Most-Filmed Wild West Main Street Don't look yet. Turn off Woodside onto Maine and behold a li'l old Wild West street that'll knock your spurs off. It huddles beneath a perfect movie-set backdrop of towering granite mountains. Okay, there are some cars, but Maine Avenue has been uniquely preserved from the early days by a history-conscious citizenry -- and the arrival of State Route 67, which diverts traffic from old Lakeside. So the 1896 Presbyterian church, the 1900 Neal House, the 1905 Ross House, the 1911 town hall, the 1912 women's club (now a real estate office), the 1919 Texaco gas station, all are intact. So is the whole fabric of the street. And Hollywood has been responding from the get-go. The first location shoot was on May 25, 1911, when the lovely Pauline Bush starred in Allan Dwan's one-reeler, A Daughter of Liberty. And let's not forget April 21, 1907, just a block over, the day Barney Oldfield roared his "Green Dragon" racing car one mile around Lakeside's lake in 51.8 seconds, smashing the mile-a-minute barrier. They made a movie of that too. In 1913. On location, of course. Nowadays it's mostly TV, like the 1992-1997 series Renegade.
Whaling Bar: Rubbing Shoulders with Raymond If only the walls of this clubby, woody, red-leathery bar could talk. La Jolla's most famous literary watering hole has boasted an eye-popping list of regulars: Gregory Peck, Mel Ferrer, Dr. Seuss himself (Theodor Geisel), Art Buchwald, Picasso's lover Françoise Gilot (now the widow of Jonas Salk), and maybe the best-known regular of his time, Raymond Chandler (English-raised creator of the Philip Marlowe detective novels such as The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye). There's something about La Jolla that attracts the celestials as they come down to earth. You might catch one, say Gilot, 85, if she's not in Paris or New York with daughter Paloma Picasso. (Best night, budgetwise, is Thursday, happy hour. Seven-dollar martinis but free filet mignon sandwiches.) Chandler, of course, is long gone. He was a confirmed alcoholic but also a damned fascinating conversationalist, as complex as Marlowe himself. The one no-no was to bring up Alfred Hitchcock, whom he hated with a passion. Lean on the same bar, drink the same martinis, think the same noir thoughts. Quote his great noir lines such as, from The Simple Art of Murder, "Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean...."
Lloyd Ruocco's 1949 "California Modern" Design Center, Fifth and Brookes, Hillcrest. It's hard to believe this light-as-air redwood-and-cedar complex is 50 years old. It's not so much the condition -- it has been restored and rebuilt after a fire in the late 1980s -- as the modern design. Its architect, Lloyd Ruocco, envisaged this glassy, woody canyon-climber to capture the California spirit of openness and casualness and lack of pretension. He designed it as a low-slung, environmentally sensitive center to bring together creative people in the small town that San Diego was in 1949. Today we take flat roofs, floor-to-ceiling glass, open-plan interiors, inside-outside living -- and insouciance of design -- for granted. Back then, it was a revolution called California Modernism. The Design Center was out in front, flying the banner.
Rancho Guajome This historical rancho outside Vista is a beautifully restored Anglo-Californio hacienda. It belonged to Ysidora Bandini and her husband Cave Johnson Couts. Here, on their 2200-acre land grant, Couts built a 7000-square-foot, 28-room adobe casa and private chapel. Eventually it became the social and cultural center of North County. More important, Guajome -- it means "frog pond" in Luiseño -- unwittingly helped spark a fire of popular outrage over ill treatment of Mission Indians in California. It was here that social activist Helen Hunt Jackson visited not long after her 1881 book A Century of Dishonor had failed to spark outrage at the treatment of Indians. Now Jackson decided to emulate her friend Harriet Beecher Stowe (author of Uncle Tom's Cabin) and write her outrage into fiction. In the sewing room at Guajome she scribbled away, until an argument with Doña Ysidora abruptly ended her visit. It doesn't take much to imagine what the argument was about. Ysidora's late husband had been notoriously cruel to his Indian workers. Jackson's book Ramona, a Romeo and Juliet story of Ramona's love for the Indian Alessandro, became an outrageous success. It brought tourists from all over the nation. Ironically, it awakened concern not only for Mission Indians but also for preserving the sites of Spanish California's former glory. It is probably why Guajome -- and its sewing room -- are reborn, back in mint condition today. Rancho Guajome Adobe, 2210 North Santa Fe Avenue, Vista, 760-724-4082.
Where to Hang Out If You Want to Hitch a Sail to Fiji Think of San Diego as the gateway to the Pacific and the Americas. As spring comes on, blue-water sailors start turning up at Downwind Marine (2804 Cañon Street, Point Loma, 619-224-2733, www.downwindmarine.com) for owner Chris Frost's Wednesday-morning coffee-and-doughnut gatherings. "March is a good month if you're heading for French Polynesia," says Frost. "The cyclone season's pretty well over by then." Downwind holds seminars on all aspects of ocean cruising and hosts a "Cruisers' Kick-Off Party" after the hurricane season, in November, when sailing south to Mexico is best. It's where potential rigging rats can meet captains looking for crew. Wannabe crew members have been known to arrive with placards or hat signs reading, "New Zealand!" "Tahiti!" "Bali!" To crew, Frost says, you don't have to have experience, but you do have to be fit, adaptable, and ready to learn. He also warns: get to know your skipper. S/he may be charming onshore, then turn into a Captain Bligh as soon as you weigh anchor. Or worse, prove to be learning on the job.
The Empress's Pink Pillow The Empress Dowager of China, Tz'u-hsi, glowered at her courtiers. "Go to Fallbrook!" she commanded. "And don't come back without my pink tourmaline!" Really. Something like that. This was back in the 1880s. She wanted the rare rock in her favorite hue -- pink -- for palace and personal adornments and for her funerary pillow. Word had reached Peking that the only place in the known world producing the shade of tourmaline she wanted was San Diego County, according to Robert Hughes. (Hughes worked till recently for the Fallbrook-based Pala International, which still extracts tourmalines, garnets, and quartz from mines around the Pala Reservation.) So while Tz'u-hsi paced in Peking, a delegation of her emissaries traveled to the Fallbrook area's Himalaya Mine and purchased almost a ton of its uniquely pink rock. "She had the rock carved into goddesses, dragons, all sorts of beautiful creations," Hughes says. And some came back. "You can actually see some of the Fallbrook tourmaline she had carved. It's sitting in the Fallbrook Mineral Museum."
He says it's not such a stretch that the empress would hear about Fallbrook. "Fallbrook is America's Idar-Oberstein [a legendary German gem center]." And yes, when she died in 1908, Tz'u-hsi was laid to rest with her head supported by a round, pink tourmaline pillow. Gem and Mineral Museum is at 123 West Alvarado Street, Fallbrook, 760-723-1130.
Real México in TJ Yes, it's right next to touristy Revolución, but there's something real about Plaza Santa Cecilia, this enclave beside the "old" city walls. The walls are actually new, but this is exactly where Tijuana got its start, back in 1889, where Hotel Nelson now stands. The plaza and its angled pedestrian-only street (Avenida Santiago Argüello) with its candy-colored buildings deliver the flavor of old Mexico. Come around sunset, sit down at Tradición, the café that sticks out from the orange-colored Hotel Las Américas, settle back with an instant coffee or a Corona, and watch waiting mariachis, quietly rehearsing around the statue of harp-holding Santa Cecilia, patron saint of musicians. The knife-sharpener man. A photographer carrying an old Agfa bellows camera. Meseras, drink-serving ladies blinking in the sunlight outside the much-shortened Long Bar. A little Mixtec woman hauling down her sarapes and kid-size guitars for the night. The arch that hoops over Revolución, glowing orange and silver in the sunset. A couple of drunks think of duking it out but cool off when a blue-and-white police car cruises through, at walking pace. It's all here. México, a quarter hour's walk from the border. While you're about it, have the next trio who come by sing you "La Malagueña."
Ramona Castle In 1881, a seamstress named Amy Strong came to San Diego for her health. She struck gold. The women of the town's emerging aristocracy -- the Grants, the Marstons, the Scrippses, the Spreckelses -- were desperate for sophisticated dresses that would confirm their status. Soon Amy was employing 75 work-at-home seamstresses and traveling to Europe every year to borrow ideas and buy fabric. After 27 years she had enough money to build the house of her dreams, a 27-room, $50,000 (say, $1.5 million today) country "castle." She was inspired by the Craftsman "back-to-nature" movement and by her travels. She liked Holland, so she built a windmill to pump water. She liked French chateaux, so she hauled in local granite boulders to create sometimes eight-foot-thick walls, with the help of adobe bricks made from her property's clay soils. Result: "natural" air conditioning. Timber was her own eucalyptus trees plus oak and redwood. Decorations were Indian carvings. Of course, what most visitors want to see is the "séance room." Its circular ceiling is decorated with astrological symbols. Did Amy hold secret séances up there in the backwoods? The place is now called Mt. Woodson Castle and is the administration office for the Mt. Woodson Golf Club. Visitors welcome (16422 North Woodson Drive, Ramona, 760-788-3555).
San Diego Ingenuity Scripps Institution of Oceanography had a problem. They needed to make measurements at sea from a steady platform. Instruments couldn't be bobbing about with every wave. That's where Drs. Fred Fisher and Fred Spiess came in. Back in the early '60s, they had this idea: why not build a ship that could flip from horizontal to vertical? It would tow like a ship, then float like a buoy. How? Fill the stern with water so that end sinks, and the ship becomes vertical. The center of gravity would lie 300 feet underwater, guaranteeing the ship would not move with the surface waves. The bow-mounted superstructure would now stand five stories up in the air, putting instruments and crew (up to 16) beyond the reach of most waves. Scripps said okay. Result: this 355-foot baseball-bat-shaped "Floating Instrument Platform" ("FLIP") ship. The "flip" process takes 28 minutes. In the living quarters in the bow, what was the floor becomes the wall. Portholes in the ceiling now look out across the waters. The result is near-total quietness, essential to, say, studying how sound waves behave underwater or isolating marine animals' underwater sounds. These days, studies range from how storm waves are formed to ocean-atmosphere heat exchange. When she's in port, FLIP's moored at Scripps' Nimitz Marine Facility, Point Loma. No official tours but call Scripps for information.
Cowboy Picasso of El Cajon Olaf Wieghorst of El Cajon was a Danish immigrant and an ex-cop and didn't start painting Western-themed pictures till he was 46. Yet his clients included presidents Reagan, Ford, Nixon, and Eisenhower; Senator Barry Goldwater; J.P. Morgan; Leonard Firestone; Gene Autry; Roy Rogers; Bing Crosby; John Wayne; Burt Reynolds; and Clint Eastwood. After Wieghorst died in 1988, fans turned his house into a museum-gallery (at 131 Rea Street, El Cajon), and it has become a sort of pilgrimage place for fans who like how he learned about the West from the inside out. After jumping ship in New York in 1918, he became cowboy, cavalryman, and mounted policeman. Always horses. It was only when he retired to El Cajon in 1945 that he turned full-time to painting and sculpting. His work soon earned him the sobriquet "Dean of Western Artists." Partly, people loved his vistas and his close relationship with many Native American tribes. But his strongest point may have been his intimate knowledge of horses. "I try to paint the little natural things," he'd say, "the way a horse turns his tail to the wind on cold nights, the way he flattens his ears in the rain, seasonal changes in the coat of a horse."
The Big Kitchen, Radical Chic "My Area!" says a felt-tip message from this town's most famous pearl diver. "Don't Paint This Over, Goddammit! Whoopi Goldberg." Whoopi scrawled this here beside the Big Kitchen's big kitchen back in 1981, when she was washing dishes here to buttress her struggling career in local theater. But Whoopi's not really why this eatery is famous. The Big Kitchen (3003 Grape Street, 619-234-5789) is it: a breakfast place that even the august Bon Appétit magazine has called one of the "best places for breakfast" in America. But even that's not it. "It" is Judy Forman. This is her community center. It's where serious politics collides with jokes. (Typical wall signs: "Will Be President For Food." "Under Republicans, Man exploits Man. Under Democrats, it's just the opposite.") But understand this: under Judy Forman, things get done. Don't get her going. "We started the Fern Street Circus," she'll say, "sponsored the Grape Street Park Storytelling Festival, got the leash-free dog zone on Grape Street, drove the Miss California beauty pageant out of town...to Fresno! We started the Golden Hill Community Development Corporation." She lists a zillion more. "Now, everybody [seeking office] comes here," she says. "I'm pretty sure you can't get elected if you don't."
Julian: Civil Rights Capital of San Diego If today's San Diego is known for celebrating its multicultural strengths, maybe some of our good attitude adjustment goes back to the '60s -- the 1860s. That's when Albert Robinson arrived in Julian and started his rise to become possibly the most popular hotelier in the county. Robinson was African American, a freed slave from Missouri. He reached San Diego in 1869, soon after gold was discovered in Julian. For a while he worked as a ranch hand, then married a fellow African American, Margaret, in Julian in the early 1880s. Soon after, the two started a restaurant and bakery, and then, as their popularity grew, they built a hotel, the Hotel Robinson, in 1897, backed by prominent townsfolk. It became the confirmed social center of Julian for decades. Albert died, beloved, in Julian, in 1915, and Margaret sold the hotel a few years later, but the atmosphere they created lives on in the renamed Julian Gold Rush Hotel. It is now the oldest continuously operating hotel in Southern California. And the cedar and locust trees that Albert planted during the hotel's construction surround the hotel today. The Julian Gold Rush Hotel, 2032 Main Street, Julian, 800-734-5854.
The Palm Pioneer Father Junípero Serra brought a Canary Island palm with him to San Diego in 1769. He planted it beside what's now Taylor Street, beneath the presidio. Its descendants are probably growing all over Mission Valley. Canary Island palms grace the platforms at the Santa Fe Depot and the Prado in Balboa Park. They're outside the terminal at Lindbergh. We want them to announce us to visitors and relatives as a slightly lush, tropical, exotic town. If Serra has a disciple, it has to be horticulturalist Doug Coomes. For 30 years Coomes has been propagating palms to glamorize San Diego: Canary Island date palms, queen palms from Brazil, elegant kings from Australia, Kentias from Lord Howe Island, the Pygmy date palm from Malaysia, the Jubea from Africa, the Phoenix from Senegal. At his property above Encinitas you look into a green, cool jungle. What gets his goat is people who suggest palms don't give shade and look like telephone poles with bad haircuts. "Who are these East Coasters, imposing on us and our streets their cold-weather, deciduous trees? Who are the people who came and built here first? It was the Spanish. That's our tradition. If you don't want to go Spanish Mediterranean, go to Seattle!"
Palomar I: See Stars Every night, graduate students and researchers trek up Mount Palomar to the 5600-foot-high Caltech-owned observatory. Nearly 60 years after Palomar first opened for business, its six telescopes are still booked months ahead by astronomers wanting to discover or understand the universe. What's amazing is that this scope was first thought up nearly 79 years ago, in 1928. Caltech bought 160 acres here in the early '30s to get away from L.A. light pollution. The $6 million Hale Telescope, featuring a 200-inch mirror, took 21 years to complete and opened for business in 1949. It was the Hubble of its time, and Edwin Hubble was here to take the first photograph through it. Nearly 60 years later, this Rockefeller-financed phenomenon is still making cutting-edge discoveries, despite the unforeseen arrival of radio telescopes, high-energy astrophysics, the idea of putting a telescope (Hubble) beyond our atmosphere into space, and the ever-encroaching light pollution from San Diego. Why should we light polluters care about Palomar? Its Near-Earth Asteroid Tracking project might provide our only warning of one of those PHAs (potentially hazardous asteroids) heading our way. Your chance to peek through it: become a "Friend" of Palomar. It costs about $45, but "friends" say it's absolutely worth it.
Palomar II: Visit with UFOs On the other hand, why bother searching for life out there when space can come to you? On December 13, 1952, at Palomar Gardens campground, 11 miles down the mountain, a scout ship from Venus landed on the campground's baseball field, bringing important information for George Adamski. Adamski was a waiter at the Gardens' hamburger stand. It wasn't his first experience. He'd already seen a huge cigar-shaped "mother ship" from the campgrounds. But this time he acted. He and his friend Desmond Leslie wrote a book called Flying Saucers Have Landed. The book went into seven printings. Adamski would never flip another burger. He became an instant international guru, humanity's contact with Them. Half a century on, believers from all over the world still come to visit the Palomar site and pay homage to the "founding father of UFOlogists." Palomar Gardens, now called Oak Knoll Campground (31718 South Grade Road, Pauma Valley, 760-742-3437), is recognized in the UFO world as one of the most famous landing sites in the world. The campground's owners have teamed up with the George Adamski Foundation (headquartered nearby in Vista) to make the campgrounds UFOlogist-friendly, with sites for telescopes, kiosks to sell Adamski T-shirts and baseball caps, plus books about Adamski.
'Diego's Biggest Parade: Mother Goose Who knew, the second-largest parade west of the mighty Mississippi is in...(drumroll, please)...El Cajon. It started on a rainy night in 1947. Thomas Wigton was driving home from L.A. The town, he thought, needed to do something for its kids for Christmas. In a flash, he got it: have a parade. Wigton was a pretty strong-minded guy. "When Tom Wigton asked you to help, you really didn't say no to him," according to his pal Jack Maranda. For the very first parade, on Friday night, November 28, 1947, it was bitterly cold, and only three floats made it. But El Cajon, population then 1500, produced 25,000 spectators. Maybe it was the fact that Santa climbed the Rotary Club float's Christmas tree so folks could see him better. His costume got stuck, and he dangled from it through the whole parade. Everybody thought it was planned. But from then on, the parade was a hit. By the third parade, 100,000 people turned up. The next year, 1950, they officially formed the Mother Goose Parade Association. Now organizers claim that audiences get up toward the half-million mark. Guess that's what happens when a town is still small enough to embrace something as childlike as, well, Mother Goose.
Kingston Trio Nick Reynolds steps out of his hybrid in the Vons lot. He reaches for his cane. At 74, he's a regular around Coronado. And all Coronado knows who he is: one of the original Kingston Trio. Remember "Tom Dooley"? "Tijuana Jail"? "M.T.A."? "Sloop John B."? The three college kids (Reynolds, Bob Shane, Dave Guard) almost singlehandedly revived America's too-serious folk tradition by making it fun, college-cool, and mainstream, thus opening the way for Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, the Byrds, the '60s. "It just sort of happened," says Reynolds. "I was studying at Menlo College, around 1954. I got involved with Bob [also at Menlo] and Dave [at Stanford]. We started playing beer houses. I knew some Hawaiian and Mexican songs. I played bongos." His dad, a Navy captain, taught him guitar, ukulele, and harmony singing. The breakthrough? In 1957. " 'Tom Dooley,' of course," says Nick. "We'd recorded an LP in two days. People zeroed in on 'Dooley,' and suddenly it was number one." How crazy did it get? In their first four years, the trio cut ten albums. Reynolds believes the group's roots -- his, San Diego; Shane and Guard's, Hawaii -- were a factor in their success. "We never took ourselves seriously. We sang all right, but we just had a lot of fun."
Sheep Count Day Three. It's 110 degrees. In the shade. Your sweat-stung eyes stare up into sun-baked rocky pinnacles. You're looking for signs of life. In midsummer Anza-Borrego? That's an oxymoron. You're starting to feel like an oxymoron yourself when you catch a movement. A rare bighorn ram and his two dams, making their way down to a spring below your rocky perch. These are the borregos honored in the name of this hellish spot. They clatter down over the hot boulders. You feel a crazy elation. You're so grateful. And so lucky. Because the annual Bighorn Sheep Count has a way of making people dizzy, confused, and supremely bitchy. Most of the time you never see a sign of life. Correction. You can count on a fascinating collection of gnats, nits, mozzies, blood-sucking flies, tarantulas, and...was that a baby's rattle you heard, or...? The annual three-day Bighorn Sheep Count happens around July 4, when it's hottest, when the endangered sheep have to come to certain year-round springs, where you have a chance of spotting them. If you're crazy enough to volunteer, contact Mark C. Jorgensen, ecologist, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, 760-767-5311.
Ants in Your Pants "If you live in a typical San Diego home," says David Faulkner, a San Diego entomologist, "you have between 800,000 and a million ants living right there with you, under your path, your driveway, guaranteed. There are, what, three million of us in the county? You do the math." The tiny (16th-of-an-inch-long) Argentine ant has been colonizing us for a century now. It's overwhelming most of our 200 native ant species, even though some are ten times its size. "The Argentines have multiple queens," explains Faulkner. "They cooperate. They don't fight other colonies of their own kind. They breed at a fantastic rate." Result: native bird species and animals who depend on native ants are being robbed of a vital food source. The least tern, toads, and coastal horned lizard are all suffering. Who's to blame? Us, of course. "We brought water, lush golf courses, gardens, we paved half the county with paths and driveways. Perfect protection for their colonies." Worse, says Faulkner, the Argentines protect the pests that wreak havoc on our plants and trees. Aphids, mealybugs, whiteflies, leafhoppers. The ants get up to 70 percent of their food from honeydew, which they milk from these bugs, and they kill to protect the little buggers. Nice neighbors.
Hemingway Sat Here Jai alai may have ended in Tijuana, but the little restaurant that used to serve homestyle food for the Basque players still carries the luster of the good old days. Especially the aura of Ernest Hemingway, who, says manager Francisco Monje, encouraged a Spanish jai alai player named Pedro Garate to open this place in 1947 as a refuge for fellow players and matadors. Ernest would come down and sit "in the first booth on the right, or the third on the left," says Francisco, spending hours scribbling notes or perhaps editing. Señor Garate died recently, and the Monjes took out the booths, but you can still sit in the same spot where Sr. Monje says Papa sat, and within a few feet of where Ronald Reagan and Errol Flynn and Ava Gardner often lived it up too. Along with the vino tinto, they probably had the delicious camarones al ajillo, garlic shrimp. The plate of eight big, fat, juicy, sizzling Gulf of California monsters is still available today. Bring a notebook so while you nibble you can scribble the start to your own Great American Novel.
Lifeguard Capital of the World If you watch TV, says lifeguard Rod Messinger, San Diego is the center of the lifeguarding universe. For the past two years, Court TV cameras have been following Messinger and his 250 colleagues in the City of San Diego's Lifeguard Service as they carry out an amazing average of 7000 rescues each year. Some are fastwater and cliff rescues, but most are on city beaches, like riptide-prone Boomer Beach, Windansea, Mission Beach, and P.B. If you reckon 50 percent of those rescued would have survived anyway, that leaves 3500 people who owe their lives to city lifeguards. Messinger reckons he personally saves around 25 people a year. That's 500 people over his 20 years walking today who would not otherwise be here. And yet lifeguards usually come in a distant third after police and fire when it comes to budgets. "We're the City's stepchild," Messinger says. "Equipment-wise, what we get is usually the last stop before Tijuana. No disrespect to Tijuana." Beach Patrol is about to shoot its third season. Messinger's problem now is people he's rescued coming to, looking up at him, and saying, "Hey, aren't you the guy I saw on TV?"
Where Wyatt Drank Some say when Wyatt Earp came to San Diego in 1887, he and wife Josie moved into the second-floor corner suite of the swank Bay View Hotel (now, not swank, called the Palms, but still there at 509 Park Boulevard). And that he established three gambling saloons downtown -- the most famous, the Oyster Bar, was in the Louis Bank Building at 837 Fifth Avenue. But what's for sure is that he and Josie used to frequent the 1885 Tivoli Bar at Sixth and J. Walk in there today, and nothing seems to have changed. Its curved-glass corner doors, its settled, sloping floor, its original bar and backboard, which came around the horn, tell you this must be the oldest surviving business in the Gaslamp. But the first thing you notice is two big old photos. "Republican Wyatt Earp," says the inscription below one. And it's imposing, but it can't compete with the surprisingly sexy, poetic-looking lady next to him, his onetime dance-hall girl, Josie. She was his third wife, and this one lasted, 50 years. Just look at the photo. You can see why the gunfighter settled down.
The Glass Elevator "Sixteen of us stepped into sheer outer space. We hung suspended in mid-air in a clear glass cage as we slowly climbed up the front of the building. There was complete silence lest someone break the spell. The verbose had lost voice, overwhelmed by the magic fairyland of the soundless city far below." Such was Daisy Burns Munchtando's 1956 contest-winning description of her first ride in the "Starlight Express," the revolutionary exterior glass elevator that hotelier Harry Handlery had installed on his El Cortez Hotel, the city's sole high-rise. Mention "Starlight Express" to older San Diegans and watch their eyes light up. The elevator, only the second exterior glass elevator in the world, electrified San Diego when it was installed. Every Friday and Saturday, people formed lines so they could ride, float up in space. The El Cortez somehow got under San Diego's skin as "the hotel on the hill with the glass elevator." Then, after closing in the '70s and almost being razed for a convention center in the early '80s, the El Cortez was saved -- but at a price. Everything that wasn't 1927 original had to go. And that included the beloved glass elevator. Proms, graduations, weddings would never be the same. Hard-edged outta-town preservation purists, one; local sentimentalists, zero.
Nation's First Women's Studies Program: SDSU The women's movement of the '60s and early '70s shocked the country so much that even the nation's most august learning centers were slow to digest it and respond. It took more open, flexible communities such as San Diego to make the first move. And that's what San Diego women did. After the protests, after the furious national debate, as Princeton pondered and Harvard hemmed and hawed, women at San Diego State acted. In 1970, SDSU became the nation's first university to establish a women's studies program. Thirty years later, 2 courses have evolved to well over 20. The program has blossomed into a full department, with a dozen permanent faculty. Since the program started, more than 600 higher learning institutions have followed in San Diego State's footsteps. But State's program remains one of the biggest. The program attracts students from across the nation and from places such as Jordan, China, and Mexico to study violence against women, work versus family, cloning, glass ceiling, sexual harassment, and perhaps most relevant for a border-hugging college, how to apply the lessons of battles won here in the rest of the world. Oh, and yes, men may apply.
Monte Carlo in Coronado Wait for full moon and low spring tide. That's when you'll catch the wreck of the Monte Carlo at her best, most exposed. She is a concrete-hulled gambling ship that foundered on Coronado's beach 71 years ago. In Prohibition days she used to ride at anchor a convenient three miles beyond Point Loma, her lights glittering with the temptations of gambling and duty-free liquor, loose women, and rentable cabins. Every red-blooded San Diegan male who walked the embarcadero could see her lights out there, just a 20-minute launch ride away. Then, on December 31, 1936, a storm snapped her mooring chains, and she drifted onto the beach where the southernmost of the Coronado Shores condos stands. Especially after winter storms lower beach sand levels, much of her full 300-foot hull sticks out with her dangerous hatch spaces exposed and hiding, they say, thousands of dollars' worth of silver coins, still stuck in the lower decks' slot machines.
Clean Diego (Where to Go If You're Allergic to the 21st Century) Harriett Molloy founded this refuge outside Potrero near the Tecate border crossing nearly three decades ago in "the cleanest air I could find" in America. Her old wooden bungalow nestles beneath clusters of olive and live oak trees. All wood inside is bare, unvarnished. The floors are tile. There's no synthetic carpet. No gas heating or cooking. All energy is electrical. "Building timber, clothes, TVs, beds are secondhand, because we need them to have lost their toxicity," she says. Magazines hang out in the sun to be "outgassed." Molloy, whose Chicago doctor diagnosed her with "multiple chemical sensitivities," rents cabins and trailers, but only to the "seriously allergic." "We even have to find old mattresses, but not ones that secondhand stores have gassed to sanitize them. Having chemical sensitivities affects every aspect of your life." Molloy and any three tenants living in cabins scattered about this chaparral-covered property even have to agree on what dish soap, laundry soap, shampoos they'll use. "No one can be allergic to what any of us is using," Molloy says. "We're here because we couldn't take the perfumes and pesticides and gasoline smells of city life. So we all understand." Warning: Potrero's clean-air days could be numbered. The paramilitary organization Blackwater is threatening to set up training facilities in the valley next door. 619-478-5610.
Gourd for You The oldest musical instruments on the planet grow on Doug and Sue Welburn's 75-acre spread in De Luz Canyon. Every year around Thanksgiving, they harvest 350,000 of them. They're "the world's largest supplier of organic hard-shelled gourds." Fresh gourds are like melons -- 95 percent water. But the summer sun sucks out the liquid and bakes them until they're hollow and hard, like wood. The gourd heritage is long: 8000 years ago, before pottery or baskets, our ancestors used them to store food, carry beer, ladle water, hold holy relics, rattle with seeds for dancing. Others stretched skins over them and made drums. Now, every March, Native Americans, Hawaiians, and musicians come looking for potential drums, rattles, xylophones, nose flutes, and sound boxes for spike fiddles. Arts-and-crafters come seeking gourds for birdhouses, Christmas ornaments, purses, even necklaces. So does that make San Diego the Gourd Capital of the World? Welburn Gourd Farm, 40635 De Luz Road, Fallbrook, 877-420-2613.
Most Beautiful Bridge in the County As you head north on 15, climbing to clear the summit of what used to be known as Shears Grade, 13 miles north of Escondido, preparing to sweep down into the San Luis Rey River Valley, you can't miss what some have called the purest, most beautiful bridge in America. But don't look for any glorious name like "Golden Gate." Caltrans, which built it in 1978, calls it simply the "Lilac Road Overcrossing." Project design team chief Fred Michaels, along with architect William Wells, conceived this single-span, 695-foot concrete leap 134 feet above I-15's massive cut through the mountains. That's part of its appeal. You're coming up and under it. From 15, it's a sky-bridge of stunningly basic geometry: a stretched arch soaring up to kiss a straight line.
The Most San Diego Sculptor? The 23-foot, 16-ton Guardian of the Waters statue in front of the County Administration Building seduces you with her grainy, flowing, sensual lines. But she's just the most prominent of an astonishing array of sculptures that Donal Hord created in the first half of the 20th Century, helping transform San Diego from a roughneck town into a sophisticated city. Hord grew up and lived here for exactly 50 years (1916-1966) but studied widely -- under Anna Valentien, a pupil of Rodin's, in Santa Barbara, and in Mexico, where he was fascinated by Olmec and Zapotec art. Chinese art also gripped him. Unlike some contemporaries' work, his sculpture is of here and about here. Some of his must-sees: the brooding, lifelike fountain-statue, Woman of Tehuantepec, in the House of Hospitality's courtyard, Balboa Park; Aztec, the inspiration for SDSU's symbol, on the promenade to State's traditional entry arch; the downtown Central Library's "literature" panels flanking its entrance, full of thought about the strains of culture that helped form us; Morning, in Marina Park by Seaport Village; at Coronado High School, The Legend of California in seven architectural panels; and a must-see sits outside at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, his Olmec-looking Spring Stirring.
I Cavort the Waterfront "Auoop! Auoop! Auoop!" You're sitting outside the Sportsmen's Seafoods eatery at a table in Quivira Basin in the dark, chomping on steaming fish and chips, with a side of tuna jerky, smiling. Those are sea lions you're hearing. And, no, they're not calling from SeaWorld. These are the wild ones. Like you, they're whooping it up for fish. Only difference, you have hot chips with yours and a Bud. And they're bullying the bait-barge guys into letting them steal some flappers from the holding tanks. This place has been around a long time. It used to be Busalacchi's tuna cannery. The family came from Palermo, Sicily, a century ago. "My granddad would swap fresh-caught tuna from the tourist boats and give them tuna we'd canned in return," says Joe Busalacchi. The great thing, his place here isn't like those smart waterfront fish palaces you get downtown. It feels real. And reel: the family caught all the stuffed swordfish heads, barracuda, and rock cod on the walls. And the massive 3500-pound great white shark. But the greatest pleasure lies in the barking of the sea lions and the slapping of the halyards in the dark and the feeling you're suddenly back in the fishy little rope 'n' tackle port San Diego was, circa 1940.
Kumeyaay: Back to the Future Two decades ago, Mike Connolly and his fellow Kumeyaay decided enough was enough. Centuries of doing things the European way had exhausted their land and emasculated their culture. Connolly is a former aerospace engineer. He's also a member of the Campo Band of Kumeyaay Indians, whose reservation is 45 miles east of San Diego. So their first move: kick off all the cattle. The idea was to restore the 15,480-acre reservation to its pre-European state. "The land needed to rest," says Connolly. "The problem is as old as the colonial presence here. Those European herdsmen thought they were discovering an 'untouched wilderness.' They had no idea we had been cultivating these 'natural' mountain meadows for 10,000 years. They didn't know the oak forests were orchards we had planted for acorns. They didn't realize we had regular, controlled burns of sagebrush to allow the grasses and trees to come through, that we had created mishay sha-wing -- 'sediment holders' -- dams across streams to slow water flow all through these valleys."
Today, with the overgrazing cattle gone, the water table is up, streams flow year-round, native plants and animals have returned. From outside the reservation, you see the change. Degraded ranchland pasture with deep, dry arroyos gives way to the reservation's greenery and trees. Next up, harvesting acorns to create acorn bread. "Now that will be a classic San Diego dish," Connolly says.