apple? Strawberry and rhubarb? Then we’re off to Hotel del Coronado and the 1950s – 1959 to be exact. The plot: a bubbly blonde bombshell befriends two male musicians who’ve witnessed a mob hit. They flee, disguised as women in an all-female band. The movie: Some Like It Hot, starring Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon.
As we pull up to The Del, as it’s known, its grand splendour is a sight to behold. The luxurious Victorian beachfront hotel, the second largest wooden structure in America, has played host to presidents, royalty and myriad celebrities. The Del is also thought to have been the inspiration for Emerald City in The Wizard Of Oz, with author L. Frank Baum doing much of his writing there. I feel like a movie star staying at this landmark hotel, with my balcony room overlooking the impressive grand-scale pool and grounds, out to the Pacific Ocean. I never want to leave.
While this next classic film from 1941 may have only featured San Diego’s famous Balboa Park for a matter of minutes, during the newsreel report of the main character’s death, no-one can discount the grandeur of the majestic monuments it features. It’s been more than 70 years since Orson Welles honoured us with Citizen Kane – which some claim to be the greatest film ever made. Eagle-eyed movie buffs will recognise that Charles Foster Kane’s estate, Xanadu, is in fact a montage of the El Cid equestrian statue, Museum of Man and California Tower, San Diego Museum of Art and the reflecting pool.
Last year, Balboa Park celebrated 100 years, with a 12-month festival highlighting the area’s history. For those who are yet to set foot in this 490ha urban cultural park, it’s home to gardens, walking paths, theatres, museums and the San Diego Zoo, to name a few of the sights.
If you’re a lover of museums, there are 248 in San Diego County – fourth behind Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. As I say farewell to this great city, I can see the magnificent Hotel del Coronado’s soaring red-roofed signature turret in the distant sunset, and vow to return as soon as I can.