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."