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Hitting the Jackpot: San Diego’s Casino Resorts

Casinos. Many equate the word with the thrill of Vegas. But here's the thing—the same high-stakes action can be found closer to home in San Diego. Not only that, the area's resort casinos come with thrill-a-minute activities, from vibrant pool scenes to headliner entertainment. All a visitor needs to do is make reservations.

By Bekah Wright

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Harrah’s Resort SoCal

Hitting the Jackpot: San Diego’s Casino Resorts

Hitting the Jackpot: San Diego’s Casino Resorts

Ken Hansen

Right off the bat, the brand name of Harrah’s speaks to Vegas-style gaming and resort-style frills. The AAA, Four Diamond-rated Harrah’s Resort SoCal is located in Valley Center, just 50 minutes away from downtown San Diego, and even closer to Temecula wine country.

In 2014, Harrah’s Resort SoCal unveiled a $160 million renovation, and with it a new, 21-story resort tower, upping the property’s accommodations count to 1,065 rooms/suites. Pure luxury comes with suites like the Dive Inn Malibu, a 1,467-square-foot nonsmoking suite with a deep-soaking tub and whirlpool spa on the poolside patio.

There are other idyllic places for soaking on-property, including an award-winning spa. Prying oneself away from the resort’s trifecta of pools, however, is no easy feat. Combining the best of both worlds is a new poolside wellness program, complimentary for hotel guests, which runs on Saturdays during summer months.

Post-workout, Harrah’s 400-foot Lazy River makes for floating perfection while sipping libations from Southern California’s only swim-up bar. Time for repose is available in one of 21 poolside cabañas or nine daybeds. On Sundays, the main pool area goes into party mode with Dive Day Club ($25; noon to 6 p.m.), featuring dancing and guest deejays.

When mealtimes hit, Harrah’s Resort SoCal’s eight dining options provide sustenance. Reserve a touch of sophistication at Fiore, helmed by executive chef Jon Palsson. Garnering rave reviews: the tableside-tossed Caesar salad and 24-ounce prime porterhouse steak.

Two high-energy lounges-Corked, with wine and craft beers, and Spiked, with its speakeasy vibe-are ideal for toasting the night ahead. Cutting-edge entertainment comes by way of the Events Center with the world’s first K2 acoustics sound system. Appearing soon: George Lopez (July 17) and Third Eye Blind and Dashboard Confessional (July 18).

Rounding things out is Harrah’s Resort SoCal’s notorious gaming. Available for play is an eight-table Poker Room featuring Texas Hold ’Em to Let It Ride. On the casino floor are 1,710 slot machines and 59 Las Vegas-style table games including EZ Baccarat, Mystery Card Roulette, and Blackjack.

Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa

Hitting the Jackpot: San Diego’s Casino Resorts

Hitting the Jackpot: San Diego’s Casino Resorts

The jewel of Rancho Mirage’s desert is Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa with the San Bernardino and San Jacinto Mountains adding ambience.

Inside, deluxe rooms help guests relax with oversized sunken tubs, and flat-screen plasma televisions. Going presidential means an upper-floor suite with separate dining and living spaces, as well as deluge showers.

Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa lives up to its name with a 50,000-square-feet pool area with two swimming pools, jetted spa, and 10 amenity-packed cabañas. Another way to enjoy the property’s cabañas is with treatments from Sunstone, The Spa at Agua Caliente.

As night falls, an elegant table set for duos waits at The Steakhouse. Order up a bit of romance with caviar and the prime Chateaubriand for two.

Three after-hours venues make for all-out evenings at Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa. The Lounge offers free live music. Poolside, Elevate keeps things rocking with featured deejays. The Show is known for headliners like Boyz II Men (September 12) and Heart (September 19).

Guests are welcome to try their hand in the Poker Room with Pai Gow, Three Card Poker, and Texas Hold ’Em. Prefer Blackjack? That can be found with other table games including Spanish 21 and Hot Water Craps.

Pala Casino Resort & Spa

Hitting the Jackpot: San Diego’s Casino Resorts

Hitting the Jackpot: San Diego’s Casino Resorts

Ian Vaughan Productions LLC.

Another Valley Center resident is Pala Casino Resort & Spa, with its portfolio of 507 Four Diamond award-winning deluxe rooms and suites. The resort’s “crown jewels” are 18 grand suites with amenities such as a two-person, double-headed shower and a whirlpool tub.

VIP treatment is the focus of Pala Casino Resort’s pool where 12 cabañas are equipped with televisions, Internet, refrigerators, and ceiling fans. Additional pampering options can be found indoors at the state-of-the-art fitness center and full-service salon. Relaxation awaits in Pala Spa with its eucalyptus steam rooms, sauna, whirlpools, outdoor/Swiss showers, and bliss-inducing treatments.

Catering to every taste are Pala Casino Spa & Resort’s 11 eateries. Cave provides a veritable dining experience in an underground wine cave. Chef Luciano Cibelli serves up Mediterranean fare paired with Cave’s collection of more than 480 wines from Napa Valley, Sonoma, France, Italy, and Australia.

Pala Casino Spa & Resort’s six show venues make summer months memorable. Two acts not to miss at the New Starlight Theatre: Alice in Chains (July 17) and Rascal Flatts (September 25).

What’s happening at the 87 tables of Pala’s AAA Four-Diamond award-winning casino? Blackjack, Baccarat, Roulette, Craps, Crazy 4 Poker, and Mississippi Stud… Those preferring slots will feel right at home at the casino’s 2,000 slot machines, video poker, and video Keno. Still to be conquered—a 13-table poker room and high-limit gaming.

Viejas Casino & Resort

Hitting the Jackpot: San Diego’s Casino Resorts

Hitting the Jackpot: San Diego’s Casino Resorts

Nestled amongst the Cuyamaca Mountains, 30 miles due east of San Diego, is Alpine, home to the AAA Four Diamond Viejas Casino & Resort.

The property maintains a boutique feel, with 99 deluxe rooms and 29 VIP luxury suites. A change is afoot in October, though, when a new luxury hotel tower will be unveiled. Added to the mix will be 109 deluxe rooms, including premier suites with multiple HDTVs, pool table, two-way fireplace, wet bar, Jacuzzi, and private terrace.

A popular hangout spot at Viejas Casino & Resort is the expansive swimming pool, with Baja wading shelves, hot tubs, cabañas, and fire bowls.

Another popular stop: shopping at Viejas Outlet Center stores such as Nike, Coach, and Polo Ralph Lauren. Beyond poring over sale racks, there’s pampering at Native Dreams Day Spa, fine-tuning bowling skills at Viejas Bowl, and arcade games at Fun Zone. The ShowCourt’s Interactive Fountain keeps things cool, especially for those staying late for the nightly live music and multimedia presentations, Splash Tracks, or summertime’s Movie in the Park program.

Back at Viejas Casino & Resort, dinner is a true celebration at The Grove Steakhouse with Executive Chef Yadira Perez’s award-winning cuisine. Next, catch live music on Friday and Saturday nights at V Lounge. Quenching thirst—two additional bars serve up beverages.

Along with its forthcoming accommodation addition, Viejas has expanded its casino by 10,000 square feet. What’s on tap? Over 2,500 slots, bingo, table games including Fortune Pai Gow, EZ Baccarat, Craps, Ultimate Texas Hold ’Em, Blackjack, and Mystery Card Roulette. Fans of Off Track Betting will want to spend time in the Private Turf Club.

Valley View Casino & Hotel

Hitting the Jackpot: San Diego’s Casino Resorts

Hitting the Jackpot: San Diego’s Casino Resorts

Rounding out Valley Center’s trio of casino locations is Valley View Casino & Hotel. The property has a boutique feel, with 12 luxury suites and 96 deluxe rooms. First-class amenities like 52-inch HD TVs and 300-thread-count sheets make relaxing itinerary-worthy. An extra bonus—hotel guests awaken to complimentary VIP breakfast in BLD’s Café.

Post-breakfast are some daytime pursuits unto themselves—savoring frosty drinks by the infinity pool while gazing at the Palomar Mountains.

Cravings can be conquered at Valley View Casino’s six dining establishments. A hot spot for surf, turf, and creative cocktails is Black&Blue Steakhouse. Here, the lounge’s 3,300-gallon saltwater aquarium dazzles.

Even more breathtaking is nightly entertainment via Valley View Casino & Hotel’s Main Stage Bar with headliners like Ed Sheeran (June 23), UFC matchups (July 15), and Sam Smith (August 11).

Valley View’s casino keeps the action rolling with 2,000 Certified Loose slot machines, 21 table games—Single-, Double-, Multi-deck Blackjack, Mystery Card Roulette, EZ Baccarat—video poker, and Keno.

Talking Stick Resort

Hitting the Jackpot: San Diego’s Casino Resorts

Hitting the Jackpot: San Diego’s Casino Resorts

Mark Boisclair

Looking for a gaming getaway? Hop on a 50-minute flight or take a five-hour drive from San Diego to Talking Stick Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona. Here, desert panoramas and cityscapes welcome, along with views of the majestic Camelback and McDowell Mountains.

The AAA Four Diamond–rated Talking Stick Resort has 496 rooms/suites, with wow factors like floor-to-ceiling windows proffering desert views. Upping the ante are three-bay hotel suites, replete with a motorized TV built into the footboard of the master bed, and a soaking tub.

Where to spend the day at Talking Stick Resort? Sun worshippers will point to the four swimming pools. Desire a cabaña with bottle service? Head to the Main Pool. Prefer floating on water? An immersion lounger at the aptly named Lounge Pool is the ticket.

Golfers head to the property’s two adjacent championship fairways at Talking Stick Golf Club. Spagoers flock to The Spa at Talking Stick Resort for unwinding, whether in the serenity lounge, steam room, and fitness facility or with treatments using indigenous ingredients.

Should such ingredients bring on an appetite, Talking Stick Resort has six dining venues. Among them is its “culinary jewel,” Orange Sky, known for breathtaking 15th-floor vistas of the Sonoran Desert coupled with five- and six-course dining experiences/wine pairings.

The perfect follow-up —live performances at Talking Stick Resort’s Salt River Grand Ballroom, outdoor pool stage, and The Showroom. Coming soon: Keb’ Mo’ (July 19) and Nils Lofgren (September 2). More casual jam sessions occur at Degree 270.

Those who’ve come to Talking Stick Resort for the gaming action will be elated. Lady Luck lures from the casino’s more than 50 table games—Blackjack, Straight Jack, and Casino War. Also on tap are more than 700 multi-denominational slot machines and keno. Those with a competitive nature will feel right at home in Arizona’s largest poker room.

Harrah’s Resort SoCal, Pala Casino Resort & Spa, Valley View Casino & Hotel, Viejas Casino & Resort, Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, Talking Stick Resort—hands down, these resorts make for a winning getaway.

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