The 67-acre property is full of parks and plazas lining broad boulevards in the heart of the complex. Sculptures from such world-class artists as Maya Lin (the Vietnam Veterans Memorial) and Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen add to the metropolitan mood.
It has been eight years since the casino opened, and six years since the debut of the hotel, hence the redo. The former Terrace Buffet, now called Choices, has been expanded, and two new restaurants have opened. Changes to the lobby, including new furniture, flooring and art.
Despite the tired look of my room, the 507-room resort was a real bargain. The grand suites are more than 1,000 square feet, with showers the size of small rooms, as well as powder rooms, wet bars and large living rooms. (Rates start at $290.)
Pala Casino Spa Resort 11154 California Highway 76, Pala, Calif., 92059; (877) 946-7252, www.palacasino.com Rates: Doubles begin at $119
(Beverly Beyette / For The Times )
If Las Vegas is the rock star of the gambling world, energetic with plenty of edge, then Laughlin is the lounge singer -- thinning on top and slightly off-key. Still, that lounge act is entertaining in a curious sort of way and, best of all, there’s no cover charge.
Laughlin, which hugs the banks of the Colorado River about 30 miles north of Needles, Calif., boasts 11 hotel-casinos with more than 10,000 rooms. The town has been called “Vegas Lite” and “Vegas Junior.” I prefer “Vegas on Valium.” Don’t expect to make a dash for the bar or the pool. The senior citizens who occupy many of the hotel rooms keep the pace at a crawl. There’s no edginess here, but for some that’s part of the attraction.
Unlike its big sister ( Las Vegas), Laughlin doesn’t offer any scheduled air service from Southern California. Take Interstate 15 to Barstow and then Interstate 40 to Needles. From there, follow U.S. 95 north. The total trip is 3 1/2 to 4 hours.
The circular white casino building, opened in 1929, is Avalon’s most recognizable sight. It towers over the yachts riding at anchor on Avalon Bay, dwarfs the village’s other structures and has become the scenic focal point for hundreds of thousands of snapshots.
At one time, the casino was the heart and soul of Santa Catalina Island. The nation’s most famous performers appeared here: Benny Goodman, Stan Kenton, Woody Herman, Gene Autry (who brought his horse).
The Behind the Scenes tour is at 12:30 p.m. daily; adults, $27.50; seniors, $24.50, and children, $20.50. Another tour of the building, the Casino Walking Tour, has been available for several years, but it visits only parts of the casino that are open to the public. It is at 2 p.m. daily and costs $17.50 for adults, $13.25 for seniors and $15.75 for children.