Well known for its world-class attractions and beautiful beaches, San Diego continues to add to its exciting array of visitor offerings with state-of-the-art casinos, many of which have become full-service resorts. Popular outlet centers, luxury spas, golf courses and museums, along with showrooms and live entertainment facilities, are among the other attractions and activities that bring visitors to San Diego's grand gaming centers.
Built by Native Americans on their tribal lands, casinos reflect another facet of San Diego's rich cultural diversity. With its 18 tribes, San Diego has the largest concentration of tribes of any single county in the U.S.—about half are involved in the region's successful Indian gaming business. While the casinos help the tribes to become financially self-sufficient, they also enable tribal governments to support charities and social programs serving the entire San Diego community.
San Diego's Indian casinos provide 7/24 Las Vegas-style action and entertainment, just 30-45 minutes from downtown San Diego. Following are some of the region's best bets for gaming fun:
The Barona Valley Ranch Resort and Casino , owned and operated by the Barona Band of Mission Indians, is one of the most successful gaming centers in California. The property is nestled in the hills of the Barona Indian Reservation in Lakeside, about a half-hour drive east from downtown San Diego. The casino combines gaming excitement with the warmth of rustic ranch-style interiors. Visitors to the casino can choose from 2,000 slots, video poker and video keno machines, as well as 70 table games, including blackjack, Super Fun 21, progressive Pai Gow poker and more. There's also a poker room, off-track betting parlor and bingo hall. Barona features nine stylish dining options, including fine dining at Barona Oaks Steakhouse and more casual fare at the Branding Iron Café and 850-seat Ranch House Buffet. The resort also offers 400 guestrooms and suites, the AmBience Day Spa and a romantic lakeside wedding chapel.
The 18-hole championship Barona Creek Golf Club , rated by Golfweek Magazine as the fourth best public access golf course in California, is a duffer's paradise with its idyllic rural setting. The adjacent Golf Events Center provides 18,000 square feet of meeting space. www.barona.com
The reservation is also home to the Barona Museum, a unique hands-on educational museum displaying handmade pottery, reed baskets, paintings, arrowheads and other artifacts (over 2,000 in all) dating back thousands of years. www.baronatribe.com
The Golden Acorn Casino Travel Center , owned and operated by the Campo Band of Mission Indians, is located in San Diego's picturesque East County community of Campo. Guests are entertained with 750 slot machines and 12 game tables, as well as served by the convenience of an on-site Travel Center and reasonably priced gas station. The 24-hour Golden Grill restaurant serves a wide selection of dishes, along with the Del Oro Deli. www.goldenacorncasino.com
Harrah's Rincon Casino and Resort, located on the Rincon San Luiseño Band of Mission Indians' reservation in San Diego's North County community of Valley Center, is California's first nationally branded casino. The casino features over 1,600 slot machines and 46 table games, including blackjack, baccarat, Pai Gow poker and more. The resort offers 200 guestrooms and suites, and is currently undergoing an expansion which will add a high rise tower with an additional 450 rooms and full-service spa (opening December 2004). The resort includes a large pool area with a poolside bar, a 900-seat indoor Pavilion entertainment venue with breakaway rooms for meetings, the Oasis Lounge and the lively Spirits bar. Guests can dine in one of six restaurants, including Fiore Steak & Seafood, the Oyster Bar and Fortunes, featuring Asian cuisine. www.harrahs.com/our_casinos/rin
The Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation operates the Sycuan Resort & Casino in the East County city of El Cajon, a 30-minute drive from downtown San Diego. The casino features 2,000 slot machines, including the largest smoke-free slot area in San Diego; 65 game tables, including a popular Pai Gow room and poker room; a 1,200-seat Bingo Palace; thoroughbred racing action in the Hall of Champions, and a 500-seat Showcase Theatre. Dining options in the resort's five restaurants range from casual cafes to Paipa's Oasis buffet. www.sycuancasino.com
The tribe's Singing Hills Country Club at Sycuan includes three scenic 18-hole golf courses, a 102-room lodge, 11 lighted tennis courts and conference rooms. www.singinghills.com
Sycuan recently diversified its accommodations offerings with the purchase of the historic U.S. Grant Hotel (built by Ulysses S. Grant, Jr. in memory of his father, the former U.S. President) in downtown San Diego. The property is slated for $20 million in renovations that will return it to its original circa 1910 elegance; projected completion date is June 2005. www.usgrant.net
The Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians has grown its once modest Viejas Casino into a giant enterprise. Viejas is located in the East County community of Alpine, about a 30-minute drive from downtown San Diego. The casino boasts 2,000 slots, more than 90 tables of games like poker, blackjack, Pai Gow and more, an off-track betting facility, 1,500-seat Bingo Pavilion and five delectable restaurants, including The Grove Steakhouse, China Camp and Harvest Buffet. The 700-seat DreamCatcher showroom features free weekend entertainment and a bar. Top name bands and entertainers take to the stage during Viejas' annual outdoor Concerts in the Park (April-September). www.viejas.com
Across the street from the Casino is the Viejas Outlet Center, where shopping is a wholesale experience in both prices and variety; there are 57 brand name stores. Tuesdays are Senior Citizen Days with participating stores offering 10-30% discounts. The center's dazzling free water fountain shows are great entertainment year-round, complete with lasers, pyrotechnics and other surprises. www.shopviejas.com
Two other winning San Diego casinos include Casino Pauma in North County's Pauma Valley (www.casinopauma.com) and nearby Valley View Casino in Valley Center (www.valleyviewcasino.com).
The Pechanga Resort & Casino
, located in Temecula just north of San Diego in Riverside County, features 522 guestrooms and suites (some with Jacuzzis), an outdoor pool and sundeck, health spa, six restaurants, 1,200-seat Pechanga Theater and a 40,000-sq. ft. convention center. The casino offers 2,000 slot machines, a non-smoking 27-table poker room and 60 game tables, including blackjack, Pai Gow, Let it Ride and more. www.pechanga.com