24 hours at Pechanga: Gambling, eating, pampering and yoga


Pechanga Resort & Casino is no place for indecisive types. Or is it?

With the completion of its $300 million expansion, Pechanga is now the largest casino resort on the West Coast. What comes with that title is a seemingly endless list of options for what to do at this vast city-within-a-city.

Should you hit the designer boutiques or play the slots? Take in some golf or luxuriate at the spa? Have a cocktail at one of the three casino bars, or at the bar by the pool, or at the bar in the pool?

See what I mean?

The good news for the fence-straddlers out there is you can’t really go wrong with whatever you choose. But you shouldn’t leave everything to chance — at least plan and book ahead your tee time and spa time.

At 550 acres, the Temecula resort is — holy koala! — more than five times the size of the San Diego Zoo. To get a feel for just how ginormous Pechanga now is — two of my sisters and I recently spent 24 hours there. Set your Fitbit and come along.

Noon. Pulling up to the Temecula resort, we’re faced with the first of many decisions — which valet lane? There are so many, Pechanga has an attendant to help guide you. We head left, toward the newly expanded 1,090-room hotel.

12:15 p.m. Since it’s a Tuesday, we’re able to get an early check-in for our corner suite in the new, 568-room Resort Tower, which is one of four suite types options the hotel offers. We quickly unpack and practically get lost exploring the elegantly appointed, approximately 900-square-foot space. There’s a bedroom with two queens, a living room with a sleeper couch, a dining area, a half bath at the entry and a sprawling master bath, with two entrances, an over-sized rain shower, soaking tub and a double vanity. The décor is a tasteful blend of natural woods, high-end fabrics, sleek stone and contemporary lighting. The two flat-screen TVs (65-inch in the living room; 55-inch in the bedroom) can’t compete with the views of Journey golf course from the suite’s floor to ceiling windows. Can’t we just stay in the room?

1 p.m. We’re on the move again but serenity is on the agenda. On the first floor of the new, two-story, 25,000-square-foot Spa Pechanga is a boutique, a fitness center and yoga studio. That’s where we meet up with Mimi, the instructor for our one-hour private yoga class. We ask her to customize it to our achy, middle-aged selves and she assures us that she’ll tailor the session more toward relaxation, mindful breathing and gentle stretching. Mimi is upbeat without being too perky, her voice soothing without being preciously hushed. Our souls nourished, we go to find some sustenance of the culinary kind.

2:30 p.m. Pechanga has more than a dozen restaurants, so we narrow our choices down to Asian food. Of course, Pechanga has three Asian eateries. We opt for Bamboo, but the winnowing doesn’t end there — the expansive menu has 150 dishes, mainly Korean, Vietnamese and Chinese (Szechuan and Cantonese), with a little Thai and Japanese thrown in for good measure. We go full-on pan-Asian, with expertly prepared Vietnamese grilled lemongrass quail, Chinese spicy basil chicken with noodles, Korean short ribs, Vietnamese grilled pork, Chinese tea and Thai coffee for “dessert.” We’re sated and happy and should go walk off our late lunch. Instead, we walk straight to the casino.

6 p.m. After some gambling action, it’s spa time again. We check-in at the stunning reception lobby, with its warm woods and neutrals and soaring, dangling artwork/chandelier. Then it’s upstairs to the second floor, where we’re greeted with that unmistakable, comforting spa scent. Our bodies and minds immediately go into chillax mode. Before or after your treatment, you can choose to wind down on the wellness patio, with its spa and private pool, or you can use the spa’s eucalyptus stream rooms, dry sauna and whirlpool bath. My sisters each get a wonderfully rejuvenating 50-minute massage in the spa’s signature suite, while I get primo pampering by Karen with an 80-minute Acorn & Walnut Renewal body scrub. (Oak trees and acorns have cultural significance to the Pechanga tribe; note the giant acorn sculpture at the foot of the circular stairway.) I’m exfoliated, massaged and moisturized into a state of tranquil oblivion. The finishing kukui, or candlenut, oil hair and scalp massage puts me in coma of calm that I can’t be rousted from afterwards, even though my sisters have gone missing from the signature suite. Back in their street clothes, they find me blissed out, swaddled in a comfy spa robe, melted into a chaise lounge, sipping Native-inspired herbal tea. It’s dinner time, apparently. Wait, there’s a world outside these walls?

7:45 p.m. Two of the highlights of the resort’s expansion are the colossal event center, which includes the 2,700-seat Pechanga Summit concert venue, and the towering glass atrium separating the Casino and Resort hotel towers. That’s where you’ll find the Lobby Bar & Grill, the latest addition to Pechanga’s dining lineup. The airy, industrial-chic space is reflective of the menu’s creative, modern take on California bistro fare. Chef Jose Mendoza puts a playful spin on such classics as deviled eggs (with candied ham and green goddess-whipped eggs), chicken wings (juicy confit chicken to dip in Lagunitas IPA ranch) and the pork chop (Kurobuta pork, with smoked polenta, kale, apples, Spanish chorizo and mustard aioli.) You can taste Mendoza’s from-scratch approach (homemade truffle ketchup, apple cider-braised vegetables, freshly chopped herb crust for the Jidori chicken, hand-cut frites, house-pickled everything) in every bite. We paired our dinner with a bottle of Niner cab franc blend from Paso Robles, which at $30 was a ridiculous value. Feeling full, yet flush, we hike back to the casino.

10 p.m. Combing the 200,000-square-foot casino floor, I find a bank of slot machines near the Round Bar that has my favorite game. See you ladies later.

3 a.m.-ish? I’m the last one back to the suite, so I tiptoe in. Two of us have our own comfy queen beds. But one of my sisters pulled the short straw and is sleeping on the pullout coach in the living room. The next morning she’ll brag how the brand-new foam mattress gave her the best night of sleep she’d had in a while. Plus, with the living room doors closed, she got her own room, complete with a half bath. Even the loser won.

Noon. After a lazy morning in the suite, we pack up, check out and make our last choice of the trip: lunch at Journey’s End. The clubhouse restaurant at the golf course serves honest — and tasty — soups, salads and sandwiches, but it’s the eatery’s stone fireplaces, gorgeous green-belt views and lodge-like feel that elevate the experience over all of Pechanga’s other dining venues. With construction over, it’s now a short walk from the Resort Tower, just past the new 4½-acre pool complex The Cove and the spa. Close, but a world away at this resort of many choices.