This year marks the 30th anniversary of the iconic, action movie Top Gun. Before Tom Cruise was an outspoken Scientologist, he was an aspiring actor that caught his big break playing a Navy pilot enrolled in the prestigious fighter weapons school called Top Gun in 1986. I realize that the 80’s sound like the “oldies” to some of you, but there is no excuse for not loving this movie!
The movie takes place in sunny San Diego, and the majority of the scenes were actually filmed right here in America’s Finest City. Some of the locations are gone, but there are still several sites that are worth exploring. And with talks of a Top Gun 2 in the works, this is the perfect time to take a tour of the Top Gun sites in San Diego.
1. Marine Corps Air Station Miramar
The Marine Corps Air Station Miramar is the site of the Top Gun Training School in the movie. At the time of filming, the facility was called the Naval Air Station at Miramar. It housed the Navy Fighter Weapons School which taught the actual TOPGUN program and was often referred to as “Fightertown U.S.A..” If you want to go check this out, you will have to wait for the Miramar Airshow in the fall. For one weekend, civilians are allowed on base to see a breathtaking performance by a variety of military aircraft, including the Blue Angels. If you can’t wait until then for your Top Gun tour to commence, you can drive in the area around Miramar Road and the I-15 and look (and listen) for some fighter jets to zoom overhead.
Most of the actual flying scenes in the movie were filmed in Nevada, but the scenes in the airplane hanger and at the volleyball courts are pure San Diego.
2. Liberty Station
The scene when Charlie (Kelly McGillis) runs after Maverick (Tom Cruise) to his motorcycle was filmed at present day Liberty Station. Back in the 80’s, Liberty Station was the Naval Training Center. Now it is a large retail complex housing grocery stores, restaurants, fitness centers, art museums, coffee shops, and more. However, the architecture remains relatively unchanged. You can look for the building in the movie with the pillars on Historic Decatur Road. There is also a scene where Maverick follows Charlie into a bathroom at a bar which was actually filmed in this same location.
3. West Laurel Street & Union Street in Banker’s Hill
Right after Maverick speeds away from Charlie in the scene mentioned above, she chases after him in her Porsche narrowly escaping an accident on West Laurel Street. The two pull over under a palm tree to hash things out. That tree is still there today as is the super steep hill. So remember this tree next time you feel like having a mid-fight, make-out session.
4. Kansas City Barbeque
Top Gun changed the history of this now famous rib spot in the Gaslamp Quarter. Known as the “Top Gun Bar,” Kansas City Barbeque is where Goose (Anthony Edwards) sat at the piano and played “Great Balls of Fire” surrounded by Maverick, Charlie and his wife (Meg Ryan). The piano is still in the restaurant, and tourists from all over the world come by to see a piece of movie-making history.
The final scene of the movie was also filmed here. The bar still looks pretty much identical to what you see when Maverick is reading the paper and drinking a beer despite the fact that a fire destroyed the building in 2008. Rumor has it that a location scout from the movie stopped at Kansas City Barbeque for a beer while in San Diego. He liked the place so much that he got the Director, Tony Scott, to put it in the movie.
5. House at 102 Pacific Street in Oceanside
This is the cute beach cottage where Charlie lives in the movie, and it remains at the same beachfront location in Oceanside today. The house not only has Hollywood history, but it is also historically significance to the city as it is a Queen Anne Victorian, built by Dr. Henry Graves in 1887. In 2014, the house was updated with a fresh coat of paint and some “Top Gun” murals. A $209 million luxury hotel is currently being constructed on the site. The house will be temporarily moved during construction but will be incorporated into the final hotel as a gift store or ice cream shop.
6. The Red Fox Room
Who could forget the iconic scene when Maverick meets Charlie for the first time after signing her “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling.” In the 80’s it was socially acceptable for a group of strangers to bust out in song (at least in the movies). This scene was filmed at the Red Fox Room which is part of the Lafayette Hotel. The bar has history of it’s own with woodwork dating back to 1560. There is some speculation that the scene was actually filmed in the Mississippi Room of the hotel. Either way, the Lafayette Hotel is a beautiful place to explore…especially if you’ve lost that loving feeling.
7. The Plunge at Belmont Park
There are several locker room scenes throughout the movie which were filmed at the Plunge within the WaveHouse Athletic Club in Belmont Park. Maverick and Iceman (Val Kilmer) have a confrontation in this locker room: “I don’t like you because you’re dangerous, ” says Iceman. “That’s right! Ice…man. I am dangerous.” The Plunge is an indoor, heated swimming pool which dates back to 1925. Seems like the Top Gun people liked to film at historic locations.
8. New Point Loma Lighthouse
There are three houses at the very tip of Point Loma with an amazing view of the Pacific. In the movie, Viper (Tom Skerritt) lives in one of these houses, and Maverick visits him here in one scene. None of us will be living in that house anytime soon, or even visiting it for that matter. This area is run by the Coast Guard and not accessible to the general public. However, you can see the houses from a distance when you are in the area of the Cabrillo National Monument. When you are at the Monument, don’t confuse the old lighthouse, which you can go inside, with the new one from the movie.
Need a pal to go on a Top Gun tour with? You are in luck! MeetnGreet is the perfect place to find other Maverick-loving locals that are down to “ride into the danger zone” with you! Message a few people to see if they are interested. You could also set up a MeetnGreet and invite several people at once. Just click “invite to a MeetnGreet” under people’s information. Don’t worry, you are not automatically inviting them to anything once you click the icon. You will need to go to the “set up a MeetnGreet here” area to actually set up the MnG. If the tour doesn’t tickle your fancy, there are tons of other fun things to do in San Diego with new friends. Have fun!
Well there you have it! Your complete guide to touring the Top Gun sites in San Diego, and ideas on how to find other movie buffs. Use the comments below if you have any more fun facts about this legendary movie.
All the photos used are screen shots from watching clips of the movie on YouTube.