San Diego Sand
20 miles north of downtown San Diego, it can be reached by taking exits off the San Diego Freeway (Interstate 5). Del Mar Heights Road is the most direct point of access. The main street through town is Camino Del Mar, which parallels the ocean from a few blocks away. Del Mar City Beach is the most popular beach in the area.
The boutiquing of Southern California reaches a modest crescendo in Del Mar. It is not as loud as the cymbal crash heard in places like Dana Point and Huntington Beach, but the drums are beating all the same. It's getting to the point where Del Mar sometimes seems undeserving of its self-decreed"village" status, even with a population of only 5,100. These days Del Mar is a trendy, buzzing little hive in town and a jazzed-up mall-o-drama out by its famous racetrack. The pace of traffic has picked up, giving Camino Del Mar a taste of the fumey, bumper-to-bumper backup that congests Laguna Beach. That's not to say the place has lost its charm, just that it's experiencing growing pains. But this is par for the coast; there's scarcely an available acre within sight of water in Southern California that hasn't been built up or targeted for development.
All the same, Del Mar is the closest you will come to finding a true village atmosphere, in coastal San Diego County Thanks to the vigilant attempts of the populace to keep development under control, coupled with the breezy, relaxed atmosphere of the racetrack that is the town's centerpiece, Del Mar has the air of a less harried time in California's past. To a great extent, it has geography to thank. Del Mar is situated on a hill between two lagoons, with a canyon to the east and ocean to the west. The land thins to precipitous strips at the lagoons: Los Penasquitos to the south (at Torrey Pines State Reserve), and San Dieguito, behind and around the river mouth at the north end of town. There's only so much you can build out here that hasn't already been constructed or attempted In the mid-1980s, environmental prerogatives saved the San Dieguito Lagoon from bone-headed plans to construct a cluster of hotels, shops, and freeway access ramps.
In town, the only major new project that's survived the legal gauntlet has been the L'Auberge Del Mar, a $45 million luxury hotel and spa built on the site of the old Del Mar Hotel (which was demolished in 1967). Even so, it took the developer, a Del Mar resident, more than a decade to gain approval of the plan. The heart of the village, along Camino Del Mar from about Sixth to Fifteenth Streets, is a cavalcade of small shops catering to a consumer's every whim. Folks mosey from cafes to shops, grazing and browsing, as traffic moves in fits and starts along Camino Del Mar while drivers scour the streets for parking spaces.
The town is best known for the thoroughbred racing season at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club. The brief, 43-day season runs from late July to early September, packing the town with racing buffs. The racetrack was built in the 1930s as the brainchild of local celebrities Bing Crosby, Jimmy Durante, and Pat O'Brien. Their cosponsor in the venture was the Works Progress Administration, which pulled out midway through construction. Crosby and O'Brien were left holding the bag, having to borrow funds to bring the track to completion. Der Bingle wrote and recorded a song to commemorate the track's opening in 1937. "Where the Surf Meets the Turf" is still played before the first race with all the dewy-eyed solemnity of the National Anthem. Grandstand seats run from $3 to $10 at the track, which lies inside a triangle formed by Via de la Valle, Camino Del Mar, and Jimmy Durante Way. The grounds are also the site of the annual Del Mar Fair, a June/July to-do that draws three-quarters of a million San Diegans. The rest of the year is given over to horse shows, trade shows, and concerts.
Before the first ". . .and they're off!" echoed around the track, Del Mar was already trotting along on an initially shaky but eventually well-heeled course. In 1883, developer Jacob Taylor Shell bought the strip of coastline upon which Del Mar sits today. He built a seaside spa on his 338 acres that included the Casa Del Mar Hotel, a dance pavilion, a bathhouse and pool, and a railroad depot. It briefly thrived before succumbing to bankruptcy, flood, and fire (in that order) by 1890 The town received a facelift during the Roaring Twenties: a renovated hotel, a rebuilt pier, and new roads into town. The fairgrounds came in 1936, the racetrack a year later. Del Mar has grown slowly but steadily ever since, trying its best to remainas a Newsweek article described it a quarter of a century ago "a sleepy little seacoast town."
Del Mar City Beach is a sunbather's paradise, quickly filling to capacity on summer days. A grassy play area, Seagrove Park, sits on the short bluffs overlooking the beach from the south end. The park, coastal walkway, and beach are separated from town by railroad tracks. It's an extremely popular beach, attracting a mix of students from UC San Diego, teens from all over, and families who have come to town for the county fair or horse races. All find room to roam on this extremely wide, well-lifeguarded beach. Finding a spot on the beach is less of a problem than finding a place to park close by. There's on-street metered parking along Coast Boulevard, as well as a few pay lots. The early bird gets the parking spot while the loser cruises; July and August parking is wall to wall. The beach itself is good for swimming and body surfing.
Beyond Del Mar City Beach lies the mouth of the San Dieguito River, which is dry at low tide, and Del Mar Bluffs City Park. A steep wooden staircase laden with sand leads to a spectacular overlook from the top of the bluff. The 360-degree panorama encompasses the ocean, the racetrack, and the town. Straddling Del Mar and neighboring Solana Beach is Seascape Shores, a sandy stretch of beach reachable from stairways near the 500 and 700 blocks of South Sierra Avenue. These beaches are popular with locals and tourists alike, not the least reason being that in season you might catch trainers working their horses on the beach.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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