I saw Joan Rivers perform at Harrah’s Resort Southern California (777 Valley Center Road). It was less than two months before she died, and the former Queen of Mean pretty much filled Harrah’s 23,000-square-foot Events Center. I was never a Rivers fan, but found her stand-up embarrassingly side splitting; she was an equal opportunity venom spewer.
Rivers is one example of the kinds of acts that might play a Las Vegas showroom, and if you’re down for the occasional Vegas foray but pressed for time and money, Harrah’s is a near-equal facsimile. Getting to Valley Center and the Rincon Indian Reservation takes just less than an hour. I assiduously timed the last two trips door-to-door from my downtown San Diego address, and I clocked in at 58 and 59 minutes.
The resort underwent a $160-million facelift in 2014, and the new tower suites are dark and sexy, with low lighting that encourages weekend-getaway hanky-panky. If you hit Harrah’s during the summer, the pool area will be overflowing with DJs, thumping beats and revelers throwing their hands in the ayah like they just don’t cayah. In the fall, it’s less of a scene so you can peacefully read your alt-weekly in a cabana by the pool or float with a cocktail in the heated lazy river.
My game of chance is poker, and Harrah’s poker room is relatively small but has been unusually (and pleasantly) relaxing the last couple times I went all in. There are no mega-halls here like you’d find on the Vegas Strip, but you can gamble, eat, drink and get your silly on—then sleep it off and get home to reality in a fraction of the time.