Del Mar Highlands aims high to create an experience with new Sky Deck

A Brewers’ Deck is atop the Sky Deck at Del Mar Highlands Town Center with tasting bars from Boochcraft, Rough Draft Brewing and Northern Pine Brewing.
(Karen Billing)

Pat Donahue had a vision.

The chairman and chief executive officer of Donahue Schriber, owner of the Del Mar Highlands Town Center, was visiting Barcelona with his son five years ago when they got a chance to visit El Nacional. Considered the city’s “gastronomic experience,” the restaurant is divided into culinary areas and bars all under one roof. Donahue asked his son: “Could this work in Del Mar Highlands?”

Inside the new Sky Deck under construction at Del Mar Highlands Town Center. Karen Billing

For five days he watched it and studied it, returning stateside with a plan. He wanted something similar but not with too many vendors that it felt too crowded. He didn’t want something that was too fancy or high-end but that was a more special experience than a glorified food court—he wanted more reasonably-priced options where people could have their pick to sit down for a meal at a variety of spots, “like the ultimate date night place.”

Donahue Schriber even sent a team to Barcelona as they worked to develop the right mix of merchants and feel to create the “restaurant collective experience” that would be known as The Sky Deck.

“I just think it’s an exciting time here,” said Donahue at a May 2 preview event at the under-construction destination. “I think we’re onto something really special.”

At the preview event, guests got a sneak peek at the elevated dining experience with announced tenants Thai Extraordinary, Ambrogio 15, Le Parfait and a Mediterranean concept by Beeside in Del Mar.

Restaurant concepts will surround a central craft cocktail bar from Scott Slater of Slater's 50/50 Karen Billing

Empty spaces under the peaked, skylight-filled roof were marked “top local favorite,” all around central bar Noblesse Oblige Craft Cocktails, a new concept from Scott Slater, the founder of Slater’s 50/50. There will be a total of 10 restaurant concepts in the Sky Deck and some will have their own outdoor patios.

A winding statement staircase leads up to the Brewers’ Deck. In perhaps the most scenic overlook in Carmel Valley, the deck will host a tasting room for Northern Pine Brewing, Rough Draft Brewing and Boochcraft.

“People are going to have a lot of fun, it will be a really fun place for people to come,” said Donahue, noting that the new additions are a part of a strategy to really extend the hours of operation at the center as well as expand the experience. “Everything you need is right here.”

A stairway heads up to the new Sky Deck which will above the new Jimbo's. Karen Billing

The Sky Deck will be above the brand new Jimbo’s, which is expected to open first in September 2019. The Collection, the other part of Del Mar Highlands’ $120 million expansion, will open throughout 2019-20, including another new health food concept from Slater called Head Lettuce, a boutique fitness row and additional retail tenants such as Diesel, a Brentwood-based bookstore.

The Sky Deck won’t open until all of the spaces are filled as Donahue knows they will only get one chance to make a good first impression. He expects that first date night to occur in March 2020.