Del Mar, Spanish for “by the sea,” beautifully reflects this magnificent and historic California beach town dating back to the 1880s. Since the legendary golden years of Hollywood, Del Mar has been a magnet for movie stars as well as those who love horse racing, breathtaking vistas, relaxing Pacific beaches and award-winning cuisine. Located just 20 minutes north of downtown San Diego and 90 minutes south of Los Angeles, it’s the perfect weekend getaway.
Del Mar is part of a string of beach communities on the historic Pacific Coast Highway that hugs the ocean and offers a unique blend of California surf culture and Southern California vibe that can’t be duplicated anywhere in the world. Visitors are enamored with its half-timbered Tudor style European architecture—a tad different than most other San Diego beach towns. It’s classy with an air of sophistication, while still maintaining a small-town casual and quaint feel.
The coastal climate is considered Mediterranean-subtropical with warm, dry summers and mild winters. The average yearly temperature is around 65 degrees Fahrenheit and it rarely exceeds 85 degrees. That’s about as picture-perfect as you’re going to get it.
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Where to Stay
Immediately upon entering the stunning open-air lobby of L’Auberge Del Mar, we could sense an aura of calmness and serenity. Located in the heart of the city, the seaside retreat strikes a perfect balance between beachy casual and upscale luxury chic. The seamless blending of inside areas and outdoor patio spaces and terraced grounds with fire pits and live music creates the ideal atmosphere for relaxing and enjoying life.
L’Auberge sits on the historic site of the Tudor-style Stratford Inn, built in 1910. This was the original luxury resort of Del Mar and still holds a storied legacy in the history of the town. Many celebrities and politicians roamed the Stratford’s picturesque grounds. During World War II, the beachside hotel opened its doors to soldiers and their families. But in the postwar era, it fell into disrepair and was eventually demolished in 1969. 20 years later, a new era of luxury in the spirit of the Stratford Inn began on-site with the opening of the beautiful L’Auberge Del Mar.
The 5.2-acre picturesque boutique property is home to 121 deluxe guest rooms and suites offering stunning property and coastal views. Our elegantly appointed king ocean-view room featured a private balcony with Pacific Ocean and pool views. Luxury amenities included plush bedding, an elegant sitting area, marble bathroom and soft, comfy robes. The onsite Spa L’Auberge offers the perfect combination of relaxation, renewal and revitalization with a focus on the healing powers of the sea. Several beauty and massage treatments are available by appointment.
One of the best features of the resort is its prime location, just a stone’s throw from the Pacific Ocean with a private pathway leading to Del Mar Beach. And the resort is likewise mere steps away from the heart of Del Mar Village.
Where to Play
Resort complimentary Electra Beach Cruisers allowed us to explore the Del Mar environs. We started out on the main street of the quaint seaside village, with its variety of unique shops and restaurants.
Riding down the hill from Del Mar to La Jolla provided some of the most awe-inspiring coastal views we’ve ever seen. Torrey Pines Natural State Reserve remains one of the wildest stretches of land on the Southern California coast with miles of unspoiled beaches, a lagoon vital to migrating seabirds and the rare and picturesque Torrey pines, unique to this region.
Getting wet in the surf is a popular pastime of Del Mar locals and visitors. The pristine beaches are perfect for sunbathing while bodyboarders and surfers can grab a board, live like the locals and hit the waves. Surfboarding lessons from a local surf school, Fulcrum Surf, can have students hanging ten in no time at all.
Hiking Torrey Pines is a must-do. Wilderness paths lead to breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean atop lofty cliffs with miles of gorgeous coastal beach. Surrounded by stunning sandstone cliffs, the Reserve offers multiple winding trails of varying lengths lined with picturesque pines, desert succulents, wildflowers and impressive rock formations.
Horse racing fans love coming to the magnificent oceanside Del Mar Racetrack which opened in 1937 with Bing Crosby standing at the turnstile collecting admission tickets. The track is open for summer and fall racing events. Here thousands of excited horseracing fans pour into the imposing grandstand, place their bets, cross their fingers and excitedly watch some of the most gifted horses and horsemen in the world trying to reach the finish line first.
Where to Dine
The turf meets the surf not only at the Del Mar Racetrack, but also at Jake’s Del Mar. Sitting beachside, literally just steps away from the waves, this restaurant is a Del Mar icon. The luckiest diners (or those who plan ahead) can request tables closest to the water, though there’s really not a bad seat in the house.
Open for lunch, dinner and Sunday Brunch, Jake’s is one of Del Mar’s most popular foodie hangouts. The stunning views are only matched by the quality of its food and the attentiveness of its friendly bartenders and servers. It also has one of the best happy hours in the area.
We love the touch of Hawaiian aloha in its entrees. Starters and salads are amazing as are their seafood and fresh catch of the day. All dishes are prepared to mouthwatering perfection. Leave room for Jake’s signature dessert, the Hula Pie, plenty big enough for sharing. This delectable frozen ice cream concoction, with its chocolate sauce, macadamia nuts and whipped cream, is devilishly divine!
Sbicca, named for its owner, is one of Del Mar’s best-loved neighborhood eateries. Dining on the second floor is highly recommended for the coastal views. Not sure what to order? We can attest that the starters are amazing small-plates—especially the Crispy Calamari strips with sweet chili glaze and arugula; Crab Cakes with avocado-mango slaw; Cajun aioli and Meyer lemon; and Crispy Shrimp Dumplings with scallions, sweet soy and jalapeno.
You won’t find a more spectacular sunset setting accompanied by fresh ocean breezes than at L’Auberge’s patio restaurant, Coastline. Cioppino with a combination of the day boat catch, shrimp, littleneck clams, mussels, scallops and calamari in a tomato-saffron broth was a flavorsome selection. You’ll need to ask for more grilled bread to sop up the heavenly juices. My hubby loved his Steak Frittes entrée, a tender New York Strip grilled to perfection and topped with truffle-parmesan shoestring fries and salsa verde.
Desserts here are winners. Chocolate lovers delight in the Chocolate Mousse. And for something lighter, the creamy, custardy Panna Cotta hit the perfect spot for me.
Rumi, the 13th-century mystic poet once said, “Don’t sit and wait. Get out there, feel life. Touch the sun, and immerse in the sea.” Del Mar is one of those special places where this can easily be done.