I talked my dad into coming to California for the winter since Connecticut is no place for someone in their eighties. A few days after he arrived, it was his birthday, and so I wanted to do something special.
Last year for his 85th I took him to Las Vegas since he loves to gamble—blackjack, craps, poker, roulette, the wheel, you name it. But since he especially fancies going to the track to bet the ponies, I figured this year the track would be the perfect place to celebrate.
FYI: My dad doesn’t just pick the horses based on their names or numbers like me. Instead, he has to find a newsstand that carries the $8 Daily Racing Form so he can handicap them. He’s tried teaching me but it’s way over my head and to be honest, I’m just not into it—nor do I want to be.
Like a good Italian boy, I’m always trying to make my dad happy. He was an incredibly loving father so it’s only right he gets it paid back.
So this year, just as I was trying to figure out what to do for his 86th, into my inbox popped a press release with the subject line “DEL MAR OPENS GATES FOR INAUGURAL BING CROSBY SEASON.” The email itself read “This Friday the Del Mar Racetrack will open its gate for a second time this year to debut the inaugural fall Bing Crosby Season, racing November 7-30. The fall season pays tribute to the track’s iconic founder Bing Crosby….”
I immediately replied and asked if they could arrange tickets for my dad’s birthday. They said they could do even better—they could arrange a whole weekend. It was perfect since Del Mar is just 100 miles from where I live (near LAX) and 20 miles north of downtown San Diego.
Here are the highlights of the memorable weekend:
Hotel Indigo Del Mar
We checked into the Hotel Indigo Del Mar which is a two-story hotel and part of the InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG). Each of the 94 rooms comes with free parking, Wi-Fi, a mini-fridge, a microwave, a coffeemaker, and Aveda bath products. The best part about the hotel, besides the ocean view and horse wallpaper, is that it’s within one mile of the Del Mar Racetrack and less than a mile from town where all the restaurants and shops are located. Rates start at $120.
Shortly after settling into the room we jumped back in the car and drove five minutes to Pacifica Restaurant. It’s the ideal restaurant for a romantic dinner, and we had one of their front-row tables that pressed up against the balcony with seats perfectly facing each other and overlooking the ocean. Sadly, it was dark so there was no ocean to see, and even worse there was a private party down below for a sixteen-year-old who had the DJ pumping music way too loud. I thought it was a nightclub at first but the busboy set me straight when I asked and basically said, “God, no.” That’s a good thing.
Their seafood is so amazing that my dad is still raving about his fish. I was impressed by their professional wait staff, which apparently has been doing it for decades. After eating at Pacifica I wasn’t surprised to learn it had been awarded the prestigious Gold Medallion for “Best Seafood Dining in San Diego.”
Tip: They offer valet parking, which costs $8, but if you bring your ticket in with you (you should never leave it in the car) the restaurant will take $8 off your bill.
Sunday morning, we started off the big day by going to Jake’s Del Mar. It’s part of the TS Restaurants group, which has a solid collection of eateries in a number of great locations in California and Hawaii—including Duke’s Waikiki, which I love.
Jake’s is only open for breakfast on Sundays, and they start serving at 10 am. We arrived at 10:15 and it was already crowded, and in fact all of the cherished tables along the windows were already taken. The views are mesmerizing and the food and service are good without being crazy expensive. My dad had the lemon ricotta pancakes ($10) and I had the breakfast burrito ($12) filled with scrambled eggs, braised pork, avocado, cheddar, red onion and spinach in a flour tortilla. My eggs were a little overcooked but the breakfast potatoes that come with all breakfast entrees were scrumptious. Great place to start the day (and I suspect to finish it).
Del Mar Racetrack
We then drove the mile to the track, valet parked ($20), and got a table at the Clubhouse Terrace Restaurant. A table that can seat four normally goes for $50 but can be higher for big events.
I’d actually always wanted to go to the Del Mar track since I’ve passed it so many times driving to San Diego. And I’d heard it’s fun—especially on opening day when everyone dresses up and it’s the hottest ticket in town. We had a great day and stayed for all nine races (12:30 pm to 4:30 pm). Shockingly, my dad won more races than he lost. I even won a couple and broke even, which made it even more enjoyable.
Tip: As it’s close to the water, it gets chilly when the sun goes down so bring a sweater.
Good to know: Racing at Del Mar happens Thursdays through Sundays until November 30, with post time for the first race at 12:30 pm. For more information, call 858-755-1141 or visit delmarscene.com. You can follow Del Mar on Twitter (@DelMarRacing) or become a fan on Facebook at facebook.com/DelMarRaces.
After the track, we went to Kitchen 1540, located at 1540 Camino Del Mar in the L’Auberge Del Mar Resort. It’s a modern and comfortable restaurant that serves upscale southern cuisine with a California twist (menu). Chef Brandon Fortune grew up in the southeast and graduated from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Atlanta, Georgia. He worked at the Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta before heading west and earning all kinds of awards like San Diego Magazine’s “Best Hotel Restaurant.”
It was a little chilly outside so we opted for a table inside rather than on the patio. Since it was Sunday night in the off-season, the restaurant—and whole town of Del Mar for that matter—seemed eerily quiet, but that was a good thing as my dad is hard of hearing. Our food and service were excellent and I loved my fried green tomatoes salad with local gem lettuces, spiced pecans, Cali goat cheese (I asked for no goat cheese), tart apples, compressed jicama, and buttermilk-lime dressing ($15). My dad enjoyed king salmon served with black-eyed pea hummus, kale two ways, smoked ham hock, winter succotash, K1540 mustard, and preserved lemon ($29). For dessert they surprised him with a chocolate cake and that was on top of the seasonal apple tart he ordered ($10)!