It may be a small 1.8 square miles in size, but you can fill an entire vacation with things to do in Del Mar, CA. In Spanish, del mar means “of the sea” which sets the scene for what to expect when staying in this coastal town just north of La Jolla.
You’ll find plenty of outdoor activities, spectacular beaches, delicious restaurants to try out, and unique shops to stroll through. Several of the best Del Mar hotels are within walking distance to most of these attractions, too.
1. Gorgeous Beaches
One of the main reasons why people base their San Diego vacation in Del Mar is because of the beautiful beaches.
Most people visit Del Mar City Beach, one of the best beaches in San Diego, which starts in front of L’Auberge Del Mar, at the end of 15th Street.
Lay your towel anywhere on this large sandy stretch that leads multiple blocks north all the way to the River Mouth, also known as Dog Beach. Here, furry friends can play off-leash in the shallow river water, the ocean and sand.
2. Local Parks
Del Mar is home to lovely public parks, including Seagrove Park and Powerhouse Park, both by the sea at the end of 15th Street and with large grassy areas for picnics, public restrooms, easy beach access, and a playground that children love.
A bit inland, San Dieguito County Park offers 5 miles of trails, five playgrounds, multiple picnic areas, lots of green space, and more outdoor fun. Note that a $3 fee to park applies.
3. San Diego County Fair (Seasonal)
The San Diego County Fair takes place each summer from roughly Memorial Day weekend to July 4th at the Del Mar County Fairgrounds. Locals and visitors flock to the popular summer San Diego attraction for decadent and novel fair food (think deep-fried Kool-Aid and deep-fried Oreos), carnival games, rides, and special events.
4. Del Mar Thoroughbred Club (Seasonal)
Whatever your stance on horseracing, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club belongs on this list because it draws major crowds to Del Mar during the summer racing season.
You can place bets, attend weekend concerts, eat in one of the dining establishments, and sip Del Margaritas (get it?) as part of the festivities. Kids are welcome especially at Family Weekends with fun activities in the infield.
5. Free Flight Exotic Bird Sanctuary
Free Flight Exotic Bird Sanctuary is an education and rehabilitation facility for exotic birds. Go there to learn about, feed, and interact with some of the resident birds. Guided tours are also available for a fee.
They also provide a number of services for exotic bird owners including boarding, grooming, behavioral assessments. Parrot adoptions also take place at this facility after the birds are socialized.
6. Go Surfing in Del Mar
I’ll say it again. Learning how to surf on a San Diego vacation is a quintessential California experience for any age. Del Mar is a fantastic place to learn with spots for novices and areas for experienced surfers to catch some waves.
Del Mar Surf School offers surf lessons to beginners, while Del Mar Surf Rentals and Rusty Del Mar surf shop rents out wet suits, surfboards, and boogie boards for those who want to hit the waves themselves. Rusty Del Mar offers lessons, too.
7. Go Hiking
If you’re looking for outdoor things to do in Del Mar that don’t involve the beach, look to the many beautiful hiking trails.
Some of the best areas to hike include Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, Crest Canyon, Scripps Bluff Preserve, San Dieguito Lagoon, Riverpath Del Mar and San Elijo Lagoon. Get some exercise on one or more of these hikes while seeing native plants and animals. Some trails are okay for kids, too.
8. Play Mini Golf
Having lived in Del Mar, I can’t count how many times we popped over for a quick round of super-fun mini-golf at Pelly’s. Whether you are looking for a family-friendly way to entertain your kids, or you want to do something competitive with your date look to Pelly’s Mini Golf.
There is also a chipping green, a putting green located, and excellent instructors at the same facility for those who want to practice their swing or stroke.
9. Go Shopping
When people envision themselves spending time in a beach town, they often think of themselves strolling through small, quaint shops.
Del Mar does not disappoint when it comes to shopping. Some of the best places to shop in the area include Del Mar Plaza and the boutiques on Camino Del Mar.
Highlights include Carolyn’s Designer Resale, Urban Girl Accessories (good for souvenirs you’ll actually like), and Julie’s Beachwear of you forgot to pack a swimsuit.
10. Play Beach Volleyball
Beach volleyball is one of the most popular things to do in Del Mar but also at other San Diego beaches like Mission Beach.
You can bring your own ball and net to start a quick game with your friends, or search local Internet group sites to participate in a structured game. Del Mar is also home to many beach volleyball leagues, so if you don’t play, you may enjoy watching enthusiasts and semi-professionals play.
11. Dine On the Beach
If you’re looking at a beachfront restaurant, Poseidon and Jake’s Del Mar (the latter belongs to the same family of restaurants as Duke’s, Lelani’s on the Beach, Kimo’s — important for Hula Pie fans) are both located on the beach. Poseidon is well known for its covered outdoor patio, a perfect place for a drink or two and California cuisine.
If it’s a view you seek, try Pacifica Del Mar in Del Mar Plaza which boasts ocean views from the restaurant and its patio. The menu offers mostly seafood with steak, salads, and pasta mixed in (they also have some pretty good fish tacos — a San Diego must-eat).
All three are local institutions that have been around for decades and are popular with locals.
(Tip: If it’s an excellent sandwich you seek, grab one from Board and Brew on Camino Del Mar and take it to the beach. The menu hasn’t changed much after twenty-five-plus years and I can tell you the popular items are Turkey Deluxe, Turkado, Baja Beef or Baja Chicken. You’re welcome.)
12. Shop the Del Mar Farmers Market
The Del Mar Farmers Market is open every Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m. The market’s vendors sell a variety of gifts and food including seasonal fruits and vegetables, potted plants, fresh bread and other baked goods, fresh seafood, jars of honey and jams, and even crafts. The farmers market also offers fitness classes, including yoga.
13. Take a Sunset Seat
Sunset seat is a sculpture of a red-tailed hawk (the official bird of Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve) and a decorative bench carved out of an old Torrey Pine atop a beautiful Del Mar cliff that overlooks the ocean.
When the sun begins to set, the area becomes illuminated by a beautiful orange, yellow, or red sky. It’s a popular spot for Instagram photos and photographers.
14. Drink Local Brews
Beer ranging from IPA to chocolate porter is brewed in-house and paired with menu delights like salted vinegar fries, tacos, and Reuben sandwiches. They also serve some lesser-known craft beers.
It’s a 7000-square-foot facility that works for lazy days in the sun on the patio and big events (we attended one here recently and the staff was fantastic and the food presentation was nice).
15. Do Yoga at 17th Street Lifeguard Tower
The 17th Street Lifeguard Tower, located at 17th Street and the Beach, is always bustling with activity. In the early morning hours, you can find people jogging or walking their dogs.
Throughout the day, you can see people playing a game of beach volleyball. And every Saturday and Sunday morning, you can see body surfers meeting before surfing the waves.
Many groups are also starting to offer yoga classes in this area as well. Stop by the beach to see if a class is starting when you are there.
Things to Do in Del Mar’s Surrounding Area
A handful of these ideas are technically in the city of Del Mar (92014) but they are in adjacents areas that residents often refer to as in Del Mar.
16. Hike Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
While Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is technically in La Jolla it is on the border of Del Mar and one of the most popular things to do in Del Mar for those on vacation.
The natural reserve features 1,500 acres of undeveloped land, including rare Torrey Pine trees, a nice beach, maritime chaparral, and a lagoon that is vital to seabirds during their migration.
If you want to see what Spanish settlers saw when they first found San Diego, this park will give you a glimpse of that. Trails can be family-friendly even for smaller kids or you can opt for a rigorous workout.
17. Visit Wetlands
San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve and Nature Center is one of the largest remaining tidal wetlands in San Diego County. It borders Del Mar and is easily accessible to those visiting the area.
Go here for seven miles of easy to moderate San Diego hiking, bird watching, to spy native animals (birds, butterflies, lizards, and even crabs). Start at the Nature Center to get a feel of everything this special reserve has to offer before heading out.
18. Dine at Addison
This is San Diego’s only Michelin-star restaurant, so be sure to book a reservation well in advance.
19. Hot Air Balloon Rides
If you are looking to see Del Mar, CA. from a completely new vantage point, take a hot air balloon ride. Most companies offer hot air balloon rides early in the morning, as the sun is rising, or late in the evening, as the sun is setting.
You’ll see beautiful views of the ocean, Torrey Pines Natural Reserve, and luxurious homes. Some of the companies in the Del Mar that offer these rides include Compass Balloons, Sky’s the Limit Ballooning, and California Dreamin’.
Tip: There are often discounted hot air balloon rides in San Diego on Groupon.
20. Play Golf
The Grand Golf Club is the premiere spot for golf enthusiasts to play a Tom Fazio-designed course. Go to play a breathtaking golf course, take some swings at a 25 station driving range, practice on a large putting green, or take golf lessons offered by PGA instructors.
You’ll need to be a guest of Fairmont Grand Del Mar, to take advantage of this opportunity (or a member or villa owner). Many of our readers check-in as it’s a member of our San Diego hotel portfolio.
What are your favorite things to do in Del Mar, CA?