Posted October 4, 2012 in Feature Story


Jessi Snell at Redlands Underground

She’s hot, she’s smart and she’s got the right moves both in front of and behind the bar. So it should come as no big surprise that a pole dancer who also happens to be a phenomenal mixologist would triumph as the IE’s top bartender. Jessi has an easy manner about her that brings smiles to her customer’s faces as well as prompting the shyest person to open up with their most intimate secrets. (N.P.)

Redlands Underground, 19 E. Citrus Ave., Redlands, (909) 798-1500;



Aaron Salas at Dripp

Dripp has been named as the best coffee house in the Inland Empire by our readers, so it shouldn’t surprise anybody that Dripp would also have the services of the best barista at its disposal—a gentleman by the name of Aaron Salas, who creates art out of foamed milk and whom many have endearingly called the “amazing latte artist.” One can’t help but fall in love at first sip. (N.P.)

Dripp, 13855 City Center Dr., Ste. 3015, Chino Hills, (909) 628-6384;



Morongo Casino Resort & Spa

Of all the Indian tribal casinos dotting the IE landscape, none match the glitz and glam of Morongo, especially with the added advantage that it’s a mere hour away when compared to Vegas. Morongo has over 2,000 slot machines and hundreds of table games; 272 rooms, eight restaurants, a food court, a bowling alley and a self-contained water play area. Plus, its very close proximity to the best outlet (Cabazon) in Southern California and the mountains (via the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway) can’t hurt either. (N.P.)

Morongo Casino Resort & Spa, 49500 Seminole Dr., Cabazon, (951) 849-3080;



Young Visionaries Youth Leadership Academy

Visit YVYLA’s Facebook page and you’ll not only see the accolades the group has racked up in its short existence, but also people who sing its praises. YVYLA “is among the most respected gang intervention efforts in the San Bernardino area,” writes The Sun, no small feat considering that San Bernardino ranks third nationally in gang activity. Yet the organization provides a pillar of hope to at-risk youth, empowering them with education and social enrichment to increase their opportunities for success. (N.P.)

1331 W. Kendall Dr., Ste. 2, San Bernardino, (909) 881-3382;



Criss “Charming”

No, he’s not the Prince from the fairy tale world, but he is a prince of another sort—an up-and-coming master of diverse culinary styles. Chef Criss honed his chops at the California School of Culinary Arts’ Le Cordon Bleu program in Pasadena and he’s worked the line at Claremont’s Buca di Beppo. But Chef Criss wanted more control over his creativity so he struck out on his own and operates as a personal chef. (N.P.)




Idyllic, tree-lined neighborhoods occupied by picturesque Victorian mansions and Craftsman-style bungalows, renowned restaurants, a home-grown brewery (Hangar 24), a top-notch private university (University of Redlands) and a specialization in pop arts (Comic Expo, Zombie Beauty Pageant, Comic Quest) have put the City of Redlands at the top for best cities. And let’s not forget the Lincoln Memorial Shrine, which should see more foot traffic with the release of Spielberg’s year-ending biopic. (N.P.)




Revitalization of downtown areas has been huge over the last decade, and Riverside is no exception. What Riverside has going for it is 150 years of history, both as a hub of the citrus empire and a marvel of architectural wonders (think the Mission Inn and Fox Performing Arts Center). Its red-brick buildings house reputable restaurants, boutique shops, art galleries and clubs while the Main Street drag serves as home for the Festival of Lights, the Dickens Festival and the International Film Festival. (N.P.)



Morgan McMichaels

RuPaul called her a girl “who really has the talent to back it up,” and if the NewPaul’s recent turns as Gwen Stefani, Britney Spears or the leather-clad provocateur of Rihanna’s video “S&M” are any indication, this single lady has got some serious game. No matter where or when, the Inland Empire’s top pop princess and super drag queen extraordinaire is the girl with the most cake. (N.P.);



Big Bear Lake

Southern California’s largest recreational lake is a year-round getaway with mild temperatures even at the height of summer. The area’s natural abundance is a no-brainer for the sporting types, yet its beauty also makes it an idyllic setting for marquee events like the Big Bear Lake Film Festival, Twilight Music Festival and JazzTrax. The Lake’s Oktoberfest, hailed as the most authentic in Southern California, is a 42-year tradition drawing thousands to its crystal clear shores. (N.P.);



Rancho Cucamonga Quakes

Whether it was the thrill of watching Quakes starter Onelki Garcia strike out four of six batters during his professional debut or the joy of Pratt Maynard’s first multi-hit game of the year, there was just something special about watching the Quakes’ last game against the Bakersfield Blaze a few weeks ago. Sure, Rancho lost and failed to make it to the post-season, but there are 160,000-plus fans who paid their respect to the Quakes over the course of its 70-game schedule—so who’s really got game? (M.T.)



The Hemet Theater

The battle over the Hemet Theater was, as a spectacle, sadly entertaining. Sharon Deuber, once the head of the Valley View Foundation, was accused earlier this year of not being financially transparent with the handling of the over $100,000 raised to buy the Hemet Theater. Then she counter-filed an embezzlement claim accusing others in the foundation of the crime. Then she was ousted and wouldn’t give back expensive sound and lighting equipment. The whole thing got more petty and strange as the months went on. (K.L.)



Lanny Swerdlow from “Compassion and Common Sense,” KCAA 1050AM

Cannabis activist Lanny Swerdlow hosts a show called “Compassion and Common Sense” which, according to Swerdlow, discusses “the truth about marijuana” and “clear[s] up that legal mumbo-jumbo” that keeps the prohibition on marijuana going in this country. Swerdlow is congenial and calm, not trying to shock or scare anyone. Instead, he wants to share his thoughts and the thoughts of his guests with, you guessed it, compassion and common sense. (K.L.)



Fairmount Park

There’s so much to do in Fairmount Park. Under plenty of trees, you can relax and have a BBQ with family and friends. You can enjoy tennis on two courts while your kids ramble through the playgrounds. You can even try your hand at fishing in the lakes or going out on a paddleboat. As the summer heat dies off, make sure to capitalize on one of this park’s year-round amenities: feeding the ducks. (K.L.)

2601 Fairmount Blvd., Riverside, (951) 826-2000;



Howard Tounget

When 50-plus Hemet resident Howard Tounget suspected Councilwoman Robin Lowe of using a city car for personal errands, the government critic dogged the elected official until she relented and turned in the keys to the Toyota Highlander to the city manager. When questions arose about the signature gathering for a San Jacinto City Council recall campaign, Tounget said he had video evidence of fraud. In fact, a lawsuit Tounget filed against Hemet cost the city nearly $125,000 a couple of years ago. He’s a gadfly, people. That’s what they do. (M.T.)



Sen. Barbara Boxer

Barbara Boxer has fought in the Senate on issues regarding the environment, education, commerce and healthcare. She has been a California senator since 1993 and made early steps to lower the crime rate. After that success, she focused on education reform and women’s rights. She was recently re-elected to her fourth term in the U.S. Senate. She has also argued passionately against Paul Ryan’s efforts to dismantle Medicare. (K.L.)



Wood Streets, Riverside

Most of the houses in this neighborhood were built almost a century ago. The rows of pre-WWII homes, lined with original sidewalks and exemplary landscaping, represent a diverse array of architectural styles: Craftsman, Spanish Colonial Revival, Tudor Revival and Colonial Revival. The whole area isn’t any more than a square mile, but it represents some of the oldest and best-preserved historical sections of Riverside. (K.L.)



Marinello School of Beauty

With locations all over the country and the Inland Empire—Ontario, Moreno Valley, Murrieta, Hemet, etc.—Marinello School of Beauty is dedicated to training the next generation of workers in hair design, massage therapy, cosmetology and more. Marinello has been around for over 100 years providing people with the training for careers in these and other related fields. (K.L.)



UC Riverside

UCR is packed with amazing faculty from all across the country dedicated to doing groundbreaking research and educating the next generation of scholars. One of the most diverse campuses in the United States, UCR is committed to education for all. It also provides the community with a wide variety of art events, concerts and lectures, and is planning on opening a medical school soon. (K.L.)

900 University Ave., Riverside, (951) 827-1012;



Ed Lee at The Sycamore Inn

There’s nothing cryptic or obscure about the way Ed Lee treats dinner patrons at The Sycamore Inn. “I treat them the way I would want to be treated,” says Lee, who’s been abiding by this professional ethos for the last 17 years at this Rancho Cucamonga steakhouse. “I always think of them not so much as coming into a restaurant; they’re coming into my house.” And it’s easy for Ed to figure out if he’s served a satisfied customer: “The fact that they come back is my thanks,” he says. “When you leave happy, I’m happy.” Leave a tip, though. Ed’s worth it. (M.T.)

The Sycamore Inn, 8318 Foothill Blvd., Rancho Cucamonga, (909) 982-1104;



Rob Mardis

Rob Mardis, an Inland Empire native born on March Air Force Base, is a man of many talents. According to his Facebook page, he is a Redlands-based branding consultant, a comic book writer, a graphic novelist, and he works with dozens of artists and writers throughout the IE. Or let Mardis put it in his own words to discuss what he does: “It’s all about girls, games and cool comics.” (K.L.);


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