I didn’t realize how lucky I was when I lived in Del Mar my senior year in college. A quaint little town right on the beach, just 20 miles north of San Diego, it’s famed for its beautiful coastline and the horse races at the Del Mar Racetrack. “Where the Surf Meets the Turf” was and still is, the town motto. My roommates and I even used to buy colorful sweatshirts with tiny horses on them from a local boutique and as a result, we were dubbed “The Ponies” by some of our guy friends. At the time, it was annoying. Now? It makes me wistful.
While that was longer ago than I’d like to admit, Del Mar amazingly hasn’t changed all that much. On a recent three day weekend with my family, I discovered that many of my favorite old haunts were still there; Jake’s at the Beach and The Poseidon are still the places to sip cocktails as you watch the sun set over the Pacific Ocean, and Bully’s is still the pub for prime rib or a great burger and a beer (since 1969!).
And of course, there’s the racetrack which is still going strong. Although it suffered from lower attendance for a few years, a recent makeover and more music and special events has attracted a younger, hipper crowd. While the town makes for a great getaway all year round, the racing season from mid July through September is when it’s really hopping.
Here are some great places to stay, eat and shop and some fun things to do!
Where To Stay
Courtesy of L'Auberge Del Mar
L’Auberge Del Mar
A cozy seaside hotel just steps from the sand and right in the center of “old town.” What I love about this place, in addition to its great views and laid back vibe, is how you can walk to so many places—cafes, boutiques, restaurants, the beach and even the racetrack.
It’s also got a cool history—built as the Stratford Inn in 1910, it became the Hotel Del Mar in 1926 and soon attracted stars who came down from Hollywood for the races, especially when the track was co-owned by Bing Crosby. After years of disrepair post WW II, it re-opened in 1989 and after a chic 26 million dollar remodel in 2008, is now a hot spot for travelers and locals alike, who sip cocktails by the pool, listen to live music at the Living Room Bar, linger over guacamole and chips on the patio at Coastline or have a fancier meal—such as the Sea Urchin Pasta or Skuna Bay Salmon—at its famed restaurant Kitchen1540. The décor is elegant regency meets beach cottage casual with lots of sea foam greens and pale yellows and nautical touches such as pieces of coral, giant seashells and etchings of old ships. A bonus is the cozy spa, where I experienced the anti aging body submergence treatment, the combined with a deep tissue massage. I felt like a smooth, but limp piece of seaweed as I left the spa and floated toward the pool bar for a mojito.
1540 Camino Del Mar; 858-259-1515; laubergedelmar.com
Hotel Indigo, Del Mar
While not right on the water, this contemporary boutique hotel, which opened in 2012, does offer some ocean views (it’s a mere 10 minute walk to the beach) as well as two pools, a spa and a restaurant. It’s part of a global chain known for smallish modern facilities, whose décor matches the environment—hence lots of beachy themes here. I have never stayed here, but a few locals suggested it as an affordable option. The Ocean View Bar and Grill features locally sourced organic and seasonal offerings and sometimes live music. The place is also super dog friendly, and furnishes your furry companion with a bed, water bowl and even dog tags with the hotel’s name during your stay.
710 Camino Del Mar; 858-755-1501; hotelindelmar.com
Fairmont Grand Hotel Del Mar
For those who seek an even more upscale experience than the L’Auberge and who don’t mind being inland, this an uber luxurious, 400 acre, mediterranean style resort might be for you. It’s got first class service, a championship golf course, tennis courts, a great spa, two pools and many excellent dining options (the fanciest being Addison.) The hotel also offers yoga, movies by the pool, equestrian and surf lessons and transportation to the beach which includes chairs, water and umbrellas! I have stayed there several times and loved it, although I haven’t been there since it was purchased by the Fairmont Hotel group in 2015. Price: $$$$
5300 Grand Del Mar Ct.; 858-314-2000; fairmonthotel.com
Where To Eat
Michael Regala/Courtesy of Pacifica Del Mar
We lucked out on our last night in town, nabbing an outdoor table at this popular eatery, just in time to witness an amazing ocean sunset complete with fluffy cotton candy clouds and streaks of orange. I suggest going for one of its seafood options, such as the bbq’d sugar spiced salmon, the grilled fish tacos or the mixed seafood grill but they also offer steak, burgers, pasta and tasty appetizers such as flat bread. I had the grilled Mahi Mahi as I sipped on a rosé that matched the twilight sky.
1555 Camino Del Mar; 858-792-0476; pacificadelmar.com
Back in the Thirties it was called En Tienda, but on opening day of the races in 1995, this colorful eatery became En Fuego (“on fire”). It’s still the place in town to go for Mexican fare—fajitas, tacos, enchiladas and of course, chips, guacamole and margaritas. There are outdoor patios on two different levels and the place is always bustling.
1342 Camino Del Mar; 858-792-6551; enfuegocantina.com
Jake's and Poisedon
I couldn’t pick just one of these classic spots; both are the places to dine if you want to be right on the water. Next door neighbors, they’ve barely changed since my college friends and I went on dates there and sipped on piña coladas before we should have. Jakes has surboards and old surf photos on its walls and offers up cozy seafood fare like crab cakes, calamari and clam chowder, but also burgers and turkey sandwiches. Poisedon is slightly more casual and a great place for brunch—with offerings such as eggs benedict with crab, a surf and turf omelet and french toast with coconut flakes and macadamia nuts. Yum!
Jake's: 1660 Coast Blvd.; 858-755-2002; jakesdelmar.com
Poisedon: 1670 Coast Blvd.; 858-755-9345; poseidonrestaurant.com
Where To Shop
Courtesy of Sundancer
This beachy chic shop run by mother daughter duo Nancy and Suzanne Sokol, carries cozy cashmere shawls, casual midi dresses, cute tees and soft sweaters. There are also great belts, scarves and cover ups as well as piles of cool jewelry such as beaded crystal necklaces and bracelets. Suzanne refers to their look as “California Coastal Living” and adds that it “has to feel good.” Her idea of a classic Sundancer outfit? “A Chan Luu beaded top paired with distressed jeans and maybe a cashmere shawl." We scored a cute white lace top and a Boho swimsuit cover up.
1418 Camino Del Mar; 858-259-4722; sundancerdelmar.com
This tiny but well appointed boutique is a showcase for owner Annmarie's delicate jewelry made of precious and semi precious stones and fine metals. There are seahorses and hearts, bulls heads and flowers, shells and wings—all made to layer and stack. But the shop also offers a nice selection of ready to wear from popular lines such as Joie, Generation Love, Velvet, and more. It also boasts a well stocked jeans corner.
207 15th St; 858-792-6953; shopannmarie.com
If you need a swimsuit while you’re visiting or just want an extra one to bring home with you, this is the place for you. Located next door to Sundancer, it's got a hometown, casual vibe (the dogs of both owners run back and forth between the two shops)—and longtime owner Julie loves to dispense her expert advice. She also allows size swapping between tops and bottoms. The shop is small, but jam packed with cute cover-ups, bikinis and chic one pieces, many imported from Europe and Brazil.
414 Camino Del Mar; 858-792-1359
Urban Girl Accessories
This is a great spot to pick up presents for your friends as well as a little souvenir for yourself. There's a wall of colorful Haviana flip flops (I got a pair festooned with star and stripes), scores of beaded bracelets, cozy sweatshirts, cute tees, and plenty of fun gifts –candles, jewelry trays, plaques with witty sayings and more.
1555 Camino Del Mar #115; 858-350-6334; urbangirlaccessories.com
What To Do
Courtesy of The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club
If you’re in town between July 15 and September 5, the races at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club Racetrack are a must. Even if you know nothing about horses, it makes for a fun afternoon of people watching and there are five restaurants to choose from. On Opening Day, there’s also a hat contest with prizes for most elegant, most original and more as well as a variety of parties including one at the L’Auberge.
After a few years of declining attendance, the track underwent a transformation, aiming for a younger crowd–adding more parties and concert series, and it appears to have worked. There are free concerts after the last race on Fridays and special events include a BBQ contest on, craft beer festivals, and a reggae concert.
2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd; 858-755-1141; dmtc.com
Take a picnic to one of the town's many beaches. My favorite ritual is to grab a sandwich from Board & Brew, (in business since 1979) and head to Del Mar City Beach. The northern section offers two parks — Seagrove and Powerhouse, both with picnic tables and grass lawns if you don’t want to eat on the sand. Those so inclined can go surfing, swimming or for a leisurely stroll on along the water.
15th St & Coast Blvd; delmar.ca.us
There are several excellent hiking spots to choose from in Del Mar and nearby La Jolla. One of the nicer ones is the beach trail at Torrey Pines State Beach, just a few miles south of Del Mar and part of the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. It gradually leads down to the ocean, is suitable for most hiking levels and you can veer off onto other trails along the way if you have more time and are feeling adventurous. You can also walk back along the beach if you prefer, as opposed to hiking back up the trail. Be sure to bring sunscreen, water and your camera or cell phone for taking photos!
12600 N Torrey Pines Rd, La Jolla; parks.ca.gov