As promised, here is my second installment in an ambitious attempt to highlight our local Native American gaming resorts. Today, we’ll be discussing Viejas Casino & Resort.
In the small high-desert town of Alpine in Viejas in the distant southeastern corner of San Diego County, you’ll find an oasis known as Viejas. Locals come to play casino games, enjoy great dining, partake in the nightclub scene, and relax in a poolside retreat to beat the summer heat.
There are essentially two ways to get here: the easy way and the hard way, which is to say, the busy route and the scenic route, respectively. It’s possible to shoot down the 5 or the 15 all the way to the 8 and then head east until you’re nearly at the 79. Or you can come down the 79, a winding road that begins as an offshoot of the 15 in Temecula and runs southeasterly through old stagecoach towns like Warner Springs and Julian. After several twists and turns at various altitudes, it eventually hits the 8, a few miles from Viejas. I prefer and suggest this route, assuming you have the time (read: “patience”).
So, let’s delve into the attractions that you should enjoy on your trip to Viejas Casino & Resort.
The Grove Steakhouse
Every gaming resort seems to be built around a steakhouse. Nowhere is that truer than at Viejas. The Grove is tucked neatly away in the center of the casino floor, almost imperceptible amid the flashing lights and video screens. There is a hostess stand outside the soundproof door, behind which is a velvet-rope experience that stands defiantly at odds with the casualness of the nickel slots.
From Frank Sinatra to Louis Armstrong, the standards give life to a throwback steak joint. Caviar and champagne lead to lobster bisque and French onion soup, which give way to tender cuts of beef or the always-in-style surf ‘n’ turf, followed by an indulgent piece of chocolate cake for dessert.
The last thing you’d expect to find in the artificial air of this temple to the gods of fortune is a naturally lit, L.A.-style farm-to-table restaurant. But here it is. The salmon is from Skuna Bay, the buttermilk-fried chicken is from Mary’s Farm, the 14-ounce boneless ribeye is from Brandt Ranch.
It’s hard to find authentic anything in most casino resorts, so Locale is truly an oasis for the palate. The dining room is also a breath of fresh air, featuring views of an outdoor lounge area on one end and a glimpse into the casino on the other.
It seems like everyone is getting in on the spa action these days. Willows Spa is one of the first amenities you’ll want to enjoy after your lengthy drive. Get yourself a deep-tissue massage and let the memories of Interstate 5 drift away. The spa features a sauna steam room, and a whirlpool and salt pool. There’s also a fitness center.
As ubiquitous as the steakhouse, the pool is a must for every Southern California resort. Viejas has a pair of them, a family-friendly one just off the casino floor, so if you lose your shirt, you might as well just lose the pants, too, and jump right in. There are about six private cabanas and a dipping pool within steps of the bar. The Allure pool is at the slightly more secluded Willows Hotel and features a hot tub that is ideal at dusk, as the desert air begins to cool and the margaritas have fully set in (p.s., it’s the one in thumbnail).