If your first love is a night donating money to the local Native American tribe, a number of casinos outside the city proper can hook you up.
A few miles east of San Diego, two casinos offer a good time. Club Sycuan (5469 Casino Way, El Cajon, 619/445-6002, www.sycuan.com) sits in the suburb of El Cajon. This casino and resort offers fun for all comers, with a hotel, several restaurants (including a buffet), a golf course, tennis courts, and gaming floors.
At Club Sycuan, you’ll find thousands of slot machines, plus an array of table games including blackjack, pai gow poker, mini-baccarat, roulette, and craps. You can also enjoy the tension of the Bingo Palace and the smoke-free atmosphere of the Poker Room. Vegas-style stage acts entertain weary gamers and golfers in the evening.
Nope, that’s not a Back East boarding school. That big, classically styled building east of La Jolla is actually the Barona Valley Ranch Resort and Casino (1932 Wildcat Canyon Rd., San Diego, 619/443-2300, www.barona.com). This upscale resort brings a touch of class to the Las Vegas–style casino. Stay in the large, posh hotel (that’s the big building), eat dinner at the Steakhouse or the Buffet and grab lunch at the noodle house, pamper yourself in the day spa or out at the pool, or play around at the Barona Creek Golf Club.
Finally, hit the casino for plenty of up-to-date loose slots plus 70 table games, including craps, roulette, cash baccarat, and much more. You can also hang out in the poker room, or play the ponies at the off-track betting parlor.
While no casinos grace the North County coastline, if you’re vacationing in Del Mar or Encinitas, gaming possibilities lurk only a few miles east. You’ll find part of the ever-popular Harrah’s (777 Harrah’s Rincon Way, Valley Center, 877/777-2457, www.harrahsrincon.com) chain off Highway 76 northeast of Oceanside. The typical Harrah’s tower rises high over the tiny town of Valley Center, offering over 600 hotel rooms, nine different eateries (including an oyster bar, a buffet, and a coffee house), and a full-service spa.
The gaming rooms offer hundreds of slots, a World Series of Poker room, and plenty of table games, including craps, roulette bingo, and blackjack. To cool off in the heat of summer, rent a cabana or pull up a chaise lounge at the gorgeous two-tiered pool.
Yet another large, blocky, luxurious casino, the Pala Casino Resort and Spa (11154 Hwy. 76, Pala, 877/946-7252, www.palacasino.com) dominates the landscape on hot, dry Highway 76 east of Oceanside. The dining options are especially fine here; you can get entertainment with your meal at Mama’s Cucina Italia, a casual Asian meal at Noodles, all you can eat at the Terrace Buffet, or elegance at The Oak Room.
Entertainment also comes big at the Pala, with two large theaters (one indoor, one outdoor), a lounge, and an event center. In the casino proper, you’ll find the largest array of new slot machines in the area, plus more than 80 table games. A high-limit room offers fun for high rollers, and a smoke-free room provides relief for sensitive noses who still want to play.
© Liz Hamill Scott from Moon California, 2nd Edition