Del Mar is one of the most beautiful, romantic resort beach towns in the world, and this living guide provides a wealth of information, including hotels, romantic getaways, vacations, beach and race season rentals, world class restaurants, activities, including the exciting Del Mar Racetrack and San Diego County Fair, as well as beach & ocean water sports, and nearby San Diego, La Jolla, and North County attractions.
Consider a romantic getaway to a peaceful, relaxing, and scenic village on the Pacific Ocean, complete with charming hotels and great restaurants. Do you want to know more? Continue reading to discover the many secret facets that make up the jewel that is Del Mar.
Del Mar’s popularity is due to more than its scenic beauty. There are so many things to do in Del Mar.
Del Mar Fair
The Del Mar Fair (now the San Diego County Fair) is the preview to the real show in the summer – the Del Mar Racing Season, which opens in July. However, not everyone is a horse-player, and the fair has all the elements of the traditional county & state fairs around the country. In fact, the Del Mar Fair has consistently been one of the top 10 fairs in the country.
The San Diego County Fair, the 6th largest fair in the US, is always great entertainment and has been a tradition since 1880. Now it is the largest annual event in all of San Diego, bringing in more than a million guests each year.
My first job at age 12 was at the Fair and I worked there every summer through college. I remember as a kid seeing some of the top names in rock & roll at the fair and they made quite an impression on me. In fact, one of the best things about the fair is the live entertainment, since most of the concerts and events are free with admission.
The fair continues to bring popular contemporary acts to the stage each summer, including, among others, Demi Lovato, Cody Simpson, Kenny Loggins, Switchfoot, Jeff Dunham, Creedence Clearwater Revisited, KC and the Sunshine Band, Julión Álvarez, “Weird Al” Yankovic, Jim Messina and many others. Of course, after the show on the 4th, there are some of the best fireworks in the West!
The San Diego County Fair is the largest annual event in San Diego County and the sixth largest fair in the United States, drawing more than 1.2 million visitors each year. For information, call the 24-hour recorded information line at 858-793-5555 or see the website.
Del Mar Beach
My earliest memories are at the beach on 28th street in the late 50’s (yeah, I ’m giving away my age), running along the shore, and dodging the incoming waves like the sandpipers.
My brother and I would drag our inflatable canvas surf mats with rubberized ends into the waves to ride them. This was before surfboards made their appearance in the numbers we see now, yet it was how we learned to read the waves, know where to take off and get the best rides.
The lifeguards seem to have always been there – the red trucks slowly cruising the shore, the towers at 17th & 25th streets, providing a sense of security and safety to us young waterdogs. I remember being in the Jr. Lifeguards program one summer and learned about rip currents, undertows and basic lifesaving techniques.
This is also where I first tried surfing at 15th St. when I was 12. It is a passion I have to this day. I’ve surfed, bodysurfed, fished, skin & scuba dived, sailed, and Zodiaked through the surf. My brother and I even waterskied on surfboards behind our Zodiak in the slough west of the highway by the racetrack. I like to think I basically grew up in the waters of Del Mar.
The beach is a romantic place for couples to stroll at sunset or in the morning with their coffee from Starbuck’s or the Poseidon. It is also ideal for vigorous jogging or running, and for many beach sports like volleyball, Frisbee, paddleball, surf-fishing, skim boarding, swimming, body surfing, Boogie boarding, and board surfing.
Many of these activities are limited to certain hours or locations based on the season and crowds, but you can almost always find something fun or relaxing to do here.
Finally, it is an excellent place to drag a chair, bring a good book, plug in your iPod and enjoy the calming effects of the Pacific waves against the white sands of the beach.
Whale Watching in Del Mar
Another benefit to visiting Del Mar is to witness the annual Gray Whale migration from shore. An excellent place to see them is at Seagrove Park, at the foot of 15th Street.
Twice a year there is a spectacular migration of the California Gray Whales off the coast of Del Mar. In the winter, they travel south to the warm waters of sunny Mexico to frolic, then in the spring they return the the arctic waters of the Bering Sea.
You can actually watch these magnificent mammals from the beach and bluffs of Del Mar.
Early in the season, pods of whales journey south to the warm water lagoons in central and southern Baja California, Mexico from the Bering Sea. In the Spring, they return north and are seen farther offshore.
There is a sense of awe seeing these glorious creatures breach and blow just beyond the surf line. They are so large, yet graceful as they submerge for sometimes minutes at a time before they return to the surface and exhale.
heir spouts can be seen for miles on clear days. Any high point along the hills or bluffs in Del Mar is a great vantage point. I’ve been very close to them while surfing. There is such a calm feeling when they approach, knowing their sonar has identified you and yet they don’t exhibit any fear. Often, their calves are with them, adding to the experience of seeing them.
Other times, we’d launch our Zodiak from the beach to get out beyond them, keeping a respectable distance. Seeing them glide under us several feet below our small boat was so exciting, then as they’d surface and flap one of their huge flukes is an unforgettable experience.
There are many places to go during the season to get out among them.
If you’re interested in the California Gray whales, a great place to learn more is the Birch Aquarium just south of Del Mar, above Scripps Pier in La Jolla.
Del Mar Beach: Diving
For divers, the reefs just outside the surf zone are teeming with beautiful local sealife: urchins, local fish, pacific spiny lobster, rock scallops and even abalone can be found if you know where to look.
On a calm day, scuba diving in the kelp forests off the beach are like being in the redwoods up north: a sense of serenity and majestic beauty are to be found underwater.
For even better diving, the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park that starts at the southern border of Del Mar and ends at Pt. La Jolla off the La Jolla Cove.
The warm water and excellent visibility make La Jolla a worldwide destination for divers.
Today, the beach has not really changed much. There are now more lifeguard towers (In addition to 17th & 25th Street, the 19th Street tower was added a few years ago), and they are built to last. The trucks are newer and lifesaving techniques more modern;
Beach access is free to the public with public rest rooms located behind 17th Street and 25th Street lifeguard towers. Not permitted are: glass objects, fires, surf/jet ski launching or vehicles on the beach.
Del Mar: Dog Beach
Del Mar’s Dog Beach, also known as North Beach to Del Mar locals, is a recreational paradise for those with four-legs and a tail.
Stick-fetching and frisbee-catching are priority here.
Beach Parking: Park on the street, but remember that Del Mar likes its parking revenues — and parking ticket revenues especially. Pay your meter diligently, or buy a $4 all-day pass from the little pay-and-display-your-ticket box at the top of Camino del Mar, just before Villa de la Valle.
Pets: Out-of-control doggie behavior is prohibited. Del Mar lifeguards enforce the rules and will write you a ticket.
The crowd: This is a very respectable pet-owning crowd. The beach is low-key with few incidents.
Yes, dogs can run free from the bluffs to the river and it is quite a spectacle! Dogs are allowed on leash south of the river along the city beach only from September 15th through June 15th. The rest of the year they are prohibited on the beach.
Beach Facilities: Most owners use the city-supplied clean-up mitts, but it’s still a good idea to watch your step. There are people restrooms, too, in the form of portable toilets. The beach is 2.5 miles of sandy beach, starting from the south at Carmel Valley Road, which is the boundary to San Diego, north to the river mouth of the San Dieguito River, which also happens to be the boundary of Del Mar’s famous Dog Beach.
For more information, Dog Beach
Del Mar Beach: Surfing
Surfing has been my passion for nearly 40 years. Starting in Del Mar, I’ve surfed all over California and down to the tip of Baja California. I surfed 2 winters on the North Shore of Hawaii, in New Jersey and Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.
In my early 20’s, I drove my Datsun pickup with camper-shell to El Salvador for a 6 month Mexico & Centro surfing adventure. I surfed most of the breaks down the Pacific Coast of Baja and Mainland Mexico & El Salvador.
So far, I’ve surfed in Hawaii, New Jersey, Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, Barbados, Costa Rica & Tavarua, Fiji.
Shopping in Del Mar
The shops in Del Mar are a great way to spend some time when the weather is keeping you from the beach. The Del Mar Plaza, at the corner of 15th Street and Camino Del Mar, has the finest assortment of shops and restaurants in town.
The following are just a few of the many other attractions and activities near Del Mar. You can check out the links for more detailed information. There are also amusement parks, golf courses and museums within a few miles.
Almost every afternoon before sunset, if you look east towards Rancho Santa Fe and Fairbanks Ranch, you’ll see the colorful hot air balloons taking their passengers on their journey. For more information on joining their daily trips, see the following link: Hot Air Flyer
One of the best spots anywhere for live music and just plain fun is the famous Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach. Years ago I lived near enough that I could walk there (and crawl home!)
One of my favorite bands is the Mar Dels (Del Mar backwards!) Belly Up Tavern
Legoland has become a very popular destination for young families. You can find more information on Legoland at the following link. Legoland
When I worked in Downtown San Diego, I bought an annual pass to Seaworld and would sometimes go over at lunch to see a show or just wander inside the aquarium. Its a great place for the family (or for yourself, if you love sea life!) Seaworld
The World Famous San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari are also favorites of mine. From the time I was a little guy, we’d go to the Zoo and I always looked forward to returning.
Later, as I got older, I preferred the San Diego Zoo Safari
in San Pasqual, mainly because of the live concerts they would have in the summer. Best of all worlds! San Diego Zoo
If museums are your passion, head down to Balboa Park – not too far from the Zoo, but closer to downtown San Diego. My favorite is the Ruben H. Fleet Space Museum, which also has a cool IMAX theater. Balboa Park
Within Balboa Park is my favorite museum – The Ruben H. Fleet Space Museum, which includes an IMAX Theater (one of the first in the country).
Ruben H. Fleet Space Museum
The newest attraction near Del Mar is the San Dieguito River Park. While it is a work in progress, the Park will someday extend from the ocean at Del Mar to Volcan Mountain, just north of Julian. San Dieguito River Park
If you are looking to hit the links, there a many golf courses around Del Mar, with a couple of world-class golf courses nearby. I learned to play at nearby Torrey Pines Golf Course when I was young, and maybe with the exception of Pebble Beach, it is one of the most scenic courses in the country.
Torrey Pines Golf Course
Another world famous golf resort is just north at the La Costa Resort & Spa in nearby La Costa. For more information, check out this link here.
Just east in neighboring Rancho Santa Fe is the Del Mar Country Club, formerly Whispering Palms. For information and tee times, click here
Ahh, Mexico! My earliest memories are not very good ones… seeing the cardboard shanytowns and extreme poverty was pretty serious stuff for a youngster. However, over the years, we’d go down to see the burros painted to look like Zebras on the street corners, hearing the curio vendors yell “Hey, come eenside,takealoook!”
A good piece of trivia is that the Caesar Salad originated at the Hotel Caesar in Downtown Tijuana in the 1950’s. You can now take the Coaster to San Diego and transfer to the Trolley, which will take you to the border for an interesting day of shopping, Jai Alai, Golf, or the Bullfights. Nearby Rosarito Beach still has some excellent Lobster and seafood. Tijuana, Mexico
For Horse enthusiasts, there are many options for you: from watching thoroughbred racing at Del Mar to the annual National Horse Show at the Del Mar