Howard Hian

The Sierra Nevada range runs 400 miles north-to-south and 70 miles east-to-west in California and Nevada. The history of the area leaps out at you when you see signs signaling the Donner and Carson Passes and Emigrant Gap, along with vista stops and markers that tell the story of the early explorers and settlers. Wonderful names like Eldorado, Echo and Loon Lakes, Sugar Pine Point, Gold Run, Dutch Flat and Desolation Wilderness sprinkle the area.

Sorensen’s Resort was our destination. It sits at 7,000’ altitude, on the eastern edge of picturesque Hope Valley, south of Lake Tahoe.  Martin Sorensen built a cabin there in the 1890’s.  Guests were welcomed in 1926.  In 1982 the current owners, Patty and John Brissenden, purchased the resort under unusual circumstances.  The seller insisted on being paid in gold.  At the time, gold was $410/oz and the purchase price settled upon was 1000 ounces.

Sorensen cabin

Sorensen’s Resort is open year-round and features 29 log cabins in a 165 acre compound setting. Our cabin was comfortable, with a queen bed, kitchenette, microwave, wood-burning fireplace, loft and bathroom with shower. Forget about with-fi! This is a perfect spot to take a digital vacation.  There’s a cafe that’s quite good, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Complimentary wine, coffee, tea and hot chocolate is served throughout the day. There’s also a wood-fired sauna, but the star of the show is the location.  We took a scenic hike through the aspens; the trailhead was practically at our doorstep. It’s also a perfect spot for fishing, hiking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, bicycling, exploring or just relaxing.

Sorensen hiking

Quite a purchase for 1000 ounces of gold. Logon to www.SorensensResort.com for further information.

Travel Tips: A quick drive to Grover Hot Springs State Park, www.parks.ca.gov, is a must. There are hiking trails, Alpine meadows, camp sites, a gift shop and visitor center and two outdoor spring-fed pools. One is cooled down to 102 – 104 degrees (the temperature coming from the earth is 147!). The other is kept at 70 – 78 degrees.

A superb travel guide to the 25 million acres that make up the Sierra Nevada can be found at www.SierraNevadaGeotourism.org.

One of the delights of California roadtrips is discovering great food in surprising places. Here are three: Ali’s in Markleeville, Marty’s Cafe in Truckee and, my personal favorite, 88 Giant Burgers to Go in Pine Grove.

For high altitude safety and health, hydrate often, take clothing layers for temperature changes, watch your alcohol intake, wear good walking/hiking shoes and a hat; use sunscreen.

Thanks to various websites for information.

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Before I became a full-time travel writer, I was in the hotel business. At that time, in the early 1970s in San Diego, revenue management wasn’t even a phrase, much less a concept or coveted position in an organizational chart.  In its primitive state, it was a loose practice.  In summer how we loved the people from Arizona! Then there were weekends and special events (anyone remember the Cool Jazz Festival?).  Sometimes minimum stays were even required over holidays.  When more tourists visited, a hotel would simply raise room rates. Wow!  Someone early in the history of economic theory called it “supply and demand.”

supplydemand

Then about 15 years ago or so, some suit dreamed up the position of Revenue Manager. Usually, the front desk or reservations manager was given this job/title which, of course, they’d already been doing.  Introducing a revenue manager to a guest is like saying, “Hi, here’s the person who is going to squeeze every penny out of you.”  It makes me all warm and fuzzy.  Now sophisticated software programs continually determine rates.

revenuemanagement

I recently heard one of the best revenue management stories ever. I was visiting Sorensen’s Resort in Hope Valley, CA to write a travel feature. It’s a quintessential mountain getaway; cabins, hiking, gorgeous views, etc.

sorensens1-copy

The owner (since the early 80s) told me that the previous proprietor had his own unique way to determine nightly room rates. He would watch as cars drove onto the property and charge according to the model.  Guess who paid more, the Chevy or the Caddy?  That’s really imaginative, old school revenue management.

For the traveler, the key to saving money is by traveling in off or shoulder seasons when hotels aren’t busy. Who knows, maybe even drive up in a jalopy.

Thanks to various websites for information and photos, etc.

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Restaurant Week returns to San Diego, September 25th through October 2nd, for its 12th annual farm-to-table epicurean celebration. Over 180 area restaurants offer three course, prix-fixe dinners in categories ranging from $20 to $50 per person. The lunch format, a two-course prix-fixe meal, is $10, $15 or $20 per person. Taxes and gratuities are not included. Logon to www.SanDiegoRestaurantWeek.com for information, menus and reservations. Here are my suggestions from last year’s event.

At Hunter Steakhouse, in Mission Valley, I enjoyed a sirloin burger and a Caesar salad for $10. The place has a classic 50s feel with wood paneled decor and banquettes.  It appeared that a lot of regulars were eating; suits and uniforms, always a good sign.  The eclectic Galaxy Taco, in La Jolla, served up a terrific $15 lunch.  Their motto is “Comer (eat) Awesome!” and they live up to it. The first choice was from an assortment of amazing appetizers, but tucked away on the list was their homemade churro for dessert (don’t miss it!). Choosing from an array of imaginative tacos was the hardest part of the meal.

 

Catania, also in La Jolla, was named one of Zagat’s hottest new restaurants. The $50 dinner menu is designed for sharing, featuring coastal Italian specialties. Choices included two appetizers, one pasta or pizza and two desserts. We started with the mussels and risotto, followed by a perfectly baked wood fired pizza. Desserts were off the charts good. Catania has an ocean view, everything is house-made, they feature an extensive drink and wine list, plus the service is impeccable. Go!

BITE San Diego focuses on discovering neighborhood culinary gems. The food tours are offered in seven different areas around town, all featuring hand picked food/drink stops. I recently went on their Liberty Station Walking Tour and was impressed with our guide’s knowledge of the historic Naval Training Center. We started at Point Loma Tea for hot and cold samples.

Next up was a visit to the recently opened Liberty Public Market. This high energy, former Navy chow hall is filled with eateries, bars, and specialty food and craft vendors.

libertystation

We sampled an outstanding burger at STUFFED! (a former food truck operation) and learned about the benefits of raw, organic cold pressed juice at Fully Loaded Micro Juicery.

That was followed by a tasting at Venissimo Cheese, including samples from around the world.

A casual walk took us to Slater’s 50/50 – Burgers by Design for a sampling of this bacon-fest restaurant (they cook approximately 300 pounds of bacon daily!). There is also a huge selection of local craft beers. Our last stop was Solare Ristorante Italiano to sample traditional Tuscan Southern Italian meatballs and a signature pizza.  Solare has been voted the best Italian restaurant in San Diego the past several years and it’s easy to understand why.

The BITE San Diego outing took three hours and, interestingly, half the group had been on their other tours. That’s a good indication why they have been voted the #1 rated food tour in San Diego. Other neighborhood excursions include Pacific Beach, North Park, Downtown/Little Italy, Coronado, La Jolla and Encinitas. For more information go to www.bitesandiego.com.

Thanks to the various websites for information, etc.

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As if there’s not enough to do in August in San Diego, here are two to add to your “must do” list.

The ¡Latin Food Fest! is one of my favorite events in San Diego. This fourth annual spectacular culinary celebration will be at the Embarcadero Marina Park North in San Diego, August 12 – 15, 2016.  The Grande Tasting will feature 150 restaurants, artisanal foods makers and renowned wine and spirit purveyors. Attendees will graze through scores of food stations with samplings by Agave Del Mar, HUMO, Cafe Sevilla, Cafe Secret, Fogo de Chao, Tacos Kokopeli, Aqui es Texcoco, Sirena Seafood, Cien Anos, Uptown Tavern, Indigo Grill, Don Chido, The Hopping Pig and Peohe’s.   Additionally, local and internationally known chefs show off their talents offering tastings, preparing dinners and signing cookbooks. Go. You won’t be sorry.  For details concerning this all-inclusive priced extravaganza, logon to www.latinfoodfest.com.

My day-long Baja adventure with Five Star Tours (TripAdvisor’s #1 tour company in San Diego) began at their office in downtown’s historic Santa Fe Railroad Depot. Crossing the border to Mexico brought back fond memories of when my kids were young and we visited often.

Mexico border

Driving through Tijuana, we saw the Cultural Center and several commemorative statues on our way to the heart of the city, Avenida Revolution. We visited a liquor store for tequila tasting.

Tequila tasting

After bravely working my way through our first stop, I wandered around taking in the sights, sounds and colors.

pottery

Heading south in the van, we visited a picturesque fishing village for a photo op, then we enjoyed a wonderful lobster lunch in Puerto Nuevo. Although included in the price of the tour, it’s interesting to note that $20 US gets you 1.5 lobsters, a margarita, rice and beans, plus chips and fresh salsa.

lobster lunch

On the road once more, we pulled off the scenic highway at El Mirador. There, I noticed giant “circles” floating on the ocean surface.  They are net cages where fishermen hold valuable yellowtail and bluefin tuna before processing.  In Ensenada, I headed for Mercado Negro to see the locals’ catch of the day and then walked along the picturesque Malecon and side streets.

mercado

At day’s end, we made it back across the US border in 20 minutes via Otay Mesa. For information go to www.fivestartours.com. Don’t forget your passport!

 

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My wife and I decided on a quick getaway to Temecula, California, to try out a spot getting good buzz, Pechanga Casino Resort.

After a speedy check-in, we headed to Kelsey’s, one of 11 restaurants. It’s a sleek American pub specializing in hand-cut, barbecued meats and craft beer.  It was our first of three “wow” food experiences.  Let me recommend a meal: start with the award winning chili and an order of cornbread; next, order any dish that features the smoked tri-tip; finish with freshly made churros.  Good food, good service…enough said!

Kelseys

We ended the afternoon at Spa Pechanga. In its calm atmosphere, one can unwind with a steam, lounge in the “quiet room” and then get pampered with your choice of a broad range of massages, body treatments, skin care or salon services. Evening found us at the award-winning Great Oak Steakhouse. Perfectly prepared prime Black Angus beef is king here and, along with specialty drinks and an exceptional wine list, it’s no surprise they’ve earned a AAA Four Star rating every year since 2012.  Generous cuts of steak come with a choice of five classic sauces. The cocktail and wine pours are liberal and the breads freshly baked.  Save room for house made desserts.  It’s fine dining at its best. We ended the night at the Pechanga Cabaret, one of five bars/lounges, and listened to live music while enjoying a nightcap.

After a good night’s sleep in our comfortable, quiet room and a quick breakfast at the Pechanga Cafe, I was off to a morning Hold ‘em tournament. I was surprised to see about 100 players.  Although knocked out 1.5 hours later, it was satisfying to compete.  Surprising note: the casino is as big as the MGM Grand’s in Las Vegas and the largest in California!

Bingo? Yes, we attended the matinee session (free popcorn and soda) and soon realized “This is not your grandmother’s game.”  It’s speedy and hi-tech, including the option to play multiple games with an iPad keeping score.  It’s a hoot.

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Dinner, again, was first rate. Umi Sushi & Oyster Bar features fresh seafood, a raw bar, sushi, sashimi, maki and specialty fish dishes. The menu is conducive to my favorite pastime, “grazing.” My lychee martini was followed by shrimp tempura, tuna poke and a grilled shrimp salad.

There’s always an end to a vacation and we finished up the next morning at the Clubhouse at Journey’s End for breakfast. It’s just a short walk away and offers indoor/outdoor seating, with marvelous views overlooking the Temecula Valley and Pechanga’s world-class golf course.

The Pechanga Resort & Casino, www.Pechanga.com, earns its Four Diamond rating with a host of amenities, including Wi-Fi, HDTV, turn down service, in-room safe with electronics charger, complimentary valet parking, fitness area, sauna and a nearby five mile walking/jogging path. Its 23,000 square foot convention and meeting space can accommodate up to 2,000 people. Pechanga is currently adding another 500+ rooms, an additional 68,000 square feet of meeting space and a spectacular two-story spa. Another major piece of the expansion is a 4-acre outdoor area that will include 8 pools.  Call 1-888-PECHANGA (732-4264) for information and/or reservations.

PechangaRoom

Although it was a first visit for me, the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians has called the Temecula Valley home for more than 10,000 years. Their current history, like that of most other California tribal units, is rife with the dismal results of America’s Manifest Destiny and the activities of the Spanish Missionaries. They refer to the Great Oak, located on their land, as “one of the largest natural-growing, indigenous coast, live oak trees in the United States and estimated to be anywhere from 850 to 1,500 years old.” It is symbolic of the Pechanga Band…“strength, wisdom, longevity and determination.”  Today, the hum of expansion and success fills the air.

GreatOak

Thanks to the Pechanga website for photos, information, etc.

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Our grandson, Sam, was turning ten. My wife and I decided that a good way to entice him away from home was to tell him we were going to take him to Circus, Circus in Reno. It worked!  We picked him up in Chico, CA and headed north for a scenic three hour drive going through the infamous Donner Pass. About 30 minutes into the ride, Sam looked out the window and said, “This is just what I pictured.”  That’s what I call a good start.

What to Do

Kimmie Candy June

You will spend time (most likely, lots of it) at the Midway of Fun at Circus, Circus. The arcade, a hubbub of sounds and flashing lights, features over 125 games. Our favorite was Chicken in a Pot.  A player catapults a rubber chicken into pots that rotate slowly by.  It’s hilarious and Sam was quite good at it.  Starting at 11 AM, free acts featuring aerialists, jugglers, magicians, clowns and other performers appear on stage. Don’t miss the highly entertaining JR John’s “Doggone Silly” show (starring all rescue dogs). They’ve been performing at Circus, Circus for eight years, plus airtime on national TV.

Circus, Circus’ sister property, Eldorado, was featuring the kid appropriate live musical Footloose in their showroom. It was first rate entertainment with an energetic cast. There are no bad seats and an easy walk via an indoor promenade connecting both resorts.

JR John's Doggone Silly June

Don’t miss the Kimmie Candy Factory’s tour. It begins with a film explaining the process of growing and harvesting cocoa beans, then a guided walk through the production facilities (6.5 tons are produced daily!), ending at the retail shop for samples. Candies that don’t pass inspection for size or are off-color are sold at a discount and packaged as “Oops Tubes.”  Logon to www.kimmiecandy.com for information.

Grand Sierra Resort’s 50-lane bowling center (to my relief, automatic scoring) is loads of fun. There’s a go-kart track but, unfortunately, Sam wasn’t old enough to drive. While there, we enjoyed the new menu at the Grand Cafe. (www.grandsierraresort.com).

Animal Ark June

The Animal Ark Wildlife Sanctuary is located 30 minutes north of Reno. It provides a safe haven for injured and abandoned wildlife. We followed a one mile trail past various enclosures watching raptors, bears, a puma, coyotes, wolves and a lynx. Knowledgeable docents were available for questions and commentary.  It’s an impressive educational center and thousands of school children visit each year. Check the schedule for hours and feeding times at www.animalark.org.

Scheel’s (www.scheels.com) is the world’s largest sporting goods store. There are over 85 specialty departments, a restaurant and fudge shop, two 16,000 gallon aquariums, an indoor Ferris Wheel, roller ball, a 5 Sport Simulator, shooting gallery and lots more.

Wild Island, www.wildisland.com, is aptly named. There’s a 3-D theater, miniature golf, laser mazes, billiards and an arcade with 100 games. We visited during the off-season so the waterpark was closed, but Sam zoomed around the go-kart track, loving every minute.

National Auto Museum

The National Auto Museum, www.automuseum.org, also known as The Harrah Collection, features more than 200 classic cars. It is considered to be among America’s greatest auto museums.  This grandfather and grandson couldn’t have imagined a better one!

Food

Deli Curcus June

One evening we walked over to the Nugget for dinner at Gilley’s; good ribs, great music and our grandson loved watching the mechanical bull riding (for adults). Since so many of the Circus, Circus guests are kids, the restaurants do a super job catering to their tastes. We enjoyed breakfasts at the Main Street Deli and Americana Cafe (as well as burgers and shakes at lunch) and Mexican food at Dos Geckos; all at affordable prices.

For resort information and reservations go to www.circusreno.com.

Thanks to the various websites for information, photos, etc.

 

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It was that time of the year for a family reunion. Given my background as a travel writer, my duties have always been in the “Where should we go, what can we do and where can we eat?” categories. For this trip, I passed on the food assignment. Why? It’s become a nightmare. I yearn for the days of old when peanut and gluten allergies didn’t exist; when there were no vegetarians and picky eaters were not accommodated.  One didn’t ask for substitutions or dressing on the side.  And, don’t even get me started on kale!  Clearing that off my table (so to speak), my job was pretty easy. Our destination was Paso Robles in Central California.  It’s an eclectic mix of wineries, farming and tourism, with an interesting history.

Our first stop was a tour of the award winning Eberle Winery. Gary Eberle is a pioneer in the region and a true renaissance man. The kids loved Eberle’s wine cave and the adults were very pleased with the tasting room. For tour reservations, calendar of events and Cellar Club perks, check out their website, www.eberlewinery.com.

Paso 1

Since California is the food trough for America, what could be better than visiting a farmers market? It’s held in Paso Robles on Tuesdays from 3 – 6 PM. Twelve local farms are represented in a festive street setting. Their motto is “Buy Local, Eat Fresh.” More can be found at www.northcountyfarmersmarkets.com.

The Paso Robles Culinary Arts Academy (Google it) was a nice surprise. Their goal is to help high school juniors and seniors train for jobs in the food service industry. Their Academy Cafe, rated 5 stars at Yelp, is worth a stop. They work closely with local farmers and have reasonable prices, plus you support an effort to get young adults working. They are open Tuesday through Friday for breakfast and lunch.

Studios-on-the-Park is a cooperative for artists working in all mediums, There are six individual studios and six galleries to explore; it’s a sensory delight. It is a perfect destination to combine with wandering around historic downtown Paso Robles. Logon to www.studiosonthepark.org for upcoming shows, featured artists and events.

Pioneer Museum was a hit with the kids. There’s a schoolhouse, displays of early California life, artifacts and historical literature. Admission is free. For details, go to www.pasoroblespioneermuseum.org.

Don’t miss the Estrella Warbird Museum, www.ewarbirds.org. It is dedicated to military aviation, its history, as well as restoring and preserving military aircraft. Besides a dazzling display of planes, there’s armament, missiles, military vehicles (including tanks), weaponry and a curated library. Another section of the museum was a huge surprise; the spectacular Woodland Automobile Display.  The exhibit includes sprint, modified, midget, exotic, classic and muscle cars. It’s considered to be “One of the finest automotive museums in Central California.”

Travel Notes

Where to stay? My recommendation is the La Quinta Inn & Suites. Included in the rate is a big buffet breakfast, great location, free wi-fi, business center, guest laundry, parking, comfortable rooms and heated pool. For reservations, logon to lq.com.

If you are planning a two day visit to Paso Robles, make it three (there’s lots to do), plus most of the top tourist spots are only open Thursday through Sunday. For more, go to the Paso Robles visitors website at www.travelpaso.com. Many thanks to the various websites for information and photos.

 

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It’s a scenic flight from San Diego to Reno, with ocean views to the western horizon on the port side. Once north of LA, Yosemite, Lake Tahoe and the southern tip of the Sierras glide by 30,000 feet below.  My stay at the Nugget Casino Resort in Sparks, immediately east of Reno, was dedicated to wandering around the area, in order to add a chapter to my Insiders Guide to Reno travel app. Check-in went smoothly and the newly renovated room provided a super view of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. My first stop was lunch at the Nugget’s classic diner, Rosie’s Cafe. Dinner at John’s Oyster Bar featured a superior, everything-out-of-its-shell “Layman’s” Cioppino (at $16.95, it’s a bargain).  An unexpected delight was the indoor/atrium swimming pool (I’m a lap swimmer), in a tropical-like setting, with panoramic wall-to-ceiling windows facing the mountains.

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The poker room is well run with lots of regulars playing (always a good sign). There are two daily hold ‘em tournaments at the Nugget.  The morning game has an interesting “shootout” structure: no re-buys and a timer goes off after one hour of play. Then one more hand is dealt and, after that, the players with the biggest chip stacks win a share of the prize pool.  As you might imagine, the last deal has a lot of betting strategy involved (think the gameshow, Jeopardy). The evening game has standard rules: rebuys are OK, blinds go up every 15 minutes, cash bounties for knock-outs, etc. I had a good run one night and, although short stacked, a pair of Jacks all-in helped me to eventually cash out #1 in the event.

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Each morning I started at Rosie’s carry-out counter, ordering a freshly baked pastry and coffee. Lunch time found me at either the Noodle Hut and Sushi Bar (don’t miss the duck) or the Buffet with its vast array of food choices.  After my tournament win, I celebrated at Gilley’s with a slab of ribs, beer, great music and, yes, a line dancing lesson. It’s raucous fun.

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One afternoon, I walked over to Victorian Square, a redevelopment area contiguous to the Nugget. There are bars, restaurants, a 14 screen movie theater, the Sparks Memorial Park and Heritage Museum. It’s also where the world famous Hot August Nights and Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off are held. Another outing was to The Outlets at Sparks to visit Scheels, www.Scheels.com, the largest all-sports store in the world.  There are over 85 specialty departments, a restaurant and fudge shop, two 16,000 gallon aquariums, an indoor Ferris Wheel and lots more.

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Whether you are looking for arts, nightlife, gaming, music, events or outdoor activities, there’s lots going on in the Reno/Sparks area. For more, go to www.VisitRenoTahoe.com. For reservations/information, logon to www.NuggetCasinoResort.com. There is a resort fee that provides Wi-Fi, shuttle service to/from the airport, daily bottled water, parking and access to the health club.

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Note: I’m going back to visit Circus Circus in Reno with my grandson for a new travel story and app chapter, Reno for Kids.  Stayed tuned. My Poker Tutorial: Omaha 101 Plus An Insiders Guide To Reno won Gold in the app category in the North American Travel Journalist Association’s 2015 competition. It can be found in the iTunes store.

Safe travels and enjoy the journey….

 

 

Every so often writing assignments sync perfectly with personal interests.  So it was when I covered the World Poker Tour DeepStacks Tournament, hosted by the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa in Reno, Nevada. There were 15 games scheduled over a 10 day period.  The majority were No Limit Hold ‘Em, with buy-ins ranging from $65 – $1,000.  Several were satellite events and there was also an Omaha High-Low and a Pot Limit Omaha tournament.

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After an efficient check-in, I signed up for the Atlantis’ Paradise Club and had a late lunch at Toucan Charlie’s award-winning buffet.

Early evening, I sat in on my first table, Omaha Hi-Lo.  It is my favorite game and the subject of my app tutorial.  It was a $5K guaranteed payout, allowing buy-in/registration through level six.  Although wounded early by a straight flush beating my full-house and my second nuts losing to the nuts in the same hand, I was happy to make the final table and finish in fifth place.

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After breakfast the following morning at the Purple Parrot, I was off to take photos for my new website, www.PokerResortsReno.com and the app, Travel Reno. The area is scenic with lots of activities outside the casino: sightseeing, shopping, hiking, biking, sporting events and cultural opportunities.  My next tournament was Pot Limit Omaha.  To me, it is the most challenging of the poker games because of the betting structure; the maximum one can bet is the total of what’s in the pot.  I finished in the lower middle of the pack, but it was fun to participate in a game that I don’t often play.  I grabbed a quick bite at Cafe Fresco (don’t miss their gelato) and called it a night.  My final game was No Limit Hold ‘Em.  There was an interesting mix of players including about 10% women.  It’s lots of fun observing the various styles of play and noting the skill levels of those around the table.  I busted out mid-range of those entered but, once again, it was a terrific experience.

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Information

At the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa, www.atlantiscasino.com, I discovered two seriously good food items: the Oyster Bar’s Mazatlan cocktail in the Sky Terrace and social hour at Napa Bistro (Wagyu sliders and a beer for $12!).

Atlantis’ Paradise Club offers many guest perks.  If you go, reserve a room that allows you access to the Concierge Level; continental breakfast and snacks, food and drinks throughout the day. Another nice touch – there is a free airport shuttle.

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Reno was the 11th of 16 “mid-major poker market” destinations of the WPT DeepStacks’ Season 2 Series. Logon to www.wptdeepstacks.com for information and their calendar. Note: Ocean’s Eleven Casino in San Diego/Oceanside will be home to the next tournament October 17-26. For extensive information about Reno and a tutorial on how to play Omaha, go to the iTunes store and download the app, Travel Reno.

Thanks to various websites for information, photos, etc.