Floating 5,200 feet above ground in a basket with 15 other people is not how I usually spend Saturday mornings. As we pulled up to the open field in Temecula, California, before 6 a.m. and I watched a large red balloon to inflate to the equivalent of an 11-story building, I wasn’t sure why I had committed to this excursion. Once the initial anxiety wore off, I was able to enjoy the calm ride and serene views of the vineyards below and surrounding mountains.
As I learned on the Pechanga Resort Casino FAM trip, this hot balloon adventure is just one of the many off- and on-site experiences groups can chose from at the resort.
Pechanga Resort Casino is located in Temecula, which is 60 miles north east of San Diego and one of Southern California’s largest wine growing regions. I spent the weekend at the property taking in the new amenities thanks to the $300 million expansion that wrapped up earlier this year.
The resort, owned and operated by the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians and first opened in 2002, debuted its 568-room Resort Tower, Spa Pechanga, a 4.5-acre pool complex, new restaurants and an additional 68,000 square feet of meeting space, making it the largest casino resort on the West Coast.
When I arrived after the hour drive from San Diego I took advantage of the complimentary valet service, headed to the front desk and was quickly in my Resort Tower room. I then realized, I never saw the casino floor and almost forgot this was a gaming destination. The new function space is also located in the Resort Tower, while the 200,000-square-foot casino, additional restaurants, bars and entertainment venues are located in the 522-room Casino Tower, just on the other side of the brand-new lobby.
It’s the best of both worlds and gives attendees and guests the option to have a resort experience, a Vegas-like casino experience or a combination of both.
The fam started Friday evening with a Taste of Pechanga reception at The Cove, the new pool complex. Food from the resort’s 13 restaurants, wines from Calloway, a local vineyard and winery, and an impressive dessert station provided fuel to get the weekend started. We also got a taste of the new spa with an Aromatherapy Bar where we got to curate our own body oil or body cream. The night ended with laughs at Pechanga’s own Comedy Club located a level below the casino floor.
On Saturday, after our early morning wake-up call and my first hot air balloon ride, I toured the expansive property. There was a beer festival setting up in the 40,000-square-foot Pechanga Summit ballroom, giving us a look at the flexibility of the space. In March 2018, Steve Tyler played the Expansion Grand Opening in this same room. There are bleachers hidden in one wall that can be used to for concerts and the second floor terrace overlooking the room is often used as a VIP area. Pechanga Summit can be divided into five separate rooms and has ample prefunction space outside the doors.
The resort also boasts an Event Lawn, another, nearly 24,000-square-foot ballroom, and additional meeting and event venues provide a total of 274,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor space.
At the standalone, two-story Spa Pechanga, I enjoyed a few relaxing minutes by the facility’s own pool before indulging in a 50-minute message. I could have easily spent the whole day there, but lunch poolside at The Cove was calling. Coveside Grill overlooks the adults-only pool and adjacent is the all-ages pool with two waterslides and water features—topping off the resort’s family-friendly options.
As a “foodie,” I was pleasantly surprised by my culinary experience at Pechanga. I knew there was a diverse array of restaurants with all types of cuisines on-property, but I wasn’t expecting the level of service and quality of food I received. Especially impressive was the Lobby Bar & Grill, and its name doesn’t do it justice. Set in the first level of the Resort Tower, the new restaurant and bar’s Californian-meets-Mediterranean menu includes Ahi Poke Cones, Kurobuta pork chops and two options for Steak & Frites, while the wine list is full of local and International bottles.
I also enjoyed brunch the next day at Journey’s End, located in the resort’s Golf Club. The restaurant, which overlooks part of the on-site championship 18-hole golf course, is open to all guests and the public for breakfast and lunch. After five in the evening, it can be used for private events and receptions, and is the resort’s most popular wedding venue.
In just a couple of days, I discovered a property and destination that is just an hour north of home but feels a world away. And now I can say I have been in a hot air balloon and not just survived, but actually kind of liked it.
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Pechanga Casino Resort