hiking at palomar mountain + the buffet at harrah’s rincon casino

During our mini staycation, we took off to Palomar Mountain for a fun (and tiring) nature hike. I wanted to revisit the Palomar Mountain School where I (and T) went for sixth grade camp. We also went to The Buffet at Harrah’s Rincon Casino for lunch! More on the buffet later. First up… breakfast!

Breakfast at Starbucks

If it’s after 6AM, there are only 2 options for breakfast at Harrah’s. If it’s before 6AM then Pink’s will be in the mix for you. Pink’s serves breakfast from 11PM-6AM which I found interesting. Only for the late night people, I guess.

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One option for breakfast at Harrah’s is The Cafe which is open 24 hours. The other option is Starbucks. Since we went to The Cafe for dinner the night before, I didn’t feel like going again. Besides, I wanted a quicker option and Starbucks was it. 

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The tiny sandwich on the left is the bacon gouda breakfast sandwich. The sandwich on the right is a newer one with chorizo, monterey jack, and egg.

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Oh bacon. You look so sad and thin! What happened to you in your poor little bacon life to be treated like this? This sandwich is a lot smaller than it’s chorizo counterpart. It’s edible enough, which is the best I can say for it. At least the cheese was melted and the bread was warmed through. 

starbucks-chorizo-egg-breakfast-sandwich

The chorizo sandwich was a lot larger and it looked like there were herbs in the bread. While I liked the bread I didn’t care for the chorizo patty at all. It had an incredibly strange flavor that was too hard for me to get past more than one bite. It didn’t taste much like chorizo to me. T and I pretty much felt the same way and abandoned the sandwich to Jake who took up the duty of finishing off this weird tasting chorizo sandwich. He didn’t think it was at bad as we did, but he didn’t really enjoy it either. 

After our disappointing breakfast, we headed out and drove up to Palomar Mountain.

Hike to the Weir Historic Site on Palomar Mountain

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doane-valley-nature-trail-start

I put in directions to “Doane Pond” on Google Maps in case you’re trying to get here. Doane Pond is right outside the Palomar Outdoor School and there’s a parking lot and this little sign which leads to the start of the trail. You go through a little wilderness and then have to cross the main road to get to the other side where the real trail begins. 

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We’re in nature now, baby. Mountain lion alert! 

And no. We didn’t see any mountain lions. Pretty much all we saw were birds. There was one point when we were heading back where we found a little wooden bench to sit on. I needed a break from the little hills and we just sat and listened to nature. We could hear the creek running a little bit and the sound of birds. If we listened carefully, we could hear a woodpecker. It felt so serene and relaxing. 

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stream

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It is a 1.2 mile hike to the Weir Historic Site. You walk alongside a little creek most of the way and the trail goes UP and DOWN and up and down and boy did my quads get a workout! T found me a walking stick so I could help balance myself when going downhill. It was beautiful and on the cool side (in the 50s). We even saw little patches of snow here and there in the shady areas. 

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This is the Weir! It’s this little stone building. They used it back in the day to measure water flow in the hopes of using it to build a dam for electricity, but those dreams never panned out. But the Weir still sits here along a little pond and creek. There’s a really rocky area that was a bit slippery to get to the Weir so I didn’t actually touch it. I sat my butt down on the rocks while the boys explored (and both almost fell into the water!) the area. I remember hiking to this spot when I was at Sixth Grade Camp. It seemed bigger in my memories!

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T took this photo using my phone. It’s from inside the Weir, looking out at the pond area. Pretty cool shot! 

Check out the full photo gallery of our hike here. I didn’t want to inundate you with nature photos. Included in the photo gallery are some photos of Palomar Mountain School as well.

Boucher Hill Lookout Tower on Palomar Mountain

After walking around the Palomar Outdoor School, we drove out and saw a sign for “Christian Camps”. We wanted to just check it out and drove that way and stumbled upon the Lookout Tower which is near the Christian Camps. There’s a one way loop that takes you up to the lookout tower.

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The current tower was constructed in 1948 and served as a lookout spot for fires. The original tower was build in 1921 by the US Forest Service. The towers served as a high vantage point to detect fires in the Aguanga and Pauma valleys below. The tower remained in service until 1983 and is one of only two lookouts of its kind left in California.

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There’s a little parking lot to stop in. There’s this bridge and deck viewing area.

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You can really see far from this lookout all over the valley below!

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We even spied Harrah’s Rincon from up here.

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There’s a little bit of information about the towers and the Life of a Lookout when you visit the site. Here’s a link to some more information about the Boucher Hill Lookout.

The Buffet at Harrah’s Rincon Casino

Jake really wanted to check out the Buffet at Harrah’s Rincon. I’m not a fan of buffets in general but since it was our mini staycation I felt we should each get to do something we wanted to do! We decided to go for lunch on Thursday afternoon. The price at that time was $19.99 per person.

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The Buffet at Harrah's Rincon Casino

This photo was taken before it opened, hence there was no line. When we went at lunch time, there were only 3 or 4 people ahead of us. Quite a different story when we passed by later that evening! The buffet line was packed then.

Prepare yourself for many, many photos. 

The Buffet at Harrah’s: Build Your Own Pho Bowl

Pho | The Buffet at Harrah's Rincon Casino

Pho | The Buffet at Harrah's Rincon Casino

At this station you can get a bowl of Beef Noodle Pho or Congee Rice Soup.

The Buffet at Harrah’s: Chinese Station

Chinese Station | The Buffet at Harrah's Rincon Casino

Sesame Oil Chicken Soup, Chicken Fried Gyoza, BBQ Pork Buns, Mini Eggrolls, and dipping sauces

Chinese Station | The Buffet at Harrah's Rincon Casino

Chinese Station | The Buffet at Harrah's Rincon Casino

BBQ Pork Ribs, Asian Inspired Veg (this is what the wrote on the menu!), Tofu with Vegetables, Orange Chicken, General Tso’s Chicken, Beef Curry, Lo Mein Noodles, Fried and Steamed Rice

Chinese Station | The Buffet at Harrah's Rincon Casino

Jasmine Rice, Green Curry Chicken with Eggplant, Steamed Vegetables (though… that doesn’t look like steamed veggies on the right, eh?)

The Buffet Harrah’s: Carving Station

Carving Station | The Buffet at Harrah's Rincon Casino

Carving Station | The Buffet at Harrah's Rincon Casino

The Buffet Harrah’s: American Station

American Station | The Buffet at Harrah's Rincon Casino

Macaroni and Cheese, Fried Chicken

American Station | The Buffet at Harrah's Rincon Casino

Catch of the Day, Cottage Pie

American Station | The Buffet at Harrah's Rincon Casino

Mashed Potatoes, Huli-Huli Chicken

American Station | The Buffet at Harrah's Rincon Casino

Vegetables! Look liked cream spinach, green beans, asparagus in some kind of weird sauce, steamed veggies, and corn on the cob.

American Station | The Buffet at Harrah's Rincon Casino

Breadsticks.

The Buffet Harrah’s: Salad

Salad Station | The Buffet at Harrah's Rincon Casino

Salad Station | The Buffet at Harrah's Rincon Casino

Salad Station | The Buffet at Harrah's Rincon Casino

Shrimp! I forgot to get some of these. Oh well. 

Salad Station | The Buffet at Harrah's Rincon Casino

Prepared salads. 

Soup Station | The Buffet at Harrah's Rincon Casino

Soups.

Sushi | The Buffet at Harrah's Rincon Casino

Sushi.

The Buffet Harrah’s: Italian Station

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Pizzas. These seemed to be restocked regularly. I just happened to catch it when it was mostly empty.

Italian | The Buffet at Harrah's Rincon Casino

Antipasto stuff. 

Italian | The Buffet at Harrah's Rincon Casino

Italian | The Buffet at Harrah's Rincon Casino

Italian | The Buffet at Harrah's Rincon Casino

At the Pasta Station you could get a made to order pasta. It was frustrating though since no options are listed and it was hard to hear the person talking to you from behind the glass. Seems like it would be helpful to list the options on the glass. 

The Buffet Harrah’s: Mexican Station

Mexican | The Buffet at Harrah's Rincon Casino

Mexican | The Buffet at Harrah's Rincon Casino

Mexican | The Buffet at Harrah's Rincon Casino

Mexican | The Buffet at Harrah's Rincon Casino

Mexican | The Buffet at Harrah's Rincon Casino

You could get tacos made for you. The options were shrimp, beef, or pork.

Mexican | The Buffet at Harrah's Rincon Casino

Mexican | The Buffet at Harrah's Rincon Casino

Chips and guacamole.

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The toppings area for your tacos or nachos. 

The Buffet Harrah’s: Desserts

Desserts | The Buffet at Harrah's Rincon Casino

In addition to ice cream, they also had a serve yourself soft serve station.

Desserts | The Buffet at Harrah's Rincon Casino

Ice cream cones and toppings.

Desserts | The Buffet at Harrah's Rincon Casino

All of these cookies were peanut butter. No seriously… all of them. Plus candied apples.

Desserts | The Buffet at Harrah's Rincon Casino

So… much… dessert.

Desserts | The Buffet at Harrah's Rincon Casino

Bananas foster and I think some kind of bread pudding?

Desserts | The Buffet at Harrah's Rincon Casino

I think these were the sugar free cookies. 

Desserts | The Buffet at Harrah's Rincon Casino

A lot of the pies were sitting on top and I couldn’t see them. I had to lift my camera over my head to take this shot. I’m short!

And now… for what I tried.

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I got a couple of tacos, some rice pilaf with cranberries, asparagus that tasted old, one stale rolled taco, one piece of decent tasting yam, some broccoli salad that tasted pretty good, strawberries, and a limp piece of garlic bread.

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The shrimp had zero flavor. 

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As did the dried out carne asada. I fear it had been sitting on that hot plate for too long or was leftover carne asada from the day before. Who knows. 

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I tried the pasta station out hoping that getting something made for me would be a better way to go. I should NOT have picked pesto as my sauce though. The pesto become very oily getting heated up in the pan with some penne and sausage. It was passable. 

buffet-what-i-ate-plate-3

There are two heapings of macaroni and cheese here. I saw someone was about to replace the macaroni and cheese so I waited a minute for her to replace it. She made a hole in the new tray and dumped in the old macaroni and cheese into the front. See that weird pile off to the right? That’s the OLD macaroni and cheese which doesn’t look creamy at all. On the left with that fresh crust of cheese on top is the fresh NEW macaroni and cheese which I scooped from the back of the pan. It tasted much better than that crusty crappy old macaroni and cheese. It still needed more seasoning but at least it tasted creamy!

I think that thing in between my macaroni’s is some kind of fried chicken cutlet thing in gravy. Unmemorable. I also tried a tamale for some reason. It was so so SO dry. The cantaloupe was okay. Not quite in season yet.

buffet-what-i-ate-pho

The Pho and the fresh macaroni and cheese were probably the best two things I ate. The Pho broth wasn’t even that great – the broth was on the weak side but at least it tasted fresher than some of the other things I ate.

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One of Jake’s plates! He got a salad. I’m so proud. I stole one of his strawberries. I’m a strawberry thief. I didn’t take any photos of T’s food because he always seemed to be done with his plate by the time I got back to the table and I didn’t feel like photographing Jake’s other plates. Ha! 

Now for dessert!

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I loved that there were lots of tiny desserts – I felt better trying tiny desserts!

Above are two little petite four cakes, a lemon mousse in a chocolate cup, and a tiny cream tart with raspberries. 

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One was carrot cake and one was red velvet. I adored these since they were the perfect little bite. A tiny bit on the sweet side, but that can be forgiven. The raspberry tart and tiny lemon mousse were also not too bad. 

desserts-i-ate-2

Peanut butter cookies, flourless chocolate cake, and tiny cheesecakes.

The flourless chocolate cake tasted more like fudge. It was very, very dense and super chocolatey. I liked eating it with the peanut butter cookie (which was slightly crunchy). I didn’t care for the mini cheesecakes. The one on top is a mini caramel cheesecake and the one on the bottom was vanilla bean. The flavor tasted off for both of the tiny cheesecakes – very dense and not creamy at all. 

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Ugh, this pecan pie. This pecan pie was the WORST. The filling on the bottom was disgusting. It tasted like a chemically filled gelatin with no flavor at all. It tasted like they left out ingredients because it barely tasted like pecan pie.

My favorites were those tiny little mini cakes! Those were the best!

All in all… I would skip this buffet. Most of the food tasted old and looked like it had been sitting out for quite some time. A lot of the stations looks dirty with spilled food everywhere. Most items tasted bland or generic. I think you’re better off going to The Cafe for a sit down lunch at Harrah’s Rincon.

The Buffet at Harrah’s Rincon Casino
777 Harrah’s Rincon Way
Valley Center, CA 92082
(760) 751-3100

Author: Mary

Mary is a San Diego native and has been a food blogger for 12+ years. She is an avid reader, a lover of puppies, and loves trying new food. Foods she loves: sweets, peanut butter, pasta, Triscuit crackers with cream cheese, and extra nuts on top of her sundaes. Food she dislikes: pickles, really spicy food, runny eggs, olives, and too much arugula.

6 Replies to “hiking at palomar mountain + the buffet at harrah’s rincon casino

    1. Yeah… the buffet wasn’t really worth it. I’m glad we went for lunch and paid the lower price at least. The pecan pie was horrible!! Definitely tasted like they left a few things out and took some shortcuts with that one. Ugh.

  1. Friend has been trying to convince me to do a hike at Palomar. How far was the drive to Palomar from the casino? You should try Torrey Pines this season – it’s been beautiful there (and the hike only sucks going up hill , then it’s all reward going down the dirt path).

    Great job on the buffet photos! Zero flavor foods are probably the saddest thing(s) ever. That’s commendable Jake got a salad plate.We recently went to Valley View again for the lobster buffet and it was horrible. I agree that these buffets aren’t the greatest things 🙁

    1. Hi Faye – It was about a 40 minute drive from the casino to the place were we went for a hike. We also went to the Observatory but didn’t actually walk up to it since we were too tired after our hike to do another walk (ha). I definitely want to try Torrey Pines!

      I’m sure I looked like some weirdo going to each station at the buffet and only taking photos at first. Luckily I don’t care. My folks tell me that Valley View’s buffet is better at Harrah’s but I don’t think that’s saying much. My mom might hook us up for a free buffet at Valley View – that might be the only way you’d get me to try it.

  2. At least the hike and the lookout was cool. I’ve had good luck at the buffet for dinner when it is busy. I keep going back to the food area and wait for them to put out fresh food. Ice cream and gelato are really good. 🙂

    1. Hi Soo – Yeah, the key is really getting the food when it’s fresh. When it’s slower, like at lunch time, it’s hard to get dibs on the fresh stuff. I could see dinner being better since there’s more people and more refilling the food trays but I think I’d still rather go to the sit down restaurant! The desserts were probably my favorite part of the buffet!

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