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Visit ‘Top Gun’ sites ahead of sequel release

Fly into McClellan-Palomar Airport in Carlsbad, a gateway to San Diego’s North County and within a 20-mile drive of the “Top Gun House” in Oceanside. Before 1986, the structure was known as the Graves House, an 1887 Victorian beachfront cottage built for Dr. Henry Graves. Fans of the movie will remember Lt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, played by Cruise, pulling up on his motorcycle to the picturesque home of his girlfriend Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood, the astrophysicist and civilian instructor played by Kelly McGillis.

Developers of the new Mission Pacific Hotel moved the house about a block from its original location in 2020 during the resort’s construction. After years of being inaccessible, the historic home was renovated as part of the development and is scheduled to open alongside the hotel by the end of 2021. It’s being marketed as a vintage dessert lounge that will take your breath away—a reference to the Academy Award-winning original song Take My Breath Away written for the movie and performed by the band Berlin.

To make your adventure all about Top Gun, head south from Oceanside and check in at Lafayette Hotel, Swim Club & Bungalows just north of downtown San Diego. The hotel opened in 1946 with Bob Hope as its first guest. Johnny Weissmuller, known for winning five Olympic gold medals in swimming and for playing Tarzan on the big screen, designed the pool that attracted other celebrities through the years.

The property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is now considered a boutique hotel. The ballroom became a movie set for Top Gun, converted to a crowded bar for one of the most famous scenes: Maverick and Goose singing You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ to Charlie.

Lafayette Hotel is less than two miles from Balboa Park, a 1,200-acre urban oasis that isn’t directly connected to the movie but a must-see while in San Diego. There are performing arts venues; gardens; trails; and more than 16 museums and attractions including the massive San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Air & Space Museum, a Smithsonian affiliate known for a comprehensive collection that includes unique and rare aircraft and replicas. It’s also worth a trip to Gillespie Field to see the museum’s annex with more aircraft, including those currently being restored by volunteers.

Basing your stay at the Lafayette puts you close to these other Top Gun filming locations.

Lighthouse at the tip of the Point Loma peninsula

Head west to the Pacific Ocean to see the lighthouse at the tip of the Point Loma peninsula, which appeared on screen as the home of Cmdr. Mike “Viper” Metcalf, played by Tom Skerritt, when he and Maverick walk in the garden.

The lighthouse at the tip of the Point Loma peninsula appeared on screen as the home of Viper when he and Maverick walk in the garden. Photo by SanDiego.org.

The lighthouse is housing for U.S. Coast Guard officers so you can’t access it, but you can view it from Cabrillo National Monument, which honors the landing of Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo at San Diego Bay on September 28, 1542. Go to the lookout for a view from above or take the road down to the tide pools for a closer view from the road.

Also in this area, a few exterior scenes were filmed at what was then the Naval Training Center. Opened in 1923 as the first permanent Naval Training Center on the West Coast, dozens of the historic buildings have been renovated and converted into Liberty Station, a dining, shopping, and entertainment destination.

Marine Corps Air Station Miramar

Head north to the Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Miramar, the aviation element of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. When Top Gun was filmed, the station was Naval Air Station Miramar and played the role of flight school and backdrop for flight scenes. You can drive by the site year-round, but the best way to feel the “need for speed” seen in the movie is to visit during an MCAS Miramar Air Show. It’s the largest military airshow in the world and typically happens in September (the 2021 airshow was canceled but you can view a 60-minute web production using footage from past events).

MCAS is not open to the public, and sadly the Flying Leathernecks Museum next to the base closed permanently in spring 2021. The only museum in the world dedicated to U.S. Marine Corps aviation was operated by the U.S. Marines and the Flying Leathernecks Historical Foundation. It closed because of the service branch’s budget constraints, though the foundation is working to save the public’s access to the collection of 30,000 artifacts and 48 aircraft by reopening in a new location.

Kansas City Barbeque

Head south to Kansas City Barbeque, which embraces its role in the movie by displaying autographed memorabilia and photos. The downtown sports bar is the on-screen bar where Maverick and Goose play Great Balls of Fire at the piano.

Top Gun memorabilia at Kansas City Barbeque in downtown San Diego, which served as the on-film bar where Maverick and Goose play “Great Balls of Fire” at the piano. Photo by SanDiego.org.

From here, it’s just a half-mile to the Navy Pier to see an F–14 Tomcat fighter jet like the ones flown in the movie’s high-speed dogfighting scenes. The USS Midway Museum lets you explore 60 exhibit areas of a historic aircraft carrier. There are two F–14 aircraft on display: one on the flight deck and one in the hangar bay that allows you to climb in the cockpit. Check the museum’s calendar for Top Gun movie night events.

As California continues to reopen, be sure to check specific attractions you’re interested in to ensure the Top Gun experience you’re looking for is available.

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