On the Wild West Frontier; It's Famous for Its Wild West History, Its Movies and Its Real Ales. KEITH GREGSON Takes a Short Break in San Diego

Article excerpt

Byline: KEITH GREGSON

IT all started in the 18th century with a Spanish mission in the California foothills. The old mission still stands today - silent, whitewashed and gleaming in the sun.

Downbelow, beside the Pacific Ocean, it is a different story. Here we find the bustling city of San Diego, proud of its multi-cultural heritage and welcoming to the visitor.

I was a man on a mission, too. My wife was at a conference in the city, had visited before and thought I would like it. My brief was a simple one - to discover San Diego.

And that's exactly what I did.

It is a truly fascinating place and different in many ways from any major city I have visited before.

Constructed around one of the largest natural harbours in the world, it has seen wise developers keen on retaining large public spaces at its very heart. Combined with the relaxing natural beauty of the bay, this gives San Diego a very 'chilled' aspect, and this despite many tall skyscrapers and a bustling social life.

Much of this social life is to be found in an old part of the city - the revived Gaslamp Quarter.

It is teeming with bars and restaurants, all reflecting the city's multiethnic, make up. With time to spend together in the evenings we tried as many as we could: Mexican, American, Thai, Indian and the ubiquitous Irish.

We particularly enjoyed time spent in the American Gaslamp Bar. This is a sports bar serving fairly fast food and a range of beers and draft Newcastle Brown, which is very popular over there.

I also took a historic trolley bus ride.

This revealed the city's massive connection with feature films.

GI Jane and Macarthur were filmed here. The Hotel del Coranado was the setting for scenes in Some Like It Hot, while the steep Laurel Avenue up which Tom Cruise famously sped on a motorbike is known locally as Top Gun hill.

In the bay there is also the replica vessel used in the filmMaster and Commander which is open to visitors. Quite a place for cinema buffs!

But the Old Town trolley tour takes you up to the real Old Town.

The mud adobes have been turned into shops and houses reflecting San Diego in the days of the Wild West.

(The legendary Kit Carson once called in for help while Wyatt Earp lived down belowin the Gaslamp Quarter after the Gunfight at the OK Corral).

Here, too, is the USA's most haunted house and a museum dedicated to the Wells Fargo Company. Visiting the latter took me back to my childhood cowboy movie days.

The trolley tour also allows visitors to alight at Balboa Park where can be found the world-famous zoo and wildlife centre. Set aside for a world exhibition in 1915, the park is the heart of the large public space mentioned previously and is packed with museums and gardens.

With history and sport my personal bent, I popped into the San Diego Historical Society Museum and the Hall of Champions. The former told me all about the pioneering history of the region and, in particular, the famous Californian Gold Rush.

The latter focused on many famous San Diego sports personalities as well as the local 'gridiron', basketball and baseball sides. …