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.

Robert Arends

Three “Wild” Adventures in East County

Paws up! Make treks to San Diego’s rustic East County for up-close encounters of the wild animal kind.

Three one-of-a-kind animal sanctuaries top my must-see list – each sure to become as synonymous with San Diego as our world-famous Zoo and Safari Park.

Harris Hawk at Sky Hunters!

1. I recently discovered Sky Hunters, a preserve for our fine-feathered friends near Alpine, dedicated to teaching folks about raptors/birds of prey and caring for and rehabilitating sick, injured and orphaned raptors. Owner Nancy Conney (also an instructor at the San Diego Natural History Museum) and her team look after 20 non-releasable raptors, including hawks and owls. They also work with as many as 300 “rehab raptors” each year, including barn owl babies that fall out of their owl boxes and palm trees.

Barn owl at Sky Hunters.

Sky Hunters is open to the public for tours on Saturdays and Sundays from 12 noon until 4:00 pm. Reservations are required and can be made by calling 619-445-6565 or emailing skyhunters@juno.com. Visitor safety tip: Stay at least three feet back from the cages.

Roaring good times at Lions, Tigers & Bears!

2. Also located in Alpine is Lions, Tigers & Bears (oh my! Couldn’t resist…), a safe haven for lions, tigers, bears and other abandoned and unwanted exotic animals. BIG news: They’re adding two new black bears named Delilah and Blossom (become a Bear BFF!) to their family of 13 big cats and a black bear named Liberty. Two fall events coming up include a Wild Nights Camp Over with the Cats on September 23-24 and Wine Tasting Dinner under the stars on October 1. You can also spend a safari-themed overnight at their luxe bed & breakfast inn, White Oak Wild Nights.

Call 619-659-8078 to make a reservation to visit LTB; visiting hours are twice a week and just about every Saturday.

Howling good times at the California Wolf Center!

3. The California Wolf Center, located near Julian, offers visitors a thrilling opportunity to view packs of Alaskan gray wolves and endangered Mexican gray wolves while learning about their history, biology and behavior. They’re magnificent creatures and surprisingly timid and inquisitive. You could spend a couple hours just watching them play and explore their enclosures. Visitor tip: Schedule a visit in the morning when they’re most active. Click here for a public tour; private tours available too.

For REALLY up-close encounters inside the wolf enclosures(!), schedule an exciting Photo Tour.

Now that’s something to howl about!