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By Miriam Raftery

January 15, 2014 (Lakeside) – If you’re looking for a place to getaway from the hustle and bustle of city living without traveling far away, consider a stay at one of San Diego County’s local Native American resorts.  Recently, I won a vacation to Barona Resort & Casino in a prize drawing at the La Mesa Centennial party –so in early January, my husband and I savored a relaxing weekend at Barona.

Unlike Las Vegas casinos, Barona resort is not glitzy or gaudy.  The casino and hotel complex are designed to fit in with the rural ambience, complete with a casino designed to resemble a barn and a waterwheel.  The property includes several lakes, providing idyllic places for walking or relaxing in an Adirondack chair to watch the sunset over the nearby mountains.  The site is also designated as a migratory bird sanctuary by the Audobon Society.

The resort has several restaurants and we tried several.  At the Barona steakhouse, we savored generously-sized steaks  while enjoying live piano music.  At the Italian Cucina, we had lobster ravioli and also appreciated a very good wine list.  We sampled the Season’s Fresh Buffet for Sunday brunch, where both lunch and breakfast items were offered including an omelet bar, oysters, fresh fruits, ethnic entrees and much more.

Barona also has a championship golf course for those who want to enjoy time on the links, as well as a pool, spa, and fitness gym that my husband enjoyed working out in.  I opted instead to visit the Ambience Day Spa and use my gift certificate on some pampering including a facial and body polish – ie moisturizing treatments with sea salt to smooth dry skin.  The spa was cozy with a fireplace, friendly service and high quality products that left me feeling smooth from head to toe.

Be sure to join Club Barona if you go, since membership is free and you get discounts on many services including some restaurants and the spa.  Our vacation also included $20 in free play, which I parlayed into $27 before managing to lose it on the slots. Easy come, easy go!  The casino is among the largest in our region, with a wide variety of table games as well as slots.  One refreshing finding: no smell of smoke, since the casino recently installed a high-tech filtration system.

If you’re looking for some side trips to destination nearby, Wildcat Canyon Road in Lakeside (where the Casino is located) also has trailheads to El Capitan preserve for serious hikers, as well as Oakoasis, a County preserve.   You can also visit the Barona Museum just north of the Barona Casino and Resort.

Or you can enjoy a short drive to Ramona, where you can visit several local wineries.  On this trip, we stopped by Salerno Winery, which has an impressive collection of sculptures as well as wine tasting and delicious wood-fired pizzas cooked in an outdoor oven.   Other wonderful Ramona wineries include Milagro, Ramona Valley, Schwaesdall, and Hellenbeck (warning, don’t rely on GPS for the latter – call for directions!). 

The rooms at Barona Resort are comfortably appointed, with a choice of golf course or canyon views.  Room rates range from the low $100s to around $179 a night this time of year, making this an affordable option for people seeking a weekend in the country without breaking the bank.

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