When travelers talk about surf and turf in Del Mar, they're not discussing steak and lobster. Going to the beach and going to the races top the menu of summer fun in that seaside town.
After playing in the Pacific, you can play the horses at the famed ocean-view track of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club. Its 47th season gets under way Wednesday, with post time at 2 p.m.
Many of the world's best horses, jockeys and trainers converge on Del Mar to vie for more than $8 million in purses through Sept. 10. Nine races are run daily, except Tuesdays when the track is closed.
Ever since Bing Crosby and Pat O'Brien founded the racecourse in 1937, it's continued to be a favorite of Hollywood stars and other celebrities.
Racing fans like the track's Spanish-style architecture, as well as the scenic infield area that's recently been opened to spectators. The grassy center of the track is reached by a tunnel from the grandstand and has become a popular place for picnickers and sunbathers.
Senior, Military Discounts
Admission to the infield and grandstand is $2.50; senior citizens and military personnel pay $1 on weekdays. Clubhouse admission costs $5. All reserved and box seats are $3 more. Gates open at noon. Ticket office: (619) 481-1207. Call (619) 755-1141 for other information.
Get to Del Mar from Los Angeles by driving south on Interstate 5, exiting west on Via de la Valle and then following signs to race track parking at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
To explore Del Mar before or after the races, continue west on Via de la Valle to the old coast highway, now San Diego County S21. Turn left on the four-lane road, also called Camino del Mar, to the heart of town at 15th Street. (Jimmy Durante Boulevard also leads there from the race track.)
Go right on 15th Street for a panorama of the ocean from Seagrove Park. It's the site of free Monday twilight concerts scheduled this summer at 7 p.m. on July 28 and Aug. 11 and 25.
Down the hill via Pacific Coast Boulevard you'll find swimmers, surfers and sunbathers enjoying the city beach. The barefoot crowd also relaxes at the Poseidon restaurant on the sand, or puts on shoes and shirts to eat and drink next door at Jake's.
Adjacent is the area's only beachfront lodging, the 1940s Del Mar Motel, with renovated rooms from $80 to $100. Phone (619) 755-1534.
A few steps away Amtrak's San Diegan trains stop at Del Mar's tiny depot on their seven daily round trips from downtown Los Angeles, as well as from Fullerton, Anaheim, Santa Ana, San Juan Capistrano and Oceanside. Call (213) 624-0171 for time schedules and fares. Trains are met by a bus and taxis to the race track.
The arrival of horse racing in Del Mar nearly 50 years ago put the town on the map, but its roots go back to 1885. That's when Col. Jacob Taylor built Casa del Mar, a luxurious 30-room hotel with a surf bathing pool and dance pavilion, to attract visitors and new residents from Los Angeles and elsewhere.
But the hotel burned down, the economy went bad and Taylor's new town floundered. By 1900 the population of Del Mar was only 32. It was soon revitalized by the South Coast Land Co. with the building of a hotel, the Stratford Inn, an indoor warm-water plunge and a 1,000-foot pier into the ocean.
Vacationers discovered the delights of Del Mar and decided to stay. Today the lush bluff-top community numbers 5,100, and expands considerably in summer with race fans and beachgoers. Many of its restaurants, lodgings and shops line the main highway, Camino del Mar.
That's where you'll find the ocean-view Del Mar Inn, a cozy retreat that features afternoon tea served in the English tradition and a continental breakfast brought to your room. Double room rates range from $73 to $94; call (619) 755-9765.
Next door, and also presenting Pacific vistas, is the Stratford Inn, a modern version of its namesake hostelry. You'll pay $70 to $110 for a single or double room. Phone (619) 755-1501.
Two attractive time-share properties also offer visitor accommodations. Close to the ocean is Wave Crest, (619) 755-0100, and within sight of the race track is Winners Circle, (619) 755-6666.
A block from Camino del Mar up 15th Street you can spend the night in a bungalow-style home that's been turned into the Rock Haus, a 10-room B&B. Breakfast is served on the glassed-in porch. Room rates from $75 to $125; no smoking, children or pets. Phone (619) 481-3764.
A room for two with full breakfast is offered for $40 at the Blue Door B&B in the hills; (619) 755-3819.
You can join Del Marians for outdoor refreshments or a meal under patio umbrellas at Carlos and Annie's, a sidewalk cafe in Stratford Square at the corner of 15th Street and Camino del Mar. Or go around the corner on 15th to a popular 1950s-style diner called Kirby's.