So­journ by the SEA

SoCal’s Del Mar great bet for laid-back va­ca­tion

Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - TRAVEL - By An­drew McCredie

Del Mar cen­tral is the in­ter­sec­tion of Camino Del Mar (also known as High­way 101) and 15th Street, where you’ll find the four cor­ners in­hab­ited by the restau­rant-rich Del Mar Plaza, the high-end L’Au­berge Del Mar Ho­tel and Space, Strat­ford Square, and Ranch and Coast Plas­tic Surgery.

The main beach is just a block to the north, with surf and pad­dle-board schools shar­ing space with sand vol­ley­ball courts and paved basket­ball courts. Dur­ing the day, this is the high-traf­fic area of Del Mar, but even then you won’t find the crowds that typ­ify San Diego beaches to the south and L.A. ones to the north.

Where you will find crowds is at the north tip of Del Mar. It could be called the house that Bing built. It was 1937 when this now-leg­endary track with the slo­gan “where the turf meets the surf” opened, and co-owner Bing Crosby was at the gate greet­ing all com­ers. The Hol­ly­wood icon part­nered with fel­low ac­tors and horse nuts Pat O’Brien, Jimmy Du­rante, Charles S. Howard and Oliver Hardy to build the one-mile oval and tan stucco grand­stand.

The 2013 sea­son runs from July 17 to Sept. 4, with rac­ing Wednes­day through Sun­days, and with on-site sta­bles that house 1,000 horses, the ac­tion is fast and fu­ri­ous.

It’s also fash­ion­able, as we dis­cov­ered af­ter drop­ping our bags at our ho­tel, the Ho­tel Indigo, 45 min­utes af­ter land­ing at San Diego In­ter­na­tional and driv­ing the five min­utes to the Del Mar Fair­grounds and the track’s im­pres­sive en­trance­way.

Decked out in typ­i­cal tourist travel at­tire — shorts, T-shirts and san­dals — we felt ex­tremely un­der­dressed among the dresses, blaz­ers and skirts race­go­ers of all stripes were wear­ing. And my wife and daugh­ter, to their hor­ror, were two of the very few women not wear­ing hats.

One doesn’t get op­por­tu­ni­ties to wear hats, I learned, and this was a missed one about which I’m still re­minded to this day. How­ever, once we made our way to our re­served ta­ble in the track­side Stretch Run Grill, or­dered a few cold drinks and set­tled in with our rac­ing sheets, all was for­given.

We en­joyed a light lunch of tacos and na­chos as the ac­tion un­furled on the track, the re­lax­ing and tran­quil lead-up to each race punc­tu­ated by the fran­tic screams and yelling for the few min­utes the horses and jock­eys put on their show.

Speaking of shows, there’s also a sum­mer con­cert series of free per­for­mances ev­ery Fri­day on the grounds, with last year’s acts in­clud­ing Jimmy Cliff and Michael Franti and Spear­head.

Even non-rac­ing fans will be en­tranced by this place. Thou­sands were packed into the grand­stand and grounds un­der a warm Cal­i­for­nia sun, en­joy­ing the colour­ful flow­ers and lush landscaping as much as the on-track ac­tion.

True to its founders’ ori­gins, there is some­thing about the place that feels right out of a Hol­ly­wood set. This is how a race­track should look. And the pa­trons, in the roles of ex­tras, cer­tainly play their part.

Twenty min­utes up the road from Del Mar is the coastal city of Carlsbad, well worth a visit when you’re stay­ing in Del Mar.

Skip the San Diego Free­way (High­way 5) and stick to the North Coast High­way (No. 1), that takes you through the cool coastal com­mu­ni­ties of Encini­tas and Cardiff and Solana Beach. Time has stood still in these places, with a def­i­nite ’60s surfer vibe per­me­at­ing the salty air and sand­floor taco shacks.

With a pop­u­la­tion of more than 100,000, Carlsbad has plenty for vis­i­tors to see and do, with a wide va­ri­ety of ac­com­mo­da­tion op­tions — from quaint sea­side ho­tels to full-blown five-star lux­ury re­sorts.

Fam­i­lies are drawn to the area to visit Le­goland, a sprawl­ing theme park ded­i­cated to those lit­tle plas­tic build­ing blocks.

The lat­est ad­di­tion to the Lego em­pire is the Le­goland Ho­tel, a 250-room, three-storey build­ing with a pool, lounge, pa­tio, Cas­tle Play area and fam­ily restau­rant. Oh, and more than 3,500 Lego mod­els on-site, in­clud­ing seven large an­i­mated ones, the most im­pres­sive of which is a smoke-breath­ing dragon at the en­trance.

There are three choices of room themes — pi­rate, ad­ven­ture and king­dom — and at least eight Lego mod­els in each room.

And, thank­fully, for the par­ents who foot the bill for their Lego-mad chil­dren, each room has two TVs, mean­ing a much-needed break from the kid-cen­tric ac­tiv­i­ties can be had at bed­time.

Another side trip from Del Mar well worth the 30-minute drive south is a unique, self-guided tour of San Diego Har­bor in a speed­boat.

On a pre­vi­ous visit to the city, my fam­ily hopped aboard a large, dou­bledeck ship for a har­bour tour, which was very en­joy­able and very in­for­ma­tive about the rich naval his­tory of the area.

Five min­utes into our Speed Boat Ad­ven­tures tour (speed­boatad­ven­tures. com) — or about the time we cleared the ma­rina mark­ings and hit the throt­tles into open wa­ter — the screams of de­light (ter­ror?) com­ing from both our speed­boats in­di­cated this was the pre­ferred way to tour the har­bour.

A guide boat leads the way, with about 100 me­tres be­tween each boat as you zip around the har­bour, tak­ing in all the sights — in the case of the loung­ing seals on a U.S. Navy sub dock, smells — that are cov­ered in the sight­see­ing boat tours.

Only you’re in a sports car of the waves, and get some great up-close and unique views of the many ship at­trac­tions that line the har­bour, in­clud­ing the USS Mid­way air­craft car­rier. No ex­pe­ri­ence is nec­es­sary to pi­lot the four-me­tre-long boats, and the en­tire tour takes about 90 min­utes, in­clud­ing a pre-trip safety brief­ing

Prices are $100 for a one-per­son boat, $59 each for a dou­ble, chil­dren un­der 10 ride as pas­sen­gers for $39, and you can get one adult and two kids in one boat. Note that reser­va­tions are re­quired.

Be­fore you head back to Del Mar, drive 15 min­utes from the Har­bor Is­land ma­rina into the Gaslamp Dis­trict and or­der up some Messy Sun­daes at Sammy’s Wood­fired Pizza (sam­ on Fourth Av­enue. A great way to cap off a great boat trip.


The Del Mar Race­track was founded in 1937 with the motto ‘where the turf meets

the surf,’ and if you’re go­ing to take in the races, be sure to dress up.

Race­go­ers at the Del Mar Race­track nor­mally sport dresses, blaz­ers and skirts. And ladies, don’t for­get your hat.

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