If you know anything at all about Del Mar, it's that the seaside town north of San Diego is the place to play the ponies. The horses aren't the only thoroughbreds in the track's history; you'll hear it connected to such names as Bing Crosby, W.C. Fields, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, jockey Willie Shoemaker and, my favorite, Seabiscuit. But I'd encourage a Del Mar visit any time except the July 18-Sept. 5 racing season, just for the peace and quiet.
The bed. I was here for a family wedding at L'Auberge del Mar Resort & Spa (1540 Camino del Mar;  245-9757), and we stayed at the hotel so we could stagger back to our room. It's cosmopolitan California beach-side — soft colors, open-air, wind-tickled lobby, beautiful views, sound of waves, smell of money. Room rates start at $295 during the week during non-racing season, significantly more during race season. Next time I'd be tempted by the ocean-facing Hotel Indigo (710 Camino del Mar;  755-1501). This one-time Stratford Inn has been completely redone, with room rates starting at $120. Some rooms have mini-kitchens.
The meal. Unlike many places that have a view, the Waterfall Terrace restaurant at L'Auberge has good food. It's a simple menu (salads, chicken, fish) done well. Kitchen 1540 (indoors) is heartier but also delicious. Up the road in Solana Beach is Fidel's Little Mexico, 607 Valley Ave., (858) 755-5292. For über casual, Board & Brew (1212 Camino del Mar,  481-1021) serves salads and sandwiches. Lunch for two was less than $16.
The find. Del Mar is pet-friendly; you'll find the canine welcome mat (bowls of fresh water) all over town (including at L'Auberge), plus you and Fido can frolic at nearby Dog Beach. But my heart took wing at Free Flight, an exotic bird sanctuary near the racetrack (2132 Jimmy Durante Blvd.;  481-3148; $5 adults, $2 children). I'm not a bird person, but these winged creatures — some rescues, some boarders — charmed the socks off me and my "I-watched-that-Tippi-Hedren-movie-too-many-times" husband. The staffers are warm and welcoming, as are most of the birds. But when they tell you, "This one bites," pay attention.
The lesson learned. Besides the fact that birds bite? I was, once again, surprised that it could be 92 degrees in Los Angeles and 62 degrees in Del Mar. Take a sweater.