Horsin’ Around in Del Mar

The Del Mar Racetrack is a world-class thoroughbred racing destination welcoming the industry’s top athletes and California’s most spirited partygoers during its summer season.

Opened in 1937 by Bing Crosby, the seaside track has played host to celebrities from Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz to stars of today. Unlike any other track in the nation, Del Mar is known for its sophistication, fashion, and the excitement of horse racing that attracts visitors from across the country looking to capture the Old Hollywood allure of the San Diego destination.

The 2018 Summer Season runs from July 18 to September 3. Gates open at 12 noon with the first post daily at 2 p.m. On Fridays, gates open at 2 p.m. and the first post time starts at 4 p.m. (closed Mondays and Tuesdays). Weekends feature family events and activities in the infield, with rides, games, giveaways, free activities, and concerts every Friday and select Saturdays. Concerts are free with racetrack admission before the start of the last race, or $30 at the door.

A jockey and his horse embody the spirit of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, just north of San Diego. Photo by Ron Mesaros
A jockey and his horse embody the spirit of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, just north of San Diego. Photo by Ron Mesaros

Opening Day, July 18, is not just about big bets and fast horses but celebrates the start of the season with the famous Opening Day Hat Contest. If you missed the Kentucky Derby, now is your chance to dress like you were there and compete with your fanciest hat or fascinator, and party with the best while enjoying the sights and sounds of Del Mar racing at its finest. Gates open at 11:30 a.m. and the first race is at 2 p.m. Hat entries close at 3 p.m.

Getting there by train—If you don’t want the hassle of the freeways and traffic, a fun way to get there is by train. Check Amtrak’s website for the schedule, take the Metro to Union Station in Downtown Los Angeles and enjoy the ride. Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner and Coaster trains stop at nearby Solana Beach station where Del Mar provides complimentary shuttle service on double-decker buses to and from the track. For scheduling and ticketing: amtrak.com.


Opening Day Hat Contest at the Del Mar Racetrack. Photo by Ron Mesaros
Opening Day Hat Contest at the Del Mar Racetrack. Photo by Ron Mesaros

It’s still fun to go to the track, especially for the Hat Contest, but there is so much more to do in Del Mar.

Summer concert series (18 and older only) are on Friday evenings. Find the lineup on the Del Mar Racetrack website (dmtc.com/concerts). The first one is July 20 with the Psychedelic Furs. If you missed the Topanga Reggae on the Mountain festival with Toots & the Maytals in July, catch the Reggae Fest with Ziggy Marley on Saturday, August 11.  Ice Cube has general admission still available, but the South Terrace VIP is sold out. A new kind of music festival, “Kaboo,” is a three-day music event that includes more than 100 musical performances on seven stages with internationally known artists.

Beautiful Beaches in the laid-back beach town along the Pacific coast are just 20 minutes from San Diego. The most popular beach is Del Mar City Beach. If you brought Fido along, beach yourself and your pup at the most dog-friendly beach in town, called, what else, but “Dog Beach.”

Opening Day Hat Contest at the Del Mar Racetrack. Photo by Ron Mesaros
Del Mar’s “Dog Beach” is one of Southern California’s most dog-friendly beaches. Photo by Ron Mesaros

Torrey Pines State Nature Reserve is especially beautiful, rich in plant and animal species on a 1,750-acre reserve located on the cliffs above Torrey Pines State beach. There are 3,000 of America’s rarest pine trees and the reserve protects one of the last Southern California salt marshes and waterfowl refuges. The state park is filled with challenging hiking trails through coastal wilderness and sandstone canyons where every turn offers spectacular views of the ocean.

Balloon Rides provide a different perspective of Del Mar where you might enjoy a romantic sunset with ocean vistas and a glass of champagne in hand, while the busy world goes on far below. (Contact Magical Adventures, (951) 699-5800)

Sips and Eats. Grab a local craft beer and a bite to eat after the races with restaurants that are walking distance from shops, Dog Beach, and most hotels in Del Mar Village. Jimmy 0’s is a sure bet to find the locals discussing the winners and losers of the day. Another popular spot for brunch is The Brigantine, a casual clubby standby restaurant that overlooks the racetrack. This upscale eatery is a favorite and has the best Bloody Marys in town. Il Fornaio offers ocean views mixed with great Italian food, classy ambiance, and daily fresh-baked bread. The Fish Market, just across from the racetrack, serves fresh seafood with a casual friendly atmosphere, plenty of seafood specials to choose from, a great oyster bar, and a cozy cocktail lounge.


Beginners luck at the racetrack? There are several upscale hotels to spend that free money in and around Del Mar and Rancho Santa Fe. If you want luxury and a pampered staycation, hotels range from $187-$600 per night, with the understanding that most of these hotels get booked quickly during the season. Suggestions are: L’Auberge Del Mar (laubergedelmar.com); Best Western Premier Hotel Del Mar (bestwestern.com); Morgans Run Club & Resort (clubcorp.com); Fairmont Grand Del Mar. (fairmont.com/sandiego); Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa (ranchovalencia.com); and The Inn at Santa Fe (theinnatsantafe.com).

Whether or not you are in it to win it, Del Mar is a beautiful seaside town just “down the coast” to spend a weekend staycation or a simple getaway from LA for a few hours, “where the surf meets the turf in old Del Mar.”


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