As a caddy for more than 20 years at the historic Del Mar Country Club in Rancho Santa Fe, California, Bob Treitler has met all kinds. “But when the guys from Dallas get here,” he says, “two things happen. It starts to get real fun, and real lucrative, around here.”
Further down Coast Boulevard, overlooking La Jolla Cove, is the La Valencia Hotel, where they’re in full agreement with Treitler. “We have a large guest list of Texans, and we love it when they come to stay,” says Rita Moore, the hotel’s marketing and sales director. “And those Dallas people really know how to shop, don’t they?”
Chances are, you already know many of the names that made La Jolla and Del Mar a Texas summer playground since before they invented air conditioning. Murchison, Bass (via Sid Richardson), Wynne, Ford, Woodall, Folsom, Corrigan, Skillern, and Horchow are just a few. Today, both new and continuing generations of North Texas residents make the summer trek to this Pacific Valhalla.
For example, beer distributor Barry Andrews and his high school sweetheart, Lana, bought the La Jolla mansion shown in the Oscar-winning movie Traffic—the digs that were shared by actress Catherine Zeta-Jones and her fictional drug lord husband. Dallas eyewear kingpin Dr. Doug Barnes also enjoys a second home here. Last summer, real estate developer Alan Friedman entertained Clint Murchison Sr.’s grandson, Burk Murchison; the Murchison clan stayed at La Valencia. The Friedman family—Alan’s the son of former Fort Worth mayor Bayard Friedman—has been renting a La Jolla home for more than 30 years. Meantime, Madeleine Paulson Pickens, T. Boone Pickens’ ex-wife, owns the magnificent Del Mar Country Club. She and her late husband, Allen Paulson, bought it on the courthouse steps in 1993. Initiation fees at Del Mar are $160,000 and monthly fees are just under $2,000.
So, just what started this summer exodus to the La Jolla area? Oil drilling giants Clint Murchison and Sid Richardson and other big Texas cigars created their own Texas enclave at La Jolla’s Hotel Del Charro in the early 1950s, converting part of an old stable into a personal retreat, complete with a Dow Jones ticker in the lobby and a Texas flag waving above the entrance.
Along with talking about hunting and business, the men loved whiskey, horses, and gambling. Crooner Bing Crosby had founded and fashioned the Del Mar racetrack—“Where the Turf Meets the Surf”—into one of the country’s finest facilities and celebrity haunts. Subsequent owners fumbled the ball, but Richardson and Murchison picked it up, leasing the track in the early ’50s for 15 years.
Today, the track continues to attract celebrities and Texans—especially Dallasites. Some have boxes and show up nearly every day of the summer season. Some belong to the highbrow turf club, and others race horses there. One of them is Dan Barbara, founder of Dallas-based Armor Retirement Group. Billionaire horseman Kenny Troutt has not brought an entire string of horses to a meet, but his former Flower Mound business partner, Bill Casner, has. Madeleine Pickens possesses a great eye for horseflesh and is no stranger to the winner’s circle. The Dallas lawyer and Washington heavyweight, Robert S. (Bob) Strauss, was chairman of the board of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, stepping down only seven months before his death last year.
Other faces in the summer crowd here include Milo Butterfingers pub owner Ned Smith, real estate developers Rick Gray and Chris Price, stock broker Brian Teal, and longtime sports journalist Norm Hitzges and his wife, Mary. “On opening day at Del Mar,” one major player there told me, “you’re liable to see half the guys who sit in that bar area at Al Biernat’s.”
These days, the La Valencia has taken center stage with its casual luxury and unbeatable location. The restaurants and lounges within the hotel are top-notch. The property opens up to Girard Avenue and the center of the Village of La Jolla, which features upscale shopping, spas, art galleries, and even a farmers market. It’s all pedestrian-friendly, which is especially important because parking here is a bitch.
Other high-end hotels abound. A pair of local favorites are The Grand Del Mar and Rancho Valencia. Other notables in the heart of town are L’Auberge Del Mar and Hotel Indigo Del Mar, both within easy driving distance of the track. Nearby beaches in Del Mar, Torrey Pines, Solana Beach, La Jolla, and Encinitas are all charming. In Solana, you might see a jockey or two at the Winner’s Circle Resort bar. The Belly Up Tavern in the same locale features live music every night, including a few big-name acts.
There are restaurants for every taste. The Brigantine sits on a hill overlooking the racetrack, and serves as headquarters for the racing crowd all day and well into the night. Red Tracton’s Steakhouse, across the street from the track, is a popular watering hole that serves up humongous portions of beef. In downtown Del Mar, Bully’s North has been known for decades for its prime rib and the racetrack crowd. Other fun destinations include George’s at the Cove and Mille Fleurs.
My personal favorite is Manhattan of La Jolla. It’s a complete throwback. You expect Frank and Dino to burst in the door raving about the marinara sauce. The steaks are great, but on my last visit they treated us to the finest veal I ever tasted. Owner Bill Wolf has operated the place inside the Empress Hotel for 29 years. The phrase he most hears from Dallasites is, “Please come to Dallas and open an Italian restaurant.”
What makes the area so great is the diversity of things to do. There is gambling for degenerates like me, as well as hiking, biking, jogging, surfing, and most anything to do with the outdoors for others. Perhaps most important—and a big reason the Dallas crowd originally migrated there in the summer—is that you can count on the weather being sunny and mild. As track spokesman Mac McBride told me, the good weather “is part of the local DNA.”