Del Mar Opening Day; One of the Biggest Annual Parties in San Diego
“The profession of book writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business.” – John Steinbeck
Del Mar Opening Day is coming July 16, 2015. This is one of the biggest annual parties in San Diego, with people coming from Arizona, Nevada, LA, OC, and the Inland Empire. The capacity for the track is 44,000, and track officials expect more than 40,000 race fans to attend this year.
One of the biggest events of the day, in addition to the horse racing of course, is the Opening Day Hat Contest, which has a total price pool of $5,000 across five different categories: Most Glamorous, Best Racing Theme, Funniest/Most Outrageous, Best Fascinator and Flowers/All Other. Sign up between 11:30 AM and 3:00 PM in Plaza de Mexico located inside the Stretch Run admission gates. It is free to participate, and all entrants will receive two free admission passes to return to the races.
Another big event promoted by the track on Opening Day is “The Party,” which occurs in the Stretch Run part of the track. It is a pre-paid, all-inclusive deal for drinks and food. The track promotes it as “a day of style, sun, live music and action at the seaside oval.”
According to Need a Conversation Starter? Here Are Some Quick Del Mar Facts, the track opened in 1937, and Bing Crosby was there to shake hands with everyone who attended. Crosby and a bunch of his Hollywood buddies, including Pat O’Brien, Oliver Hardy and Gary Cooper, had the idea of a horse track by the ocean where you can play all day and party all night. With that inspiration, the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club was born.
In addition to the event, there are a bunch of parties after to continue celebrating Opening Day. One of the signature events is the L’Auberge 7th Annual Opening Day After-Party. I’ve attended this event several times over the last seven years, and although I love L’Auberge, the quality of this event has gone downhill every year that I’ve attended. It is super crowded, expensive, and the food continues to get worse, both in terms of quality and quantity. However, L’Auberge is in the Del Mar Village, so it is one of the most convenient after-party venues. It is a reasonably short walk from the track, assuming you have “sensible” shoes on your feet. It also has a great indoor/outdoor atmosphere. Pre-sale tickets for this after-party went on sale April 27th, and tickets will continue to be on-sale until July 15th for $185 per head. Tickets at the door are $200, and they usually sell out. You must be 21 or over to attend. The party is Thursday, July 16th, 2015 from 5:00 PM until Midnight.
If you don’t want to go to L’Auberge due to the cost, crowds, or value, there is the After Pony Party at Rancho Valencia sponsored by Riviera Magazine. The sponsors tout this party as a “spirited race day sequel where swaying palm trees and cool cocktails meet California glam.” Rancho Valencia is near Fairbanks Ranch, and is about a 20-minute drive from the track without traffic. The entry price $45.
Searsucker Del Mar has its Opening Day Soiree that is co-sponsored by Veuve Clicquot champagne and KAABOO. Tickets for this event start at $50.
The Hilton Del Mar has its Official Opening Day After-Party starting at 6:30 PM. The Hilton is across the street from the racetrack on Villa de la Valle. This party will have four DJs for its headliner entertainment. General admission pre-sale tickets start at $25.
VAVi, which touts itself as “the West Coast’s largest sports and social club,” has a different take on partying on Opening Day. The party starts at one of three venues before the track even opens! VAVi members congregate at either Union Kitchen & Tap in Encinitas, Backyard Kitchen & Tap in Pacific Beach, or East Village Tavern & Bowl in downtown San Diego. The VAVi Opening Day experience includes: round trip charter bus transportation (from Encinitas, PB, or downtown San Diego); VIP entrance to the track; beer, liquor and mixers on the bus; tickets to “The Party” at the racetrack; and exclusive bar and private restrooms at the track. The “party bus” takes you back to the bar of origin after the races end. Fees for this club start at $59.
Last year, Club M at Fairmont Grand Del Mar had an after-party on Opening Day. This year, they are not planning a party on Opening Day, but they are having a Racing Kick-Off Party on July 10th, so you can start to party with the excuse of Opening Day the weekend prior! Tickets at the door are $35.
The Brigantine, En Fuego, Pacifica Del Mar, Cucina Enoteca, and Sea & Smoke are all great restaurants in Del Mar that don’t have specific Opening Day events, but are near the race track and are great places to eat & party. Pacific Coast Grill is just north on the Coast Highway, and is a great place for after the races as well.
In addition to the fun and craziness of Opening Day like the famous hat contests and after parties, there are a number of super fun events throughout the race season:
- Del Mar Summer Concert Series events are free with paid admission to the Stretch Run before the last race. Otherwise, the concerts are $20 to attend.
- Family Fun Day is every Saturday and Sunday, where the infield offers low-cost entertainment for kids.
- Camp Del Mar is a daycare center for the kids while the parents are spending the day at the track.
- Giveaway Days include items that vary each year and are given away at the track.
The 2015 Track Meet Dates are as follows:
- Summer Season: Thu, Jul. 16th – Mon, Sept. 7th
- Fall Bing Crosby Season: Thu, Oct. 29th – Sun, Nov. 29th
I was fortunate enough to win four season tickets in a silent charity auction to the Thoroughbred Club for both the summer and fall seasons, so I may see you there if you’re headed to the races!
If you plan on attending Opening Day or any race day this season, please keep in-mind that the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club requires the following dress code for the Turf Club: For ladies, the track prefers suits or daytime dresses, but slacks may be worn with a tailored jacket. Please, no jeans, denim, shorts, T-shirts, athletic shoes, or “abbreviated attire.” For gentlemen, a suit or sports jacket must be worn at all times. A sports shirt with a jacket, may be worn, provided the shirt is buttoned to the top button below the collar. Ties are optional. Please, no turtleneck, polo-style shirts, T-shirts, sweaters, short-sleeved jackets, windbreakers, jeans or denim pants, shorts or athletic shoes.
A few tips to make your day more enjoyable, especially if you’re planning on drinking and being out all day and night:
- Wear comfortable and stylish clothes, and consider bringing a change of clothes if you park nearby.
- Bring sunglasses, apply sunscreen, and drink lots of water.
- Don’t forget your fancy hat!
- Ladies, if you wear your six-inch stilettos to the track and you’re planning to walk to Del Mar Village for an after-party, bring a change of shoes! You’ll thank me later.
We’ll share our experiences after Opening Day and hope you’ll share yours with us too! If you have any great ideas for prep or attending Opening Day, please let us know!