This past Saturday my partner and I had the full day to ourselves, which is a rarity. The typical conversation ensued, “So what do you want to do today?” How about visiting one of the state parks along the coast? Or going somewhere to take pictures? Then he said, “What about going to a casino?”
A casino? The idea had never crossed my mind as a daytime outing. But I was immediately game (pun unintended).
Living in Southern California, we are fortunate to be surrounded by a wide array of attractions and diversions. This is especially true of casinos. You just might be surprised to discover that within a 90-minute drive, a far cry from Las Vegas, you can find live entertainment, dance clubs, spa services, great dining, golf, trendy boutiques, and of course, gambling.
We narrowed our choices down to two: Morongo near Palm Springs or Pechanga in Temecula. Morongo didn’t have any entertainment that night so we opted for Pechanga.
Arriving around two in the afternoon, I was surprised how many people were there. The hotel and casino had been festively decorated in honor of Chinese New Year – Year of the Pig.
Cherry Blossom trees, oversized gold coins, enormous red money envelopes, and gigantic pigs could be found in front of the hotel and throughout. It brought an added sense of luck to the atmosphere.
My partner gave me a quick rundown on rules and strategy for Black Jack and Craps. He even printed out a cheat-sheet for me in Black Jack strategy.
I’ve only played Black Jack once, twenty years ago, and I lost so badly that the dealer, a cordial older woman, told me, “In the gift shop, there is a book on how to play Black Jack. Go buy that book because you are losing hands you shouldn’t be losing.”
But after a quick and underwhelming round of losses on the slot machines, I decided that was enough gambling for me. I felt like a rat in an experiment, hitting a button over-and-over in hopes of a treat. And I hate losing money. It doesn’t matter the amount, losing any money at all just makes me mad. Needless to say, I decided pretty early on that I would be a spectator for the rest of the day.
We meandered the labyrinthine pathways of the casino floor, the majority of which is dedicated to slot machines – every kind of slot machine imaginable. And if slots aren’t your thing (as I quickly found out for myself) then you’ve got Craps, Black Jack, Poker, Pai gow (a Chinese gambling game), and… wait for it… Bingo!
The Bingo and Poker rooms are on the second level of the casino and are worlds unto themselves. Going into the Bingo room was eerily disconcerting; you could hear a pin-drop. Our local library sounds like a frat party compared to the Bingo room. We looked at one another and walked out as if leaving a fog. Never would we have thought people could be so intense about B-I-N-G-O!
Within the Poker room, in its own separate room, you’ll find people betting on the ponies. At least a dozen screens crowd one wall, as all eyes stare fixedly on multiple horse races running simultaneously. It’s a fun challenge to keep track of them all.
Back down on the casino floor, we floated from one table to another until we found a table that looked “hot.” But after losing a couple of rounds on the Craps tables it was clear that he just missed the lucky streak.
For someone who isn’t into gambling, just taking in the whole room, people watching, following the games, and the characters crowding the tables is wholly entertaining.
The Black Jack table draws a colorful assortment of people, from your bar-flies to your hardened-faced gambling vets who never smile, to your brassy, outspoken ladies and their submissive men, to people like me and my guy, who are there to enjoy a fun afternoon.
One thing that casinos are great at is creating the illusion of perpetual night. There are no windows and once you are in the middle of the action, it is easy to lose track of time. Before I knew it, it was almost eight.
Pechanga is a beautifully designed hotel and casino (we were actually surprised at how nice it was) with impossibly high ceilings, elegant architecture, perfectly manicured grounds, and stunning water features right outside the wide array of restaurants.
A casino isn’t a casino without a buffet. And this casino is no different. People stand in endlessly long, zig-zagging lines for the buffet. There is also a nicely outfitted food court, where my partner was insistent that I try Dippin Dots – nitrogen-frozen iced-bits. If you are familiar with Pop Rocks candy then imagine eating something similar that is also unearthly cold. It’s the future of ice cream – so their slogan says.
Dining options will likely have your head spinning. The hotel’s assortment of restaurants is impressive. There’s Paisano’s which is Italian and offers dinner and a comedy show. Then there’s the steakhouse, The Great Oak Steakhouse, sushi at Umi Sushi & Oyster Bar, Kelsey’s for BBQ, and the list goes on. We opted for Blazing Noodles where they serve bountiful plates of delicious Chinese food. We ordered our favorite dishes to share: Orange Chicken and Pork Lo Mein. Everyone leaves with a doggy-bag. Be warned.
After finishing our delightful dinner, it was time for a quick change into evening attire. We were glad to have brought a change of clothes because the crowd waiting in line to go upstairs to the club were dressed to be seen. On Friday and Saturday nights their 13th floor transforms into the Eagle’s Nest dance club. I’m happy to report that once we got on the dance floor we didn’t leave it until it was time to go.
The d.j. spun such great music that the floor never emptied. He threw together every possible booty-shaker from hip-hop to salsa, reggaeton, R&B, and pulse-pounding remixes. It was enough to give just about everyone the “That’s my song!” moment. The crowd was culturally diverse and a great mix of ages, from Millennials to Gen-Xer’s and beyond.
Sometime around 1 a.m. we finally called it quits and while walking back to the car, I squeezed my guy’s hand and smiled, “Thanks for the great day. This was so much fun!”
There’s nothing like than being pleasantly surprised.
Pechanga Resort & Casino
45000 Pechanga Pkwy,
Temecula, CA 92592
© 2019 Tamara Jefferies, © 2019 Gary Augustyn – Imagined Photo
Writer and photographer couple, Tamara and Gary (respectively), are based in Long Beach, CA, and spend much of their free time taking photos and writing about the new places they discover together. Learn more about what they do at imaginedphoto.com and tamarajefferies.com.