Tour Del Mar

Scenic North County bike route features a few surprises along the way.

Path from Del Mar's L'Auberge hotel down to the Powerhouse Park and beach.
  • Path from Del Mar's L'Auberge hotel down to the Powerhouse Park and beach.

Like most San Diegans I'm familiar with the touristy parts of Del Mar (Del Mar Fairground/Racetrack and the beaches) – the scenic coastal village between Soledad Valley and the San Dieguito River – but didn't know much beyond Highway 101/Camino Del Mar.

So I set out to properly explore the town one day on my bicycle.

Houses along Via Latina.

Houses along Via Latina.

Via Latina

The free parking lot off Sorrento Valley Rd and Carmel Valley Rd was a good place to start. From there I headed west toward the ocean and turned right up the gentle climb on Via Aprilia, which quickly becomes residential and pedestrian-friendly. After the intersection with Via Grimaldi, Via Aprilia becomes Via Latina and kicks the climbing gradient up a bit as it curves its way toward the sandstone cliffs of Del Mar Heights.

This turns into a marvelous loop of spectacular residences, with each successive corner on the narrow lane revealing multi-million dollar houses of nearly every style imaginable – each cleverly fitted into the geography. Futuristic mansion next to faux pyramid a pine tree away from rustic-ish cabin. Anything goes!

After the road crest Via Latina becomes Via Grimaldi as it winds its way back down the hill.

The Portofino climb

I took a left onto Via Merano which officially ends after a block, and hopped onto the narrow dirt trail that continues east and pops out halfway up a fearsome road climb that is Portofino Drive. If you have looked north from Torrey Pines State Reserve and noted the gory-looking steep road carving up the hill north of Carmel Valley Road, that's the beast.

But the worst of the climb is at the bottom, so turning left onto Portofino from Via Merano trail offered a good discount on the price I had to pay for the view. As Portofino Drive mellowed, I turned left onto Mango Drive since it is much easier to turn left on Del Mar Heights Road from there than from Portofino. This is a relatively boring stretch, but it's worth slogging up for what's up ahead.

The busy Del Mar Heights Road crests after a couple of blocks and then starts its descent toward the beach, but I turned right at Crest Way for more neighborhood exploration instead.

Doggies' fountain on Crest Road at Via Alta.

Doggies' fountain on Crest Road at Via Alta.

Surprises on Crest

I kept making slight rights to stay on Crest Road that follows the Crest Canyon north and found myself passing through more curvy pedestrian-friendly rustic neighborhood – pricey, photogenic houses nestled under old woods and blooms. Locals were out walking their dogs down the middle of the very traffic-calmed lane, stopping to rest on benches by the side of the road. There's a dedicated pet fountain just before the intersection with Via Alta.

Del Mar Castle.

Del Mar Castle.

The best surprise of all popped into view as I rounded the corner after 15th Street. Did you know there's a castle hidden in the hills above Del Mar? It's where self-help guru Tony Robbins used to live, and it is just about as friendly as a castle can appear in my book. Crest Road has by now changed name again into Avenida Primavera.

I stayed straight at the next intersection onto Serpentine Drive, however, and indulged in a wonderfully snaky descent back to Avenida Primavera (staying right and then left at Forest Way and then Zapo Street). A quick right down Primavera took me to the left turn on Lunetta Drive to 15th Street, where I emerged from residential Del Mar into the bustling commercial center (and a coffee break).

Free neighborhood library on Stratford.

Free neighborhood library on Stratford.

To the beach

Going down 15th I passed on the well-beaten Camino Del Mar and swung right into the L'Auberge's cobbled lane instead. A left into apartment building parking lot took me to paved walk paths down the manicured lawn and across the rail and Coast Blvd for a visit to the Powerhouse Park (public restroom on ground floor). The park (top) is dog-friendly and a great place to people watch for a while.

Stratford Court ends in a paved trail.

Stratford Court ends in a paved trail.

Heading south bustling Coast Boulevard turns into sleepy Ocean Ave. I scooted left one block to continue south on Pacific Lane, then right one block to follow the coast down Stratford Court through the housing complex where the lane ends in a cul-de-sac with a paved path leading on through a little garden. Watching out for hikers and other cyclists I soon merged back onto southbound Camino Del Mar heading down the hill toward Torrey Pines State Beach.

More energetic cyclists can continue south for the famous Torrey Pines road climbs, of course, but I turned left at Sorrento Valley Road for an easy roll back to the start point in time for lunch.

The ride is nine miles long with disproportionally scenic views and easy enough even for beginner riders.

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