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Fabulous Fun in Solana Beach & Del Mar, California

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Solana Beach and its neighbor, Del Mar, gracefully balance the casual feel of seaside, sand-in-your-suit living with upscale offerings. If you like a blend of the finer, and the grittier, things in life – you'll love a visit to these pretty beach towns just north of San Diego. Here's what to do, see, eat and where to stay in the Solana Beach-Del Mar area.

Boogie boarding at Fletcher Cove in Solana Beach - Fabulous fun in Solana Beach & Del Mar

Fabulous fun in Solana Beach & Del Mar (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Get beachy

With names like Solana Beach and Del Mar (“Of the Ocean” in Spanish), a beach visit is essential. For a small kid-friendly beach with a petite playground and lots of casual dining options within walking distance (like the incredibly tasty Pizza Port), hit up Fletcher Cove Beach. Powerhouse Park and Beach makes another fun option for families, with a nearby grassy area and good-sized playground. If you brought the pooch along on your vacation, Dog Beach in Del Mar is the place to be, with lots of furry friends with whom to frolic in the waves. Hang with locals at Torrey Pines State Beach just south of Del Mar for a long stretch of shore with nearby hiking trails on ocean cliffs at Torrey Pines State Reserve. There are no snack bars here, so pack a picnic or plan to eat some street-style Mexican chow at Roberto's Taco Shop just across the Pacific Coast Highway.

Pizza on the beach from Pizza Port at Fletcher Cove in Solana Beach

Pizza on the beach from Pizza Port at Fletcher Cove in Solana Beach (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

In summer, be sure to bring along a boogie board and sand toys for hours of entertainment for your kiddos. If visiting in winter, keep in mind that the water will be too cold for swimming or surfing unless you buy or rent a wet suit from a local surf shop. Although the Pacific Ocean's waves are chilly off-season in SoCal, the beaches are also gloriously uncrowded making a family beach stroll a fabulous way to connect with each other and nature.

Cedros Design District in Solana Beach, California

Cedros Design District in Solana Beach (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Explore the Cedros Design District

Cedros Design District provides an eclectic mix of home interior design offerings, funky boutique shops, art galleries and cutesy cafes stretched along two and a half blocks in Solana Beach. Stroll through Leaping Lotus, 21,000-square-feet of retail space, divided up into 120 coves owned by different artists and merchants.

On Sundays, peruse fresh flowers, fruits and veggies, artisan breads, handmade crafts and more at the weekly farmers market in the Cedros Design District. Booths are open 1-5 pm, with the market's food court opening at noon for lunch.

San Diego County Fair fun

San Diego County Fair fun (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Play at the Del Mar Racetrack and Fairgrounds

The San Diego County Fair takes place at the Del Mar Racetrack and Fairgrounds during the month of June, with festivities closing around the fourth of July every year. Go here for deep fried everything, pig races, pony rides for the kids, farm animals on display, carnival rides, games and all sorts of fair fun. There's a beer garden for mom and dad and a Kids' Zone with rides and games for younger fair goers. Children love the Super KIDS Market in the Agrifair Building, where they can push their own kid-sized cart to “shop” for a list of healthy foods in a faux grocery store.

Thoroughbred horse races run at the Del Mar Racetrack from mid-July through Labor Day each year. In keeping with Del Mar tradition, Opening Day gives ladies a chance to don the fanciest of hats – the more extravagant, the better. Various concerts and events, including family days, make betting on the ponies even more fun.

In October, prepare to be scared at the Scare Zone haunted attraction on the fairgrounds. Too scary for your family? Across the street, right next to the well-maintained Pelly's Mini Golf course, you'll find the Pumpkin Station during Halloween season, with a pumpkin patch and kiddie rides.

Concerts and other events are held at the Del Mar Fairgrounds throughout the year. Find out more here.

Opening Day hats on display at Leaping Lizard in the Cedros Design District

Opening Day hats on display at Leaping Lizard in the Cedros Design District (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Shop like a socialite

Del Mar Plaza is home to a handful of shops and galleries in an upscale, seaside locale near Powerhouse Park and Beach. Del Mar Highlands, once merely a ho-hum strip mall, has been upgraded in recent years and now offers a swankier shopping experience.

My favorites for women's fashions include Daisy Blue, Pretty Please and Head Over Heels. Head to Diane's Beach Wear if you forgot your bathing suit at home.

Take kids to CeramiCafe for a day of painting pottery and the always delightful Gepetto's Toy Store, which just happens to carry my book, The Travel Mama's Guide.

Top off your shopping with a visit to Swirl's Frozen Yogurt and eat your chilly treat while watching kids frolic in the fountain. Dress your kiddos in swimsuits or bring a change of clothes if you want to let them run through the water!

The fountain at Del Mar Highlands is always a big hit with kids

The fountain at Del Mar Highlands is always a big hit with kids (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Listen to live music at Belly Up

Leave your fancy duds back at the hotel because Belly Up is all about the music, not what you're wearing. This 21+ popular live music venue has been rocking out since 1974. Musical genres and artists change nightly; you could see anything from blues, jazz, and rock n' roll to reggae, disco, pop and beyond. Seats are limited so be prepared to stand, dance or belly up to the bar (if you can find a spot!).

My husband and I were treated to a John Mayall rhythm and blues concert during our recent visit to Solana Beach. He's in his 80s and still packing the house.

The Belly Up has been rocking out in Solana Beach since 1974

The Belly Up has been rocking out in Solana Beach since 1974 (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Winners Circle Resort

If you're looking to stay within walking distance to the Del Mar Fairgrounds and Racetrack, and you want space to spread out and live like a local, book a stay at the Winners Circle Resort. This hotel offers spacious suites with balconies and/or patios, a community ping pong table, outdoor barbecues for grilling out, and a heated swimming pool and hot tub. There's nothing quite so refreshing after a hot day at the fair or the races as a nice cool dip in the pool. The hotel's clubhouse is stocked with a TV, billiard table, and lots of board games. Read more about Winners Circle Resort on TripAdvisor now.

View of the Winners Circle Resort pool and hot tub from a second floor balcony

View of the Winners Circle Resort pool and hot tub from our second floor balcony (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Our two-bedroom suite was fabulous for a family of four with its spiral staircase leading up to the family room with a TV and fully-stocked kitchen. The kids' room featured two twin beds, a TV and its own bathroom. The master bedroom was outfitted with yet another TV, a private bath and queen bed. My only complaint was that the master bedroom did not have a door for privacy, making any vacation romance difficult. This hotel was conveniently located to explore both Solana Beach and Del Mar with many amenities of home, but extra touches that ensured a relaxing vacation.

Our Winners Circle two-bedroom suite and outdoor community barbecue grills

Our Winners Circle Resort two-bedroom suite and outdoor community barbecue grills (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Restaurants in Solana Beach and Del Mar

For a casual breakfast, Denny's is walking distance from the Winners Circle Resort. But if you want something more spectacular, drive a couple miles to Snooze at the Del Mar Highlands for a creative selection of eggs Benadict and pancakes in such flavors as sweet potato, blueberry danish, and peanut butter cup.

For lunch, I suggest getting some of Rubio's famous fish tacos or opting for fresh fare at Urban Plates. (Both also at Del Mar Highlands.) The latter offers a variety of gourmet salads, sandwiches, and plates at reasonable prices. If you're looking for a calorie splurge, get the steak with to-die-for macaroni and cheese and roasted Brussels sprouts. Save room for dessert because Urban Plates' flourless chocolate cake will haunt you with cravings for months.

Fish Market serves up fresh seafood in a family-friendly atmosphere in Del Mar, California

Fish Market serves up fresh seafood in a family-friendly atmosphere (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

If dining with the kids for dinner, you can't go wrong with the Fish Market restaurant, right next door to the Winners Circle Resort. This was one of my family's favorite restaurants when we lived in San Diego and our recent return visit did not disappoint. They serve fresh fish grilled over flaming fire pits, which you can view from behind safety glass. Get a salad with their delectable homemade blue cheese dressing to start and enjoy a basket of chewy, soft, warm sour dough rolls. Featured items change often but you can't go wrong with blackened fish (pick your poisson) with cheesy au gratin potatoes and roasted vegetables. There's a kids menu with standard fare plus some seafood options.

Dine Frank Sinatra-style at Red Tracton's

Dine Frank Sinatra-style at Red Tracton's (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

For date night, get a sitter and take your sweetie to Red Tracton's Steakhouse for dinner Frank Sinatra-style. (Also right next to Winners Circle and across the street from the fair grounds.) This is an old school steakhouse, with dark interior and cushy booths, and favorites like rich lobster bisque, prime rib and steaks of all cuts, buttery shrimp scampi, loaded baked potatoes the size of your forearm, and giant asparagus spears with Hollandaise sauce. Enjoy live music (Tuesday through Saturday), heavy pours, and great service. Everything here is served big so you may want to share, even with the split fee.

Whether you like to live the glamorous life or you just want to relax SoCal-style on the beach, you're family is sure to enjoy a Solana Beach and Del Mar Vacation.

Have you ever visited Solana Beach or Del Mar? Do you have any questions or tips? Let us know in the comments below!

A Note from The Travel Mama: Our hotel stay at Winners Circle Resort, and some of our meals and entertainment were provided free of charge for purposes of this review. All opinions are mine, as always.

About Colleen Lanin

Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor-in-chief of TravelMamas.com. As the author of her book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents not only how to survive a trip with children, but also how to love exploring the world with their offspring. Her stories have appeared online and in print for such outlets as the "Today" show, NBCNews.com, Parenting Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Expedia, San Diego Family Magazine, and more. Colleen gives tips on television, radio, and as a public speaker. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

Comments

  1. Sarah Ebner says:

    What a really great family friendly location. The beach seems great, and I love the sound of the fair, but it really does sound like it has a huge amount to offer, and for different age ranges too.

  2. I loved reading this post. We miss all the fabulous things Del Mar and Solana Beach have to offer. We used to go to Pizza Port all the time and see shows at Belly Up. Those were the good ‘ol days. : ) Makes me realize I need to go back with the kids. It has been too long!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Kirsten – Pizza Port is da bomb! You definitely should plan a trip to Del Mar and Solana Beach with the kiddos!

  3. Katja - globetotting says:

    Del Mar and Solana Beach sounds like they have EVERYTHING a family could possibly want – including pizza on the beach 🙂 I love that there is so much on offer for kids of different ages, as well as parents of course!

  4. Beth Blair says:

    We’ve had so many family vacation out there! You make me miss the easy drive. Love your pictures.

  5. Lisa Goodmurphy says:

    Pizza on the beach sounds like a great idea! I didn’t know about this region of California – it sounds ideal for families!

  6. Keryn @ Walking On Travels says:

    You just reminded me that I HAVE to get to a county fair before the end of summer! Looks like Del Mar has a great one.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Keryn – The Del Mar Fair is super fun! You will, however, have to wait until next year to attend because it runs through Independence Day each year. I hope you find a county fair to attend this summer!

  7. Wandering Educators says:

    What great places to explore – and all things kids AND parents will love! Thanks for the inspiration.

  8. Claudia Laroye says:

    I’d never heard of this beach area before! Got to get down to San Diego one day soon!

  9. mama munchkin says:

    Southern California is a great place to visit. Even from being familiar with the area, your post shared some new ideas!

  10. Looks fantastic! I loved California.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Corinne – I remember you falling in love with California during your trip a couple of years ago. I hope you get a chance to visit again soon…and add Solana Beach and Del Mar to your itinerary this time!

  11. Amie O'Shaughnessy says:

    Love Del Mar. Ready to go back!!

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