During the rest of the year,Del Mar is quiet and its village-like atmosphere can be appreciated without the hustle and bustle that characterizes the town during the summer fair and race times. Its main street, Camino Del Mar, has many small shops-non-chain bookstores like Earthsong and Esmeralda's Books and Coffee, the latter of which, unfortunately, just moved to the one mall, the parking garage of which is inadequate to handle summer crowds,small
gift shops,and small businesses like Skysurfer Balloon Company at 1221 Camino Del Mar (858-481-6800) where you can arrange a hot air balloon flight an average of about 310 days a year. From our kitchen we can see these balloons wafting towards ritzy Fairbanks Ranch and Rancho Santa Fe in greater numbers during the summer, but this is a popular activity at other times when the weather is not windy or rainy, or at holiday times throughout the year. Many of the companies only fly out of Temecula rather than Del Mar; as the North County continues to grow, land from which to launch the balloons becomes more expensive. Soon, I suspect, these companies will all move to Temecula and beyond.
The Del Mar Plaza at Camino Del Mar and 15th Street is the main shopping center in coastal Del Mar. This very upscale, low-key center fits the town fathers' idea of what is appropriate commerce for this affluent, ecologically concerned and conservative community. In my opinion, based upon my recent visit, during the lull between the fair's closing and the opening of the race track session, parking space for this mall is inadequate even to handle the "lull" crowd. Several pricey galleries and women's and men's apparel shops,as well as several restaurants like Epazote's, are on site,as well as a newly opened Harvest Ranch Market, a small,independent gourmet chain grocery with other stores in La Jolla and Olivenhain.
The week day I visited, around 11 a.m.,the parking spaces were about 3/4s full and it appeared most of this traffic was at the restaurants, not the pricey shops. However, all on-street parking for blocks around this plaza had been taken also. Del Mar is in danger of becoming an enclave that very few people will be able to access in the summer. Unfortunately, for all practical purposes, public transport in Del Mar does not exist.I overheard a mall employee telling another that, once the race track opened, she would have to arise at 4 a.m. each morn so she'd get to the mall before 8 a.m. Recently, the powers-that-be agreed to ban alcohol on Del Mar beaches and there are very strict local ordinances relating to fires, dogs (only designated beaches), where activities like volleyball may be played(specially designated areas on the beach)- all of which reflect a conservative-preservative communal attitude.
So strong is this resolve to keep Del Mar village-like that Del Mar, after being a rail terminus for many years, turned down Amtrak's proposal to continue to use the Del Mar station, and a new station was built and opened in adjacent Solana Beach instead, much to very sleepy Solana Beach's economic benefit. Del Mar's decision is understandable and recognized the growing problems of congestion during its eventful summers,but its economic survival seems to have suffered from that decision. Or, perhaps, it prefers to become more and more an "exclusive" destination. To use the Camino Del Mar Plaza parking lot costs $2.00 an hour,or you can purchase goods or services and have your parking stub validated by the establishment.