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.