Jim Watkins and His Love Affair with Del Mar

Jim and Bernadette Watkins

A dreamer, a visionary, Jim Watkins has left lasting footprints in Del Mar for more than 50 years.  Known locally for creating L’Auberge Resort Hotel and Spa, Jim Watkins also developed nine resorts along the California Coast.  He was the first to develop a vacation ownership resort in California.  His company, Winners Circle Resorts International was the leading vacation ownership resort developer nationwide in the 80s.  Nearby, the Carlsbad Inn was the first mixed-use resort in the timeshare hospitality industry and was credited for the revitalization of the Carlsbad downtown village.

After graduating from the University of Oregon and serving in Korea, Jim obtained his contractor’s license and went on to become a major player, developing over 1000 homes, 20 apartment houses, and multiple hotels while in his 20s.  In 1967 he moved with wife Carol and four children: Kit, Kris, Jim Jr. and KC to Del Mar.

In 1965 Interstate 5 opened – bypassing Del Mar.  The Village became a ghost town.  Del Mar’s economy was devastated.  Mayor Tom Pearson asked if Jim could provide an economic analysis and vision of how to revitalize the village.  That challenge began his 50-year love affair with Del Mar.

Entitled simply, “Why Del Mar, the study concluded that Del Mar’s greatest potential was simply to build on and enhance Del Mar’s unique history and Village Character. 

Jim’s enthusiasm for Del Mar’s potential and the “Why Del Mar” report helped him secure investors to develop the Del Mar Inn, Canterbury Corner, refurbish the historic Stratford Square building, purchase the old Del Mar Hotel site, convert eight service stations and attract 30+ new businesses including Bully’s Restaurant.  By 1969-71, thanks greatly to Jim’s expertise and enthusiasm, Del Mar’s economy was stabilized. 

Jim’s dream was to build a great hotel for his adopted home. That dream was realized in 1989 when Jim opened L’Auberge luxury resort.  Three decades later, L’Auberge continues as Del Mar’s primary single source of net revenue providing approximately $1.7 million annually and over $30 million to date in T.O.T., sales and property taxes.

50 years later, the love affair continues.  The challenge now is to achieve the community plan goals for a vibrant, economically viable, pedestrian-oriented downtown.  This time, Jim is blessed to have the support of many in the community and his daughters, Kit and  KC.

Jim continues to live in Del Mar with his lovely wife Bernadette.  They are avid tennis players, enjoy travel, their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren to total 40 with more on the way.

In 2012 the county of San Diego honored Jim proclaiming March 7th “Jim Watkins Day”.  Other honors include: Bronze Star for Service in Korea; Del Mar Rotarian of the Year; YMCA Man of the Year; American Resort Development Association Professional of the Year; Boys and Girls Club Living Legend; Carlsbad’s Lifetime Achievement Finalist; twice Del Mar Man of the Year.  Jim was also author and first chairman/Del Mar Design Review Board; Del Mar Chamber of Commerce President; Del Mar Rotary President and Chairman of the Board of the Boys and Girls Club.