Robert Arends

Winning! Chic New Viejas Hotel Opens in East County

Viejas Casino and Resort
Viejas Casino and Resort

Viejas Casino & Resort

Yours truly was invited to the grand opening of the new Viejas Hotel, located in the rolling foothills of Alpine next door to Viejas Casino and across the street from the popular Viejas Outlets.

Their new name is Viejas Casino & Resort. Did you know: the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians becomes San Diego’s fifth tribe to open a hotel connected to its casino.

The shindig will include a ribbon cutting, traditional Kumeyaay songs and a Native American blessing, and sneak peek of “Rise,” a dramatic new Cirque-style show that premieres at the hotel this Saturday, followed by a spectacular fireworks display. I can’t wait!

What to Expect at the New Viejas Hotel

Rendering of chic new Viejas Hotel

Rendering of chic new Viejas Hotel

The sophisticatedly modern $36 million hotel is 5 stories high and features 128 rooms (including 29 suites), a pool and hot tub with cabanas (SO SoCal!), state-of-the-art fitness center, free Internet/WiFi, and an expanded all-you-can-eat buffet next door. Each room has 40″ Samsung TVs, locally made furniture and art, nightly turn down service, his and her robes (nice touch!), iPod clock radios and Gilchrist & Soames bath and body products. Some suites even include fireplaces, tubs with whirlpool jets (just say ahhh!) and wet bars (I’ll toast to that 😉 ).

Rendering of Presidential Suite at Viejas Hotel

Rendering of Presidential Suite at Viejas Hotel

A few months back I explored the model guestrooms and I’ve got to say, they’re swanky, warm and inviting, with a metropolitan touch that reminds me of chic boutique hotels in Manhattan. There’s nothing else like it in these parts!

More to do near Viejas Casino & Resort

This spring as you explore the wildflowers of East County, stop by Viejas Casino & Resort to play the slots, shop 60 name-brand outlet stores, indulge at the buffet and rest your head for a memorable overnight stay amidst the beautiful backdrop of Alpine’s rural setting.

Insider tip: While you’re there, pick up a $5 bag of fresh avocados or oranges from one of the roadside vendors!

Sage & Songbirds Festival - Butterflies

Butterfly releases at Sage & Songbirds Festival.

And planning ahead… Time your visit to also check out Alpine’s 16th Annual Sage & Songbirds Garden Tour on May 3-5, featuring a free festival at Viejas Outlets that includes a live butterfly exhibit and daily butterfly releases, plus an outdoor plant and art sale. There will also be garden tours of local bird- and butterfly-friendly home gardens and the Sky Hunters raptor rehabilitation facility, home to magnificent hawks, owls and other bird of prey. Cost for the gardens/Sky Hunters tour is $15 per person before April 1.


Top Things this Spring in San Diego

Coronado Beach
Coronado Beach

Spring into Coronado Beach, the #1 beach in America

Spring is a time of longer days, warmer temps and renewed energies – it is also the perfect time take your lightened heart and visit San Diego, where springtime activities abound. From desert blooms to Zoo babies, San Diego is certain to enliven your spirit this spring.

Spring Babies at the Attractions

Spring's New Babies at San Diego Attractions

Say hello to Xiao Liwu at the San Diego Zoo.

Come meet the newest and cutest additions at San Diego’s attractions, including the new baby killer whale at SeaWorld San Diego, the Chinese Giant Panda cub Xiao Liwu at the San Diego Zoo and Kayode, a southern white rhino at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

> See what else is going on at San Diego attractions this Spring

Let’s Go Padres!

San Diego Padres at PETCO Park

Catch the San Diego Padres at PETCO Park. Photo courtesy of Mark Whitt.

Root for the San Diego Padres this spring on April 9 when they play the Los Angeles Dodgers at the state-of-the-art downtown Petco Ballpark for the beginning of the six-month season of Major League Baseball. Make it a night and start or end the evening at one of the numerous bars and restaurants surrounding the park in downtown’s famous Gaslamp Quarter and East Village.

Warmer Waters

Kayakers in La Jolla

Take to San Diego’s waters this Spring

As the mercury rises, it’s time to get out to San Diego’s 70 miles of beach and enjoy any number of water activities. Learn how to surf through private or group lessons with Surf Diva Surf School, located on La Jolla Shores. Kayaking through La Jolla’s famous 7 caves is another great opportunity for spring. Choose from one of the many companies offering tours, including OEX La Jolla, La Jolla Kayak, or Hike Bike Kayak Sports La Jolla, or try out the newest craze in watersports, Stand Up Paddleboarding with OEX La Jolla or Surf Diva.

> Get outdoors in San Diego this Spring

Fields of Flowers

Anza-Borrego Desert Wildflower Season

Spectacular Anza-Borrego Desert wildflowers!

San Diego’s mild winters lend themselves to early and bountiful flower blooms around the county. Check out the wild flower blooms happening in San Diego’s Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, just east of San Diego, or head up to the sea of giant ranunculus flowers at the Flower Fields of Carlsbad California, open March 1 – May 5, 2013.

> See more Spring wildflowers in San Diego

What are you looking forward to doing in San Diego this Spring? Tell us in the comments below.

Brent Bernasconi

Top Things to Do in San Diego: February 7-10, 2013

LIttle Italy Carnevale - Top Things to Do in San Diego

It’s never too early to start planning your weekend celebration. From frisky nighttime parties to relaxing strolls through wildflower, here are our top things to do in San Diego this weekend that are sure to please a variety friends and family.

Little Italy Carnevale

LIttle Italy Carnevale - Top Things to Do in San Diego

Celebrate Carnevale Venetian Style at the family friendly Little Italy Carnevale

Revel in a Venetian style Carnevale celebration in San Diego’s Little Italy. The 10th Annual Little Italy Carnevale is a family-friendly event with plenty of fun including live music and dancing, stilt-walkers, art and mask-making for kids, as well as great Italian food.

Where: India Street between W. Fir and W. Cedar Streets (Downtown)
When: February 9, 2013
Time: 5:00 to 9:00 PM
Cost: Free
> Find out more about Little Italy Carnevale

Wildflowers in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Anza-Boreggo Desert State Park Wildflowers

Wildflowers in the Anza-Boreggo Desert State Park

The chance of showers on Friday means the chance to see the wildflowers bloom in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park on Saturday and Sunday! Make sure to call the 24-hour “Wildflower Hotline” at 760-767-4684 to get an update before heading out.

Where: Visitor Center – 200 Palm Canyon Dr, Borrego Springs, CA 92004 (East County)
When: Through April
Time: Dawn to Dusk
Cost: Free
> Find out more about the Wildflowers in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

The Red Ball 2013 – A Chinese New Year Celebration

The Red Ball 2013 - A Chinese New Year Celebration

Don’t forget to wear red to ring in the Chinese New Year!

Ring in Chinese New Year in style! As we bid farewell to the Year of the Dragon and welcome the Year of the Snake, guests are invited to dress in red and re-do New Year’s Eve with an official countdown at midnight to kick off the Lunar New Year, live music, DJs, tapas, cocktails and more.

Where: The Grand Del Mar – 5200 Grand Del Mar Way, Del Mar, CA 92130 (North County Coastal)
When: February 9, 2013
Time: 7:00 PM to 2:00 AM
Cost: Complimentary admission. Priority entry with Bottle Service, starting at $180.
> Find out more about The Red Ball 2013 – A Chinese New Year Celebration

Brazil Carnival Mardi Gras 2013

Brazil Carnival Mardi Gras - Top Things to Do in San Diego

Brazil comes to San Diego during this Carnival Mardi Gras!

Rich in beauty and color, the Brazil Carnival Mardi Gras presents a “Spectacular Samba Show” featuring dancers in glittering costumes adorned in sequins, beads and feathers accompanied by percussionists playing the authentic Batucada rhythms of Rio de Janeiro, even more carnival bands, capoeira, parades, and Mardi Gras beads!

Where: San Diego Museum of Art – 1450 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92108 (Downtown)
When: February 9, 2013
Time: 8:30 PM to 1:30 AM
Cost: $25-$99
> Find out more about Brazil Carnival Mardi Gras 2013

Ray at Night

Ray at Night in San Diego's North Park

Art, food, music and more at Ray at Night in San Diego’s North Park.

Join local artists, gallery owners, and hipsters alike during this fun, family friendly evening of art and creativity, music and food. Artwork on display includes paintings, sketches, sculptures, ceramics, blown glass, organic art and jewelry. Entertainment runs the gamut from jazz, blues and cultural music to poetry readings and performances by dance groups.

Where: Ray Street, between University Avenue and North Park Way (Downtown)
When: February 9, 2013
Time: 6:00 to 9:00 PM
Cost: Free
> Find out more about Ray at Night

San Diego Padres Fan Fest

Top Things to Do - San Diego Padres Fan Fest

Get ready for the 2013 season with Padres FanFest presented by State Farm. Meet the players, play on the field, get some tips on your pitching and hitting, buy unique padres gear, see what goes into opening day, and more.

Where: Petco Park – 100 Park Boulevard, San Diego, CA 92101 (Downtown)
When: February 9, 2013
Time: 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM
Cost: Free
> Find out more about San Diego Padres Fan Fest

San Diego Winter Brew Fest

Start off the weekend with The San Diego Winter Brew Fest and celebrate craft beverages from around California and beyond with live local music, food, and other vendors.

Where: Broadway Pier – 1000 North Harbor Drive, San Diego, CA 92101 (Downtown)
When: February 8, 2013
Time: 6:00 to 10:00 PM
Cost: $40-$60
> Find out more about San Diego Winter Brew Fest

> Browse more top things to do on the San Diego Event Calendar

Know of some other top things to do this weekend? Let everyone know in the comments below.


Spring Fun in San Diego

Anza-Boreggo Desert State Park Wildflowers

Springtime in San Diego makes a colorful entrance every year as warm weather sweeps through the County and brilliant flowers bloom. There are also spring celebrations at the region’s major attractions and enough festivals, fairs and events to keep visitors entertained throughout the season. Be sure to get outdoors and enjoy the beautiful San Diego Spring weather!

Anza-Boreggo Desert State Park Wildflowers

Wildflowers in the Anza-Boreggo Desert State Park

Floral Celebrations

A spectacular display of color occurs annually between February and April in the 600,000-acre Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in San Diego’s East County as wildflowers bejewel the sun-scorched desert landscape. Guests are advised to call the Park’s 24-hour “Wildflower Hotline” at 760-767-4684 before planning a tour of the desert flora.

At the Flower Fields of Carlsbad California, a vibrant sea of giant ranunculus flowers transforms 50 acres of hills into rows of brilliant color. During March through May, guests can stroll past oceans of flowers and through beautiful gardens, including a miniature rose garden, fragrant sweet pea maze, a garden featuring more than 50 All American Rose Selection winners and a spectacular display of red, white and blue flowers planted in the shape of a giant American flag.

Balboa Park‘s Offshoot Tours provides free, one-hour tours that highlight the park’s lush botanical offerings; the tours begin at 10:00 am on Saturdays in front of the Balboa Park Visitors Center. Must-sees are the beautiful Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden, displaying approximately 2,500 roses of nearly 200 varieties, and the award-winning Alcazar Garden, with a floral design patterned after the gardens of Alcazar Castle in Seville, Spain.

San Diego Zoo Safari Park's Butterfly Jungle

Butteryfly Jungle Photo courtesy of San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Springtime Attractions

Guests can celebrate spring with Shamu and friends during Spring into Night at SeaWorld San Diego. During weekends in spring, exact dates TBA, visitors can laugh with sea lions Clyde and Seamore at the Sea Lions Tonite! nighttime show and be amazed at the visually stunning evening performance of Shamu Rocks before looking to the sky for a fantastic fireworks show.

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park presents Butterfly Jungle, March 24 – April 15. During this four-week celebration, guests can walk through the Park’s Hidden Jungle, an African aviary, and surround themselves with thousands of butterflies of every shape, size and color.

Seaport Village Spring Busker Festival

Seaport Village Spring Busker Festival. Photo courtesy of Boardwalk Betty

Festivals, Fairs and Events

Seaport Village comes alive with a celebration of street performers during the Spring Busker Festival, March 24 – 25. In a battle of entertainment, extraordinary, one-of-a-kind performers including jugglers, sword swallowers, comedic stuntmen and Didgeridoo players take to Seaport Village’s cobblestone streets for a weekend of outdoor family amusement.

The La Jolla Concours d’Elegance, sponsored by the La Jolla Historical Society, takes place April 1 in Scripps Park near La Jolla Cove and draws droves of classic car enthusiasts.

The city of Fallbrook in San Diego’s North County celebrates its designation as “the avocado capital of the world” during the Annual Fallbrook Avocado Festival on April 15. Highlights include arts and crafts, games and creative foods featuring the delicious, green fruit.

Tell us in the comments, what are you looking most forward to this spring in San Diego?

Robert Arends

Spring to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park for Sensational Hikes

Font's Point
Font's Point

I'm on top of the world! Font's Point

I recently laced up my hiking shoes and trekked through Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (located 2 hours east of San Diego) to discover some of the most pristine, untouched wilderness in Southern California, including Clark Dry Lake bed, winding slot canyons and phenomenal vistas from Font’s Point, “California’s Grand Canyon” (RV Life).

Borrego Springs Desert Wildflowers

Anza-Borrego Desert wildflowers

Spring is the perfect time to visit the park for a few hikes. The temps are pleasantly warm (in the 70s) and desert wildflowers begin to bloom in the canyons and washes (though the winter rains weren’t very plentiful this year). Desert cacti are generally dependable performers through late March.

If you’re a first-timer to this arid, breathtakingly beautiful part of San Diego County, I highly recommend hooking up with California Overland whose knowledgeable guides will take you deep into the park’s hidden, less-accessible areas aboard 4-wheeel drive vehicles. It’s a thrilling “E-ticket ride” as you rumble across scenic landscapes through rugged Badlands.

Slot Canyon near the Calcite Mine

One stop along the way that offers incredible hiking is a magnificent Slot Canyon just off the S-22 by a former Calcite Mine (in the Font’s Point North Sector of the park). It’s a relatively easy hike with phenomenal photo ops at every twist and turn of the terrain. This is nature’s cathedral with towering peaks and boulder outcroppings, creating a peaceful almost Zen-like silence that’s only broken by occasional birds singing overhead.

Font's Point - "California's Grand Canyon!"

Font's Point - "California's Grand Canyon!"

Southwest of slot canyon is another hiking highlight: Font’s Point. The trek up to this unparalleled precipice from the parking area is short and sweet and so worth it! The views are seemingly endless to the Salton Sea and Mexico to the east, the entire Borrego valley and surrounding mountains. You could easily spend an hour gazing in awe at the formations below. Word of warning: There are no fences at the overlook so be very cautious with every step and don’t get too close to the edge.

Roadrunner at the Anza-Borrego Visitor Center

Beep beep! Roadrunner at the Anza-Borrego Visitor Center

For novices (and those who would rather not off-road to the two hiking spots above) there’s a very easy nature trail that loops around the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Visitor Center (200 Palm Canyon Dr.). See cacti (the Ocotillo is my favorite with its crimson red flowers!), palm trees and other flora up-close, as well as lizards sunning on rocks and the occasional roadrunner darting to and fro! Like Font’s Point, this trail offers sensational vantage points of the valley and mountains. Definitely bring your camera!

Flowering Ocotillo at Anza-Borrego Visitor Center

Flowering Ocotillo at Anza-Borrego Visitor Center

Tell us or show us in the comments below, what is your favorite thing about the Anza-Boreggo Desert State Park…

Robert Arends

Wordless Wednesday

Well, maybe just a few words…

South of the Coronado peninsula is a world of wonder just a bit off the beaten path with an abundance of wildflowers and tideland creatures.

Can you guess where this is?

Robert Arends

3 Tried and True Backcountry Adventures

Joy is in the journey! Ne’er so true in San Diego’s scenic East County where wild and wonderful adventure tours await. From gold mine trains to desert off-roading to flights into the wild blue yonder, following are three sure bets to put some “spring” in your sightseeing:

Mine a good time at Smith Ranch in Julian.

  1. Make tracks… For the Smith Ranch Train Rides in Julian! Just in time for the town’s big annual Daffodil Show (March 26-27), pioneers of all ages can enjoy a one-mile train ride up the mountain and through the blooming backcountry. Afterward, explore an authentic 1870 gold rush mine (climb into one of the mine cars for an unforgettable ride!), and then try your hand panning for gold!  
  2. Wheel good time… California Overland is roughing it at its finest, especially venturing deep into the vast (600,000 acres!) untamed landscape of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park – “one of the most pristine desert parks in the world” (National Geographic). Hop board their open-air military vehicle for an unforgettable wildflower tour, as you discover hidden palm oases, slot canyons, wind caves, Native-American pictographs, historic ruins, stark Badlands, ancient fossil reefs, dry lake beds and breathtaking vistas {whew!}. Travel + Leisure Magazine-approved! 

    Go wild with California Overland!

  3. Fly like an eagle…  Just west of Borrego in Warner Springs, grab some serious air with Sky Sailing where your heart will soar high as the birds as you hitch a ride on a sail plane (also called a glider)! It’s the ultimate adrenaline rush and the views of pine peaked mountains and the desert floor in the distance are out of this world!

    Hip to the height with Sky Sailing.


10 Reasons to Visit San Diego in 2011

10 to Try in 2011Ready or not, the New Year is upon us and so, I’ve put together my list of 10 reasons to visit San Diego in 2011.

In no particular order…

  1. A World Premiere: This February, the La Jolla Playhouse brings us the World Premiere of Little Miss Sunshine.  This new musical based on the Academy Award-winning film, is sure to be outrageously funny (if not Broadway bound?), as it follows the Hoover family on a cross-country trek to a children’s beauty pageant where they hope their bad luck will change as the youngest daughter, Olive, chases the coveted title of “Little Miss Sunshine.” 
  2. Fabulous Food: The Nation’s Restaurant News released their list of dining trends for 2011 and among the top was locally grown ingredients, locally sourced meat and seafood and sustainability. How did San Diego restaurants respond? Check, check and check!  Stop by The Linkery, Sea Rocket Bistro and A.R. Valentien to see what I mean.
  3. RC 44 San Diego Cup: The NASCAR of all boating events will speed into San Diego in March for the first time ever! The RC44San Diego Cup highlights the world’s best sailors as they compete in high-performance boat races along San Diego Bay. 
  4. New Attractions: This summer, SeaWorld will debut Sea Turtle Bay, a new attraction all about sea turtles. Highlights will include Turtle Reef, a 300,000-gallon aquarium with a massive, a ride where you spin in boats on a sea turtle rescue mission and much more.  Also, stay tuned for news about BIG changes to come at LEGOLAND
  5. New Flight: I dedicate this one to our friends in the UK – In June, British Airways will offer daily, nonstop flights between from London’s Heathrow Airport and San Diego.
  6. Five Diamond Properties: That’s right; we’ve got some top dogs here in San Diego that are waiting to wine and dine visitors. Three hotels and one restaurant were recently awarded 2011 AAA Five Diamond Awards, the highest rating possible from the American Automobile Association and the most coveted symbol of excellence in the hospitality industry. Congratulations to: The Lodge at Torrey Pines, Park Hyatt Aviara Resort, The Grand Del Mar and its signature restaurant, Addison.
  7. Weather or Not: In Travel + Leisure’s recent America’s Favorite Cities Reader Poll, San Diego was voted the #1 destination for Best Weather. We also scored #2 for Most Athletic/Active People; #2 for Most Attractive People; #3  destination for Best Time to Visit – Spring Break and #4 destination for Best Time to Visit –  Summer. Check us out! 
  8. Centennial of Naval Aviation: In February, Coronado’s North Island Naval Air Station and San Diego Bay will celebrate the 100th anniversary of naval aviation and the first-ever flight of a Navy aircraft. The special event will include Navy ship tours, aircraft exhibits, music, food vendors and a large flyover in the afternoon featuring over 200 vintage aircraft.
  9. Wildflowers That Wow: San Diego has had the rainiest winter that I’ve seen in years! While that disrupted my wintertime summer dress wearing, it does mean that our famous wildflower display will be bursting with blossoms this spring.  If you want to see a natural phenomenon, head over to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park to see colorful wildflowers bejewel the desert landscape; make sure to double check the status of the wildflowers prior to your visit by calling the Park’s 24-hour “Wildflower Hotline” at 760-767-4684.
  10. Baby Animals Galore– Who doesn’t love to ooh and ahh at the sight of cute and cuddly little creatures? In 2010, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park welcomed a variety of calves, cubs and cutie pies, including newborn tigers, cheetah, rhino, zebra, giraffe and four elephants!  Come by the Safari Park to congratulate the new moms and watch these little guys grow.