It’s pretty hard not to have fun at Del Mar’s summer meet, which kicks off on July 17. Sunny Southern California, top-class racing and the beach just steps away? It’s no wonder the track is known as the “Playground to the Stars.” But if you have some doubts, any of these eight tried-and-true tips will guarantee you have a great time.
1. Come for twilight racing, stay for a concert. Del Mar’s regular post is 2 p.m. except on Fridays when it’s at 4 (and it's at 3:30 on Aug. 23 and 30). This is so the races end around dusk and the crowd can head right over to the seaside stage at the west end of the grandstand to enjoy an awesome concert. National acts including Ziggy Marley, Midland, and Steel Purse are scheduled to play this summer, and the best part: the concerts are free with your track admission!
2. Go celeb-watching. Hollywood celebrities, professional athletes and other recognizable faces revel at Del Mar on a regular basis. Spend a day at the track and you never know who you’ll bump into — literally, if the track is crowded like it usually is. In recent years Mario Lopez, Jessica Simpson and Kevin Costner have been spotted at the seaside oval, and celebrity racehorse owners Jim Rome and Drew Brees have also paid Del Mar a visit. Oftentimes, their celeb status gains them access to the paddock and/or winner’s circle, so be sure to keep an eye out when you’re near those two hotspots!
3. Enjoy a Del Margarita. What’s a day at the races without an adult beverage or two? The famous Del Margarita comes in a souvenir cup and is the perfect complement to sunny skies and fast horses. If tequila isn't your style, bring some friends out for Del Mar’s Tacos and Beer Festival this summer!
4. Get there early. Really early — early enough to watch the horses train in the morning. It’s serene and gorgeous and a can’t-miss part of the Del Mar experience. And unlike the afternoon, when there are half-hour breaks in the action, there are always horses on the track in the morning as nearly every horse on the grounds will have a morning workout. Del Mar makes it even more fun — you can enjoy a scrumptious breakfast while watching the horses at Daybreak at Del Mar from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. each Saturday and Sunday or you can go to one of their special Doughnuts at Del Mar days, held this year on July 27 and August 10 from 8 to 10 a.m. There you’ll see announcer Trevor Denman talk racing with jockeys and trainers, plus you can indulge in free coffee, O.J. and yes, even doughnuts.
5. Watch a race from the Brig. The Brigantine is one of Del Mar’s signature restaurants, with great seafood and a chic, beachy atmosphere. Stop by for a late lunch before hitting the track and you’ll find a whole new vantage point for the races. Sit outside and watch a race or two while enjoying the Brig’s famous fish tacos, it’s a must-see view of the track and grandstand and it’s awesome to hear the roar of the crowd as the horses sprint for the wire! This meet, members of Del Mar's Diamond Club can sign up for Free & Easy Wednesdays to receive free Stretch Run admission, a free program, and a free seat. The promotion is held at Del Mar’s Plaza del Mexico and includes $3 fish or carnitas tacos from the Brigantine, $6 pints of Coors Light, and $3 hot dogs. It runs every Wednesday except for opening day on July 17.
6. People watch. People watching is always entertaining but at Del Mar you get a huge bang for your buck. From California girls putting their best fashion foot forward to old gamblers in shorts and a T-shirt, Del Mar truly attracts all kinds. The spectacle is unmatched, and when you sprinkle in a celebrity here and there you and your friends can be entertained for hours. Just make sure you save time to make your bets and watch the races!
7. Eat (and drink) well. No trip to the track is complete without sampling the fare, and if you didn’t get enough free doughnuts you can come back for Del Mar’s Gourmet Food Truck Festival. The 10th annual Food Truck Fest will have 30-40 trucks filling the seaside stage lot on Aug. 10, while a Tacos and Beer Festival is slated for Aug. 3. There's also a Burgers and Brews event on July 20, a Turf and Surf BBQ Championship on Aug. 18, and an Uncorked Wine Fest on July 27. Can’t make it one of those days? The track still has great food that can be found at restaurants and booths throughout the grounds.
8. See San Diego. This one may not be at the track, but if you’re in town for the meet you’ve got to see the sights of San Diego when you’re not at the races. Personal favorites include the beach (obviously), San Diego Zoo and Balboa Park, the Gaslamp Quarter downtown, Coronado Island, and shopping in La Jolla. ABR contributor Jose Contreras went into more detail about some of those attractions two summers ago in advance of Del Mar's first hosting of the Breeders' Cup World Championships.
These eight tips are great place to start, but spend some time at Del Mar and you’ll surely have a list of your own favorite ways to spend a summer at the track!