Photography by Mark McKenna
Feeling lucky? Home to four casinos, each with unique style, our neck of the North Coast has all your gaming fronts covered. Why not hit 'em all in one day? We did. That's right, grab your lucky socks, steel your poker face and get ready for an 80-mile marathon day of card-turning, dice-throwing, primo food-eating, stiff-drink adventuring! But don't try this without a designated driver, kids — plan ahead (we hired a taxi) and check with individual casinos for shuttle schedules. Ready to roll the dice?
Our first stop was the Redwood Hotel and Casino, the area's newest and most northerly casino. Opened in 2014 and operated by the Yurok Tribe in Klamath, it's a home base for outdoor adventure just steps from the mighty Klamath River and great redwoods. Looking at the options, we realized a long weekend might be the best bet for getting a feel of the land, especially if you're into Pacific Northwest Native cultures. From the visitor center, opened last June, you can learn about Yurok traditions, book a jet boat tour or schedule a guided fishing trip. April and May are best for catching spring salmon; September and October best for fall salmon and steelhead. Not into fishing? No problem. Day hikes in Redwood National Park and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park are less than 8 miles to the south. By day's end, you'll be ready to head back for a fine meal of fresh-caught Klamath salmon from the Pacific ($27). We enjoyed the salmon with white wine. Cool fact: The Abalone Grill employs two local fishermen for the daily catch, so you know the fish will always be same-day fresh. At the bar, enjoy local brews and vodka, then try your luck in the game room. With 100 slots and no smoking, odds are you'll have a great time.
Our second stop of the day brought more traditional good times and gambling — whiskey and roulette, baby! Cher-Ae Heights Casino, owned and operated by the Cher-Ae Heights Indian Community of the Trinidad Rancheria, has your drink and your number. Lit by flickering slot machines and gaming tables, the game room is more what you'd expect on the outskirts of Vegas instead of the outskirts of idyllic Trinidad. It's low-lit and hypnotic, priming you for the tables and slots. There's a fine roulette table — a true beauty made of English walnut from across the pond. You like card games? Try Spanish 21 and blackjack. And don't forget the bar. The Firewater Lounge has a solid reputation for its rotating array of signature drinks. Since it's winter, we tried the Kahlua Hot Cocoa-tini, which fully warmed our chocolate spots ($8). We did the Peach Mule-jito, too — definitely a year-round win ($7). Hit the lounge on a Wednesday for free pool and half-priced whiskey. If you and your crew want to get retro, Cher-Ae Heights is home to an 800-seat Bingo parlor. Though the casino does not have hotel accommodations, it does have the most amazing view of Trinidad Head and the Pacific Ocean — we left wishing we could stay for more drinks and to watch the sun disappear into the sea.
Our hot streak continued at Blue Lake Casino, where you and the girls must go if you're into gambling and dancing for sport. Blue Lake Casino, owned and operated by the Blue Lake Rancheria, has the most slots — 750 of them — and currently the only poker tables in Humboldt, with games nightly, plus a legit tournament schedule. You can pre-game or rock out in the Wave Lounge, where some of Humboldt's best local dance and funk bands bring it every Friday and Saturday night. Regional acts and karaoke hold it down other evenings, while the Sapphire Palace boasts bigger artists like George Clinton and Parliament, The Wailers, and House of Floyd. We were too early to catch any music, but right on time for Alice's Restaurant, which serves Humboldt grass-fed beef and a nice game of sushi. If you're veggie, they're on it with a variety of fresh salads. Blue Lake Casino has a hotel, so if you overdo it you can get a room. Other points of cool: Blue Lake is Humboldt's only casino with an electric vehicle charging station, and there's a bike rack by the front door.
Our last stop, Bear River Hotel and Casino, owned and operated by the Bear River Band of Rohnerville Rancheria, has been steadily expanding since it opened in 2005. A fresh selection of slots — machines rotated in and others out every six months — a well-lit ceiling and multi-colored design elements create spaciousness and a sense of energy on the game floor. There's also a non-smoking gaming room. The stand-out here is the craps table, the only one in the county — perfect for your Guys and Dolls moment. By this point we were ready for dinner, so from the River's Edge Restaurant, we ordered the signature cedar plank salmon — a succulent salmon filet cooked and served on a cut of the aromatic wood, topped with a rich and creamy-sweet marinade ($22) and best paired with a nice Noble Vines sauvignon blanc ($6.25 glass). The tenderloin of beef is no slouch, either ($34). Served with garlic-mashed potatoes bordering on the divine, it pairs well with a Hess Cabernet ($7 glass) — lucky you. Another point of awesome: The Bear River Tribe is the first in California to implement wind and solar energy along with advanced technology to generate enough electricity to power their community center across from the casino. In coming years, the tribe plans to create and install a renewable system with capacity enough to power the casino.
We pulled slots, shot craps, bet on roulette and bluffed our way through blackjack. And by the end of it, we were thoroughly stuffed to the gills with great food and drink. No need to fly out to the desert; you'll pick a winner right here. We can feel it.
Redwood Hotel Casino
171 Klamath Blvd., Klamath, CA
Cher-Ae Heights Casino
27 Scenic Dr., Trinidad, CA
Blue Lake Casino & Hotel
777 Casino Way, Blue Lake, CA
Bear River Hotel Casino
11 Bear Paws Way, Loleta, CA