On the tail of his mega-successful movie Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (the fourth in the MI series), Tom Cruise shared in an interview with MTV News’ Josh Horowitz his plan to revive Maverick, a character he played in Top Gun, an iconic, much-loved film he made with director Tony Scott and producer Jerry Bruckheimer in 1986.
News of Top Gun 2 - a potential sequel to one of my all-time favorite films - inspired me to make a special stop in San Diego last month to visit a few of the iconic film locations of Top Gun. Not only is sunny San Diego one of the “top Budget Travel destinations” this year, it also houses the majority of Top Gun’s film locations. Let’s get to it!
1. Kansas City Barbeque
Two memorable scenes in Top Gun were filmed at the Kansas City Barbeque. This tiny, casual sports bar was where Maverick (Tom Cruise) and Goose (Anthony Edwards) play “Great Balls of Fire” at the piano, and where Carol (Meg Ryan) says the famous line, “Goose, you big stuuuuuud! Take me to bed now or lose me forever!”
This sports bar is also where Charlie (Kelly McGillis) surprises Maverick with a visit at the end of the movie playing their favorite tune “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” on the jukebox. Here’s Maverick sitting at the bar right before Charlie shows up.
The same bar area as it is today. Not much seems to change since Top Gun even though the bar went through a big fire in 2008.
Located by the railroad tracks near the Gaslamp Quarter in downtown San Diego, the tiny dining spot is easy to miss with all the high-rise buildings surrounding it. If you need a landmark to guide you, look for the modern two-towered Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego Hotel. It sits right across the street from the Kansas City Barbeque.
A short walk around Kansas City Barbeque led me to the railroad tracks behind the restaurant.
Tiny in stature doesn’t mean it’s easily ignored. Ever since Top Gun, this little sports bar has been one of the most visited tourist attractions in San Diego. Its website has a whole section dedicated to Top Gun.
A frequently-asked question by tourists and visitors is how the Kansas City Barbeque became a movie location for Top Gun. The answer may surprise you. It was purely “a stroke of luck.” During a location scouting trip for the movie, the Paramount Studios’ location director stopped in at the Kansas City Barbeque for a beer. He liked the place so much that he brought back the director Tony Scott with him on his next visit. Tony Scott approved of the bar immediately and asked if they could shut down the restaurant for a day to film a few scenes of the movie. The rest is - as they say - history. The Kansas City Barbeque admits that agreeing to let the production filmed on premise was one of their best business decisions.
Today, the little sports bar is still very much marketing itself as “the Top Gun Bar.”
Proudly sporting a “Top Gun” neon sign on its window, the Kansas City Barbeque also displays their huge collection of Top Gun and Air Force memorabilia everywhere inside - from photos and letters collected during the filming ...
... to the famous jukebox ...
... to the antique piano Goose was playing on in the movie.
The servers at the Kansas City Barbeque seem friendly and are more than happy to talk about the restaurant’s close ties to the movie. One of the ladies even brought over an album containing photos of the badly-damanged restaurant taken after the fire of June 26, 2008. The fire originated in the kitchen and eventually spread to most of the restaurant’s interiors. Luckily no one was injured and they reopened the restaurant a few months later in November 2008.
There are rumors that all the movie memorabilia was destroyed in the fire. As you can see from these photos (taken in March 2012), that is definitely not the case.
My lunch at the Kansas City Barbeque (pulled-pork sandwich, onion rings, and a hefty glass of root beer served on paper plates and cups) was average. The wait for the food was long. But then again, I didn’t mind waiting since it gave me more time to gawk at the Top Gun memorabilia and photos lining the restaurant’s walls and ceilings.
Kansas City Barbeque
600 W Harbor Drive (between Kettner Blvd & G St)
San Diego, CA 92101
Tel. (619) 231-9680
2. Charlie’s House - The Cottage on 102 Pacific Street, Oceanside, California
Out of all the Top Gun film locations I had a chance to visit last month, the “Top Gun house” or “Charlie’s house” visit was the most poignant for me. It was the location I most looked forward to seeing and also one that was the hardest to take in.
If you’ve seen the movie, you’d no doubt remember the scene where Maverick rode up the hill in his motorcycle and parked in front of Charlie’s house. In the film, the golden sunset sky makes the most romantic backdrop to Charlie’s seaside cottage. The location of the house was so idylic that Kelly McGillis (who played Charlie) decided to stay at this bungalow during the making of Top Gun.
Here’s Maverick waiting at the front door of the cottage, upset at himself for being late to his dinner date with Charlie because of a volleyball game with the guys.
In real life, Charlie’s house is a small Victorian bungalow built in 1887 by Dr. Henry Graves, a retired physician from Riverside. The cottage is still there today, but in a much dilapidated state.
It’s the only house standing in the lot now (there used to be a few more similar cottages close-by as captured in the movie). Today, a wire fence surrounds the cottage to prevent any potential vandalism of the property.
Even in its rundown state, the cottage sits on a prime oceanfront location facing the beautiful beaches of Oceanside.
In the movie, Maverick rode his motorcycle up this road to Charlie’s house. In real life, this is not the main road but a side road that leads to the beaches below.
There are talks of either taking down the historic cottage to make way for a seaside resort or restoring it and making it a part of the new construction. I hope it’s the latter. It would be heartbreaking for us movie lovers to lose this special Top Gun house. As sad as it looks today, it is still Oceanside’s main tourist attraction.
“Charlie’s House” or “the Top Gun House”
102 Pacific St.
3. The Intersection of West Laurel and Union Streets (Banker’s Hill)
One of the most romantic scenes in the movie was filmed at the corner of West Laurel and Union Streets in the Banker’s Hill neighborhood. Almost at the top of the hill on West Laurel Street (with the beautiful San Diego Bay as its backdrop in the distance) is where Charlie catches up with Maverick to tell him she’s “falling” for him.
Charlie finally caught up with Maverick here under this big palm tree.
Having watched the Top Gun numerous times over the years, this scene still tugs at my heart as one of the most romantic moments in the movie.
Here’s the same spot as it is today. And yes, the big palm tree shading Maverick and Charlie is still standing tall on West Laurel Street.
4. Mission Beach Plunge
Mission Beach Plunge, also known as the Wave House Athletic Club, is a fitness facility complete with a huge swimming pool (called The Plunge) located in the popular Belmont Park neighborhood of Mission Beach.
The pool, shut down for a while due to a legal dispute, was recently reopened to the public.
It was here at The Plunge that the Top Gun locker room scenes were filmed.
Here’s one of the locker rooms as it looks today.
Mission Beach Plunge / Wavehouse Athletic Club
3115 Ocean Front Walk
San Diego, CA 92109
5. “Viper’s House” - The New Point Loma Lighthouse
The New Point Loma Lighthouse, located near Cabrillo National Monument, is the setting of Viper’s house in Top Gun. It was built circa 1891 to replace the Old Point Loma Lighthouse which was ineffective due to heavy fog obscuring its light beam.
Here’s a screenshot of Maverick visiting Viper on a Sunday afternoon to seek his advice.
During Viper’s and Maverick’s walk in the garden, the audience gets to enjoy a glimpse of Viper’s beautiful coastal house and the silvery ocean beyond.
Today, the New Point Loma Lighthouse buildings still house Coast Guard officers and their families. These residents get to wake up every day to the gorgeous, unobstructed views of the Pacific Ocean. Lucky folks!
If you have a chance to visit Cabrillo National Monument, a stop by the New Point Loma Lighthouse is a must. You won’t be able to walk up to the lighthouse, but can still get a great view of it from afar.
For nature lovers, there are tidepools within walking distance of the ligthhouse to explore. You can park your car at the small parking lot nearby and walk down to the tidepools. Come during low tide for the best chance of seeing ocean creatures.
The New Point Loma Lighthouse
Cabrillo National Monument
San Diego, CA
Other Top Gun’s Film Locations
The flight school and flight scenes in the movie were filmed at Miramar Naval Air Station, Naval Training Center, San Diego, USS Ranger (aircraft carrier), and the Fallon Air Station in Fallon, Nevada.
The USS Ranger is a recurring star in Hollywood. It has been used as movie location for many other movies and TV productions, including The Six Million Dollar Man, Baa Baa Black Sheep, Star Trek IV, The Final Countdown, and Flight of the Intruder.
Another film location used in Top Gun was The Windsock Bar & Grill. It’s where Charlie walked in on Maverick sitting at a bar, heartbroken from losing his best friend on a recent flight mission. At the time of the filming, the restaurant was right on the runway of Lindbergh Field. However, it’s no longer there today.
Top Gun 2
Now that we’ve had a chance to visit some of the Top Gun film locations, I can’t wait for more good news on the making of Top Gun 2. Already, there is much talk on which fighter aircraftMaverick will be flying.
“I hope we can figure this out to go do it again,” says Tom Cruise. “If we can find a story that we all want to do, we all want to make a film that is in the same kind of tone as the other one and shoot it in the same way as we shot Top Gun. “
Wouldn’t it be great if they can also restore Charlie’s house in time for it to be featured again inTop Gun 2?
Filming in San Diego
For more information on filming in San Diego, visit the San Diego Film Commission’s website.
PHOTO CREDITS: Unless otherwise noted, (1) images with black borders in this article are screenshots from the movie; and (2) all other photos are by Sarah Le.