Not only is Del Mar gorgeous, but the quaint seaside town is also teeming with culture. Since the days of vintage Hollywood, Del Mar has been a top destination for movie stars along with those who simply love luxurious resort life by the stunning seaside bluffs. 

Stratford building

History Of Del Mar

Convinced that the area was “the most attractive place on the entire coast,” Theodore Loop, a railroad engineer from New York, traveled to Southern California to build a railroad connecting Los Angeles and San Diego. The original train tracks were laid in the middle of Del Mar in 1882. 

That same year, Loop met a successful rancher, Jacob Shell Taylor. Taylor and Loop were both captivated by the stunning seaside area and recognized the perfect development opportunity.

Loop was a visionary who had high hopes for the area, wanting to draw visitors far and wide. He built 40 small houses, two school houses, an observation tower, a train depot, and a water system.

Ready to elevate Del Mar into a vacation destination, he soon founded the village of Del Mar in 1886 and developed the area’s first seaside resort, “Casa Del Mar,” officially establishing Del Mar as an idyllic getaway on the Southern California Coast.

After five years of bustling success and development, Jacob Taylor woke to the smell of smoke in his hotel room. After evacuating guests safely, the hotel burned down two hours later. Taylor said he’d return to rebuild the hotel, but he then moved to Texas, leaving behind the town he had helped found. 

Yet hope was on the horizon for Del Mar.

The Big Boom

In the early 1900s, the South Coast Land Company purchased a majority of the land in Del Mar and had big plans for redevelopment. The first project for the developer was the hotel called the “Stratford Inn”.  They hired prominent Los Angeles architect John C. Austin to build the new hotel on the hill overlooking the beach. Today, L’Auberge Del Mar, is a luxury hotel that sits on this land.

On March 9, 1909, the Stratford Inn opened for business with glamorous fanfare. By 1910, Del Mar began drawing the attention of Hollywood stars that were attracted to Del Mar’s elegant appeal and beautiful bluffs along the ocean.

During the 20s and 30s, Del Mar continued to experience tremendous growth and development. It was during this time that buildings were starting to be designed to match the English Tudor architecture that the area is known for today.

Del Mar Racetrack & Fairgrounds

It was July 3, 1937, and famous crooner Bing Crosby was personally greeting fans at the Grand Opening of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club Racetrack!

Bing and Dorothy
Bing and Dorothy Lamour. Provided by Del Mar Historical Society. ©All Rights Reserved.

Crosby was convinced by William A. Quigley, a former football player and successful stockbroker, to invest in the racetrack, which was not far from Crosby’s home and stable in Rancho Santa Fe. 

Crosby agreed to commit his time, money and energy to the project, and sure enough, his undeniable charm and A-List friends helped elevate the Del Mar racetrack into the must-see event of Southern California.

World War II

From 1942 through 1944, Del Mar experienced its “dark” period as the U.S. entered into World War II. During this time, the races stopped, and the grounds were used for military training then as a manufacturing site for B-17 bombers.

Playground Of The Stars

After World War II, a new crop of Hollywood arrived, turning The Village of Del Mar into a “playground of the stars”. With its close proximity to Los Angeles, traveling to Del Mar was an easy trip and became a summer tradition for many who were drawn to the beautiful seaside town and its luxurious offerings.

Bing Crosby often invited his friends to Del Mar when he saw them on set or on the Hollywood back lot.

If you attended the races during the summer months, you might find yourself bumping into Buster Keaton, Rita Hayworth, Dorothy Lamour, W. C. Fields, Paulette Goddard, Edgar Bergen, June Haver, Ann Miller, Don Ameche, Ava Gardner, Red Skelton and, of course, Bing Crosby and Pat O’Brien.

Crowd watching race
Crowd Watching Race. Provided by Del Mar Historical Society. © All Rights Reserved.

Del Mar Racetrack Still Has Hollywood Roots

Today, Joe Harper is the President and CEO of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club and has held the reins there for four decades. Harper fits right into the vintage glamor of Del Mar since he not only grew up around horses, but is also the grandson of legendary film director Cecil B. DeMille and grew up in the Hollywood limelight. Harper would often accompany his grandfather on movie sets and even had walk-on parts in a couple of Oscar-winning movies during his childhood. Now he oversees racetrack operations, working with jockeys and horses, schmoozing with celebrities, and helping ensure Del Mar racing continues to be a must-do summer event in San Diego.

Ball and Arnez
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez. Provided by Del Mar Historical Society. ©All Rights Reserved.

Famous Residents

For decades, Del Mar’s racing season has drawn Hollywood celebrities, including Jimmy Durante, Lucy and Desi Arnaz, Burt Bacharach, and Angie Dickenson, who all built homes in Del Mar during its heyday. 

With its vintage coastal charm, natural elegance, and deep connection to the history of San Diego, Del Mar still remains home to many professional athletes and celebrities, including professional skateboarder Tony Hawk, NFL quarterbacks Aaron Rogers and Drew Brees, and the lead singer of the band Journey, Steve Perry, to name a few!

Del Mar Story Time

In the 1950s, American actress and comedienne Lucille Ball along with her actor and producer husband Desi Arnaz, most notably known for their on-screen marriage in the American sitcom I Love Lucy, lived in Del Mar right along the beach. Desi was an avid patron of the Del Mar Race Track and often brought Lucy with him, although Lucy was never a big fan of his betting habits at the track. To counter his betting and cause a laugh, Lucy would bet $2 on every horse in a race so that when Desi lost and turned to her to ask, “Did you win?” she could reply, “Yes, I sure did!” to the chagrin of her husband.

Indulge in the coastal resort life at Villa L’Auberge, located in the heart of charming Del Mar and right down the street from the famous Del Mar Racetrack! 

Villa L’Auberge