Southern California Getaways: Pechanga Resort and Casino
Over the past year, I’ve discovered that if you’re going to trade in border-hopping for repatriation, Southern California is one of the absolute best places to do it. I couldn’t even begin to count on one hand how many vacation destinations lie within a few hours’ drive of L.A., and the idyllic weather makes nearly every weekend perfect for a getaway.
Whether you’re an L.A. local like me or are visiting the area on vacation, when it comes to choosing nearby escapes, it’s tough to narrow your options down. I recently wrote about how fantastic Santa Barbara is for wining and dining, and of course I’ve enjoyed exploring L.A. on weekends, but I’m here to tell you about another destination I nearly overlooked: Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula, California.
I have to admit: prior to checking Pechanga out for myself, I imagined just another nondescript casino in the middle of nowhere like the ones I’d made quick pitstops at on family road trips. Or perhaps, I figured, it would remind me of one of the cheaper hotels in Las Vegas. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. Yes, it’s a casino, and yes, it’s in a somewhat remote location, but the place exudes class, luxury, and fun.
Upon arrival, my first impression was that Pechanga was far bigger and grander than I’d imagined. With a 515,000 square foot hotel, plus 188,000 square feet of gaming space, a convention center, a massive pool complex, a golf course, spa, and eleven restaurants, Pechanga is basically a city of its own. You could spend weeks without leaving the property and never grow bored.
Our visit to Pechanga came right after a $300 million renovation and grand reopening. If you haven’t been to Pechanga in the past few months, you have to see what they’ve done to the place! The resort recently debuted 568 new rooms, a new pool complex, two additional restaurants, and a spa and fitness center, and I made a point of enjoying all of these to the fullest during my stay. Pechanga looks sleeker and more modern than ever before, with even more to see and do, so my visit came at the perfect time.
Checking into our room, we were immediately stunned. We stayed in the newly opened wing of the hotel, where rooms come complete with beautiful lighting, modern furniture, and all the amenities you could need. Forget any preconceived notions I had about casino hotels; this room could rival some of the most luxurious I’ve stayed in around the world. I could have admired the room for hours, but we had a reservation at the comedy club to rush off to!
The Comedy Club
Having a few drinks and laughs while watching some talented comedians was the perfect way to finish the work week and kick off our vacation weekend. The Comedy Club at Pechanga hosts shows every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, featuring a variety of comedy acts. If you’re staying at the resort or in the Temecula area, this is a great way to spend a night out.
Exploring Wine Country by Hot Air Balloon
Sleeping in may very well be the best part of vacations, but we had a spectacular reason to wake up before the crack of dawn that Saturday morning: a hot air balloon above wine country. Pechanga’s Temecula location makes it a wine lover’s paradise, with more than 40 wineries in the surrounding area that offer public wine tasting. I’d argue that if there’s one experience better than sipping on wine under the California sun, it’s enjoying panoramic views of the region from high above. Pechanga’s hot air balloon packages allow you to do just that.
Pechanga’s bus transported us to a nearby winery, where we signed our waivers and then headed out, balloon in tow, to find an ideal spot to launch. Watching the sunrise while observing the balloons around us inflate and then float off into the sky was entertainment enough, but then it was our turn to hop in!
As we took off, I couldn’t help but feel nervous about having only a basket between me and hundreds of feet of air, but as soon as I started to observe the views, the nerves dissipated, and I realized just how truly unbelievable the experience was. The highlight? Gently floating over citrus trees and taking in the intoxicating scent of citrus blossoms. To wrap up the trip, we were awarded honorary aviator certificates over a continental breakfast and refreshing mimosas.
As if a hot air balloon adventure weren’t luxury enough for one weekend, my morning continued with a visit to Spa Pechanga. Even just walking around the spa proved to be incredibly serene. Featuring a sauna, relaxation rooms, a private pool and cabanas, yoga classes, a fitness center, and refreshments, I could have gotten lost in there for hours.
After a tour of the facilities, I was treated to an 80-minute Acorn & Walnut Renewal, inspired by Pechanga’s local Native American ties, and a 25-minute Rosemary Reflexology Treatment. The spa left me more relaxed and refreshed than I had been in ages—and smelling delicious, too! Feeling particularly blissed out, I sauntered over to a cabana by the exclusive spa pool and made myself at home while sipping on icy fruit water. Ahh, pampering at its finest.
Leaving the exclusive spa pool behind was no easy feat, but after hearing great things about Pechanga’s new pool complex, The Cove, I had to discover it for myself. The 4.5-acre space includes four pools, a swim-up bar, waterslide, lawns, cabanas, day beds, and a restaurant, Coveside Grill.
Coveside Grill’s poolside location made it the perfect spot for our first meal at Pechanga, but I had little idea just how impressive the food would be. We kicked the meal off with what was—no exaggeration—the best spinach and artichoke dip I’ve ever tasted, and I followed that up with a refreshing strawberry field salad.
After lunch, we wandered over to one of the grassy spots, where we enjoyed a mixology session showcasing the resort’s best cocktails. We even learned a bit about how to make the concoctions ourselves and got to taste a few.
With eleven restaurants on Pechanga’s property, there’s not a chance you’ll go hungry while staying there. Our poolside lunch had set my expectations high for the rest of my meals that weekend, yet every bite I took while at Pechanga managed to blow those expectations out of the water.
We enjoyed dinner right downstairs from our room at the newly opened Lobby Bar & Grill. We started with the most mouthwatering brussels sprouts, topped with asiago cheese and apple glaze, alongside a dish of mac and cheese with kale pesto and crispy potatoes. For the main course, my boyfriend tried the seared scallops while I chose the Kurobuta pork chop with smoked polenta, chorizo, and apples. Honestly, you could have told me we were dining at a Michelin-star restaurant and I would have completely believed it; that’s how perfect every bit of our meal was.
Following dinner, we headed outside for a special dessert reception, where we were given a taste of the best sweets from Pechanga’s various restaurants. From ice pops to ice cream sandwiches to macarons and more, everything was beautifully prepared, colorful, and delectable.
The following morning, we wrapped up our Pechanga culinary adventures at Journey’s End in the golf course clubhouse with views over the course and surrounding mountains. I was remiss to say goodbye to Pechanga’s delightful cuisine but went out with a bang with their carne asada quesadilla (it’s never too early for quesadillas!) while my boyfriend enjoyed an egg dish.
Pechanga’s restaurants cover all range of budgets, styles, and cuisines, from a casual coffee shop to a buffet to a top-notch steakhouse and sushi bar. Believe me, I wouldn’t rave about the food if I didn’t genuinely mean it, and Pechanga’s utterly divine dining may have been the best surprise of the weekend.
Pechanga is, at its heart, a casino, so I couldn’t share my experience there without at least mentioning the gambling! While I’m not much of a gambler myself, I’ll admit a childhood of frequent Vegas trips left me with a soft spot for the sights, smells, sounds, and energies of casinos. So I had a fantastic time just wandering around Pechanga’s casino floor. I even tried my hand at the video poker machines, though I walked away with my wallet $5 lighter.
But if gambling is your thing, Pechanga is basically heaven. There are more than 4500 slot machines, betting opportunities, 154 table games, bingo, poker, a high limit salon, and private gaming rooms, so no matter your game or style, you’ll find it at Pechanga. I’d go so far as to propose that Pechanga may very well be the best casino in Southern California.
With weekend trips as fun and unforgettable as my visit to Pechanga, moving back to Los Angeles has been more than worth it. From amazing food to poolside relaxation to the awe and adventure of hot air ballooning, everything about my stay at the Pechanga Resort & Casino exceeded expectations and made for the perfect weekend.
Whether you’re a Southern California local looking to get away for a weekend or you’re visiting from farther away and looking for the ideal vacation spot, regardless of your travel style or personal interests, Pechanga is the place to be. My only regret is that it took me this long to realize all that I was missing out on there!