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Backcountry hidden pleasures:   Our guide to unique lodging adventures in San Diego’s beautiful backcountry

By Miriam Raftery, East County Magazine



February 9, 2018 (Alpine) – At the grand opening last week of The Willows Hotel & Spa, an adults-only luxury high-rise  at the Viejas Casino & Resort in Alpine, located in San DIego's inland region, tribal chairman Robert Welch reflected told the crowd to "put on your sunglasses, because the future of Viejas has never looked brighter!”

The entire facility is reserved for adults only (families may stay at the original Viejas Hotel nearby). Each suite is sumptuously appointed and attention to architectural and design details are evident in craftsmanship throughout.

The Willows features a tower with 159 suites, a saltwater swimming pool, spa and salon facilities, restaurants, fitness center, and business center.

New restaurants include Ginger Noodle Bar, which serves up Asian cuisine, and Locale, a farm-to-table restaurant offering internationally-inspired cuisine made with fresh, local ingredients--welcome additions in San Diego's East County. There is also a coffee bar.  

At the opening night receptions, foods from a carving station, an array of creative appetizers and delicious desserts were served up.

 My husband and I stayed over in a Signature King suite with mountain views, a walk-in shower with dual showerheads including rainshower fixture, an array of comfortable pillows, large-screen TVs, sitting room and even a personal electronic assistant, Alexa, who obligingly told us the time, temperature, ordered a wake-up call, and when paired with our smart phone, played music.

The spa offers such amenities as a salt sauna, steam room and outdoor massage cabanas.  It wasn’t yet available on my mid-week stay on grand opening night, but I look forward to going back to savor some spa treatments when I have time to linger for some pampering treatments.

Room rates at The Willows Hotel & Spa currently range from $199 to $350 for King and Queen Suites; there are also more elaborate “villa” suites reserved for VIP/high roller guests that come complete with billiards tables, fireplaces and outdoor firepits.

On hand for the opening were community leaders and VIPS such as Frank Baliling, a Korean and Vietnam War veteran who said he and his wife have long enjoyed coming to Viejas.

The casino's general manager Todd Simons spoke during a ribbon cutting ceremony, lauding the tribe as “pillars of the community” who have generously given back to the community through the years following success of their business ventures that also include the casino, another hotel, and an outlet shopping center.

  Viejas now employees over 2,000 team members, is holding 20 job fairs, and has outreached in its recruitment to institutions ranging from San Diego State University to a culinary institute and an organization that helps place disabled individuals.

The tribe’s “commitment to excellence” now takes a new step forward by “creating an all adult resort that is a first in this industry,” the general manager stated, adding that expanded gaming will be coming soon.

Chairman Welch voiced pride in a talented team that like the willow tree, has been flexible yet has strength in the roots, helping to turn a dream into reality.  “When someone tells you why it can’t be done, it’s a reflection on their limitations,” he concluded.  “The future is not something we enter – it’s something we create.”

After a ribbon cutting to officially open The Willows Hotel & Spa, Viejas put on a dazzling fireworks show to celebrate the occasion.  View video. 


East County Magazine gratefully acknowledges the County of San Diego for providing a Community Enhancement Grant to support our “Backcountry Hidden Pleasures” weekend getaways coverage.

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