Tucked between the sprawling wine country of Temecula (a California city 60 minutes north of San Diego) and the foothills of Palomar Mountain State Park, Pechanga Resort Casino shines like a sleek mirage in the desert. But this glass-clad tower isn’t a figment of your imagination — its 200,000-square-foot gaming floor, verdant golf course and 4.5-acre pool complex are quite real.
While it’s easy to get caught up in the jackpot-winning excitement, this Forbes Travel Guide Recommended retreat also makes for an ultra-luxe escape outside of the casino floor, if you know where to look. The next time you find yourself in Southern California, head for the bright lights of the hotel to indulge in these five exclusive experiences.
The Great Oak Cultural Tour
Long before there was a Pechanga Resort Casino, this part of Southern California was home to the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians. Subtle nods to this history can be found throughout the property — traditionally patterned floor tiles and displays containing hand-woven baskets adorn the newly expanded lobby — but for a deeper dive into the tribe’s heritage, ask about the under-the-radar cultural tour.
Only open to the first 20 people who sign up the day of the walk (advance registration isn’t available), this unique monthly experience takes you on a guided tour of some normally off-limits parts of the Pechanga reservation, including the former home of mystery writer Erle Stanley Gardner, the Perry Mason author who lived here between 1938 and his death in 1970.
But the highlight of the insider tour (outings are generally led by Pechanga cultural coordinator and tribe member Paul Macarro) is a visit to Wi’áaşal (The Great Oak). This immense coastal live oak is considered sacred by the Pechanga and it’s easy to see why — the nearly 100-foot-tall tree is estimated to be between 1,500 and 2,200 years old.
The beams of sunlight streaming through the canopy make for incredible photos, but be sure to watch your step while you snap. The tiny saplings that sprout from the oak’s acorns are considered equally as significant.
Volatile Tasting at The Great Oak Steakhouse
When you’re craving prime cuts and a sublime wine list, look no further than this classic white-tablecloth-clad steakhouse just off the casino floor. While the dimly lit dining room makes for an exceptional evening, it’s the private space just past the leather banquettes that ups the ante.
Usually reserved for high rollers, CEOs on corporate retreats and couples, the Volatile Tasting is part epicurean experience, part science experiment. Watch as resort executive chef Duane Owen prepares tasty appetizers using molecular gastronomy — during our visit, we sampled a deliciously gelatinous ball of tomato juice and vodka served over a morsel of celery — followed by more substantial bites artfully presented on unique utensils.
These specially made spoons feature a compartment for essential oils, allowing you to smell one flavor while savoring another, effectively changing the way your brain perceives the taste — a much more enticing take on high school chemistry.
You might try a mouthful of tender lamb while smelling mint or enjoy a seared scallop coupled with the scent of habanero. A sip of grapefruit-infused tonic between each bite keeps your palate cleansed.
The menu is customizable, but we recommend leaving the flavor-fragrance pairings to the experts.
Manicure Cart by Dazzle Dry
One of the newest additions to the Temecula resort, The Cove is a picturesque paradise with 27 cabanas, five whirlpools and a 7,600-square-foot, adults-only pool complete with a swim-up bar and waterside day beds. With its mountain views and year-round sunny weather, this oasis makes it easy to while away the day.
Luckily, you don’t have to lift a finger to enjoy a little poolside pampering, thanks to Four-Star Spa Pechanga’s brand-new Manicure Cart by Dazzle Dry. Simply book your appointment and the portable nail station comes to you, stocked with a rainbow of Dazzle Dry polishes and cold-pressed coconut oil used to massage your hands and arms into sweet-smelling relaxation.
Tip: Don’t spend too much time in the pool after your manicure. While the nontoxic, quick-drying lacquers are long lasting, the chlorine can cause your newly painted nails to chip.
Aromatherapy Bar by Body Bliss
If you’re in need of more personalized attention, head for the main spa building (adjacent to the pool) for a spin at the aromatherapy bar.
With the help of an app developed by organic essential oil brand Body Bliss, you can customize your own fragrance based on your mood, power number (your birthday) or by picking your favorite scent and adding complementary oils to create a unique smell. The final product comes in either a carry-on-sized shea butter or roller-ball stick — either is a convenient way for you to take a little piece of your vacation home with you.
While you’re here, be sure to indulge in the spa’s fabulous facilities, from the light-filled relaxation lounge to the private outdoor pool and waterfall-enhanced hot tub.
Private Golf Lessons
The resort’s gorgeous 18-hole golf course, Journey at Pechanga, is the stuff greens dreams are made of, right down to the high-tech golf carts equipped with GPS ball-to-pin positioning.
Practice your swing in style with a private lesson. Rather than hitting balls alongside other links lovers on a driving range, you’ll be swept to your own secluded setup. Besides the PGA-certified pro helping you improve your handicap, the session consists of an oversized umbrella, chairs and a full set of clubs.
Once you’ve perfected your game (or are just ready for a break), head back to the spectacular 62,000-square-foot, Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired clubhouse to peruse golf gear in the Pro Shop or grab a light lunch and a cocktail on the patio of course-side restaurant Journey’s End.