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TRIP OF THE WEEK

Del Mar's Tradition of Hospitality

August 06, 1989|MICHELE GRIMM and TOM GRIMM | The Grimms are Laguna Beach free-lance writers/photographers and authors of the updated "Away for a Weekend."

DEL MAR, Calif. — A new era in hospitality is being displayed here. Two resort hotels have opened their doors within the past 10 days.

They followed closely the opening of Del Mar Plaza, the city's new shopping and dining complex.

But for those who prefer the outdoors, there is the seven-mile beach, pristine Torrey Pines State Reserve and Del Mar race track.

Instead of driving, take Amtrak and relax. The train stops at Del Mar's beach-side station during the railroad's eight daily Los Angeles-San Diego runs. Double-decker shuttle buses transport race fans free from the depot to the track. Call (800) USA-RAIL for train schedules and fares.

Post time is 2 p.m. for the nine races that run six days a week (except Tuesdays) through Sept. 13.

This is the 50th season at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club. It has been a popular outing for Hollywood stars ever since the track was opened by Bing Crosby and Pat O'Brien in 1937.

Stars Visit Hotel

In the early days, celebrities such as Charlie Chaplin and Rita Hayworth stayed at the classic Hotel Del Mar, which opened in 1909 as the Stratford Inn. The aging hotel was demolished two decades ago, and the corner site along the old coast highway at 15th Street in the heart of town was vacant until this year.

On July 28 the Inn at Del Mar opened as a 123-room hotel that occupies five landscaped acres featuring waterfalls and meandering streams. Reminders of its historic predecessor include a replica of the lobby fireplace and a display of mementos from the old hotel.

Only one of two wings is open. The health spa with underwater massage tubs, steam room, Swiss shower, sauna, exercise room and beauty salon is still under construction. But the inn's main restaurant, Del Mar Bistro Garden, is serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. There also is a bar named for Jimmy Durante.

All rooms have a balcony or patio, a marble bath, a mini refrigerator and a wet bar. Some feature fireplaces and cathedral ceilings. Single or double rates are $145/$185; suites begin at $275. For reservations, call (619) 755-4940 or toll-free (800) 553-1336.

Just across the coastal highway, in Camino Del Mar is the multilevel Del Mar Plaza, with 35 shops and restaurants as well as an ocean view.

Not all the stores or restaurants are open, but you will find that Il Fornaio (The Baker) is the hottest spot to eat in town. Call early for reservations: (619) 755-8876.

Marble floors and pizza ovens imported from Italy are part of the attraction of this informal indoor/outdoor restaurant that also has a takeout menu. The crush of diners has made table service erratic, so repeat visitors sometimes order out and then dine alfresco on the plaza's spacious public patio.

Outdoor Dining

You can take an easy stroll to other popular cafes along Camino Del Mar, the town's main thoroughfare.

On the opposite corner is Carlo and Annie's, while down the block are the Baja Grill Fish Market, Cafe Del Mar and Del Mar Danish Pastry. All offer sidewalk, patio or garden tables for outdoor dining.

You can dine casually in the Valley Cafe or feast on prime beef and fresh seafood at the Triple Crown in the new Del Mar Hilton.

The three-story hostelry is across from the race track, just off Interstate 5. At the adjacent Del Mar Family Recreation Center, guests can play tennis on eight lighted courts and practice their golf swings on the 59-tee lighted driving range. The hotel has its own swimming pool and two whirlpool spas.

There's a choice of 246 rooms and suites with an $85 rate, single or double, until Sept. 15. Regular rates will then rise to $100/$125. For reservations, call (619) 792-5200.

Overlooking Del Mar Plaza is a bungalow-style home that's become a 10-room bed and breakfast called the Rock Haus Inn. Room rates are $75/$135. Reservations: (619) 481-3764.

Rooms on the Beach

The only lodging on the beach in Del Mar is just a few steps from the Amtrak depot. It's the Del Mar Motel, with 45 renovated rooms and rates $90/$125. Reservations: (619) 755-1534. Next door are Jake's and the Poseiden, two well-known restaurants on the beach.

Call the Greater Del Mar Chamber of Commerce, (619) 755-4844, for information about other lodgings and restaurants.

At the south end of town you can play in the sand and surf at Torrey Pines State Beach ($3 entry for parking). A steep road leads above it to a state reserve that is home to the nation's rarest pine tree. Entry $3, weekends $4; smoking, picnics and pets are not permitted.

A former 1920s rest stop and restaurant called Torrey Pines Lodge serves as a visitor center.

It's open daily from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Inside are exhibits and an orientation video about the reserve. Afterward, walk through Torrey Pines on the Parry Grove or Guy Fleming trails. Join hourlong guided nature walks on weekends at 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.

If you drive to Del Mar from Los Angeles, head south on Interstate 5 to the exit for Via De La Valle. It goes past the race track to the old coast highway, now San Diego County road S21.

Round trip from Los Angeles to Del Mar is 270 miles.

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