Del Mar is a small, seaside hideaway approximately 20 minutes north of downtown San Diego. Defined by calm salt water lagoons on each end, this charming, laid back town is best known for it’s exceptional weather, world famous thoroughbred racetrack, the county fair, fabulous beaches, haute cuisine and unique shopping.
With a population of approximately 4,500 in the 2.1 square mile coastal area, Del Mar offers an oasis of unhurried, yet civilized, living. Visitors can enjoy many of the pleasures of the Village without ever needing a car.
The historic downtown village dates back to 1880s. Today it is lined with over 60 shops offering everything from high-end apparel to one-of-a-kind specialty shops. The village hosts 25 restaurants, many providing outside patios overlooking the ocean. There are cafés with sidewalk seating and award-winning dining perfect for any occasion. Visitors will find a variety of hotel accommodations.
With 2 miles of coastline and gently rolling waves, Del Mar’s famous beaches are an ideal destination for beachgoers, surf combers and surfers seeking the legendary California surf. There’s even a sliver of beach for dogs. Del Mar’s primary beach also offers wheel chair access, the only such beach in the county with special wheelchairs designed for the sand. Whales, porpoises, sea lions and a myriad of birdlife populate the shimmering coastal waters and lagoons.
Residents and visitors alike enjoy several parks. Seagrove Park and adjoining Powerhouse Park are ideal grassy locations for a picnic or a wedding, walking a dog, for lovers catching a romantic sunset, or for simply gazing at the many magical moods of a majestic Pacific. And throughout the summer there are free concerts in the park. (Please see this Web site calendar). Not to overlook the little ones, there is a delightful children’s playground adjacent to Powerhouse Park, affectionately referred to as the Tot Lot.
The Del Mar Library is a landmark worth a visit. In 2002 two local artists, Betsy Shultz and Pat Welsh, created the mixed-media mosaic on the wall that frames the historic building which has served as a famous church for both movie stars and residents, a restaurant and other uses over the decades. The wall incorporates memorabilia and treasures from Del Mar’s history, as well as featuring terracotta birds and wildlife from the area.
At any age, at any season, Del Mar is truly a wonderful place to visit or to live.
In 1882 a New Yorker named Theodore Loop came to southern California to build a railroad connecting Los Angeles and San Diego. The original train tracks were laid down in the middle of Township 14, today known as Del Mar. Mr. Loop liked the area so much he told people that he had “found the most attractive place on the entire coast”.
In the same year Loop met a very successful rancher from New Mexico, Mr. Jacob Shell Taylor. Taylor and Loop were both captivated by the beauty of the area and recognized a development opportunity. In the summer of 1885, Taylor purchased 338.11 acres and began building the new resort town.
Del Mar was named by Loop’s wife, Ella, who took it from a popular poem of the time titled “The Fight of Paseo Del Mar.”
Taylor was a savvy businessman and a visionary. He knew that if he could lure visitors to Del Mar they would likely be loyal customers or new residents. Jacob Taylor initially built as many as 40 small houses, a two story Victorian schoolhouse, an observation tower, a train depot and a water system. Additionally, in 1886 Taylor opened “Casa Del Mar”, the area’s first resort. To entertain visitors Taylor built a dance pavilion on the beach and a large swimmingdesi pool that went out into the ocean called a Natatorium. Del Mar became a popular vacation destination.
For five years the town bustled with development. Sadly in 1889 Jacob Taylor woke up in the early morning to the smell of smoke in his hotel room. He woke all of the hotel guests, guaranteeing their safety, but within two hours the entire hotel burned to the ground.
Taylor insisted he would rebuild the hotel but, unfortunately, he never finished it. Taylor moved to Texas; leaving behind the town he founded, never to return.
Over 15 years lapsed before the next development boom. In 1900 the South Coast Land Company purchased the majority of land north of 9th Street. Like Taylor, the directors of the South Coast Land Company had big plans for Del Mar. Their first project was the grand resort hotel called the “Stratford Inn”. They hired a prominent Los Angeles architect, John C. Austin. The new hotel was built on the hill overlooking the beach. (Today the L’Auberge hotel occupies this land.)
On March 9, 1909 the beautiful Stratford Inn opened for business. It was a world-class hotel built on 10 acres. It quickly became the desired destination for Hollywood’s silent film stars.
The hotel had a salt-water swimming pool called The Plunge. Next to The Plunge the Powerhouse was erected to provide power and warm water to the hotel and to the Village.
Shortly after the hotel was finished, a pier (which was washed away in a storm years later) and a new train depot were built. The train depot was directly in front of the hotel, making it an easy commute. The same depot sits on the location today.
During the 20′s and 30′s Del Mar experienced tremendous growth. Although there were still just a few hundred permanent residents, the summer crowds reached almost 2,000.
To accommodate the growing population, the Kockritz Building was constructed across the street from the hotel on the southwestern corner of 15th Street and Camino Del Mar. The building was designed to match the English Tudor architecture of the hotel. The building remains to this day and is referred to as Stratford Square. It has become a Del Mar icon and treasure.
During the early 30′s the San Diego Fair was looking for a permanent home. Col. Ed Fletcher of the South Coast Land Company suggested the 184-acre site in the San Dieguito Valley just north of the Village. The Works Progress Administration provided the initial funding and the Del Mar Fair opened to great fanfare in 1936, a yearly tradition that continues.
A year after the Fair opened the mile-long oval thoroughbred racetrack was completed. One of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club’s prominent founders, crooner Bing Crosby, became the President of the Turf Club and movie star friend Pat O’Brien became the Vice President. Opening day of the track, July 3, 1937 began a new era in Del Mar. The track was hailed as Bing’s Baby or Movieland’s Own Track. Crosby himself coined the famous lyrics, which live on today, “Where the surf meets the turf, down in old Del Mar …”.
For decades the summer racing season has brought crowds to Del Mar along with many Hollywood celebrities such as Pat O’Brien, Jimmy and Marge Durante, Lucy and Desi Arnez, Burt Bacharach and Angie Dickenson. All made Del Mar their second home and it continues to remain a favorite of many today.
During World War II the races came to a halt so that the facilities could be used as a bomber tail assembly plant. However, racing returned in August 1945 after Japan surrendered.
In 1959 Del Mar incorporated as a city. It is now the smallest municipality in the booming San Diego region; a gem nestled along the coast. The most significant impact on the community over the last 40 years has been nearby University of California, San Diego (UCSD). Many faculty members and students reside in the community, influencing the political, social and cultural climate. In the 1970 the emphasis of the local government shifted towards slow growth, open spaces and preservation. Because of the efforts of an active group called the Friends of Del Mar, there will never be high-rise apartment buildings or billboards in the City. Seagrove Park and Powerhouse Park are both the results of the community citizenry working together to preserve open space.
Del Mar has grown family-by-family over the last 150 years. Today, almost 4,500 lucky residents call Del Mar their home. People still come to visit or live in Del Mar for the same reasons, as did the founding fathers: it is one of the most beautiful places in the country. Whether coming to enjoy the beach, shop in the village, spend a day at the races or just relax, Del Mar is “always in season”. Enjoy your visit, and come back again.