There is a reason rich people live in Del Mar, California. It’s a beautiful beach community in the San Diego area, near the Del Mar Racetrack and Fairgrounds. It even has its own polo fields. Unlike some ritzy areas, however, Del Mar is also accessible to those without trust funds or seven figure jobs. The following are ways to have fun in this gorgeous playground without spending any money at all.
1. Del Mar Dog Beach: Del Mar’s Dog Beach is a dog-friendly beach where humans can wade or play volleyball. Nestled in between the Del Mar Racetrack/Fairgrounds and the ocean, this is a picturesque beach with small waves good for beginner surfers. On a lucky day, you might even see dogs surfing this beach. On virtually all days, you can get a smile watching the dogs play on the beach and in the surf. This is an off-leash beach most of the year, with leashes required only from June 15 to Labor Day. It’s a great place to take your dog for some cool fun, or to enjoy the happy wagging tails of someone else’s dog if you are looking for a furry fix. It’s a big enough beach there is plenty of room to put out a towel or chair for off-leash human fun, and sometimes volleyball nets spring up for some serious beach volleyball action. Depending on the tide, there are also great walking and hiking opportunities below the cliffs to nearby beaches. While the “facilities” are not fancy (there is a porta-potty only), it’s completely free to hang out on the beach all you want. Parking in the area is free before 9am and after 6pm everyday. Otherwise, there is an hourly fee to park right next to the beach. If you don’t mind walking a few blocks, there is free street parking in the residential neighborhood starting one block north of the beach area. Entrance to the beach can be found on Pacific Coast Highway, one block south of Via de la Valle.
2. Route 56 Biking/Running Trail : While you will see plenty of cyclists and runners enjoying the streets of Del Mar (more on that below), you can also go off-road onto a tree-lined bike and running path at the south end of Del Mar. This dedicated recreational path starts just east of Interstate 5 and runs all the way out to Interstate 15. The most scenic section runs from Carmel Country Road west to El Camino Real, just south of Highway 56. You can find an entrance on the west side of El Camino Real about one block south of Highway 56 (if you hit the bank parking lot, you’ve gone too far south), and an entrance on Carmel Country Road, just south of Highway 56. There are other entrances along the way too, but there is a free parking area on Carmel Country Road which makes that an easy entrance. Runners and cyclists each get their own path in this section, through gently rolling terrain which even passes a horse stable. Horses are allowed on the running path portion, so you see those sometimes too. It’s a little bit of rustic getaway just minutes from the hustle and bustle (and food options) found nearby. There is a shopping center on Carmel Country Road 2-3 blocks north of the trail entrance with several food options for those who want to refill post-ride or post-run.
3. Torrey Pines Beach and Hiking Trails: If you’re looking for something with an ocean view, the hiking trails in Torrey Pines State Park along the beach are also breathtaking — and free. These trails are little more challenging, with options to hike all the way up and down significant bluffs right on the beach at the south end of Del Mar. Bikes are allowed on the limited paved portions of this area, but this is really a hiker’s paradise. (No dogs allowed though.) Climb to the top for some of the best ocean views in San Diego, or climb down to the sandy beach to dip your toes in the surf. To get to the trails, take Carmel Valley Road west from Interstate 5, and go south when you hit the ocean. This will be Torrey Pines Road. There are limited free parking spaces right along the beach if you come early. Alternatively, you can park at the bottom of the bluffs in the State Park parking lot for a small fee. Or, you can continue up Torrey Pines Road to the top of the bluff. There is limited free street parking on side streets at the top of the bluff, and an entrance to the park at the north end of the bluff, on the west side of Torrey Pines Road (just north of the golf facilities). For those who want the view but not a serious hike, either look for free parking at the top of the bluff, or you can pay the State Park fee to drive in, and then drive all the way to the top. There are full restrooms and water fountains at the top of the park, and some scenic, but less challenging trails. Or you can hike up the bluff to get in a good workout and enjoy the scenery along the way.
4. Triathlon Club of San Diego Group Bike Ride: For avid cyclists, there are many bike route options in the Del Mar area that take you through neighborhoods and country with gorgeous estates and views. Rather than trying to find these on your own and battling maps, consider joining the Triathlon Club of San Diego on its weekly Saturday morning ride in the area. If you’re a tourist, the TCSD welcomes outsiders as a courtesy and as part of its well-deserved reputation for inclusiveness. If you’re a local, this is a great way to test drive the membership benefits of TCSD. Come out for a ride or two. If you’re hooked, join TCSD for a small annual fee and continue to enjoy the benefit of this group ride as well as many, many other free benefits of belonging to this very active group. The Club meets outside the Starbucks in Del Mar (at the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and 15th St.) every Saturday morning, a little before 8am. The group will break into rides ranging from 30 miles to 60 miles (to sometimes longer distances), depending on your level of interest. Sometimes they utilize routes up the coast, and sometimes they use routes going through the rolling inland hills past lush estates. This is a good way to meet fellow cyclists, and learn new routes in a safe group.
5. Free Admission To The Horse Races (If You Know What You’re Doing): The horse racing season in Del Mar runs from mid-July to mid-September. Even on a regular racing day, if you don’t mind sitting or standing with the general crowds, admission isn’t that expensive. But if you’re savvy, you can enjoy even this classic Del Mar experience for free. First, you join the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club’s “Diamond Club.” This is a free membership, which then opens to the doors to several other perks. More information can be found here. One of these perks is free admission to the races on certain Wednesdays during the season. It even gives you half off beer prices those days. Parking at the RaceTrack can run from $10-20, but there is free street parking outside the RaceTrack/Fairgrounds if you don’t mind a 5-10 minute walk into the track area. Once at the track, you can get up close to the horses during the pre-race parade and right up to the track if you don’t mind standing at ground level. Or, there are plenty of seats in the grandstands for those who prefer a birds-eye view of the ponies. Betting and concessions are also available.
6. Free Polo Lesson: Just across Interstate 5 from the Del Mar RaceTrack and Fairgrounds are several high-class horse facilities, including polo fields. The polo season runs from June to September, with a few breaks for soccer tournaments on the big fields. If you’re lucky, you might catch a weekday practice match for free. Or, you can attend a high speed competitive match on the weekends (the premier matches are held on Sundays) for $12-30, depending on where you want to sit. However, for the more intrepid enthusiast, you can actually attempt to play polo — for free! The San Diego Polo Club lets people test drive this potentially addictive sport by offering the first polo lesson free. It’s a chance to see what it would feel like to be Prince Harry for 5 minutes. Or it may suck you in and make you mortgage your house for a string of polo ponies. Either way, this first taste is free and fun.
7. Free Concerts At The Beach: Finally, after you’ve worn yourself out playing with puppies in the surf, hiking, biking, betting at the races, or playing polo, kick off your flip-flops and relax at Powerhouse Park and Beach in Del Mar for a free summer concert. On various dates during the summer, mostly Tuesdays, there are free concerts at Powerhouse Park, yet another picturesque park and beach in Del Mar. The entrance to this park is off 15th Street and there is free street parking after 6pm, or metered parking the rest of the time (metered parking in Del Mar applies all 7 days of the week). The schedule varies, so it’s best to do a search for the latest line-up and times, or you can try checking here. Alternatively, even if there is no concert that night, this is a great location to sit and watch the sun set over the ocean, before or after indulging in one of the many top-rated eating and drinking establishments within walking distance of this park. Then go to sleep and do it all over again tomorrow in this coastal paradise!