Check out our Summertime Casino Survival Guide – Orange County Register
Weekend getaways are a perfect way to change perspective and recharge your internal batteries – which is especially true when you add the possibility of returning home richer than when you left. That’s why we’ve put together this casino survival guide, to give you an overview of Southern California properties within easy striking distance, as well as a curated overview of a few of our Las Vegas favorites. No matter which of these places resonates with you, there’s one thing all casinos have in common: the bells and clinks, the cheers and groans, and all the other generally loud mayhem that defines the gaming experience.
California tribal casinos
There’s a lot to enjoy at California’s 66 tribal casinos, including 29 here in SoCal. But there are a few things you will not find at tribal casinos in the Golden State. There’s no sports betting allowed (although that’s expected to change with the November election), and when you play anything at a tribal casino – from slots to card or dice games – you will never receive a free alcoholic drink. By law, tribal casinos can sell you a cocktail, but can never give you one for free.
Here’s our guide to the best SoCal has to offer:
Nestled against the San Bernardino Mountains is the casino with the new name and new look. Yaamava’ is the word for ‘spring’ in the language of the Serrano people, marking the return of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians to their traditional roots.
The casino started as a bingo hall in 1986; today it’s a luxurious resort with 700,000 square feet of places to play, dine, relax by the pool, or enjoy a spa experience.
Still centered around slots (there are 6,500 of them, the largest grouping of slots in the western United States), Yaamava’ also offers 123 table games. You’ll find five high-limit gaming rooms, all away from the clamor of the main casino floor. When you’re ready to dine, don’t miss Pines Steakhouse, an elegant spot where you can pair a delicious filet mignon with an ounce of Ossetra caviar or maybe a heap of king crab legs.
With the recent addition of a 17-story hotel, the property has a large pool (with the requisite cabana scene), great poolside cafe (try the Cochinita Pibil Pulled Pork Nachos), and of this Serrano Spa, which may well keep you away from the tables for an extended period of time. In April, Yaamava’ launched its new four-level, 2,500-seat entertainment theater with a performance by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Near the Temecula wine country is the massive Pechanga Resort Casino, which opened in 2002. Owned by the Pechanga Band of Luseño Indians, it’s the largest casino in California.
If your weekend getaway tastes go beyond the casino (which offers over 4,500 slot machines, 154 table games including roulette, baccarat, craps and blackjack, and high limit), it is a practically perfect basis. You can spend part of the day wandering around nearby vineyards for a few tastings — put Wilson Creek, Leoness Cellars, and Miramonte on your list — and there’s still plenty of time to indulge in the resort’s 25,000-square-foot spa. , which offers treatments like as well as saunas, steam rooms and more. The Cove is the resort’s massive four-pool swimming area, complete with waterslides, hot tubs, cabanas, and even a swim-up bar.
Back at the casino, distractions beyond gambling abound, ranging from dining at the new 1882 Cantina and classic Umi Sushi & Oyster Bar to the Concert Hall, Comedy Club and other entertainment venues. Every January, Pechanga hosts a traditional powwow, open to all.
In the desert, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians operates three different casinos, with the Rancho Mirage location also serving as a resort, which you’ll spot just off Interstate 10 heading east. In Palm Springs and Cathedral City, the Agua Caliente locations are casinos that offer numerous slot machines, as well as table games and high limit rooms.
Palm Springs Casino is located in the center of town, within walking distance of local hotels. So it’s easy to enjoy a night of gaming or dining at The Steakhouse, where Executive Chef Kieran Fleming prepares both steak and seafood. The super fun Cascade Lounge nightclub turns into several iterations at the throughout the week, so feel free to choose your favorite genre – be it blues, jazz or Latin music, or comedy.
The Cathedral City Casino in Agua Caliente is the newest of the tribe’s growing gaming venues; it even offers cornhole competitions and karaoke, if you’re looking for something other than gambling.
Las Vegas’ appeal is strong, despite the often congested trek up I-15 which can be quite daunting on a Friday night, especially when it’s a holiday weekend. We have chosen to highlight a few of the newer casinos and some old favorites.
The first new casino built in 10 years on the Strip, Resorts World, has to be seen to be believed. A huge place where you can lose yourself in 117,000 square feet of playtime possibilities, you’ll find this luxurious resort at the northern end of the famous road. It’s a winning combination of upscale rooms and suites, all centered around an infinity pool, with a hot scene happening day and night as the Zouk nightclub goes up in flames. Discover Chef Shaun Hergatt’s Caviar Bar for a unique dining experience. If plant-based dishes are more your thing, don’t miss Crossroads Kitchen, the first all-vegetarian restaurant to grace the Vegas Strip.
Opened in 1999, The Venetian Resort Las Vegas is one of Sin City’s classics, an all-suite resort that has all the games you could want (including a racing and sports book). What The Venetian excels in is fine dining, with a collection of restaurants that will have you up and taking notice. Choose Chef Thomas Keller’s Bouchon for sublime French brasserie bites, let Chef Wolfgang Puck seduce you with steak and seafood at Cut, enjoy an incredible Greek/Mediterranean dining experience at Estiatorio Milos by Costa Spilladis and don’t miss Brera Osteria, where Angelo Auriana and Eduardo Perez will make you rethink what great Italian cuisine means.
Look no further for the Hard Rock Resort in Las Vegas these days, as this venerable hotel has given way to Richard Branson and his Virgin Hotels brand. Branson has taken over the old Hard Rock digs and turned it into what many call “the place for the cool kids to hang out,” so expect a full-service casino run by the Mohegan Tribe, an Elia Shack Beach Club with live music inspired by the cosmopolitan Greek island of Mykonos and live music venues energized by Branson’s original Virgin Music label.
When it comes to history, Westgate Las Vegas is part of the city’s golden history. It opened as the International Hotel, where Elvis Presley created the idea of a “Vegas residence” for musicians by performing 636 shows over a seven-year period (while living in one of the suites French windows on the top floor). Today, The Westgate is where Barry Manilow carries on this star-studded musical tradition. From Liberace to Barbra Streisand, Reba McEntire to Wayne Newton, this has long been the place for top artists to perform. There’s also a full casino and sportsbook as well as a comedy club, magician’s theatre, luxury spa, swimming pools and plenty of dining choices – all of which make Westgate’s current incarnation as interesting as its past.