Del Mar Opening Day: One of the Biggest Annual Parties in San Diego
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. Tickets will continue to be on-sale until July 19th for $229 per head. Tickets at the door are $250, and they usually sell out. You must be 21 or over to attend. The party is Wednesday, July 19th, 2017 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. This party will be 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 $80.
Searsucker Del Mar has its Opening Day Soiree that includes all night happy hour and live music. The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe is hosting an Opening Day “Kentucky Thoroughbred farm style” party. You can purchase tickets for $125 on up. Some years, Club M at Fairmont Grand Del Mar hosts 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 14th, so you can start to party with the excuse of Opening Day the weekend prior! Tickets at the door are $29-55.
The Brigantine, En Fuego, Pacifica Del Mar, and Cucina Enoteca are all great restaurants in Del Mar that may not 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 around $20 to attend.
- 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 2017 Track Meet Dates are as follows:
- Summer Season: July 19th – Sept. 4th
- Fall Bing Crosby Season: November 1st – November 26th
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!