An 8-pool complex and two-story spa/fitness center anchors expansion

The spa is a wonderful addition to the Pechanga Resort

The Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula has been a favorite site to occasionally visit throughout our ACES Golf journey.

We had the pleasure of playing Journey at Pechanga, its outstanding 18-hole golf course, shortly after it opened in 2009.  We’ve been back three times since and drove over from Carlsbad to check out  the huge expansion of the resort as well as the Temecula Creek Inn property that the tribe purchased in 2018 in March.  The 305-acre site of Temecula Creek is next to the reservation and includes 27 holes of golf plus 125 guest rooms and a restaurant.

View from tee on hillside No 6. From right: San Jacinto Peak (Palm Springs to east), San Bernadino Mountains, Mt. Baldy

We played Journey the morning after our spa treatment. As with Northern California, Temecula and Southern California in general had been slammed by heavy rainfall and snow in the mountains. There already have been more than 16 inches of rain this year in Temecula compared to 9 inches last year and under 6 inches the prior year.

Those back-to-back low rainfall years resulted in cutbacks in irrigation that the Bermuda fairways tolerated. They take less water and are ideal for play most of the year. The dormant fairways were brown and surrounded by lush rough that had been over-seeded for the winter. The resort irrigates with recycled water, but still needed to reduce its quantity according to Superintendent Mario Ramirez.

The look with the green surrounding the brown contrasts to the approach in the Coachella Valley where dormant Bermuda rough surrounds over-seeded green fairways. Pechanga has over-seeded the Bermuda in the past and now is considering using pigment to paint the fairways in the winter, a technique used by the nearby La Costa Resort in Carlsbad as well as historic Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina.

No. 5 features stream guarding the green over a lake

With all of the rain this year, the course was saturated so when we played carts were confined to the path—a prudent decision with water coming out of the hills around the course.

The big difference in the original casino/resort is its huge $300 million 2018 expansion with meeting rooms, another theater, a spa and a second hotel tower. That included 60,000 feet of meeting space and a new 3,000-seat theater to complement the existing 1,200-seat facility located off the sprawling casino floor.  It’s now quite a hike from the check-in at the original hotel to the new tower. The Pechanga Band of  Indians own and operate the sprawling facility on its reservation.

Spiral staircase at center of spa

The original spa was constructed by converting hotel rooms when management recognized there was a need for these services. By contrast, the new  space is 25,000 square-feet with luxurious locker rooms (spa, steam, sauna and showers) for men and women plus 17 treatment rooms. The rooms are state-of-the-art: it’s the first time I’ve been on a massage table that is electrically powered to change heights as well as move a client into a partial  or complete seated position. They’re also heated. There’s also a big fitness center available to hotel guests 24-7.

My bride and I enjoyed separate relaxation massages. We were individually escorted to the locker rooms, given a quick tour and then changed into a wonderful terry-cloth lined robe and spa sandals. The locker room had a nice lounge with two big screen televisions for relaxing after the session.

The treatment rooms are on the second floor. There’s another nicely appointed co-ed relaxation area where you meet your therapist and then relax after the massage. Bottled water, water flavored with cucumbers and other fruit, coffee and tea are available along with fresh berries and grapes, nuts, raisins and chocolate-covered nuts.

Relaxing music is played through speakers in that area as well as in the treatment rooms. The spa menu is extensive. Seven types of massages are offered plus two couples’ massages in rooms specifically designed for that. The signature massage experience is the Great Oak that uses native botanical tree of life oil, salt stones on the back and leads into a full-body massage finished with a rosemary mint reflexology foot massage. The Great Oak is the signature of the resort.

Thinking about the two hours we spent there, the words that come to mind are relaxing and recuperating in luxury. It’s a great addition that is in keeping with the upscale resort atmosphere. The expansion also included The Cove, an outdoor swimming and play area that is open seasonally and a favorite for families. It was opening later in March so we didn’t have a chance to try it out.

meatballs in marinara sauce

We have dined in the past at the upscale Great Oak Steakhouse, the resort’s premier dining experience so this time we went to Paisanos, its more moderately priced Italian restaurant. Both Great Oak and the façade of Paisano’s are being renovated so the entrance was a non-descript  door tucked among the gaming machines, notable only by the receptionist’s desk.

Once seated we perused the menu that offered several salads, Italian wedding soup, and other traditional appetizers. We selected the Wagu meatballs in a marinara sauce and calamari fritti. The three large meatballs were plenty to split and a tasty way to start. It seemed like we had barely placed our order before the kitchen served up the meatballs. Good thing because we were hungry and had skipped lunch after a late breakfast.

jumbo shrimp with spaghetti

The lightly breaded calamari were accompanied by a pesto aioli and a tomato marmalade. The aioli was our favorite. The squid was cooked perfectly.

veal chop

From the wine list, we selected a Brassfield 2019 Pinot Noir. We had the opportunity many years ago to spend a delightful weekend with our family at the Lake County facility that is built in an extinct volcano crater that provides many different types of soils and micro-climates for the grapes. If memory serves, the pinot is an offering that we hadn’t seen before, but we certainly liked.

The pinot struck a nice middle ground between the jumbo scampi in a white wine sauce over spaghetti that my bride ordered and the veal chop picata that I selected. The scampi were perfectly prepared and fit well with the sauce. The spaghetti portion was large so some went home and was enjoyed for dinner the next day.

I enjoy meats prepared with capers—my wife is no fan—so we do not have any at home. Ordering them out is a treat particularly in a lemon and white wine sauce that matched the perfectly cooked veal chop nicely and spaghetti. You would not expect a lemon and white wine sauce with veal, but it worked. I think of lemon with lamb, not necessarily with young beef.  When we took home some spaghetti, the sauces mixed nicely.


We selected just one dessert, a delightful tiramisu along with French-pressed coffee before we got in our steps by walking the length of the resort back to the south tower.

By Tim Hunt