24 Hours in San Diego + 7 Things to Know Before Attending the Del Mar Races

Johnny Jet & Natalie at Opening Day at the Del Mar Racetrack

Johnny Jet & Natalie at Opening Day at the Del Mar Racetrack

Last week, Natalie and I spent the night in San Diego. The main reason we went was so we could attend Del Mar Race Track’s Opening Day but any excuse to go to San Diego is worth it. Who doesn’t love San Diego?

The drive from Los Angeles to downtown San Diego is about 120 miles. We’d originally wanted to get a hotel in Del Mar since then, the journey would only have been 107 miles but everything was sold out. Opening Day at the Del Mar races is a major event so plan early.

Lobby in the Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego

Lobby in the Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego

Manchester Grand Hyatt
Our good friends at J Public Relations offered us a night in one of their clients hotels: the Manchester Grand Hyatt. I had never even heard of the Manchester Grand Hyatt and would have assumed that it was located in England, not downtown San Diego.

Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego

Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego

Business travelers
But I’m glad I was wrong since the hotel is right on San Diego Bay and the views are amazing. It’s is a great choice for business and leisure travelers. Business travelers will love the proximity to the airport, San Diego Convention Center (just a few blocks away), and all of the nearby restaurants. They’ll also love Hyatt’s rewards program, 24-hour fitness center and that there are fast elevators servicing the 1,628 rooms. Not to mention that there are 316,000 square feet of flexible event space.

View from the Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego (with a zoom)

View from the Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego (with a zoom)

Leisure travelers
Leisure travelers will love the Manchester Grand Hyatt since there’s free Wi-Fi (basic speed), a bayside pool with private cabanas and rooftop tennis, basketball and volleyball courts. It’s also steps away from Seaport Village, which has shops, restaurants and boats to take a coastal cruises. They’ll also love the fact that the San Diego Trolley, which will take them all around San Diego, stops just across the street from the hotel. And best of all, it’s less than a mile walk to the Gaslamp Quarter and Petco Park (where the Padres play). Balboa Park, which houses the San Diego Zoo, is under two miles away.

What both types of travelers will not like is that valet parking is a steep $45 a day. Self-parking is $35.

Puesto Restaurant in San Diego

Puesto Restaurant in San Diego

Puesto Mexican food
When I’m in San Diego, my first choice of cuisine is Mexican! Being just 18 miles from the border, San Diego has plenty of it on offer. When I asked a friend where we could get some tasty Mexican food that wasn’t far from the hotel, they suggested Puesto. It’s literally right across the street from the hotel and was voted by San Diego Magazine’s Critics Pick as the best Happy Hour and Taco Bar in 2015. Good enough for me! Natalie and I loved our tacos ($13 for three) but highly recommend starting with the Puesto Perfect Guacamole ($11), which is made of avocado, parmigiano reggiano, cilantro, onion, fresh squeezed lime and orange, and chile habanero. For a side, try Esquite ($6), which is made of grilled corn,‏ chile, lime, queso, and crema. To drink, I had the Mango Limon Aguas Frescas ($4), which is made from scratch daily. Here’s their menu.

Hats at Opening Day at the Del Mar Racetrack

Hats at Opening Day at the Del Mar Racetrack

Opening Day at the Del Mar Racetrack
If you follow my blog, you know I’m not really into horse racing, but my dad is. And because of his love for the sport, I’ve gone to many race tracks around the world, from Hong Kong to Puerto Rico and a lot in between, like the Kentucky Derby (2002 & 2005) and the Belmont Stakes. I’ve been to Del Mar before but had never attended Opening Day at the Del Mar Racetrack, which I’d heard from friends is a lot of fun. So when I was invited to attend Opening Day, I asked my wife if she wanted to go. I thought she’d say no but when she read that everyone gets dressed up and wears big hats (they have a hat parade and a contest) she surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly) said she was in!

It was a fun event but if you don’t drink alcohol (like me) and if you’re not with a group of friends, then it’s not that much fun. A lot of people were drunk on our arrival and the first race begins at 2 pm on a Thursday. I don’t think I’ll be going back unless I’m with my dad or attending a big party since I’m not into horseracing or being around a lot of drunks. But if you are planning to go, here are seven things to know before going to the races at Del Mar.

1. Use Waze to avoid the crazy traffic
Some forty thousand people attend and most arrive via the freeway. I fired up Waze and it took me through side streets so I only waited about 10 minutes in traffic.

2. Remember where you parked
Unless you have access to the Turf Club with valet parking, you better remember where you parked. Since you can’t actually leave a trail of breadcrumbs leading back to your car, take photos with your phone or use the app iArrow.

Walk or shuttle to  Opening Day at the Del Mar Racetrack

Walk or shuttle to Opening Day at the Del Mar Racetrack

3. Wear comfortable walking shoes
There’s a lot of walking at the track—especially if you park in General Parking. Wear comfortable shoes or you’ll likely regret it.

Hats at Opening Day at the Del Mar Racetrack

Hats at Opening Day at the Del Mar Racetrack

4. Wear a hat
As I mentioned, there’s a hat contest for ladies but men should wear hats too for sun protection.

Lines to bet at Opening Day at the Del Mar Racetrack

Lines to bet at Opening Day at the Del Mar Racetrack

5. Place bets early
If you plan on betting, get in line early as the lines are long and slow. I’d also place multiple bets at once so you don’t have to keep waiting in line. One ticket agent kept messing up Natalie’s bets (she must have been new or brought on to tend to the big crowds because she took over 10 minutes just to place Natalie’s bet). The people in line behind us were getting pissed (and the race started before any of them could place their bets) and it was only the second race. If it had been later in the day when people had had more to drink, a fight definitely would have broken out.

6. Use Uber
If you plan on drinking and/or don’t want to deal with traffic, use Uber to drop you off and pick you up. For pickups, you’ll need to walk away from the crowds and traffic, which is a good thing since getting out of the parking lot could take a very long time.

7. Book hotels in advance
As I mentioned earlier, all the hotels in Del Mar were sold out so book your hotel way in advance.

Racing at Del Mar happens Wednesdays through Sundays, July 16 – September 7, with post time for the first race on most days at 2 pm. On Fridays, first post is shifted to 4 pm. For more information, call 858-755-1141 or visit delmarscene.com.

Johnny Jet

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About the Author

Johnny Jet
I used to be afraid to fly and at times even leave the house! I conquered my fear (long story) and now I travel to 20+ countries a year sharing my firsthand knowledge, tips and deals with friends, family and readers. Please sign up to our free newsletters and tell your friends!

1 Comment on "24 Hours in San Diego + 7 Things to Know Before Attending the Del Mar Races"

  1. Great write up and pictures! I love how Natalie’s hat design allows the sun to shine through.

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