The surf and turf are equally celebrated facets of Del Mar. From June to September, between the county fair, horse racing season and the peak of summertime, this pristine seaside town overflows with visitors. From its ever-intensifying lineup of fried fair food, rainbow of fancy hats on opening day at the races, and famed surf competition for dogs, Del Mar is home to many of San Diego's adored traditions.
Picturesque sandy beaches and bluff-top, ocean views are popular with locals any time of year. North Beach (AKA Dog Beach) is big on pooch play and volleyball games, while Del Mar City Beach offers excellent surfing and sunbathing conditions in addition to two coastal parks - Powerhouse and Seagrove - where yoga and picnicking are equally popular activities.
With beach season officially here, now's the time to be a tourist in Del Mar before this summer when a spot on the sand, and place to park the car, will be harder to score.
Bird's eye views
Take in the best views of Del Mar's idyllic coastline from 3,000 feet up with a sunset hot air balloon ride (californiadreamin.com, sandiegohotairballoons.com); or, at North Beach, climb up the 80-foot wooden staircase to Scripps Bluff Preserve for a more grounded look around. Attention lovers planning on popping the question: Any of these places will make for a proper backdrop. 3006 Sandy Lane.
A plunge like no other
Every September, the quintessentially San Diego event, Surf Dog Surf-a-Thon, makes waves in the community with its equally adorable and hilarious premise that inspires people to donate back to the Helen Woodward Animal Shelter. The 10th annual competition is taking place on Sept. 15, with dogs - and their owners - taking surf lessons to get in shape leading up to the big day. Lessons are available from June through August; to find out if you and Spot have what it takes, call the animal shelter for more information, including a schedule.
Village eats for any beachy mood
Whether you're planning a picnic at one of Del Mar's coastal parks or in the sand at the renowned 15th Street beach, these haunts are within walking distance.
Bull Taco prides itself in offering an inauthentic taste of Mexican food, with tacos, burritos, tortas or bowls filled with the likes of roasted duck to curried shrimp. Breakfast is also served here, to cure your post-surf session hunger pains. 2050 S. Coast Highway.
Cold beer and big sandwiches make Board & Brew a beachside staple. From local craft beers to imported cervesa, drink one while waiting on your Turkado sub, or Left Coast pastrami. Don't fret: there's plenty of options for veg heads, too. 1212 Camino Del Mar.
If you want to escape the sun and linger in a cool, garden patio setting, look no further than the Stratford Court Café. With teas and coffee supplied by Café Moto, a simple menu of homemade soups, salads and sandwiches - plus daily special items, like fruit-topped Belgian waffles - this adorable café, tucked back from the beach, is just the place to hang out. 1307 Stratford Court., (858) 792-7433.
More neighborhoods to explore
Anza Borrego, Balboa Park, Coronado, Del Mar, East Village, Encinitas, Fiesta Island, Golden Hill, Hillcrest, La Jolla, Linda Vista, Mission Beach, Mission Hills, North Park: Part 1, North Park: Part 2, Ocean Beach, Point Loma, San Carlos, South Park, University Heights