Exit Interstate 5 at Del Mar Heights Road and head west. Cross Mango and go down the hill toward the heart of Del Mar. Take in one of the most beautiful stretches of scenery anywhere. The graceful arch of the Torrey pines, the sibilant sway of the palms, the diamond-studded expanse of ocean — this is the money shot right here. This is why friends you never knew you had and relatives you haven't seen for years decide to spend vacations with you.
Now turn right on Camino Del Mar and mosey through Olde Del Mar (please note that there's an additional charge for the extra e). If it's a Saturday, stop by the open-air market and pick up some necessities: arugula, orchids, and lemon verbena soap, for example. Pop into the Dinosaur Gallery and check out the skulls. Stick your nose into Bully's Del Mar, a favorite hangout for jockeys and trainers during racing season, and inhale the aroma of countless toasts to the winning horse. Move on to the three-tier Del Mar Plaza, and take the stone steps up to the third level. Order sushi, bruschetta, or quesadillas to go from any one of the restaurants there and eat them on the piazza. Smell the night-blooming jasmine and watch the sun melt into the Pacific. Wait for the green flash. Feel like a celebrity. Know that it doesn't get any better than this. But don't forget that you're only a visitor.
Don't get me wrong: people do live in Del Mar, but it's pretty full. Most of the people who are going to live in Del Mar are already there, and they're not budging. Part of what keeps Del Mar beachy-fabulous is the fact that its borders will not expand. There is an otherworldly, paradisiacal quality to Del Mar. Small wonder, then, that the denizens call themselves "Del Martians." But paradise, it turns out, is expensive. I lived in Del Mar for only one year, but I spent every day there, working, for the better part of ten. When I moved, it was only to go two miles east. I couldn't stand to be any farther away from a place whose sheer beauty had convinced me that all things are possible.
In my early Del Mar days, I worked with a short, skinny European who'd found a way to rob blind the restaurant where we were both employed. Before anyone had caught on to his scheme and while he was still socking away the cash, I ran into him on 15th Street when we were both on our way to the beach. He was wearing nothing but a ridiculously small pair of red Speedos. He stopped in the middle of the street, raised his hands in the air, and gazed heavenward. "I love Del Mar!" he shouted. "Del Mar is my town!"
I've always felt the same.