In 2009 the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians in Alpine approved the only Welcome Center in California on Native land to promote tourism in San Diego County and business with tribal enterprises. With a tribal presence cutting the ribbon, the center opened in March 2010. Since then, the tribe has experienced an influx in business at its Viejas Casino, amongst other tribal enterprises including the 37-acre open-air Viejas Outlet Center; and Viejas Entertainment and Production, a full-service concert and show producer throughout San Diego County.
The center’s success gave impetus to the tribe's planned $36 million hotel, slated to open in early 2013 adjacent to the Viejas Casino. “Viejas has a long, proud tradition of hospitality and welcoming visitors,” said Viejas Tribal Chairman Anthony Pico. “Our ancestors were the first to welcome Juan Cabrillo to the shores of Southern California in the 1500s. We are proud to add this beautiful new hotel and once again welcome visitors to this area of Southern California.”
San Diego East County’s American Indian Reservations include four tribal groups; 18 tribal governments with thriving tribal gaming, resort and entertainment venues. Eric Lund, VP Community Relations at San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau, who was instrumental in getting the Welcome Center on Viejas land, said, “Viejas was the perfect location near the interstate to assist tourists coming to San Diego.”
The Welcome Center serves as an important gateway to nearly 9 million people who annually travel on Interstate 8 into San Diego County. “Since 2010, the Welcome Center, along with ongoing additions to the Viejas properties, business and visitors continues to grow at Viejas,” said Robert Scheid, VP-Community and Public Relations of the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians.
With 39 years experience as travel advisors, the Center’s staff informs tourists and locals East and West of San Diego about things to do and see in San Diego County,” said Jeannette Perez, Director of the Viejas California Welcome Center.
Inside the Center are brochures on everything from Catalina Island to the California Wolf Center, gifts, maps, and native displays. A computer helps visitors to book reservations, check email, and they can get tickets to California’s major attractions. This is also the headquarters for East San Diego County’s Historic Highway 80 and the popular Historic Highway 80-on-80 Geocaching treasure hunt game where people post the quadrants of hidden items online for others to locate on a GPS device.
“It’s a fun way to explore and allows us to give history lessons about the area,” Perez said. “The Viejas tribe allowed us to hide a Geocach here in the center, which is typically not done on Indian reservations.”
To facilitate an interest in American Indian culture and the different Bands of Kumeyaay Indians, a new addition to the Center is an interruptive display about and built by the Viejas Tribal members. “It’s a big draw,” Perez said. “We give visitors publications that represent actual history of local tribes and also refer them to Native American exhibits around the county like the Barona Culture Center, Mission Trails, Heritage of the America’s at Cuyamaca College and the Museum of Man in Balboa Park.”
Along with providing awareness about the Native American Culture the Center contributes to San Diego County’s prosperity – as tourism is the third largest employer in the county. “Our walk-in traffic has increased by 47 percent since 2010,” Perez said. “Visitors get to discover our unique outlet center with its soothing fountains, Native American music and great stores, eat at the restaurants here or across the street at the casino.”
Locating the Center at Viejas was more than an extended hand of friendship. “Having the Welcome Center on the Viejas Reservation recognizes the tribe’s strong, positive relationship with the local community,” Scheid said. “It also demonstrates Viejas Casino & Outlets contribution to the East County economy, and tourism-related economy throughout San Diego and southern California.”
The Alpine Welcome Center is open daily year-round except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Find it at Suite H110 in the Viejas Outlet Shopping Center, 5005 Willows Road. For more information call toll-free (800) 463-0668 or visit www.visitcalifornia.com. For more info on Geocaching visit http://www.historichighway80.org/