Stepping back in time: a history of the San Diego Del Mar Fair

The Del Mar Fair in San Diego.

By Tammy Tidmore & Kelly Pottorff

As local

Del Mar real estate

brokers, we are proud to celebrate the history of the Del Mar Fairgrounds, and to experience the magic of the Fair ourselves year after year. If you are new to the village, or looking to relocate to the San Diego coast, we hope you will consider contacting us for a true local’s perspective on life in and around Del Mar,

Rancho Santa Fe

and beyond. For more information, visit

Willis Allen Real Estate



Summer is in full swing, and that means it is time once again for the

San Diego Del Mar Fair

  1. Last year, the Fair celebrated its 75


anniversary; but while thousands of locals religiously flock to the stunning Del Mar fairgrounds every summer, only a handful know the history behind this signature San Diego event. Originally conceived as an agricultural fair in 1880, the gathering evolved over the years until, in 1936, the 22


District Agricultural Association (DAA) purchased a plot of land at the mouth of the San Dieguito River to create an official county fairground. The rest, as they say, is history – and an enduring for the legacy that still affects the lives of Del Mar natives and visitors alike today.

The first Fair: October 8, 1936

The first official fair at the Del Mar County Fairgrounds was definitely a product of its time – and then again, despite the many changes and advances in entertainment over the years, some of the acts were as timeless as the event itself. Visitors to the 1936 Fair encountered an ace tightrope walker, a movie stuntman, daredevil motorcycle riders, vaudeville and circus acts, fireworks, concerts and, of course, exhibitions – some of which were undoubtedly similar to the horse shows, pig races and hypnotist performances still featured at the fair today.

The war years

During World War II, the Del Mar Fair was suspended as San Diego and the rest of the nation concentrated on funding the war effort. It was at this time that the fairgrounds were used as temporary training facilities and military barracks, while a 500,000 square-foot segment of land was set aside for construction of the B-17 “Flying Fortress” bomber plane. In 1946, the Fair resumed its annual role within the San Diego community – and in an attempt to boost publicity and attendance, the event’s mascot, Don Diego, was born. For decades, the handsome caballero welcomed attendees to the Fair – and to this day he continues to greet visitors at the fairgrounds, his tile likeness standing tall on the venue’s signature clock tower.

A local legacy

Ever since the grand opening in 1936, the Del Mar Fairgrounds have been a boon to the local economy along the San Diego coast. Between the fair, annual exhibitions and horse racing (a lucrative trend that had begun to take hold in Del Mar beginning in the early days of the fair), the fairgrounds attract visitors from all over the county and encourage commerce while also providing a spectacular venue for local talent.