Delightful Del Mar
Posted on July 1, 2017
After the race track’s opening in 1937, the charming seaside village of Del Mar became a summer playground for many Hollywood stars, including Bing Crosby, Pat O’Brien, Jimmy Durante, and Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball, among many others. Today, there are countless dynamos who are fortunate to call it home. Here, a few share their favorite memories and ways to enjoy this coastal retreat.
Mayor, Del Mar
There is an easy way to enjoy nearly all of Del Mar, according to Mayor Terry Sinnott: “Park your car, walk along the beach, visit a park, read a book, and visit a restaurant. Then come back and visit again,” says Sinnott, who moved here in 1976. Back then, he says, it was populated by a large group of students and professors who worked for UCSD. Now, much of the population has changed, but the beautiful ocean, beaches, lagoons, sandstone hills, and Torrey pines remain. An ocean fanatic, Sinnott is often beachside looking for the “green flash,” or perched on a bench made from a Torrey pine tree carved into the figure of a red-tailed hawk. He loves to stop at Fair Trade Décor, which specializes in home furnishing imports. “They are open late, so you can have dinner and browse after your meal,” he says. Sinnott is keeping an eye on improvements to the coastal village with a new City Hall next year and proposals for new developments, including a resort on the bluff above Dog Beach. Plans are in the works for new downtown landscaping, public art, and more pedestrian-friendly sidewalks. “All of this will be done carefully, to protect our neighborhoods and the architectural uniqueness of Del Mar.”
President, Winners Circle Resorts Int’l Inc.
For KC Vafiadis, Del Mar is a family affair that centers on their historic Stratford Square commercial space. Vafiadis, President of Winners Circle Resorts International, has lived in the city for more than 50 years, growing up along with the beach town. “There were once 11 gas stations in town,” she remembers. L’Auberge Del Mar has a doubly special meaning for her. Vafiadis’ father built the resort, and she and husband Chris held their wedding celebration there following their marriage at local St. Peter’s Church. Vafiadis loves having the fairgrounds and racetrack in the city’s backyard and is looking forward to events including the KAABOO music festival and the upcoming Breeders’ Cup. As the landlord of Stratford Square, she is particular to the restaurants and shops there. As for the future, she has a list of wishes. “Many of the buildings need some TLC, and we really need a southern anchor restaurant near the new City Hall site. Plus, we should add artwork or interesting sights for people to see as they walk through the village,” Vafiadis says. “We can improve upon what we have without changing the character of Del Mar.”
General Manager, L’Auberge Del Mar
Having both lived and worked in Del Mar on and off for more than 16 years, Terry Buchholz loves its small-town community vibe. “The people of Del Mar are very active in the preservation of our village,” Buchholz says. He is a regular visitor at Dog Beach accompanied by his dog, Baxter. “He will chase a ball and swim until he’s completely exhausted,” Buchholz says. The Del Mar Farmers Market is a regular Saturday stop. For a bite to eat, it’s off to Flower Child, or to Venissimo Cheese for what he hails as “the best grilled cheese ever!” The evolution of this beach city is a given for Buchholz. “Del Mar is constantly growing and changing as the times change. We have our cornerstone establishments, but as times and tastes progress, so does the feeling of Del Mar,” he says. And for the future, more is better. “I would love to see more restaurants and establishments calling Del Mar home.”
Executive Director, Del Mar Village Association
Things have changed since Jen Grove moved to Del Mar as a child in the 1970s. “Nothing existed east of the Highway 5 overpass except chaparral with a dirt road leading to Torrey Pines High School,” where Grove, now an attorney, was part of the sixth graduating class. “I remember watching trainers running horses on Dog Beach,” she recalls. Memories are strong where Grove raised three daughters and where her father still lives. “I know the secret paths, the best place to find sand dollars, the best places to run, best coffee, or best view,” she says. Favorites include breakfast at Americana or Stratford Court Café, lunch at Café Secret or Zel’s, dinner at Jake’s or Sbicca, drinks at En Fuego, and family meals at Prepkitchen or Kitchen 1540. “And of course, I love to visit Mr. Lee at Seaside Yogurt,” she says. Grove’s go-to shops are AnnMarie D’Ercole, Urban Beach House, Urban Girl, and Rusty Del Mar. And you can often spot her running along the ocean or, come the holidays, at the Del Mar Village Holiday Tree Lighting.
President/CEO, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club
Although the racing at Del Mar typically runs just two distinct seasons, the club’s president and CEO, Joe Harper, is an all-year fan of Del Mar. Harper first came here in 1967, working as a cinematographer. Even after 40 years in DMTC management, his activities center around the club. “Hollywood celebrities, along with a horse named Seabiscuit, put us on the map. But it’s the concerts, Del Margaritas, food trucks, family fun days, and beautiful people that create the best summer party in San Diego,” Harper says. Near the track, Harper loves the food at Red Tracton’s and has a soft spot for friend and owner Tracy Tracton. You might also find him eating at Pamplemousse Grille. Looming large on his schedule this year is the Breeders’ Cup in November, and the surrounding festivities. The club expects to draw owners and breeders of horses from the Eastern United States, Europe, and even the Middle East for this two-day racing event. “This is a great opportunity to showcase not just Del Mar Race Track but all of San Diego,” he says. “We know how lucky we are to live and work here. It’ll be fun to share it.”
Photography by Vincent Knakal