Southern Californians have a variety of casino resort options. Every metropolitan area has on its distant outskirts at least one gaming establishment on Native American lands. Your humble correspondent has launched an ambitious undertaking: to experience these local hospitality providers and report back to you, the would-be informed traveler.
In future posts, I intend to offer feedback on some big names in the genre: Morongo, Chumash, Sycuan, Viejas, and Pala, among others. This particular communique represents the intelligence-gathering efforts of my reconnaissance to a particularly high-profile resort: Pechanga Resort & Casino. So without further adieu, here’s the scoop…
Located at the southern end of the Temecula Valley, famed for its vineyards and — well, its vineyards, anyway — Pechanga is an oasis in an ever-expanding suburbia. The Pechanga tribe has called this valley home for centuries and its influence remains — that is, if you’re interested. And if you are, there are cultural tours available, which shed new light on a history that you won’t find in textbooks. And if you aren’t interested, you probably won’t notice the intentional design elements and subtle motifs pervasive throughout the resort.
So, let’s highlight a few of the amenities of the casino resort and, as I do, consider it in contrast with what has for decades been the most alluring alternative: Las Vegas (to be fair, there are even alternatives to Vegas across state lines — Laughlin, Reno, etc., but I digress). The staples of such a stay include fine dining, a pool complex, spa, and, of course, casino.
Great Oak Steakhouse
It’s been my experience that every Southern California gaming resort is required by law to have a proper steakhouse. Great Oak is a classic surf ‘n’ turf with indulgent apps and sides. It has a robust wine list, although you’ll have to navigate an iPad that some tech salesman convinced the resort was a good idea, but it’s ultimately worth it.
Lobby Bar & Grill
The latest addition to the resort’s restaurant offerings has a full bar with TVs on one side and a dining lounge on the other. The bites are
You’re seated in a comfy zero-gravity chair. A warm, wet cloth is placed over your eyes and headphones over your ears. Your body begins to absorb the music emanating from within the chair. For the next 15 minutes, you will forget you even exist as a corporeal being, believing yourself to be music incarnate. You’ll return to your physical form as you are oiled up and massaged like sushi-grade octopus. This is the signature Waves of Sound Massage.
So, it’s really hard in a travelogue to write about a casino (“I pulled a lever several times and coins came out…”; “I stayed on a soft 17 and the dealer drew a queen and busted…”). You gave a damn about the spa description because a) it provides a treatment that maybe you weren’t familiar with, and b) you understand the experience can be exactly the same for you. Whereas, you probably already know how to pull the arm on a slot machine or know how to play blackjack, and those experiences are anything but guaranteed.
With that in mind, let me just say that the casino floor is enormous — if you took out the machines and tables, you could play football in here. There’s also a poker room. And the casino is renowned for its bingo game.
If you haven’t been to Pechanga this summer, you really haven’t been. They just opened a nearly five-acre lagoon-style pool complex that includes a couple of waterslides, a swim-up bar, cabanas, and hot tubs. It has family-friendly and adults-only areas.
Journeys at Pechanga Golf Course
One perk that Pechanga has which separates itself not only from other local casino/resorts but from Las Vegas hotels is its on-site golf course, Journeys. This is a legitimately challenging course with several elevation changes, including a mountainside tee overlooking a fairway and green hundreds of feet below. The golf pros are friendly (and have done a lot to improve my game) and there’s a really good pro shop. Happy birdies.