Despite Del Mar’s idyllic oceanfront setting, this little town just north of San Diego was, in many ways, born around horses. The Del Mar Racetrack was co-founded in the late 1930s by Bing Crosby, whose star power attracted an influx of his Hollywood peers and helped put the town on the map—sometimes rather literally. The road leading to the track and fairgrounds entrance is Jimmy Durante Boulevard, a homage to the raspy-voiced character actor who loved the place.
Racetrack season still runs every summer, as well as during November’s short Bing Crosby Season. Opening Day in mid-July is one of the few times around mellow San Diego when you see locals dressed to the nines, including a parade of fabulously impractical hats. For the rest of the year, the track’s home turf hosts festivals and events like June’s county fair.
Take a short walk from the fairgrounds to Viewpoint Brewing Co., Del Mar's first local brewery, where the tasting menu includes the house’s Red Rye IPA or the Mandarina Pale Ale, paired with small plates; watch the sunset over the lagoon or play lawn games next to the outdoor patio.
The mile-long heart of Del Mar runs along State Highway 101, just south of the track, with its mix of Tudor and Spanish-style buildings. Along the way you’ll find plenty of places to eat, drink, or kick back, like the live music and cocktails at Zel’s and the open-air Cal-Mex at En Fuego Cantina & Grill. For sunset views, grab a chair at the shopping-and-eatery-lined Del Mar Plaza (anchored by foodie-magnet Pacifica Del Mar), with its huge, elevated seating area.
The luxury hotel L’Auberge Del Mar sits at the center of town, a short walk from grassy Powerhouse Park and its adjacent surf-friendly beach. While the interior of the hotel’s Kitchen 1540 restaurant undergoes a revamp, executive chef Nathan Lingle and his team continue to showcase the bounty of local in-season produce at their waterfront al fresco restaurant, Coastline. Lingle and his team introduced a Patio at Night “pop-up” concept that highlights the freshest, in-season produce in surprising ways—everything from an inventive corn-based funnel cake to the simple “perfect fruit,” a sampling of the best fruit they tasted at the farmers' market that week. Order the $50 family meal to taste the kitchen's freshest farm-to-table dishes.
Restaurants right on the sand are a relative rarity along California’s public beaches, but Del Mar Beach is home to Jake’s Del Mar and Poseidon on the Beach, two longtime favorites. “What really attracts people to Del Mar is its quaint village feel,” says K.C. Vafiadis, a chairperson with the Del Mar Village Association. “It will never grow too much because geographically, its borders are the lagoons to the north and south, the freeway to the east, and of course the ocean to the west. People like the familiarity that they return to year after year.”